Tribes score mining firm for ‘lack of concern’ for villagers
BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–Tribal leaders in an upland community here on Tuesday criticized the supposed apathy shown by an Australian mining firm by claiming that its project was underway, despite widespread clamor for its stoppage over controversies.
Village officials of Didipio in upland Kasibu town assailed the alleged claims by officials of OceanaGold Philippines, Inc. that downplay the conflicts surrounding its construction of the US$117-million gold copper project in the area.
“Makitatayon ti agpayso nga kulay daytoy nga kumpania nga awan nga pulos panangimasakitda ti tattao, ta ti napateg laeng kaniada ket ti minas (We are now seeing the true color of this company, that it does not care at all about the welfare of the people because all it cares about is the mines),” said village councilor Carmen Ananayo.
On Monday, OceanaGold came out with its first-quarter report saying the company was “on schedule” in its “pre-stripping (activities) of its open-pit mine” this month, in preparation for its targeted start of gold and copper production in February 2009.
A private contractor, the report said, was in the middle of building the run-of-mine storage pad and digging for the processing plant and permanent camp sites, which is expected to be completed by the third quarter of 2008.
But the company concealed the conflicts it has encountered in Didipio, village leaders said, mainly in the acquisition of access rights over private lands and in the clearing of the area and demolition of houses.
“OceanaGold must show honesty towards its investors, by admitting that issues continue to hound the project. In order to prove that it is a responsible company, it should meet these issues head-on and not set them aside,” Peter Duyapat, president of the Didipio Earth Savers Multi-purpose Association (Desama), a people’s organization, said in the dialect.
This writer tried to contact Ramoncito Gozar, OceanaGold’s vice president for communications and external affairs, but he did not take calls to his mobile phone or respond to text messages on Tuesday.
Since last month, tribal residents, composed mainly of Ifugao natives, have been manning two barricades in the sub-village of Dinauyan, in an attempt to block the entry of the firm’s heavy equipment that are attempting to clear the area for its mine tailings dam.
Pleas for the company to first look at the problems before it proceeds with other activities have not been heeded, Duyapat said in a phone interview.
He cited how OceanaGold “ignored” the request of National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) for the company to suspend its operations until complaints raised by villagers were resolved, including supposed non-payment of compensation to landowners, as well as various human rights violations.
In response, company lawyers denied the allegations, and maintained that the OceanaGold’s operations are all within the legal bounds of the rights granted to it by the Philippine government as a mining contractor.
Didipio residents expressed outrage over how the national government, too, has supposedly been tolerating the show of lack of concern by OceanaGold for tribal communities here that are being affected by the construction of its large-scale mining project.
Duyapat said the government’s recent conduct has shown that it has abandoned its supposed function to regulate the mining activities of foreign firms that are found to be violating Philippine laws.
Last week, OceanaGold and environment officials dismissed a cease-and-desist order issued April 9 by Gov. Luisa Cuaresma, due to the supposed lack of a permit for OceanaGold’s quarry activities in the area.
Local officials said the company should also pay quarry taxes under the provincial government’s revenue code.
In an April 22 letter, Secretary Lito Atienza came to OceanaGold’s defense, saying earth-moving activities in Didipio are already covered by the financial and technical assistance agreement (FTAA) granted to the firm by the Philippine government.
Atienza expressed concern that Cuaresma’s cease-and-desist order “has resulted in the disruption or undue delay of OceanaGold’s operations”.
“The FTAA is a valid and existing contract between the…Philippines and OceanaGold, and any act by government and its subdivisions tending to interfere with the parties’ rights and obligations is certainly not conducive to the stability of contractual relations,” he said.