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.

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