Aussie mine firm retreats after villagers clash
BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–A clash between opposing groups of indigenous peoples on Saturday has forced officials of an Australian mining company to backtrack from their attempt to enter a planned exploration site in upland Kasibu town.
On Sunday, company workers and a group of pro-mining Bugkalot natives began pulling out from Pa-o village to avoid what could be a violent confrontation with villagers opposing the entry of RoyalCo Resources Ltd.
Violence erupted when a group of about 100 antimining residents belonging to the Kasibu Inter-tribal Response for Ecological Development (Kired) clashed with a group of pro-mining Bugkalot.
Tempers flared when the pro-mining group tried to disperse Kired members who sat on the path of a bulldozer that was clearing an access road for the company’s exploration activities, according to Bernabe Almirol, a freelance writer who visited the area.
A video footage taken by Almirol showed a number of men from opposite camps grappling with each other in front of an advancing bulldozer along a downhill portion of the road in Sitio Digyan in Pa-o.
The groups were later pacified. Policemen who were earlier deployed in the area intervened.
Joey Nelson Ayson, RoyalCo country manager, confirmed the pullout. “We regret what happened, and we do not want the problem to worsen. So we have decided to pull out our people in the meantime that we are trying to find ways [to] remedy the problem,” he said on Monday.
Ayson said he had ordered the retrieval of drilling tools that had been brought to the area, as well as the withdrawal of about 100 Bugkalot and Ifugao natives, who, he said, were hired “not as goons but as porters.”
Tension began to build up in the area in January when Kired members camped out near the entrance to the exploration site to block company personnel who would conduct drilling activities.
RoyalCo brought in its own force of Bugkalot natives, whose leaders issued a written consent allowing the company to explore within the 5,783-hectare area in Pa-o and Kakidugen villages. The site is within a declared ancestral land of the Bugkalot.
Police confirmed reports that some members of these groups were armed, prompting the deployment of 15 policemen there as a peacekeeping contingent.
Kired members, composed of Kalanguya, Ibaloi and Bugkalot natives from six villages in Kasibu, have been protesting the government issuance of an exploration permit to RoyalCo, allegedly without consulting them.
It was the second successful blockade that Kired staged against RoyalCo, formerly known as Oxiana Philippines Inc. In August 2007, about 1,000 Kired members put up a barricade to deny entry of mining equipment in Paquet by barricading another road in Paquet village.
RoyalCo subsequently filed an injunction suit to stop the barricades, but this was dismissed by the court for failure of company officials to show that they were authorized by the board to file the suit.