CHR starts probe of allegations of abuses by Vizcaya mine firm

from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, July 27, 2012.

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya—The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Tuesday began investigating allegations of human rights abuses attributed to an Australian company that is planning to start large-scale mining in the remote village of Runruno in Quezon town, about 40 km from here.

Lawyer Anton Cruz, CHR special investigator, said the agency will ask the Philippine National Police to relieve policemen stationed in Runruno, amid reports that they have been harassing residents who refused to give up their lands to make way for the gold-molybdenum project owned by FCF Minerals Inc., an Australian firm.

“The most pressing among the complaints right now is the residents’ imminent ejection from their lands because of these reports of the use of force and intimidation,” said Cruz, head of a five-member team that met with members of the Bit-ang Runruno Residents Association here on Tuesday.

Craig Watkins, FCF country manager, belied the claims of human rights abuses. “FCF is compliant with all laws and regulations of the Philippines. FCF is committed to building strong relationships with the community and is involved with a significant number of community and humanitarian programs, including health, education, reforestation and infrastructure projects,” Watkins said.

FCF is one of two foreign companies in Nueva Vizcaya that was granted a financial and technical assistance agreement by the government.

It aims to exploit mineral resources within an area of 3,093 hectares in Runruno, with a declared deposit of about 1.39 million ounces of gold.

At current prices, the Runruno deposit is estimated to be worth P92.4 billion of gold.

But the project has encountered opposition from residents, many of whom have lived in small-scale mining communities which, they said, have provided them livelihood since the 1950s.

In a letter to CHR Chair Loretta Ann Rosales, the residents said the company, since its arrival, has sown discord among community members.

“We are afraid that FCF, with its influence and with the assistance of the police, may drive us from our places of residence, our farmlands and our small-scale mines,” the residents said.

During the fact-finding dialogue, lawyer Albert Pawingi said CHR should investigate reports that the Runruno residents’ complaints have been ignored by some local officials.

Residents recounted how FCF personnel, accompanied by armed security guards and policemen, have been allegedly harassing residents into negotiating with the company.

“There was a time when FCF guards and policemen came to my backyard and dismantled my piggery, without showing any document. They just said the land is now owned by the company,” said Jonathan Humiwat, a community leader.

“Almost everything that we do now, we need to ask permission (to do) from the company. People can no longer come to the village without first having to go through the gates and guard outposts of FCF,” he said. Melvin Gascon, Inquirer Northern Luzon



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