N. Vizcaya court halts Aussie firm’s demolition work

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–A local court has halted the ongoing demolition activities of houses in a remote village in the mountain town of Kasibu, being carried out by an Australian mining firm.

Judge Vincent Eden Panay of the Regional Trial Court here on Wednesday issued a 72-hour temporary restraining order against the clearing operations of OceanaGold Philippines, Inc., which is preparing to construct its gold-copper mining project there.

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Quirino health workers decry unpaid benefits

CABARROGUIS, Quirino–Health workers in this province are up in arms against the non-payment by the provincial government of their hazard pay, while denouncing local politicians for their supposed reckless spending of public funds.

The provincial chapter of the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) here on Monday slammed the alleged apathy shown by the provincial leadership for their failure to settle unpaid benefits of about 300 health workers.

Dr. Reynald Narbarte, president of AHW Quirino said their members are demanding the hazard pay that they are supposed to receive, as mandated by Republic Act 7305 or the Magna Carta of Public Health Workers.

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Mining curse

Miner buried alive at Aussie firm’s mine site

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–An artisanal miner was killed after he was buried while inside a tunnel in the remote village of Didipio in upland Kasibu town, site of a proposed large-scale mining project by a foreign company.

Supt. Domingo Lucas, acting police director, said the victim, one Job Ananayo, a small-scale miner from nearby Wangal village, was buried alive when the tunnel collapsed in the sub-village of Dinauyan, at around 11 a.m. on Sunday.

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Taking a stand

N. Vizcaya, Quirino, Ifugao law studes blast GMA, join ‘resign’ calls

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–Law students from this province and Ifugao have joined calls for the resignation of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, expressing exasperation over the “growing wanton acts of large-scale corruption” allegedly committed under her government.

Law students said the people have grown weary and frustrated, so that the only solution is to change the leadership that has been perceived to be either “an active party, an accomplice of or a passive onlooker” on anomalous deals in government.

“It is now high time for us to take action. The Arroyo regime has been duping us for a long while now. We cannot just stand here and let all these to go on,” said Dr. Bernard Balangatan, law student and university professor.

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Armed, dangerous

Antimining villagers bare threats from gunmen

KASIBU, Nueva Vizcaya–Residents in an upland mining community here on Thursday denounced the alleged atrocities committed by armed men, who have been securing the ongoing earth-moving activities of a foreign mining company.

The villagers, mostly Ifugaos, called on the Commission on Human Rights to investigate the use of armed men from the Philippine National Police’s provincial mobile group (PMG) to secure the entry of OceanaGold Philippines Inc., an Australian firm, into private lands in the area.

Residents here have been protesting the entry of the firm, which is attempting to conduct large-scale mining for gold and copper in Didipio village despite its failure to obtain the consent of the local community.

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Anti-mining villagers fight back, sue DENR-Vizcaya chief for abuse

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–The provincial chief of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) here was charged for alleged abuse of authority before the office of the Ombudsman for supposedly using his position to harass anti-mining residents to push the interests of a foreign mining company.

Eight anti-mining villagers from upland Didipio village in Kasibu town said Roberto Apigo here abused his authority by summoning complainants for alleged violation of forestry laws, a criminal act, but later turned out to be an arm-twisting strategy to force them to vacate their lands.

“Under the guise of an investigation for violation of the Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines, what (Apigo) intended and attempted to accomplish was an ‘administrative dialogue’ in which he tried to facilitate the sale of complainants’ lands to a corporation,” the complaint said.

The complainants, who are officers and members of the Didipio Earth-Savers’ Multi-purpose Association, a people’s organization, have refused to sell their rights over their lands which occupy portions of the primary impact zone of the proposed Didipio gold-copper project.

Mine operator OceanaGold Philippines, Inc., a 100-percent Australian firm, has been attempting to buy access to lands in Didipio to start its construction phase, amid stiff opposition from residents there.

Claiming it is acting as agent of government, OceanaGold has been buying access to private lands in the area, invoking the constitutional power of the state to forcibly acquire private property for government projects.

The DENR, on the other hand, has been trying to eject villagers whom it found to be occupying what it classified as forest lands by filing criminal charges against them.

Desama officials had earlier denounced DENR for filing charges against their poor members, in order to satisfy the needs of a foreign mining company.

“If they would eject us from our lands and charge us for occupying these because these are supposedly forest lands, then they should not allow a (OceanaGold) to occupy it,” said Peter Duyapat, Desama president.

In December 2006, complainants received a “Notice of Violation and Summons” issued by Apigo, which required them to personally appear before him on January 9, 2007.

In that summons, the complainants were warned that their failure to attend the “hearing” shall be deemed a waiver of their right to be heard, and a ground for the filing of criminal cases against them.

But complainants, then assisted by lawyer Mary Ann Dela Peña of the Legal Rights Center, attended the supposed hearing, but said they were surprised to see the presence of OceanaGold officials.

Apigo purportedly told the group that should they agree to voluntarily leave their lands, the DENR would no longer pursue the filing of criminal charges against them.

“(Apigo) gravely abused his office when he issued strongly-worded legal processes so complainants–simple, peace-loving people who respect the law–would be threatened to attend a proceeding, which turned out to be different from that stated in the summons itself,” the complainants said.

“(He) also acted contrary to law as it is a known legal principle that criminal cases may not be subject to compromise,” they added.

Sought for comment, Apigo downplayed the charges, saying it was the handiwork of non-government organizations who want to derail the Didipio gold-copper project.

“We (at the DENR) were just doing our job. The complaint has been referred to our legal department and I assure you that everything will be put in order,” he told this writer.

In a letter, the complainants’ counsel had formally asked Apigo to cite the legal bases of his actions but he reportedly never responded.

The DENR official eventually filed criminal charges against the complainants for alleged illegal occupation of forest lands, after the complainants refused to agree to a settlement.

Vizcayanos’ pride

Pinay’s dream on RP strife tops NY speech tilt

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–A Filipina has stood out among Americans to give more meaning to a US event that was meant to remember their country’s triumphs against racial discrimination.

Anne Richie Garcia, a 29-year old English teacher from the Philippine Science High School-Cagayan Valley campus here, has won a speech competition in this year’s week-long commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. held at New York University in the US on Jan. 24.

Garcia is the first Asian to win the top prize in the 3rd Annual MLK Oratorical Contest, sponsored by NYU’s Steinhardt Graduate Student Organization, according to Ena Hilaire, NYU graduate assistant.

Garcia’s winning piece “Altruism above Poverty” focuses on human rights violations committed against indigenous peoples, student activists, peasant leaders and journalists in the Philippines.

She is currently in the US taking up a masters’ degree in educational theater, through a two-year study grant under the Ford Foundation-International Fellowships Program.

The MLK speech event is part of a week-long celebration that aims to “(establish) a tradition that will honor the dream” that King has advocated more than 40 years ago, according to the NYU website.

King Jr. won his Nobel Prize for Peace in 1964 for leading the call for action against racial discrimination in the US. In August 1963 he organised a now historic march to Washington where he delivered his now-famous speech, “I Have a Dream”.

He is honored as the man “who has never abandoned his faith in the unarmed struggle he is waging, who has suffered for his faith, who has been imprisoned on many occasions, whose home has been subject to bomb attacks, whose life and the lives of his family have been threatened, and who nevertheless has never faltered.”

At the NYU event, speeches were meant to address the theme, “Dare to D.R.E.A.M” where D.R.E.A.M. is acronym for Deconstruct, Reflect, Envision, Act, and Mobilize” or the contest’s specific theme, “The Time is Always Right to Do What Is Right.”

“I was somehow inspired by my subject in world drama last semester. It was about human rights violations in the world, which, according to my professor, is the real world drama,” she said about how she drew the motivation to write her winning speech.

But what Garcia thought made her clinch the top prize in the competition is the resolution offered by her talk.

She said: “The dream beyond my play, beyond my scholarship grant, beyond this speech, is my dream to participate in the world’s quest for social justice. Yes, to dream with commitment is more than enough to comfort a people’s grief.”
Garcia realized that delivering a speech about poverty and strife in her country, in front of an audience composed of different races was “the most difficult speech that I had to do, even more difficult than the eulogy I delivered for my father.”

“I thought, the audience would not care, and would just say, ‘girl, you seem to have ended up in the wrong place, talking about the sorry state of your country because you know what? We don’t care’,” she said.

To Garcia’s surprise, the audience–composed mostly of Americans–was visibly sympathetic, and the others were close to tears. She recounts how after her speech, one NYU official, a black American woman, came up to her, shook her hand and said, “Your speech was powerful. I could not hold back my tears”.

In one part of her speech, Garcia said: “It pains the heart to see the Philippines crawl in the darkness of poverty due to the political circus that’s been fooling her people. Government officials buy votes in broad day light, abuse of power is done in a snap, and leaders who fight for the poor are killed.”

She continued: “True, my country is a third world where parents tighten their belts as they rush to work, skip meals and wear the same glued pair of shoes for a hand to mouth existence; where kids, on slippers, walk or hike to school hungry, sit on the cold floor with a nationwide no-child-left-behind policy; where women leave their families to work as house maids, factory workers, entertainers, to send brothers and sisters nephews and nieces to school, there are lots of them going to all parts of the globe that Filipina was once defined in a dictionary as domestic helper;

“Where journalists, student activists, and union leaders serve the masses unselfishly and may get killed on-the-spot at whatever time of the day; where people desperately wish to dream of numbers that could win the lotto and finally, with the blink of an eye, wake up from their nightmare – poverty.”

As other finalists that went on stage before her, mostly black Americans, gave out specific details and statistics about human rights violations in the US, Garcia refused to be intimidated.

“I tried to establish that mental attitude that winning is not what is important; the most important thing is that a Filipina is there to voice out the sentiments of her own people. It was not about winning, but more importantly, just a chance to be heard,” she said.

Garcia said she is currently working on a play that would try to focus on the victims of extra-judicial killings and forced disappearances in the country, to be played by her students and local talents upon her return from the US.

“I gathered data from the internet and I was shocked by the sheer number. It was a different feeling writing a play just for the sake of it, compared to writing a play for the victims purposely to tell the world about their plight,” she said.