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.
Since December, OceanaGold has been bulldozing portions of the lands that are within its 425-hectare primary impact area, and has been demolishing villagers’ houses amid unresolved disputes on landowners’ compensation.
“This company has become so desperate that it is now employing force and intimidation through the use of armed men,” said Peter Duyapat, president of the Didipio Earth Savers Multi Purpose Association (Desama), a people’s organization.
On Tuesday evening, a company bulldozer forcibly entered the property of Romeo Guimbangan, a farmer, in the sub-village of Lower Dinauyan here. As he went out of his house to confront the bulldozer operator, he was restrained by two armed men.
“The men held me on each of my arms then one of them told me, ‘Just let them; the company will pay you anyway,’” Guimbangan quoted the armed men as saying.
On Wednesday noon, the company’s wrecking crew tore down Guimbangan’s house and that of his two siblings, while he was in nearby Cabarroguis town in Quirino to seek legal advice.
Police officials, however, denied that policemen were sent to intimidate antimining residents. Since last week, the PNP has deployed 30 PMG men from Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino in Didipio, upon the request of company officials.
“Our role (there) is to maintain calm and sobriety in case any untoward incident (will happen), and we are not part of the demolition (activities). But I will investigate that report,” said Supt. Domingo Lucas, acting provincial police director.
Kasibu Mayor Romeo Tayaban and village chief Paulino Baguilat Sr. said they have asked the company to suspend the demolition until the landowners have been fully paid.
Oceanagold has faced stiff opposition from residents who have refused to accept the company’s offer of compensation, threatening to derail its targeted start of production in early 2009.
Last week, about 100 villagers barricaded a fenced-off cluster of houses in the sub-village of Dinauyan, following attempts by a demolition team hired by the company to enter the compound and dismantle houses.
Ramoncito Gozar, OceanaGold vice president for communications and external affairs, said negotiations have bogged down because of the high prices demanded by some of the landowners.
A number of residents have reportedly asked for P1.2 million for a 200-square meter lot, way beyond the company’s per-lot offer of at least P200,000.
“This (demolition) is part of our continuing activities to enforce our rights to enter the project area per the FTAA (financial and technical assistance agreement), MGB-approved bonds & the decisions of the panel of arbitrators,” he said.
He said they are rushing to demolish the houses, and could not afford to be further delayed in their bid to acquire access rights on lands, and to eject their present occupants.
Gozar, however, denied that they restrained Guimbangan during the clearing operations, adding: “In fact we are currently finalizing talks on payment settlements following our numerous negotiations.”