N. Vizcaya folk lose rice lands to Aussie mining operations
KASIBU, Nueva Vizcaya–Tribal residents of this upland town have expressed disgust over the rapid loss of their rice lands amid the ongoing land-clearing operations by Australian mining firm OceanaGold Philippines Inc.
Officials of Didipio village here fear a possible shortage of locally produced rice and other farm products as OceanaGold continues to bulldoze lands despite controversies hounding its planned operations.
Didipio is the site of OceanaGold’s proposed $117-million gold-copper project that is being opposed by the residents as well as the Catholic Church due to what they said were human rights violations allegedly committed by the company.
Rice lands within the planned 425-hectare primary impact area, which the company bought access to, have now become barren tracts of land to make way for the mining project.
“The company does not yet have any assurance if it will definitely start operations as scheduled because of the numerous problems it is encountering now. Yet, it is destroying farm lands everywhere,” said village council member Carmen Ananayo.
Residents here echoed concerns that the current rice shortage is partly because of the loss of rice lands.
“What if later on, the company is ordered to stop this project, can it bring back the lands it has destroyed to their original fertile state?” she asked.
Lorenzo Pulido, also a village council member, said he fears the day when villagers of Didipio will have to go to the lowland areas to buy their staple because their rice lands have been converted into a mining site.
Since December, OceanaGold has been clearing lands in Didipio in an attempt to meet its February 2009 target as start of production.
But residents continue to resist the company’s attempts to eject them from their lands.
Officials have also denounced the haphazard destruction of the village’s water sources, which drain into the Didipio River here.
The river is among the headwaters of Cagayan River, which provides irrigation not only to farm lands in the area, but also to vast tracts of rice lands in Quirino, Isabela and Cagayan.
On Monday, Bishop Ramon Villena asked President Macapagal-Arroyo to suspend the operations of OceanaGold, amid the latest incidents of violence in the area in connection with the company’s ongoing demolition activities.
Villena, who is also chair of the Regional Development Council for Cagayan Valley, has opposed the Didipio project, saying it does not follow the Arroyo administration’s goal of developing Northern Luzon as an agribusiness hub.
This writer tried but failed to reach for comment Ramoncito Gozar, OceanaGold vice president for communications and external affairs, on Friday. He did not take calls to his mobile phone.
In an earlier interview, however, he said the immediate clearing of the lands “already acquired” by the company is the company’s strategy to demoralize residents who continue to oppose the mining project.