CA rebuffs N. Vizcaya gov, allows mining firm to resume work
BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines–The Court of Appeals stepped into the brewing dispute between the provincial government and an Australian mining company when it lifted a stoppage order issued by the governor here and ordered the firm to resume its operations.
In a five-page resolution, the CA’s sixth division directed Governor Luisa Cuaresma not to further enforce for the next 60 days the April 9 cease-and-desist order she issued on the ongoing earth-moving activities of OceanaGold Philippines, Inc. in Didipio village in Kasibu town.
The province and OceanaGold are locked in a bitter conflict over the latter’s refusal to pay sand and gravel taxes imposed against what provincial officials said were “quarrying” operations.
The provincial government is collecting around P28 million in quarry and business taxes from the firm’s construction work in Didipio, invoking the local government’s power to tax.
The company, however, has opposed the assessment, saying it was tax-exempt under the mining permit granted to it by the national government, known as a financial and technical assistance agreement (FTAA).
The temporary restraining order (TRO) stemmed from a petition for prohibition filed by OceanaGold preventing Cuaresma from enforcing the CDO. It also attempts to stop Perfecto Martinez, Jr. provincial treasurer, from issuing tax assessments against the company.
For the past four weeks, Cuaresma’s CDO has caused the stoppage of earth–moving activities at the site, hampering preparations for its US$117-million planned gold-copper project.
In granting the firm’s request for a TRO, the court cited the previous incidents of violence in Didipio, including the governor’s use of armed men in forcibly entering the fenced project site last month, and the killing of Didipio village chief Paulino Baguilat Sr. on May 29.
“All these circumstances combined sufficiently convince this court of the necessity of a temporary restraining order, so as to avert further hostilities and to prevent this controversy from spiraling into more violent proportions,” the resolution said.
This writer tried to reach on Wednesday lawyer Desiderio Perez, provincial legal officer, but he declined to comment, saying he has yet to receive a copy of the CA order.
The CA also defended its move to take action on OceanaGold’s petition, and gave weight to the company’s justification of filing its petition directly with the appellate court, instead of the regional trial courts here.
“This court shares (OceanaGold’s) apprehension that the judges (in Nueva Vizcaya) may not be at a complete liberty to resolve and decide the petition according to their best light and judgement,” the court said.
“Since the instant petition is lodged against the highest officials of the province, it is not remote that some or most of them may be beholden to respondents, not to mention that some of their additional allowances and benefits indeed come from the provincial coffers,” it added.