Agency seeks to stop demolition of tribe’s houses in N. Vizcaya mining project
KASIBU, Nueva Vizcaya–The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) called for the stoppage of the operations of an Australian mining company amid the alleged violations of human rights it has committed against tribal peoples of an upland village here that is the site of a large-scale mining project.
Lawyer Basilio Wandag, NCIP legal affairs director, asked OceanaGold Philippines, Inc., owner and operator of the proposed Didipio gold-copper project, to stop demolition of properties of tribal residents until their complaints are addressed by the company.
Wandag made the call upon the recommendation of eight-member NCIP team led by NCIP Commissioner Rizalino Segundo that conducted a field investigation in the area earlier this month.
The NCIP team affirmed the complaints earlier raised against OceanaGold, which included non-payment to landowners and alleged acts of harassment, in connection with its ongoing efforts to acquire access to lands in the area and clear these villagers’ houses for its US$117-million project.
Company officials, however, dismissed NCIP’s call and denied the allegations.
In a letter to Wandag, OceanaGold maintained it has no reason to stop its demolition activities because it has fully complied with the mining law, which supposedly grants the company the right of unrestricted access to the area.
Since Didipio is not within a declared ancestral domain area, its residents, who are composed mainly of Ifugao folk, are not covered by the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (Ipra), the company said.
“We note that you have not indicated in your message the names of the alleged IPs whose property you claim have been demolished or destroyed. You have not also indicated the facts surrounding the alleged demolition. OGPI, therefore, cannot specifically address your allegation,” the letter said.
According to NCIP regional director Ruben Bastero, the NCIP team has recorded 21 complaints of landowners whose houses have already been demolished but have not been paid by the company.
Residents also reported loss or destruction of their personal belongings during the demolition, which the company’s wrecking crew carried out despite the owners’ absence.
The cases of unpaid landowners has forced tribal villagers to set up a barricade in the sub-village of Dinauyan, amid fears that their houses will be forcibly torn down by the company, with the help of armed men.
Under the law, the state can exercise the power of eminent domain, or the forcible “taking” by government of private property for public use, but only after adequate payment of just compensation to the owner of the land, Bastero said.
“We will also look into the reported slapping of village council member Eduardo Ananayo by one SPO4 Noel Valdez, a member of the police force assigned in Didipio, as well as the shooting of an Ifugao native by a company security guard,” he added.
Villagers also complained that company bulldozers and other heavy equipment have been working even during night time, causing noise that is too annoying for residents during sleep, especially for children.
Due to earth-moving activities, the village road in Dinauyan have now been blocked and scraped, making travel more difficult for residents of Didipio and nearby villages, and destroying the paddies of adjacent rice fields, said farmer Alfredo Pugong.
Residents also assailed the company for allegedly prohibiting landowners to engage a lawyer in the negotiations over their land, and for not giving landowners their personal copy of the “agreement to vacate” they entered into with OceanaGold.
“(OceanaGold) does not want to transact with (Didipio landowners) if they are assisted by lawyers. Yet, they use their own lawyers when transacting with individual members of the community,” said Peter Duyapat, president of Didipio earth Savers Multipurpose Association, a people’s organization.
In response, OceanaGold lawyers Diosdado Trillana and Lionel Lopez said the company has been working within company’s access rights in Didipio, which was granted by government through a financial and technical assistance agreement (FTAA).
The FTAA is an instrument under the Mining Act of 1995 allowing foreign companies to explore, extract and use the country’s mineral resources.
They said a number of Didipio residents have entered into easement and relocation agreements with OceanaGold, and were paid their corresponding compensation.
For those properties whose owners have refused to grant access to the company, OceanaGold has posted a bond with the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, to serve as the landowners’ compensation, as provided for by the Mining Act, the lawyers said.