Gov’s allies want ‘kalabasa’ award for DENR’s Atienza
BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–A provincial board member here on Wednesday filed a resolution awarding the “kalabasa” (squash) award to Environment Secretary Jose “Lito” Atienza, for “mishandling” the
controversy between the provincial government and a foreign mining firm operating here.
Board member Efren Quiben said Atienza deserves the award for favoring and defending OceanaGold Philippines, Inc., an Australian firm, and “betraying” the local government code which empowers provinces to collect quarry taxes.
The province is trying to collect about P30 million in sand and gravel taxes and income from licenses from firms operating at OceanaGold’s US$117-million Didipio gold-copper project in upland Kasibu town. Atienza, however, said the company’s quarrying activities cannot be taxed.
“Secretary Atienza used to perform well as mayor of a premier city of the country. It is sad to note that when he became head of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, he seems to have forgotten the provisions of the local government code,” he said.
Holding a squash while delivering his speech in Wednesday’s session of the provincial board, Quiben explained that the “kalabasa” award was being given to Atienza for “doing a poor job” in upholding the welfare of local governments.
Sought for comment, Atienza laughed off the supposed award.
“We are staying on track following the rule of law. If there is someone who is supposed to receive a ‘kalabasa‘ here, it’s not me, but the one who does not know the law,” he said, without elaborating.
Board Member Edgardo Balgos reminded Atienza about his promise during his visit to the province in October last year that he will uphold the right of local governments to receive benefits due to them from the
operations of large-scale mining projects.
He said the national government should not deprive the local government of its right to collect quarry taxes, being its only source of revenue from mining operations.
“You vowed to go to jail if you are challenged by foreign mining companies who refuse to pay taxes to local governments. Now, OceanaGold is challenging you,” he added.
Atienza drew the ire of provincial officials here after he was quoted in media reports last week as supposedly saying that Gov. Luisa Cuaresma “should come to her senses” after issuing a cease-and-desist order (CDO)
against the operations of OceanaGold and its sub-contractor, Delta Earthmoving Corp.
Both Quiben and Balgos are Cuaresma’s staunch allies.
In an interview, Atienza, however, maintained his stand that province cannot collect quarry taxes from OceanaGold, as it was exempt from such obligations under the financial and technical assistance agreement (FTAA) that the Philippine government entered into with the company.
“My latest action here is to direct OceanaGold to proceed. We are consistent, staying on track following the rule of law,” he said.
On May 6, Cuaresma and about 50 officials and employees of the province trooped to Didipio to stop what to them were illegal quarrying operations. They have camped out at the site since, preventing every movement of OceanaGold’s heavy equipment.
The DENR chief expressed surprise that after Cuaresma has shown support to the project for the past several years, she now “capriciously decides to tax it”.
“She’s on the wrong track,” Atienza said.
He also had this piece of advise for the board members: “I would strongly suggest that the board members ask their lawyers. We should not be ruled by emotions, by personal orientations, but by the rule of