Stop Aussie mining project, bishop asks GMA
DUPAX DEL NORTE, Nueva Vizcaya–-A close ally in the Catholic church has called on President Macapagal-Arroyo to order the suspension of operations of an Australian mining project, following alleged violations of human rights it has committed against indigenous peoples in the province.
Bishop Ramon Villena, who played host to Ms Arroyo during his 69th birthday celebration here on Monday, said OceanaGold Philippines Inc. should be stopped until its alleged abuses were investigated and resolved.
“It is not yet too late to stop the project because they have not started operations. If we don’t stop this company now, there will be graver abuses, more blood will flow,” said Villena, who Ms Arroyo appointed in 2006 as chair of the Regional Development Council for Cagayan Valley.
He made the call after the shooting of a resident in Kasibu town on Black Saturday by one of OceanaGold’s security guards, as a 200-member demolition team swooped down on Didipio village to resume dismantling of houses there.
In a statement aired over the church-owned dwRV Radio Veritas, Villena condemned the “atrocious” and “monstrous” acts supposedly being carried out by the company, which, he said, were being made even worse by its apparent attempts of a coverup.
This writer tried to reach Ramoncito Gozar, OceanaGold vice president for communications and external affairs, on Tuesday but calls to his mobile phone were unanswered and he did not respond to text messages.
In an interview on Sunday, however, Gozar lamented that Villena might have reacted the way he did because he was being fed “inaccurate” and “exaggerated” reports by antimining residents.
Gozar said the company was “peacefully” doing dismantling activities on the property that it has already paid for, all in accordance with the Mining Act of 1995.
OceanaGold, an Australian firm, is trying to conduct large-scale mining operations in Didipio. The gold-copper operations are one of the 23 projects being pushed by the government in its bid to revitalize the mining industry.
Despite his close relationship with Ms Arroyo, Villena said he remained steadfast in his crusade against mining, especially large-scale projects carried out by foreign mining companies.
He said the “tragedy” of OceanaGold’s demolition activities and the shooting of Didipio resident Emilio Pumihic were being aggravated by the firm’s apparent attempts to downplay the incidents.
“These human rights violations are indicative of the fact, a sign [of] what we have been telling all along that mining is very destructive and many more destruction will follow if we allow it,” he added.
In his strongest statement yet against OceanaGold, Villena said the tragedy of its demolition activities, and the shooting of Emilio Pumihic by the firm’s security guard were aggravated by officials’ apparent attempts to stage a cover-up.
“The company is doing an overkill on this. It is now wielding its octopus hands and power in order to overwhelm and oppress the people, and disregard their human rights,” Villena said.
“These human rights violations is indicative of the fact, a sign that what we have been telling all along that mining is very destructive and many more destruction will follow if we allow it,” he added.
Supt. Domingo Lucas, acting provincial police director, also scored the company’s supposed lack of cooperation in its ongoing investigation of the case.
“If the company was really very cooperative, then it would not have taken us a long time to gather details about the incident, and they should have turned over custody of the suspect to the police,” Lucas said.
Villena also expressed disgust that the company resumed demolition activities despite pledges made by its officials that no house will be destroyed in Didipio until Lenten break is over.
This was after the Regional Trial Court on March 17 lifted the temporary restraining order it issued on a number of houses there, which stemmed from an injunction suit filed last month by Didipio residents, the bishop said.
On Good Friday, however, the company brought in a 200-member demolition team, thrice the number of its original crew, and on Black Saturday, it started tearing down houses in the village, according to police reports.
“This company has no conscience, no heart. If at all it has a heart, its heart is probably made of money,” the bishop said.
Gozar, however, maintained that the agreement was that no demolition will take place only on Holy Thursday and Good Friday.
Villena urged the police to conduct a thorough and an honest-to-goodness investigation into the shooting of Pumihic allegedly by Whitney Dongiahon, a village official of Dibibi in Cabarroguis, Quirino who is also working as a security guard for OceanaGold.
“Charges should be filed not only against the suspect but also against the company. It has not yet started operating and it has already committed a lot of human rights violations,” the prelate said.