Mine firm seeks Palace help to oust N. Vizcaya gov
BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines–A foreign company here has sought the intervention of Malacañang in the ongoing mining controversy by lodging an administrative complaint against two officials of this province who have opposed the proposed firm’s US$117-million project.
OceanaGold Philippines, Inc. has filed charges of abuse of authority, misconduct and oppression with the Office of the President against Gov. Luisa Cuaresma and senior Board Member Edgardo Balgos, for supposedly stopping the firm’s operations in Didipio village in upland Kasibu town.
In his complaint, Gil Maglaque, OceanaGold’s assistant general manager for the Didipio project, said Cuaresma abused her powers when she “illegally” issued a cease-and-desist order (CDO) against the company for its refusal to pay around P28 million in supposed quarry taxes in the ongoing project.
“Governor Cuaresma, with manifest partiality and evident bad faith and gross inexcusable negligence issued the CDO dated April 9, 2008 without any legal basis, apart from being malicious, oppressive and motivated by ill will..,” he said.
The move now reinforces earlier reports here that Malacañang will wield its clout to oust Cuaresma, either through suspension or removal, in order to allow to proceed the construction of the Didipio mining project, one of the Arroyo administration’s flagship projects.
The company invoked Section 61 of the local government code, which provides that complaints against elective officials of a province shall be filed before the Office of the President.
In an interview Thursday, Cuaresma shrugged off the charges, saying she was merely performing her job of enforcing the province’s tax ordinances.
“If I don’t do this, anyone can sue me for dereliction of duty,” she said.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the provincial government have been locked in a bitter conflict since May after Secretary Lito Atienza came to OceanaGold’s defense by overruling Cuaresma’s CDO and ordering the company to resume its operations.
The DENR said OceanaGold should not pay the quarry tax being imposed by the province of Nueva Vizcaya because the company’s earth-moving activities in Didipio are not considered quarrying, and that OceanaGold, under its mining permit, is exempt from such taxes.
In an interview with media, Atienza said Cuaresma should “come to her senses” and realize that stopping a mining project sanctioned by government is unlawful.
Cuaresma’s allies in the provincial board retaliated, saying the DENR chief deserved to get a “kalabasa” (squash) award for his supposed improper handling of the Didipio controversy, and a “makapili” (slang for traitor) award for allegedly betraying the Filipino nation.
Atienza has laughed off the charges.
Last week, Maglaque, on behalf of the company, also filed criminal and administrative complaints against Cuaresma, Balgos and three other government workers, including a police officer, for the Didipio fiasco.
The complaint also cited the incidents on the night of May 12 and the morning of May 14, when Cuaresma and Balgos, along with a convoy of vehicles with armed police and provincial guards, “forcibly entered” OceanaGold’s compound in Didipio and “intimidated” the company’s “unarmed” security guards.
Balgos supposedly destroyed the padlock of one gate to force their way out of the fenced project site, then said: “If only OceanaGold settled with the governor, we would not have come to this.”
The accusation was based on the sworn statements of two media practitioners, supposed “embedded journalists” Primo Agatep and Romy Gonzales of Agence France Presse and World Broadcast Service, respectively.
Sought for comment, the board member assailed the charges as a form of harassment against provincial officials, in the company’s supposed effort to escape their obligation to pay local taxes.