N. Vizcaya villagers dig in vs Australian mining company
KASIBU, Nueva Vizcaya–Residents of a remote village in this upland town have set up a barricade to prevent a foreign company from clearing their land and building a dam for its gold-copper project.
About 100 villagers of Didipio have been holding a round-the-clock watch over a blockade they have set up along the road in the sub-village of Dinauyan, site of the proposed mine tailings dam for the $117-million project of OceanaGold Philippines Inc., an Australian firm.
Village leaders and officers of the Didipio Earth Savers Multi-Purpose Association (Desama) are protesting the demolition of houses and the bulldozing of their lands allegedly by the company, despite the landowners’ objection and the company’s nonpayment of its obligations.
“We have come to a decision that no house in Dinauyan shall be demolished from now on, and no company activity shall be allowed here unless the company complies with our demands,” said Lorenzo Pulido, village council member.
OceanaGold’s clearing operations have stirred public uproar in the area, triggered by complaints that many residents had lost their houses despite their refusal to accede to the project, or were yet to be paid for the access rights they had given to the company.
The protesters have blocked the road with a wooden electric pole, about 30 meters from the site of the proposed dam.
About 10 people man the road checkpoint at any given time, while the rest are on stakeout at a house overlooking the road.
On Tuesday, a truckload of a 40-member demolition crew that was supposed to demolish more houses in Dinauyan tried to pass through but was stopped, and was ordered to turn back.
Only vehicles that have no involvement in the project are allowed to pass.
The group has tightened its watch on passing vehicles amid the reported planned entry of heavy equipment that will dig the foundations of the proposed 70-meter high dam, or about the height of a 23-story building.
Dinauyan villagers, composed mainly of Ifugao villagers, have been protesting the Didipio gold-copper project amid fears that their village, with all their houses, rice lands and citrus orchards, will be submerged under millions of tons of mine waste.
According to company documents, tailings dam is designed to store approximately 24 million tons of slurry (ground earth) expected to be produced by 14 years of mine operations.
Jake Foronda, OceanaGold manager for the Didipio project, appealed to the barricaders for their equipment to be let through, invoking the company’s right of access to the lands in Didipio by the “expropriation law”.
In a dialogue with residents Saturday, he assured the group that village officials and the house owners must be fully notified first before they tear down the houses.
He apologized for the “mistakes” which, he said the company committed, including the recent shooting of a Didipio resident by an OceanaGold security guard, when the former tried to prevent the dismantling of the latter’s house while he was still sleeping inside.
“There are some changes in policy which we are now considering, such as the use (by the guards) of clubs instead of firearms,” he said.
The villagers, however, rejected Foronda’s appeal.
“For many years now, (OceanaGold) has made a lot of promises that it has failed to fulfill. We no longer believe this company,” said Peter Duyapat, Desama president and former village councilor.
This writer tried to reach Ramoncito Gozar, OceanaGold vice president for communications and external affairs, but he did not take calls to his mobile phone.
In a text message, he said the report to him by his personnel in the field was that the barricade was already dismantled Wednesday morning, as soon as a number of Australian mining contractors arrived in the area.