Drive goes pffftt

Crackdown fails to drive out N. Vizcaya small miners

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–Government agencies launched a crackdown on illegal mining this week, but this has failed to drive out small miners from their tunnels in Kasibu town, according to reports reaching this writer.

Residents said about 200 small-scale miners had gone back to reopen the tunnels in Barangay Didipio, which environment officials and policemen closed down in a three-day operation that began on Oct. 8.

The miners returned after officials of Oceana Gold Philippines Inc. (OGPI), a foreign mining firm, allegedly failed to provide assurance that they would be paid for property that were either lost or damaged in the crackdown, the villagers said.

“They’ve closed down our tunnels, so where are we supposed to get our daily sustenance? All that company officials were saying was that they were first going to study our claims,” said one miner, who asked not to be named for reasons of safety.

Personnel of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, escorted by about 120 policemen, mounted the crackdown against a group of men who have been supposedly mining illegally on Dinkidi Hill, site of OGPI’s proposed gold-copper project in Didipio.

Clarence Baguilat, environment director in Cagayan Valley region, said members of the Task Force Didipio were sent to clear the mine site of illegal miners and to allow the development of the project.

Roberto Apigo, provincial environment and natural resources officer, said the team padlocked ball mills used in the illegal mining operations, and blocked about 20 tunnel entrances with planks of wood.

The villager said the miners returned to the site at dusk on Oct. 10 to reopen the tunnels and cut the steel chains that were wrapped around the balls mills.

The miners were demanding payment for the cost of the materials that they had spent in constructing the tunnels, their tools, and the body of ore that they had already dug up and had stored inside the holes.

Demanding payment

“Some of the government personnel knew that we were reopening the tunnels, but they did not prevent us because they understood our position,” one tunnel operator said.

OGPI officials, however, said the company would not grant all the miners’ claims for payment.

“The [crackdown] is a government operation to stop illegal small-scale mining in the province which we are not a party to. We [will not] compensate their closed tunnels or [their] displacement,” said Ramoncito Gozar, OGPI vice president for communications and community relations.

The company has been offering jobs and livelihood for the miners who will be displaced by the operation in the spirit of partnership, but they have refused it, he said.

Apigo declined to comment on the re-opening of the small miners’ tunnels.

Senior Supt. Segundo Duran, provincial police director, who leads the police contingent of Task Force Didipio, said some miners insisted on reopening the tunnels after receiving word that the provincial government was inclined to give them small-scale mining permits.

Vice Gov. Jose Gambito, former chair of the provincial small-scale mining regulatory board, confirmed this.

“I think [the miners] have filed their applications. If they are qualified and allowed by law, why [can’t they be given permits]?” Gambito said.

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