House body bares flaws in Aussie firm’s mining permit
BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines–Lawmakers who are investigating foreign-owned mining projects in this province are seeking the expulsion of an Australian mining company from the country after initial findings of their probe showed that the firm was operating “illegally”, and has allegedly been committing abuses against indigenous peoples in the area.
Nueva Vizcaya Representative Carlos Padilla on Monday revealed that the transfer of mining rights over the planned gold-copper project in Didipio village in Kasibu town, now owned by OceanaGold Philippines, Inc., lacked the approval of the President.
“This (finding) just confirms that OceanaGold has been operating illegally in our country through all these years. Therefore, because its operations are illegal, it must now leave the country,” he said.
A four-member team from the House Committee on Cultural Communities, which included Padilla, Representatives Solomon Chungalao (Ifugao), Luzviminda Ilagan (Gabriela) and Teodoro Casiño (Bayan Muna) conducted a public hearing in Didipio on Friday to investigate alleged violations by OceanaGold in its operations in the area.
Padilla said the House committee members immediately discovered errors in OceanaGold’s mining permit just as soon as they got hold of important documents that were not previously available to the public, even to members of Congress.
“We are appalled that such a glaring error slipped the attention of the [Department of Environment and Natural Resources] and the [Mines and Geosciences Bureau]; or it can also bolster our earlier assertion that they have been overprotective of these mining companies,” he said.
In 1994, the Philippine government, under then President Fidel Ramos, issued financial or technical assistance agreement (FTAA)–the first in the country–to Climax Mining Limited, also an Australian firm, covering about 37,000 hectares of mineral-rich areas in Didipio and nearby areas.
Climax transferred in 2004 its FTAA to Australasia Philippines Mining Inc. (Apmi), a Philippine subsidiary. In 2006, the FTAA was again transferred to OceanaGold, following its merger with Climax.
Padilla quoted Section 40 of the Mining Act of 1995 which mandates that transfers of mining rights under an FTAA shall require the approval of the President, who, in turn, shall notify Congress of such transfer.
During Friday’s public hearing at the site in Didipio, Padilla said company lawyers admitted that these transfers of the FTAA were not approved by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
“A latest certification from the House secretariat disclosed that Congress was never notified about these transfer, which is what the law requires,” he said.
Ramoncito Gozar, OceanaGold vice president for communications and external affairs, insisted on the legality of their operations, saying the FTAA transfers from Climax to OceanaGold did not need the approval of the President.
He cited provisions of the FTAA, saying that, Apmi, as evaluated by the Philippine government, is an affiliate of Climax and transfer did not require such approval.
Gozar said the Mining Act of 1995 does not apply to the Didipio project because the FTAA, which the company uses as the main basis of its activities, was issued one year earlier than the mining law.
“Our position is (that) the mining law cannot be retroactive,” he said.
But Section 112 of the Mining Act states that all valid and existing mining agreements granted before the law shall remain valid, provided, that such agreements, “shall comply with the applicable provisions of this act and its implementing rules and regulations.”
In an interview, Padilla scored the supposed inconsistencies in the OceanaGold’s claims, by alternately invoking the FTAA and the mining law whenever it suits their interests.
“If they are cornered for failure to comply with the Mining Act, they will invoke the FTAA and say that the Mining Act does not apply; but then again if they see a provision that is beneficial to them in the Mining Act, they will invoke it,” he said.
“This company has undermined the duly-constituted structures of our government. OceanaGold has made Didipio seemingly like a country of its own,” Padilla said.
This was seconded by Casiño, author of Resolution 594 that launched the investigation by the House panel on OceanaGold’s Didipio operations.
“It is highly arguable that Oceanagold has violated certain sections of the mining act, local government code and local issuances. Apparently, oceanagold now acts as the government in the area,” he said.
But according to Gozar, the company is allowed by its FTAA to choose and adopt provisions of mining laws that took effect after such agreement, under the so-called “future legislation clause”.
“The way we do it with government is if there are provisions we would like in the new mining law, which we think will be beneficial to the project, we sit with a government multi-agency negotiating panel, to avail (ourselves) of such good provisions,” he said.