Traitors

Tribal folk decry ‘betrayal’ by mining firm

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–Members of the Ifugao community in upland Didipio in Kasibu town have assailed the alleged betrayal and deceit employed by an Australian mining company that is operating a gold-copper mining project there.

A group of Ifugao residents expressed dismay that OceanaGold Philippines, Inc. has supposedly continued to ignore their pleas of seeking additional compensation for the landholdings that they gave up in favor of the company 15 years ago.

“We are not asking so much; what we are only asking is for additional payment to make things fair and just for all of us in Didipio who sold our rights to the company. After all, that is what they promised us,” said villager Lolita Nicano.

The 5.5-hectare property formerly owned by the Nicano family, including those lands formerly occupied by the group, supposedly covers part of an area in the sub-village of Bacbacan that sits on top of the Didipio project’s main gold and copper deposit.

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The claimants are 12 landowners who were the first set of Didipio residents to have yielded their rights over their land to Mamparang Foundation, supposedly a dummy corporation composed of then officers of Climax Arimco Mining Corp. (CAMC), OceanaGold’s predecessor.

In 1999, the 12 families supposedly received P50,000 per hectare as lease payments of their lands from Mamparang Foundation as compensation. The members of the families were also given jobs while the children were given scholarships, Nicano said.

“Our families were much hated by the community back then because we were the most vocal and strongest supporters of the (mining project). Now, we are being ignored by the company for which we gave our loyalty for the past several years,” said Marilou Nablol, a former village council member.

But their group soon felt they were shortchanged after they discovered that recent deals between OceanaGold and other landowners reached a “selling price” of as high as P10 million per hectare, she said.

“The disparity is so great that we believe we deserve more than what we had received,” Nablol added in the dialect.

The complainants are banking their claim on a Feb. 1, 1999 letter from Robert Gregory, then CAMC vice president for mine development.

“Allow me to assure you, in writing, that any further benefit that is related to selling of land to landowners who in the future sell their land, will be offered to you,” the letter said.

Since Thursday, this writer has been trying to obtain the side of OceanaGold through Ramoncito Gozar, senior vice president for communications and external affairs, but he did not respond.

Indifferent

The group said they had relayed their sentiments through a joint sworn statement to Oceanagold’s headquarters in Melbourne, Australia last month but they have not received any response since.

In their statement, the group said OceanaGold allegedly violated their “right to residence, to adequate housing and property rights” when it forcefully evicted them from their lands without a valid court order and without provision for adequate relocation.

Erenio Bobbola, Sr., former village chair, said he had chosen to reject the “final offer” of P1.4 million tendered to him in a letter by Brennan Lang, OceanaGold’s operations manager at the Didipio site.

“I calmly talked to him, hoping to bargain for a higher price, but he told me that was all he can give me. He treated me like I was a beggar,” he said.

The group had resolved to refuse Lang’s “final offer”, which, they described as “unfair compensation” for their lands that OceanaGold has “exploited for many years already”.

“Some of these lands, which used to be hills with rice terraces, were already leveled to the ground and therefore no longer fit for agricultural use by the time (OceanaGold) reverts the lands to its original owners,” they said.#

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