Squeeze

Mining firm wants villagers to pay for its losses

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–An Australian mining company has asked the court here to compel tribal residents in an upland village in Kasibu town to pay for the losses it has incurred, after a court order forced it to stop demolishing houses for its planned gold-copper mining project.

In a hearing on Wednesday, officials of OceanaGold Philippines Inc. asked Judge Vincent Eden Panay to increase the bond already posted by 31 complainants from Didipio village, in connection with an injunction case they filed last week against the company.

“We believe that the bond (of P50,000) posted by the complainants is not commensurate to the losses that the company has been suffering as a result of this (temporary restraining order),” said Diosdado Trillana, counsel for the mining firm.

The lawyer was referring to the 20-day TRO that the court granted against the ongoing demolition of homes by OceanaGold to clear the area in time for the supposed start of its production activities in early 2009.

The complainants, members of the Didipio Earthsavers Multi-Purpose Association (Desama), filed the injunction suit on Feb. 27 questioning OceanaGold’s ongoing clearing of lands and demolition of houses in Didipio, site of the firm’s planned gold-copper project.

Such activities, the complainants said, were being carried out without a legal order of demolition, and without paying “just compensation” to the homeowners.

The company has also not provided for a relocation site for residents that are to be displaced as required by law, they said.

The complainants are asking for P100,000 each in damages.

Peter Duyapat, Desama president, said the company’s motion for the court to increase the bond was meant to pressure the complainants into giving up the suit.

Last week, the complainants had to shell out personal money and take loans to raise the P50,000-bond required by the court.

The TRO has further snagged OceanaGold’s attempt to clear the area of the proposed mining project’s 425-hectare primary impact area. Since 1994, it has been met with stiff opposition from tribal residents.

According to Trillana, the complainants should have posted with the court a bond more or less equal to the loss that the company would suffer for the entire duration of the suit.

Testifying as witness, Ramoncito Gozar, OceanaGold vice president for communications and external affairs, said the company is incurring about $66,000 (P2.7 million) in daily losses due to the project delay.

If the company fails to meet its target to start production in April 2009, the project will have to be called off, he said.

Following the company’s figures, the complainants may have to post a minimum bond of P54 million for the 20-day period of the TRO. The case may even take longer to resolve.

The company also questioned the TRO issued by Panay, citing Presidential Decree 1818, which prohibits courts from issuing such orders against government infrastructure projects.

But lawyer Mary Grace Ellen Villanueva, counsel for the villagers, debunked the company’s argument, saying the payment of bond is also based on the financial capacity of complainants.

“Alleged corporate losses or damages (suffered by the company) do not justify violation of human rights,” she said.

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