‘Know your law’

Court rebuffs N. Vizcaya gov on bid to retain police chief

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–For the second time, a regional trial court here has denied the petition of Gov. Luisa Cuaresma to block the impending relief of the provincial police director, saying her objections were without legal basis.

In an order, Judge Rogelio Corpuz of RTC branch 27 here on Tuesday dismissed Cuaresma’s motion for reconsideration which sought a 20-day temporary restraining order (TRO) of the relief of Senior Supt. Segundo Duran Jr.

Duran was relieved from his post here through a Jan. 16 order issued by Chief Supt. Ameto Tolentino, police director for Cagayan Valley region, pursuant to a directive from the Philippine National Police headquarters in Camp Crame.

Cuaresma opposed this, and immediately filed a petition for injunction and TRO. She said the PNP brass did not inform or consult her before they removed Duran.

The court granted a 72-hour TRO which expired Monday. Cuaresma sought for an extension, but was denied, prompting her lawyers to seek reconsideration.

In denying Cuaresma’s motion, the court debunked her contention that the governor’s power granted by law to appoint a provincial police director requires that she must be consulted prior to the relief of the police official.

Quoting the law, the court said that although governors and mayors are granted the power to select the police chief from at least three candidates, the power to transfer, reassign or detail PNP personnel is a “command prerogative”.

“An incumbent provincial director may be removed, transferred or re-assigned without the approval of the governor. While prior consultation with the governor in such personnel action is desirable and suggested to enhance mutual harmony and coordination, such consultation is not mandatory but mere discretionary,” it said.

This writer tried to seek Cuaresma for comment but her staff said she was out for an official business in Metro Manila.

Since Duran’s relief, police personnel here were confused on who to recognize as their provincial director, as Cuaresma continued to insist on Duran as the provincial director, despite the designation of Supt. Domingo Lucas, Duran’s deputy, as officer in-charge.

“We are confused because we don’t know whose orders to follow. We know that (Superintendent) Lucas is the OIC, but (Senior Superintendent Duran) still regularly reports for work because he’s the one recognized by the governor,” a lady staff member said, asking not to be named.

Chief Superintendent Tolentino declined to comment on the court order. He said he has yet to receive a copy of the document.

In an earlier interview, he maintained that he had visited Cuaresma to inform her of Duran’s relief, along with a written order from the PNP’s national headquarters. He did not say, however, the reasons for Duran’s removal from his post.

In a letter, Cuaresma appealed to Tolentino not to enforce Duran’s relief, owing to the embattled provincial director’s “remarkable performance” during his 10-month stint here. She cited Duran’s accomplishments in the campaign against drug trafficking, illegal logging and illegal gambling.

The governor’s statements were, however, belied when elements of the PNP’s regional special operations group on Saturday raided two illegal gambling dens here and in Bambang town, which led to the arrest of about 32 suspected “jueteng” workers.

Battle rages

Town’s fight vs Australian mining project goes to SC

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya — Officials of upland Kasibu town have elevated to the Supreme Court their appeal to stop an Australian mining company from pushing its project there for its supposed failure to get the consent of local communities.

Kasibu Mayor Romeo Tayaban and members of the municipal council on Thursday took their petition to the high court, as the company, now named OceanaGold Philippines Inc., continued what the officials called the “illegal implementation” of its mining permit.

The officials sought a temporary restraining order (TRO) to stop the demolition of villagers’ houses in Barangay Didipio, site of OceanaGold’s planned gold-copper mining project.

OceanaGold, formerly the Australasian Philippines Mining Inc. (APMI), is the transferee of a financial and technical assistance agreement (FTAA) originally granted by the government to Climax Mining Limited, also an Australian company, in 1994.

The 1987 Constitution prohibits foreign companies from exploring, developing and exploiting the country’s mineral resources. This, however, was allowed by the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, through a number of means, including the FTAA.

This writer had sought Ramoncito Gozar, OceanaGold vice president for external affairs and communications, for comment, but he did not take calls to his mobile phone.

Lawyers from the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center Inc., a non-government organization, said they were asking the high court for a TRO or preliminary injunction to prevent the implementation of the FTAA, including the demolition of houses, until the case had been resolved.

“Despite non-consent, the FTAA is still being implemented. Permits are being issued in favor of [OceanaGold]. Didipio residents’ lands are being acquired by the company,” said lawyer Mary Grace Ellen Villanueva.

The project was approved by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and has since begun its predevelopment stage despite failing to get approval from the village council of Didipio and the municipal council of Kasibu.

It started to buy access rights to more than 400 hectares of farmlands and private lots in Didipio to accommodate its proposed production site. Many villagers have agreed to sell their lands while others have rejected the company’s offers.

OceanaGold demolished 14 houses from December 2007 to Jan. 12, even though many of the owners have not yet been fully paid.

Kasibu officials were invoking the Constitution and the Local Government Code of 1991 on the autonomy of local governments, and the need for national agencies to conduct consultations and obtain prior approval from local communities before any project or program could proceed.

In a resolution dated August 7, 2005, the local town council asked the DENR to “issue an order to stop or prevent any and all operations of (OceanaGold) with respect to the Didipio Gold/Copper Project as it results in the unlawful implementation of the FTAA.”

“Since then, respondents have unjustifiably failed to respond to the demand,” the petitioners said.

In early January, a group of residents from the adjacent village of Papaya drove out OceanaGold workers and equipment, as they tried to start drilling activities in the area.

Papaya is covered by the company’s 21,000-hectare FTAA, roughly the combined land area of Quezon City, Makati and Mandaluyong.

The Supreme Court petition assails the ruling of the Regional Trial Court branch 91 that dismissed its December 2006 petition, for the petitioners’ supposed failure to raise their objection before the mines arbitration panel, a body composed of officials from the DENR and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, as provided for by the mining act.

However, the petitioners argued: “This case involves a question of law, which demands the interpretation of pertinent provisions of the Constitution and the Local Government Code of 1991. It is settled that regular courts have jurisdiction to resolve questions of law.”

Outta here!

N. Vizcaya tribal folk drive out Aussie mining firm

SOLANO, Nueva Vizcaya–About 100 residents of upland villages in Kasibu town on Friday drove out employees of a foreign mining firm and their earth-moving equipment that were supposed to start exploration activities in their village, reports said on Wednesday.

Workers of OceanaGold Philippines Inc., an Australian company, were forced to leave Barangay Papaya upon the demand of tribal villagers, reiterating their stand that they do not want mining in their community.

“The people did not stop until they (mining workers) and their equipment were already outside the village’s boundaries. We made sure of this that’s why we escorted them out,” Prescila Guilao, Papaya village treasurer, said in the dialect.

Friday’s incident thwarted OceanaGold’s latest attempt to conduct exploration work in Papaya, as it tried to bring in drilling equipment into the site.

The residents, who are members of the Ifugao, Ibaloi and Kalanguya tribes, have been protesting the entry of OceanaGold in the area, maintaining that the permit granted to the company was without their consent.

The project, they said, also violates a local ordinance which declared their village forest as watershed for the citrus plantations there and in nearby villages.

Papaya, which straddles the Mamparang-Palali range, is host to watershed forests that feed the Alimudin, Malong and Pahduan rivers. These are main sources of irrigation for about 150,000 fruit trees in Malabing Valley, which is composed of six villages.

Republic Act 7942 or the Mining Act of 1995 prohibits any mining activity in tribal communities without the consent of residents. Mining is also not allowed in areas which are declared as watershed.

OceanaGold officials, however, insist that they no longer need any proof of consent from the community, as this has already been covered by the Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) granted by the Philippine government in 1994 to Climax Mining Limited, its predecessor company.

While the Constitution prohibits foreign companies from exploiting the country’s mineral resources, the mining act provides for the FTAA as one of the means by which government can allow this.

Company executives also claim that the FTAA should prevail because it was issued earlier than the passage of the Papaya ordinance.

OceanaGold’s FTAA covers 21,465 hectares of Kasibu, including Didipio village which hosts the company’s flagship gold-copper project, and about 12 other prospect sites.

The company is faced with what could be a long-standing legal battle with anti-mining villagers in Didipio, who have vowed never to leave their land to give way to the firm’s large-scale mining operations.

OceanaGold was supposed to expand its exploration activities in nearby Papaya, but its entry has been met with stiff opposition from villagers.

On Wednesday, residents were alarmed over news that OceanaGold workers were coming to the village, according to Guilao. The next day, about a hundred villagers set up a barricade along the road leading to the drilling site, blocking a backhoe and the company’s personnel.

The impasse prompted village officials to call for a dialogue on Friday. Following a day-long and tension-filled discussion, mining officials and personnel were forced to leave at dusk, Guilao said.

“They were making all sorts of promises, but the people have learned their lesson from the Didipio experience. We knew all along that those (pledges) were all tricks,” the village official said.

Ramoncito Gozar, OceanaGold vice president for communications and external affairs, expressed lament over the incident.

“We (moved out) for safety reasons and for the good of the Papaya community. We don’t want a protracted heated engagement with the opposition and we feel that by giving [in] to their demands of a pull-out, we can now have an intelligent and cool engagement,” he said.

Gozar said that while the villagers are protesting the presence of heavy equipment, they, too, have prevented the rehabilitation of the community road which was intended to benefit all.

“It would have been wise if they prevented the drilling but allowed the road rehab to go on. The drilling may not continue because of their barricade, but at least they have the road,” he added.

Second look

NCIP exec seeks review of N. Vizcaya mining permits

SOLANO, Nueva Vizcaya–The commissioner of the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) for Cagayan Valley has called for a review of the mining permits given to various foreign mining companies here.

In an interview, Commissioner Langley Segundo said a validation of the government-issued permits would resolve the long-drawn controversies here that foreign companies have failed to get consent for their mining projects from affected tribal communities.

“I believe this is the most prudent thing to do. A review of the processes undertaken shall be to the benefit of all sectors concerned because it would remove the doubts that had been the root of these controversies,” he said.

Segundo cited three mining projects by foreign mining companies OceanaGold Philippines, Inc. (OceanaGold), Metals Exploration Mineral Resources Corp. (MetEx), and Royalco Resources Limited (RoyalCo), which obtained permits from government.

Royalco’s suspended exploration project in Pao village sits in the middle of the Bugkalot ancestral domain in Kasibu. OceanaGold’s US$117 million (P5.9 billion) gold-copper project in Didipio village, also in Kasibu and Metex’s site of gold exploration in Runruno in nearby Quezon town are also occupied by Kalanguya, Ibaloi and Ifugao communities.

The three mining areas straddle the ore-rich Palali mountain range in eastern Nueva Vizcaya.

Segundo said there is a strong clamor for a review of the mining permits to determine if the companies really obtained genuine consent from affected villagers.

“From our initial consultations, we have known that many mining applications were approved through improper means–the FPIC process was rushed, the tribal groups who gave consent were fake,” said Segundo, who took oath as NCIP commissioner last month.

A review of the steps undertaken prior to the issuance of the mining permits would be beneficial to both mining proponents and the oppositors, as it would finally resolve the controversies, Segundo said.

“We [at the NCIP] will always the will of the people. If they say they want mining, then so be it. If they say they don’t like it, then we should respect that as well,” he said.

While the Mining Act of 1995 prohibits any form of mining activity in areas classified as ancestral land, it also provides exceptions to the effect that if companies obtain the “free, prior and informed” consent of the affected tribe, mining can be allowed.

It also mandates that in areas which are not declared as ancestral lands, companies must obtain “social acceptability” from the affected local communities.

Three tribal organizations, the Didipio EarthSavers’ Multi-Purpose Association (Desama), Kasibu Inter-Tribal Response to Ecological Development (Kired), and the Runruno Landowners’ Association (Rulanas) in Didipio, Pao and Runruno have questioned the issuance of the mining permits.

Our people are also confused because of the frequent changing of names of the foreign companies that they have to contend with. This only shows that the transfer (of rights) were not explained to them very well,” he said.

Australian firm OceanaGold, which attempts to start gold and copper production in 2009, has been using the mining permit transferred to it by Australasian Philippines Mining Inc., which, in turn obtained it from Climax Arimco Mining Corp. (CAMC).

CAMC was the original grantee of a financial and technical assistance agreement (FTAA), one of the methods provided for in the mining law by which foreign companies can explore and develop and exploit mineral resources in the country.

In Runruno, Metex is using a renewed exploration permit issued in 2000 to Greenwater Mining Corp., which it transferred to FCF Mining Corp. in 2002.

In Pao, Royalco is also using a two-year exploration permit issued in June 2003 to Oxiana Philippines Inc. before RoyalCo’s purchase of the latter company.

Sought for comment, Albert Johann Jacildo, acting director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau for Cagayan Valley, said he would welcome any review of the mining permits.

“As of now, there is no official directive yet [that calls for a review]. I would also welcome [it] but I believe it is already within their [NCIP’s] jurisdiction,” he said.