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.


One thought on “Backlash

  1. Folks,

    Tayong mga Pinoy ay matagal nang niloko ng mga may vested interest. Noon mga dayuhan. Ngayon ay mga kapwa nating Pilipino na walang sawang mangguyo ng mga mangmang para gamitin sa kanilang mga mithiin sa lipunan. Isa nang halimbawa dito ang mga NGO kuno na pasimuno ng resistance sa mining project diyan sa Didipio, Nueva Ecija. Kailangan ba natin ng mina? Kailangan ba nating kumita itong bansa natin? Are we so myopic na ang nakikita lang natin ay ang mga personal na kapakanan lamang natin? People of Kasibu, speak out against the misinformation and foolishness being pushed by the underground set at your expense. These people are receiving orders from both Joma Sison and the Church. Incidentally, Joma Sison don’t want the country to get rich kasi mawawalan siya ng maloloko. At yung simbahan, ayaw na mawalan ng mga mahihirap na merkado para sa kanilang mga serbisyo katulad ng kasal, binyag at libing kasi ang mga yumayaman ay nakakalimot nang pumasok sa simbahan. That’s the truth. A painful truth. Wake up, people. Kung yumaman ba ang bansa natin sino ang makikinabang kundi tayo din.

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