Graft, crime charges filed vs N. Vizcaya gov
BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines–An Australian mining firm has sued Governor Luisa Cuaresma and four other government officials here for graft involving the brewing dispute concerning a US$117-million gold-copper in an upland village in Kasibu town here.
In a 67-page complaint, OceanaGold Philippines, Inc. last week filed with the Office of the Ombudsman charges of graft and harassment against the officials, after they “forcibly” entered OceanaGold’s project area in Didipio village with the use of armed guards and police personnel.
Along with Cuaresma, also named in the complaint were provincial board member Edgardo Balgos; Francisco Tolentino, provincial environment officer; Senior Inspector Chevalier Iringan of the police provincial mobile group; Danilo Ramos of the environment office, and several unidentified security personnel.
But while declining to answer the allegations in detail as she has yet to receive her copy of the complaint, Cuaresma, in an interview, shrugged off the charges, saying she was just doing her job as governor.
“We have a tax ordinance that we have to impose, and it is my duty to see to it that it is implemented. Otherwise, I can be held liable for dereliction of duty,” she said.
Complainant Gil Maglaque, OceanaGold assistant general manager, cited the May 12 and May 14 incidents when Cuaresma, Balgos and security men armed with M-16 rifles intimidated company guards manning the OceanaGold compound and compelled them to open the gates and let the governor’s convoy pass.
He also quoted witnessese’ affidavits, saying that Balgos supposedly shouted at and threatened guards: “Buksan nyo ang boom! Kung hindi nyo bubuksan, baka magkainitan tayo! Bakbakan na kung bakbakan! (Open the boom, or else, things will get worse. If you ask for a fight, you will get it)”
Balgos allegedly destroyed the lock to force the convoy’s way out of the gates, then afterwards supposedly told company guards: “Pasensya na, trabaho lang. Ang Oceana kasi, hindi inayos si gov; di sana tayo hahantong sa ganito (We’re just doing our job. Blame OceanaGold because they did not settle with the governor. We should not have come to this).”
The complaint accused Cuaresma of violating Section 107 of the Mining Act of 1995, which punishes persons who prevent or obstruct mining operations.
Maglaque cited the previous letter of Environment Secretary Lito Atienza to OceanaGold President Patrick Goodfellow, which declared that the governor’s cease-and-desist orders were issued beyond her authority.
“In addition, the manner by which the enforcement of the patently illegal CDO was through intimidation and force,” he added.
Maglaque also said Cuaresma’s orders caused disruptions in the company’s operations, as well as undue delay and injury.
Sought for comment, Balgos, denounced the suit as another proof of the company’s supposed “greed”, and branded it as a form of harassment.
“On the positive light, this shows (the company’s) act of desperation because of the many loopholes (in the project), including their (financial and technical assistance agreement),” he said.
For his part, environment officer Tolentino expressed lament that the company had to resort to filing criminal charges against them, when he said he was merely enforcing a lawful order from the governor.