N. Vizcaya lawyers take on tribe’s fight vs mining firm
BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–The province’s team of lawyers has formally taken on the legal battle of a tribal community in upland Kasibu town over the alleged harassment supposedly employed by a foreign mining company that is attempting to start mining operations there.
The team, led by lawyer Angelito Baclig, acting provincial legal officer, expressed concern over the complaints aired by officials of Didipio village against OceanaGold Philippines, Inc., whose personnel, they said, continue to employ abuses against residents despite its suspended operations.
“We are bringing these matters to the court. We will assist (the residents) and file the necessary charges and follow up those that have remained pending,” Baclig said.
OceanaGold, an Australian firm, suspended its initial operations within its 425-hectare gold-copper site following what officials described as difficulties in financing the project.
In order to resume development of the project, the company then needed about US$185 million in additional funding, according to a statement the company released on its website in June. However, it has since maintained its presence in the area through a security force and a number of employees.
Lorenzo Pulido, village council member, has asked the assistance of the province’s lawyers on the grievance of villagers’ that company’s security force has been restricting villagers’ movement within their community.
“We are not allowed to use the roads in going around Didipio even just to visit relatives or bring out our produce. We first need to seek permission from the OceanaGold office before we are allowed to pass through their checkpoints,” he said in the vernacular.
He expressed disgust that OceanaGold continues to sow terror in the area by having hired dismissed soldiers, policemen and ex-convicts as security guards, and terminating those earlier employed who were residents of Kasibu and nearby towns.
“This is the kind of misery that this company can do even without its operations. I cannot imagine what it can do if it allowed to continue its presence there,” Pulido said, adding that OceanaGold has purportedly refused to recognize the authority of elected village officials.
Baclig said the province will also lead the villagers in opposing the company’s application for water rights in Didipio, as well as to assist Eduardo Ananayo, a village councilor, and Emilio Pumihic, in filing assault charges against a policeman and a company security guard, respectively.
In March, Pumihic was allegedly shot by one Whitney Dongiahon, a village official of Dibibi in Cabarroguis, Quirino who was then working as a security guard for OceanaGold. In April, Ananayo accused SPO4 Noel Valdez of manhandling him while the latter was assigned as a security force at the OceanaGold site.
Lawyer Epifanio Galima Jr., executive assistant for legal affairs, said the latest complaints from residents will bolster the province’s court petition seeking to nullify the financial and technical assistance agreement (FTAA) granted to OceanaGold.
“We are positive about this because we can see that the law is on our side. All these revelations all the more indicate that there was really no consultation done by this company, especially on the environmental impact of the project,” Galima said.
He cited the recent withdrawal in August by the provincial board of its earlier approval of the Didipio project, which now leaves OceanaGold without a backing from any of the three levels of local governments affected by its planned gold-copper venture.
“The fact that (the project) was never endorsed by the barangay (council), it was also rejected by the Sangguniang Bayan (of Kasibu) and recently, the provincial board withdrew its conditional endorsement, make this project in violation of the law,” he said.
Sought for comment, Darren Clinck, OceanaGold vice president for corporate and investor relations, said they have imposed certain “security and safety” measures in the area.
“The Didipio mine site is an active construction zone with numerous pieces of heavy equipment and vehicles working in the area. For that reason, certain measures have been implemented in order to ensure the health and safety of employees and local community members,” he said in a statement.
Clinck, however, denied they were barring residents from moving around the village.
“Security measures are in place to manage the OceanaGold site and to protect the community from coming into harm on private roads and land held by OceanaGold,” he added.
He downplayed provincial officials’ view that the Didipio project is rendered illegal by the company’s failure to comply with the required approval of affected local communities.
“The Didipio project received the unanimous support from the provincial council in 2005 and thus, the vote (of rejection) earlier this year by the Sangguniang Panlallawigan has no effect on the project permits or related approvals,” the mining official added.