Mining moratorium pushed in N. Vizcaya
BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–Leaders of tribal communities here on Tuesday called for the declaration of a moratorium against large-scale mining in the province, citing the struggles that residents in various ore-rich communities here have suffered from foreign mining companies.
Peter Duyapat, chair of the Nueva Vizcaya People’s Organization Task Force (NVPOTF), said the group is launching a massive campaign against the ill-effects of large-scale mining to drive out the foreign firms attempting to start operations in Nueva Vizcaya.
“This movement seeks the help of the provincial council to declare a moratorium against planned foreign-funded mineral exploration and extraction activities, and eject those that are already here,” he said.
The NVOTF, a federation of eight people’s organizations in mineral-rich areas in the province, held its first summit Tuesday following recent local developments involving mining.
These include the pending application of a British firm, MTL Philippines Inc., for a financial and technical assistance agreement (FTAA), and the provincial board’s withdrawal of endorsement to a gold-copper project owned by OceanaGold Philippines, Inc., a Melbourne-based company.
The summit was attended by about 200 community leaders from the upland towns of Kayapa, Quezon and Kasibu, whose villages have been eyed by foreign firms for mineral exploration and extraction.
Duyapat said the group sees the imposition of a 50-year ban against large-scale mining as the best remedy to prevent further conflicts among families and tribe members, and the physical destruction of upland communities.
“We have heard the complaints of the delegates, and these all point to establish the fact that these mining ventures already existing in our province have given our people nothing but miseries,” he added.
At present, three foreign companies have approved mining permits in the province: OceanaGold, MTL and RoyalCo Resources Ltd., also an Australian firm.
Vice Gov. Jose Gambito, who is also the presiding officer of the provincial board, welcomed the proposal.
“(A moratorium) would give relief to all camps meantime that all issues brought about by the varied interpretations of the new mining act, environmental issues and the not-so-kind treatment of contractors to (private landowners),” he said.
The vice governor was alluding to the unresolved conflict between OceanaGold and the provincial government over the company’s failure to pay around P27 million in quarry taxes, and the cases of alleged human rights abuses that OceanaGold has committed against residents of Didipio.
Duyapat expressed hope that through the federation, villagers affected by mining projects here can join forces and learn from the experiences of other areas, such as the people’s movement that has forced the stoppage of the Didipio gold-copper project.
The project, owned by Australian firm OceanaGold, has failed to resume operations in August after reportedly failing to generate the required US$195 million.
Duyapat said the company had suffered from delays because of the stiff resistance of Didipio villagers, highlighted by opposition against demolition of houses at the site from January to May and the setting up of a road blockade to prevent the entry of OceanaGold’s heavy equipment.
“The Didipio experience has been a very striking example of how a community’s unified effort can be successful in frustrating the objectives of foreign mining companies like MTL,” he said in the vernacular.
A common complaint aired by the delegates, many of whom are elected village officials, was how mining firms have been allowed to enter their villages without consultation with the affected residents.
“In our area, MTL has been able to get its way because it has provided all the perks to our local officials despite objection from the village people,” said Josie Guilao, secretary of Runruno Landowners Association (Rulanas).
MTL was earlier allowed to conduct exploration activities for gold in upland Runruno village in Quezon town despite opposition from residents, led by farmers whose rice lands and irrigation canals may be buried by soil eroding from mined-out areas.
They expressed fear that further mining activities in the area could lead to more flashfloods and landslides similar to the ones that buried the entire village in November 2006, which was followed by findings by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau that Runruno as a geologic hazard.
This writer tried to seek for comment Mario Ancheta, acting regional director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, but he would not respond to queries sent through his mobile phone.
But Joey Nelson Ayson, RoyalCo country president, downplayed the move for a moratorium, saying the mining interest in Nueva Vizcaya is part of the national government’s thrust to revive the country’s dying minerals industry.
“The best thing is perhaps for the national and local governments to harmonize their programs so conflicts such as that in Didipio can be avoided,” he said.