N. Vizcaya tribal folk score win vs mining firm
BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines–Villagers of a mountain village in remote Kasibu town, who are facing eviction from their houses have scored another victory Tuesday when the Regional Trial Court here issued an order prohibiting a mining firm from further demolishing their houses to make way for its gold-copper mining project.
In a 12-page resolution, Judge Vincent Eden Panay issued a preliminary injunction against the demolition activities being waged in Didipio village by OceanaGold Philippines, Inc., an Australian firm that is attempting to conduct large-scale mining operations there.
“The issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction is warranted under the circumstances without any qualification. (OceanaGold) and all other persons acting in (its) behalf are hereby ordered to cease, desist and refrain from demolishing or dismantling (the complainants’) houses until further orders from this court,” he said.
The order stemmed from a complaint filed on Feb. 27 by 31 Didipio residents who asked the court to stop the company’s ongoing dismantling of houses that are within its planned 425-hectare primary impact area.
Since December, OceanaGold has been clearing the lands in Didipio, much of which are privately-owned, to prepare the area for the construction of mine facilities as it tries to meet its targeted start of production in February 2009.
The supposed illegal demolition of houses was also the subject of a site investigation in Didipio on June 7 by the House committee on cultural communities, which is conducting an inquiry on the alleged human rights violations committed by foreign mining firms against Nueva Vizcaya tribes.
Under the law, the state may exercise the power of eminent domain–or the forcible taking of private property–but only if this will be for public use, and upon payment of just compensation to the landowner. The propriety of the taking and the amount of payment due are issues that must be finally resolved only by the courts.
But in seizing private property in Didipio, OceanaGold has since invoked rulings from the mines arbitration panel (MAP) which gave it the right to enter the lands. The MAP is an administrative body under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and created by the Mining Act of 1995.
The company’s land preparation activities, however, have also been repeatedly snagged by an ongoing conflict with the provincial government over the latter’s imposition of around P28 million in sand and gravel taxes against the company’s earth-moving works.
OceanaGold officials, however, downplayed the court order, and expressed optimism that this will not delay the Didipio project.
“The injunction covers only about 13 houses which are outside of our priority area of development. We are, however, constantly negotiating with the affected families because we want to have a harmonious relationship with those who we are working with,” said Ramoncito Gozar, vice president for external affairs and communications.
Panay ruled that the company’s act of entering the complainants’ property and tearing down their houses was illegal and unconstitutional for failing to observe due process, and to give the landowners just compensation required by law.
“It is obvious then that the landowner is covered by the mantle of protection due process affords. It is a mandate of reason. It frowns on arbitrariness. It is the anti-thesis of any governmental act that smacks of whim or caprice,” the court said, quoting a Supreme Court ruling.
The court dismissed OceanaGold’s contention that the company, as well as the entire nation, stands to suffer losses due to any project delay.
“The issuance of the injunctive order may cost losses in quantifiable terms to the mining company, but the loss in the tampering of our Constitution is not quantifiable in terms of monetary value,” it said.
While recognizing the mandate of the MAP to decide conflicts involving mining claims, the court, however, maintained that the power to resolve issues concerning expropriation–or forcible taking of property for public use–remain lodged with the courts.
Panay also chided the company for trying to eject villagers who the DENR earlier charged with illegal occupation of forest zone, a case which remains pending before the Department of Justice.
“The rule of law does not allow the mighty and the privileged to take the law into their own hands to enforce their alleged rights,” it added.
Rulings of the MAP giving a mining firm the right of access to private lands are not absolute but are “preliminary only”, the court said, and does not stop affected residents from filing a petition before the regular courts to determine just compensation.
But even in the MAP proceedings, OceanaGold failed to comply with the rules, Panay said. The law states that after the company obtains a favorable ruling from the MAP, the presiding officer must first issue a writ ordering the RTC sheriff to enforce the order.