N. Vizcaya gov’t stops mining operations over tax dues
BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya – The provincial government has blocked earth-moving operations by an Australian mining firm for its refusal to pay taxes imposed by the local government.
On Tuesday, a group of about 50 provincial officials, department heads and police and security personnel went to Barangay Didipio in Kasibu town to stop the operations of OceanaGold Philippines Inc. and Delta Corp., a subcontractor of earth-moving activities there.
Lawyer Desiderio Perez, provincial legal officer, said officials, led by Gov. Luisa Cuaresma, have vowed to stay in the area to prevent the company from resuming its activities until it agrees to pay the estimated P30 million business license and quarry fees.
“It is our belief that any agreement between the national government and foreign corporations does not override the power of the [local government] to collect sand and gravel taxes, as a devolved function under the Local Government Code of 1991,” Perez said.
OceanaGold has been clearing the area since December last year in preparation for the construction of various facilities for its $117-million mining project. The firm has set the start of production in February 2009.
Work, however, has been hampered by controversies in right-of-way issues as a number of residents refused to leave despite the offer of compensation.
Perez said the province was firm in enforcing the cease-and-desist order (CDO) issued by Cuaresma on April 9 against OceanaGold.
In his April 22 letter to Cuaresma, Environment Secretary Lito Atienza said earth-moving activities by OceanaGold and Delta in Didipio were allowed by the financial and technical assistance agreement granted by the Philippine government, which also exempted it from paying quarry taxes.
Since Tuesday, this writer has been seeking OceanaGold’s response but Ramoncito Gozar, the firm’s vice president for communications, declined.
A report of a six-member team that would enforce the CDO said OceanaGold and Delta officials refused to honor Cuaresma’s order when it was delivered to them in Didipio.
Instead, they vowed to continue the work, citing the instructions of Atienza.
The province has also required the company to submit its program of work, to enable the local environment office to assess the quarry taxes due to the province, the official added.
The provincial board is also set to withdraw its 2005 endorsement of the Didipio project, Perez said, to invoke the provision of law that no project shall be allowed to operate without the approval of host local communities.
Both the village council of Didipio and the town council of Kasibu had denied endorsement for the project.
In the sub-village of Dinauyan, residents composed mainly of Ifugao natives also set up road blockades to prevent the entry of heavy equipment that were to construct the project’s 70-meter high tailings dam.