‘Impunity’

N. Vizcaya mine firms slammed anew for human rights abuses
By Melvin C Gascon

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–Three foreign mining companies were assailed last week for alleged human rights abuses they continued to commit against residents in their areas of operation, mostly belonging to indigenous communities.

In a privilege speech, Rep. Carlos Padilla detailed the supposed human rights violations committed “with impunity” by OceanaGold Philippines, Inc., FCF Minerals, Inc. and Royalco Resources Ltd., all foreign firms.

He took to task the Aquino government for its alleged failure to look after the welfare of its citizens.

“Continuing research has led me to entertain the idea that the state is not only remiss of its duty to protect human rights. Worse, it allows its agents to be used by these companies to protect private business interest,” Padilla said in his Sept. 9 speech.

OceanaGold and FCF Minerals are Australian mining companies that are holders of financial technical assistance agreement (FTAA) contracts for two separate large-scale mining projects in Kasibu and Quezon towns, respectively.

An FTAA is a permit commonly granted to foreign firms which allows them to exploit the country’s mineral deposits.

On the other hand, Royalco was granted an exploration permit for another area in Pa-o village, also in Kasibu.

Padilla said it is high time for government to put an end to the people’s sufferings brought about by the presence in their midst of foreign mining companies.

“The residents of Nueva Vizcaya have suffered much and for a long time. Ten years or so of living along barricades, not reneging on their simple desire to protect their homes and farms from aggression brought about by business is a long time,” he said.

The lawmaker cited a previous recommendation by the Commission on Human Rights for the President to revoke OceanaGold’s FTAA due to the human violations it has committed against villagers in its area, including illegal demolition of houses.

He cited the recent case of the recent illegal arrest of an Ifugao native in Didipio by Oceanagold’s security guards, allegedly on orders of Brennan Lang, the project manager, supposedly because the villager refused to sell his land to the mining company.

Padilla sought the deportation of Lang, a Canadian, whose acts, he said, “proved to be inimical to the people of Didipio”.

Filipinos are also being shortchanged by OceanaGold, Padilla said, as they are paying a small amount of tax.

“Even the use of its CSR (corporate social responsibility) funds and other corporate resources for indirectly bribing barangay officials, community leaders and politicians must be investigated by the appropriate agency,” he said.

Using their respective FTAAs, OcenaGold has begun commercial production at its site in Didipio village, while FCF Minerals is currently in the construction phase in Runruno. Royalco has suspended its exploration activities.

Padilla also recalled that last year, several residents were injured in Runruno after FCF Minerals used about 200 police officers to thwart villagers’ resistance as it bulldozed the homes and farmlots of villagers.

He also accused Philippine Army soldiers for supposedly providing security to Royalco, as well as helping the company in previous attempts to dismantle the people’s barricades.

Sought for comment, OceanaGold officials did not give a direct response to Padilla’s allegations. Instead, they sent to this writer a Powerpoint presentation which supposedly laid down the company’s track record in the payment of taxes and community development.

For the part of FCF Minerals, Craig Watkins, country president, denied Padilla’s allegations.

“FCF has never resorted to the use of force and in fact has a strong relationship with the people of Runruno. (It) has established community development programs that provides positive benefits to local health, education, environment and infrastructure projects,” he said.

Joey Nelson Ayson, Royalco country president, also denied using the Philippine military in their operations.

“It was the judge who issued the TRO and asked the PNP to implement with the Army as possible assistance. I do not know where Congressman Padilla got this notion,” he said.

Ayson was referring to the order issued by regional court judge Jose Godofredo Naui based on a case filed by the company against tribal folk who set up road barricades to prevent Royalco’s access to its exploration site.

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