C. Valley groups seek closure of N. Vizcaya mines

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–Civil society and environment groups on Monday aired their appeal for the government to immediately order the stoppage of two foreign-owned mining projects in the province, citing the supposed social and environmental abuses that they have committed in their years of stay here.

About 1,300 members of various anti-mining movements staged a rally at the provincial capitol grounds and the nearby office of OceanaGold Philippines, Inc. here, and called for the scrapping of Republic Act 7942, or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.

“We the people of Nueva Vizcaya call for the immediate closure of OceanaGold and FCF (Minerals, Inc.) operations until a mining policy that is directed towards the development of a self-sufficient economy and within the framework of developing other industries in the country, particularly agriculture,” the group said in a statement.

They said RA 7942 “clearly favor(s) foreign mining companies over Filipinos’ right to land and livelihood”.

Protesters hurl rotten tomatoes at the information office of OceanaGold Philippines, Inc. in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya to symbolize the environmental and social decay that its mining project has brought to the people of Cagayan Valley. Photo by Melvin Gascon

OceanaGold and FCF Minerals each hold financial and technical assistance agreements (FTAA) with the Philippine government, comprising two of the total six existing FTAAs in the entire country.

Under RA 7942, an FTAA is a license by which the government can allow foreign-owned companies to explore, exploit and extract the country’s mineral resources.

Monday’s protest rally coincided with the 19th anniversary of the passage of the mining law on March 3, 1995.

The rallyists, composed of members of civil society groups and people’s organizations from the provinces of Isabela, Quirino, Ifugao and Nueva Vizcaya convened in two groups in Solano and this town, before marching to converge at the provincial capitol grounds.

They bore placards with slogans that assailed the mining act and the two mining companies, and demanded their immediate closure.

In their speeches, protest leaders also chided the Aquino government for its supposed failure to make OceanaGold and FCF accountable for the alleged human rights abuses they purportedly committed against members of local communities within their mining areas.

 “Amidst the face of environmental degradation, foreign mining companies are guaranteed millions of earnings but (they) are not obliged to invest into the local economy parts of such earnings,” the group said.

In 2011, the Commission on Human Rights passed a resolution urging President Aquino to revoke Oceanagold’s FTAA based on findings that the company committed human rights violations when it tried to prepare its mine site in Didipio and clear residential areas. Malacañang, however, has not acted on the CHR recommendation.

The violations included harassment and intimidation against residents and illegal demolition, with the use of armed men.

During Monday’s rally, protesters hurled rotten tomatoes at the Oceanagold office, located across the road from the capitol compound. This, they said, signified the environmental decay that has been caused on the province because of their operations.

“They have been trying to fool our people about the supposed tax payments that they have been giving to the government, but we all know that these are just loose change. Worse, no amount of money can ever restore the damage that they have caused on our surroundings,” said Ed Bartolome, convenor of the Alyansa ng mga Nagkakaisang Novo Vizcayano para sa Kalikasan (Annvik).

A college student leader asked: “They say that our country is rich in natural resources. Why are we still poor?”

Lawyer Fidel Santos, Annvik legal counsel, expressed lament that they tried to seek audience with the Nueva Vizcaya provincial board, which was having its regular session Monday, but they were denied entry into the hall and were instead received at the secretary’s office.

The group also bewailed the supposed inaction of Nueva Vizcaya’s elected officials whose campaign platform in 2013 included staging efforts to oust all forms of mining in the province.

This writer tried to reach Darren Clinck, OceanaGold’s head of business development and Ramoncito Gozar, senior vice president for communications and external affairs, but they did not respond to the e-mail and text messages sent to them.

For his part, Craig Watkins, FCF country president, dismissed the group’s call for closure of its gold-molybdenum project in Runruno village in Quezon town.

“FCF has established strong community development programs which provide positive benefits through local health, education, environment and infrastructure projects,” he said in a text message.#