Rehashed

Mining EO won’t solve N. Vizcaya dilemma, says bishop

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–Catholic Bishop Ramon Villena on Monday thumbed down President’s Aquino’s Executive Order 79, saying the new directive will not solve the problems confronting the province on mining.

In a statement, Villena, whose diocese covers the provinces of Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino, described EO 79 as a “rehash” of Republic Act 7942, or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.

He cited five issues which, he said, cannot be addressed by President Aquino’s order.

Bishop Ramon Villena of the Diocese of Bayombong. Photo by Melvin Gascon

The government has yet to clarify conflicting laws and policies concerning mining and the rights of indigenous peoples, the bishop said. It has likewise failed to respond to allegations of human rights abuses raised against two foreign mining companies here.

“Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino pride themselves as agricultural basket where food security is paramount in their agenda; therefore, mining cannot exist with the (said) agenda,” the bishop said.

He downplayed claims that “responsible mining” will uplift the country from the problem of poverty.

“The environmental standards in mining have yet to proven since the mining industry is still wanting in showing the country what ‘responsible mining’ is all about,” he added.

While he expressed appreciation for the reforms listed in the directive, such as the continuing moratorium on granting of new mining permits, recognition of local autonomy and the thrust on bigger revenue shares for the Philippine government, this would not change the stand of the diocese, the prelate said.

“We would like to reiterate our commitment to our people, especially to the poor and the indigenous peoples, that the Diocese of Bayombong never considered mining as an option,” Villena said.

For their part, OceanaGold Philippines, Inc., and FCF Minerals, Inc., two foreign companies that were granted large-scale mining licenses by the Philippine government, said EO 79 presents a “positive” development for the industry.

OceanaGold is currently on the construction phase of the Didipio gold-copper project in Kasibu town, while FCF Minerals is also on its pre-development stage in its Runruno gold-molybdenum project in Quezon town. Both were granted financial and technical assistance agreements by the government.

Mick Wilkes, OceanaGold managing director and chief executive officer, however, said the EO will not likely alter the current terms of the firm’s current contract.

“In my recent discussions with senior government officials, I was pleased that the (Philippine) government remains committed to the FTAA contract for Didipio and (are) comfortable with the current fiscal sharing arrangements,” he said.

Craig Watkins, FCF Minerals country president, said that while EO 79 lays out a policy of reforming the minerals industry, it is not expected to have any significant impact on the Runruno project.

“EO 79 directs reforms in the mining sector by a number of policies aimed at responsible and sustainable mining through environmental performance, resource utilization and a more equitable sharing of the benefits,” he said.

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