Aussie headache

War on mining company’s demolition plans unites tribe

KASIBU, Nueva Vizcaya–About 100 tribal folk, both belonging to the pro- and anti-mining factions of villagers, on Tuesday joined forces to defy the planned demolition of their houses by a foreign mining company that is pushing for a gold-copper mining project in upland Didipio village here.

Villagers belonging to the Didipio Earth Savers Multipurpose Association (Desama) and the Didipio United Peoples’ Association (Dupa) fenced off lots and guarded the premises against the entry of an 80-member demolition team hired by OceanaGold Philippines Inc., an Australian firm.

The team was escorted by about 30 heavily armed men from OceanaGold’s security agency and the Philippine National Police’s provincial mobile group.

The villagers assailed the company for allegedly using force, deceit and intimidation in its bid to continue dismantling houses of Dupa members, despite the failure of negotiations on their supposed compensation.

Desama is a group of about 700 antimining villagers, who, for the past 14 years have been protesting the company’s entry into the area. They have vowed never to give up their land.

Dupa, on the other hand, is a group of about 200 Ifugao tribal folk, mostly miners, who have bought subdivided lots in the two-hectare property formerly owned by Peter Cayong and the site of the planned open pit for the mining project.

The members used to support the project but organized themselves in 2006 supposedly to guard their rights as landowners in dealing with the company.

OceanaGold is trying to clear the land of houses to make way for its proposed Didipio gold-copper mining project, one of the Arroyo administration’s 23 priority mining projects.

The foreign firm is invoking its right to access all types of land in Didipio – whether public or private or even forest land – under the financial technical assistance agreement (FTAA) granted in 1994 to its predecessor company, Climax Mining Limited.

While the 1987 Constitution prohibits foreign individuals and companies from exploiting the country’s mineral resources, this was allowed by the Mining Act of 1995, under a number of methods, including the FTAA.

However, the Constitution also mandates that citizens shall not lose their land, even for a public purpose, without payment of just compensation to them.

On Tuesday, OceanaGold’s wrecking crew demolished four more houses, to add to about 70 houses that were already destroyed since it began the clearing operations in December last year.

Many lot owners, however, complained that their houses were torn down even if they have not reached any final agreement with OceanaGold and have not been fully paid.

Ramoncito Gozar, OceanaGold vice president for communications and external affairs, said the company stopped negotiating with the Dupa members because the prices they were quoting for their land kept going up.

“Since our numerous attempts to come to a settlement with them have failed, we are now invoking our right to enter the lots and clear these of houses, pursuant to the rights granted to (the company) by the mining act,” he said.

Dupa sought Desama’s help following OceanaGold’s latest attempt to demolish clusters of about 200 houses at the foot of Dinkidi (pronounced ding-ki-dai) Hill, which sit directly on top of the mineral deposit that is estimated to contain 75,000 kilos and 350,000 tons of gold and copper.

Dupa members said they felt betrayed by the company.

Kasla tayo la nagtaraken ti uleg. Kalpasan nga tinultulungantayo dayta nga kumpania nga makastrek ditoy ket isu metten ita mangalun-on kadatayo (We have brought up a serpent, which, after helping it to enter our village, is now the monster that’s here to devour us),” said Alfredo Banig, whose house was flattened while attending mass on Sunday.

Dupa sought Desama’s help following OceanaGold’s latest attempt to demolish clusters of about 200 houses at the foot of Dinkidi hill (pronounced ding-ki-dai), which sit directly on top of the mineral deposit that is estimated to contain 75,000 kilos and 350,000 tons of gold and copper, respectively.

Peter Duyapat, Desama president, said they were joining Dupa members in their cause, despite their past bitter dispute when they were put on opposing sides in the mining controversy.

“They now probably realize that we were right all along–that this company should not be trusted,” he said in the dialect.

Dupa members said negotiations crumbled when the company has refused their declared selling price of at least P1.2 million for a 400-sq. meter lot and a wooden house, as advised by their counsel.

However, the company, under its surface rights acquisition (SRA) program, has pegged the lot price to at least P200,000 per hectare, commonly based on prevailing market value. A house is commonly priced at P50,000.

Agririda ket nga nangina ket ania ngay ngarud? Balitok ti karga toy daga di balitok met ti presiona (They complain about the price, but isn’t that natural? The land contains gold underneath so its price should be like gold also),” said Banig, a former town councilor.

Gilbert Catteg, who lost his house even if the company still owed him P10,000, questioned why the company, as the buyer, was dictating the price of their lands.

But according to Gozar, the company is working on tight deadline, and could no longer afford to be further delayed in the implementation of their project plan. OceanaGold aims to start production in early 2009.

He blamed “speculators” who tropped to the site in anticipation of higher prices for the land on Dinkidi hill. For the last two years, houses “sprouted like mushrooms”, even when these are not liveable, Gozar said.

The demolition team was destroying houses at times purposely when the owners are not around, the OceanaGold executive said, as a management strategy to avoid any confrontation. Others, he said, volunteered to vacate their houses after they were paid.

“We will try our best to carry out the dismantling of the houses in the most humane means possible, and to see to it that the needs of those who will be displaced will be taken care of,” he said.

In place of the supposed payments, the company has posted a bond of P600,000 with the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, which, Gozar said, should cover all damages that will be suffered by the villagers occupying the two-hectare lot, for their lost property.

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