Devastation

Bishop asks P-Noy: Revoke foreign mining permits in N. Vizcaya

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–Bishop Ramon Villena of the Catholic diocese here reiterated his request for President Aquino to revoke existing mining licenses previously granted to foreign companies in the province.

He called on the President to cancel the Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA), which allowed Australian companies OceanaGold Philippines, Inc. and FCF Minerals, Inc. to conduct large-scale operations in the mountain towns of Kasibu and Quezon.

“Dear President, listen to your people in Nueva Vizcaya as you have always mentioned (that) the people are your boss,” the bishop said in a statement released to the media Wednesday.

Having seen the extent of destruction caused by preparatory activities for the two mining projects, Villena said his recent visit to the areas fortified his resolve to continue opposing all forms of mining activities.

“I saw with my own eyes the great devastation that the mining activities have done. Big trucks and bulldozers were busy working. There were no more trees. The mountains were being flattened,” he said, referring to ongoing construction work in Didipio village in Kasibu, site of OceanaGold’s proposed gold-copper project.

Villena said that when he passed by Runruno village in Quezon, he saw the murky water on the river which, he said, was caused by ongoing pre-development activities of FCF Minerals’ gold-molybdenum venture.

Sought for comment, OceanaGold officials maintained that the company, in carrying out construction work for the project, continues to “respect the cultural rights and the social development of the communities directly or indirectly covered by its mining operations”.

They cited the award that OceanaGold received last month from the regional office of the Commission on Human Rights, for “incorporating and observing a human rights perspective in the conduct of its business affairs” in communities affected by its operations in Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino provinces.

“(OceanaGold) is very honoured to have received this recognition from the CHR and the company looks forward to continuing to work them on future initiatives,” said Ramoncito Gozar, senior vice president for communications and external affairs.

This writer made several tries to reach Craig Watkins, FCF Minerals country manager through his mobile phone, but failed. An FCF employee said he is presently out of the country.

‘Overworked’

While admitting that the 22-km mountain road from Cabarroguis town in Quirino to Didipio was greatly improved by OceanaGold, Villena expressed dismay that the road leading to the village center, which, according to plan, will not be used for mining operations, remained neglected.

“How come (that) this OceanaGold cannot even help to improve the road that served the people of Didipio?” he asked.

Quoting conversations with villagers, Villena said OceanaGold reneged on its promise to provide local employment because construction work were awarded through sub-contracts to firms whose workers were not from the locality.

Laborers were being made to “spend long hours of work seven days a week in order to get things done as fast as they could,” according to Villena.

But Michael Wilkes, OceanaGold managing director and chief executive officer, said that of the close to 1,600 people presently working at the site, about 500 are from Didipio while many others are from neighboring villages and towns.

The company has also laid out plans to upgrade the village’s main roads, he said.

“What’s even more alarming was that I discovered, (the project will make use of) open-pit mining. I was (made) aware that in Australia, open-pit mining was banned; and now, they allowed it in the Philippines?” the prelate added.

According to the bishop, he asked OceanaGold representatives where the tailings dam will be constructed, but they could not give answers.

“I felt alarmed because the disposal of mine tailings is one of the most important environmental issues for any mine during the project’s life,” he said.

Nueva Vizcaya’s experiences on mining all the more debunk claims that “responsible mining” can be carried out in the country, according to Villena.

“In general, mining in the Philippines has a bad reputation for environmental destruction, bribery, low tax, and extensive ‘tax holiday’ privileges despite soaring commodity prices,” he said.#

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