Dismantled

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.

The case stemmed from the injunction case filed by 31 Didipio villagers who questioned OceanaGold’s demolition activities which, they said, were being done without a writ or special order of demolition, and despite the absence of a sheriff from the courts.

The company’s activities, the complainants said, were also being carried out even without paying “just compensation” to the owners, and without providing a relocation site for the displaced residents as mandated by law.

Since December, OceanaGold has begun clearing lands and dismantling a number of houses in Didipio which are within the 425-hectare primary impact area of its planned gold-copper project.

It has been invoking its right to enter the area and demolish structures, as supposedly granted by its mining permit, a financial and technical assistance agreement (FTAA) issued by then President Fidel Ramos to its predecessor company, Climax Mining Limited, in 1994.

The FTAA is one of the means granted by the controversial mining act of 1995 for foreign companies to explore, develop and extract the country’s mineral resources.

Quoting the Constitution, the complainants said: “No less than the 1987 Constitution dictates that no person shall be deprived of life and property without due process of law. Also, no property shall be taken without just compensation.”

Aside from OceanaGold, the complaint also implicated the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Mines and Geosciences Bureau, and the Philippine National Police, which have supposedly been aiding the company in its demolition activities.

The group is asking for P100,000 each in damages.

The complainants, many of whom have received “notice(s) to vacate” from OceanaGold, asked the court to issue a temporary restraining order for OceanaGold to immediately stop its demolition work to avoid causing “irreparable damage” to them.

They cited six houses that have been torn down two weeks ago in the sub-village of Lower Dinauyan despite the supposed failure of negotiations between the company and the land owners.

“The matter is of extreme urgency because (OceanaGold), with about 30 armed members of the police and around 50 other security personnel, and around six bulldozers, is still in or has easy access to Didipio, ready to demolish the other remaining houses and properties,” they said.

On Feb. 11, an 80-member demolition team resumed operations and dismantled six more houses in the sub-village of Lower Dinauyan, site of the project’s proposed open pit.

This was momentarily stopped on Feb. 13 when villagers formed a human barricade and fenced off their lots as the wrecking crew prepared to enter their premises.

Village officials and residents have been asking company officials to stop the demolition until the law has been complied with. Kasibu Mayor Romeo Tayaban has also made a written demand on defendants to stop the demolition.

The company, however, ignored these demands, and went on with its dismantling activities, the complainants said.

On Tuesday evening, however, OceanaGold’s earth-moving equipment entered the lot of one Romeo Guimbangan, who alleged that he was restrained by two unidentified armed men when he went out of his house to confront the operator.

The next day, Guimbangan’s house and those of his two siblings were destroyed while he was in Cabarroguis town to seek legal advice on how he could stop the company.

This writer tried to reach Ramoncito Gozar, OceanaGold vice president for communications and external affairs, but he would not take calls or respond to text messages sent to his mobile phone . In an earlier interview, however, he defended their demolition activities, saying their right to enter private lands has been granted by the company’s FTAA.

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