Bad signs

N. Vizcaya violence proof town becoming a Diwalwal–solon

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines — The spate of violence in the upland village of Didipio in Kasibu town is a clear indication that the ore-rich area is now “becoming a Diwalwal,” Nueva Vizcaya Representative Carlos Padilla said on Tuesday.

Padilla said he feared Thursday’s murder of Didipio village chief, Paulino Baguilat Sr., could trigger a wave of unsolved killings due to the unrest that was caused by the mining controversy in the area, similar to what happened in the Diwalwal mining community on Mt. Diwata in Monkayo, Compostela Valley.

“With the latest events that are happening right now in Didipio, there is little doubt that it would soon become the Diwalwal of the north, so to speak, if we do not do something about it,” he said.

Baguilat, 52, was shot and killed on Thursday night. His body was found the next morning by his daughter, Tennesy, on a cliff side near a foot trail, about 70 meters from their house in the sub-village of Pimmadek.

While police have not linked Baguilat’s murder to the controversy surrounding the planned operation of Australian firm OceanaGold Phils Inc., many villagers in Didipio think the murder was mining-related, Padilla said.

“We deplore these unfortunate incidents among our people. Notwithstanding the promised benefits that mining will bring to our economy, but since the mining company has arrived, what the people of Didipio have experienced so far are miseries, problems and tragedies,” he said.

Ramoncito Gozar, OceanaGold vice president for communications and external affairs, disagreed with Padilla.

“We do not concur with Congressman Padilla’s opinion and in fact, we believe that it is a bit far-fetched. The Mt. Diwalwal situation has nothing at all in common with the Didipio project,” he said.

He said the killing of Baguilat has nothing to do with politics or conflicting local or small mining claims.

“The police have expressed their views on several possible angles of the death [of Baguilat] which they are looking at and we would rather limit our comments and views to such,” Gozar said.

The lawmaker lamented that Didipio used to be a peaceful village, “where tribal groups were free to pursue their social, cultural and economic activities”.

“The once-beautiful physical and social landscape of Didipio is now starting to disappear because of the excavation, diggings and the dislocations of the people who lived there. Yet, the company is not yet operational,” he said.

“I can only be sure that if the operation progresses, the degradation of the people’s lives and of the environment will worsen,” he added.

The Didipio experience, Padilla said, has also exposed the flaws in the country’s mining law. He said this bolsters the need for a review, including the financial and technical assistance agreement (FTTA) issued to OceanaGold.

The House committee on cultural communities is investigating the cases of alleged abuses committed by two foreign mining companies in Nueva Vizcaya. It is scheduled to conduct public hearings in Didipio and Pa-o village, also in Kasibu, on Friday and Saturday.

Padilla also blamed Department of Environment and Natural Resources officials for being “overzealous” in promoting the interests of large-scale mining companies, and being “over-protective” of erring foreign firms.

Environment Secretary Lito Atienza, however, denied this.

“We [in the DENR] are not siding with the foreign investors; we are protecting the rule of law. When an investment is done according to the law, it should be protected by government,” Atienza said in a telephone interview.

He urged provincial officials to refrain from issuing statements that “could add fuel to the raging controversy” in Didipio.

“The sad fate of Baguilat is a direct byproduct of the inflammatory statements that Governor Luisa Cuaresma has been saying so that she can have her way without following the rule of law,” Atienza said.

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