Scrutiny

House probes Aussie mining firm’s ‘abuses’

SOLANO, Nueva Vizcaya–The House Committee on Cultural Communities has launched an investigation into the alleged abuses committed by Australian firm OceanaGold Philippines, Inc. against indigenous peoples in an upland village in Kasibu town.

House Resolution No. 594, filed by Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño, seeks to look into cases of illegal demolition of houses and ejection of Ifugao and Bugkalot natives in remote Didipio village, as the company clears the land for its planned US$117-million gold-copper project.

“Tribal residents have expressed disgust over the rapid loss of their rice lands amid the clearing operations by OceanaGold. Village officials have also denounced the alleged haphazard destruction of their water sources,” the resolution said.

The probe of OceanaGold is the second to be conducted by the House committee involving foreign-owned mining projects in Nueva Vizcaya.

In September, the panel began an investigation on the operations of RoyalCo Resources, Inc., also an Australian firm, amid allegations of fraud and bribery, and use of armed men against Bugkalot, Ibaloi and Kalanguya natives in nearby Pa-o and Kakidugen villages.

Nueva Vizcaya Rep. Carlos Padilla said members of the House panel, chaired by Benguet Rep. Samuel Dangwa, will visit the two mining areas on June 6 to 7, to conduct public hearings on the issues surrounding the mining activities.

“The results of these investigations will allow us (in the House of Representatives) to look at the defects of the 1995 Mining Act. We can also recommend the filing of charges against these mining companies if they are found to have violated our laws,” he said.

Since Sunday, this writer has been trying to contact for comment Ramoncito Gozar, OceanaGold vice president for communications and external affairs, but he would not take calls on his mobile phone, or respond to text messages.

But in earlier interviews, he said OceanaGold always welcomes investigations being waged on its activities by government agencies, to give the company the opportunity clarify the issues.

He maintained that company’s activities are all sanctioned by the mining permit, a financial and technical assistance agreement (FTAA), granted to it by the Philippine government.

Padilla said the House probe would enable the public to have access to important documents concerning the Didipio project, which were previously hidden from public.

“We have initial findings of numerous violations on the FTAA granted to OceanaGold. This will be proven once we get hold of these documents,” he said.

In his resolution, Casiño cited the growing opposition to the company’s operations in Didipio, led by Bishop Ramon Villena and the Catholic church, Didipio and Kasibu leaders, civil society groups, and lately, the provincial government.

“Villena, who also chairs the Regional Development Council of Cagayan Valley, has opposed the Didipio project, saying it does not follow the Arroyo administration’s goal of developing Northern Luzon as an agri-business hub,” Casiño said.

Since last month, the province and OceanaGold have been embroiled in a bitter dispute over the latter’s refusal to pay around P28 million in sand and gravel taxes.

The company has stood firm not to comply with the April 9 cease-and-desist order issued by Gov. Luisa Cuaresma, citing a directive from Environment Secretary Lito Atienza to resume operations.

In his May 14 letter to Patrick Goodfellow, OceanaGold country president, Atienza directed the firm to resume its operations, including its earth-moving activities.

He said Cuaresma’s order was illegal because under the FTAA, OceanaGold is exempt from the need to secure a quarry permit, and that it did not have to pay for sand and gravel taxes.

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