CHEATS

01062015_MCG01.jpg
A mine worker takes a break while manning an outpost at the tailings pond of the gold-copper project of OceanaGold, Inc. in Didipio, Kasibu in Nueva Vizcaya. Provincial officials have vowed to block the application for renewal of its mining license, which expires in 2019, due to controversies that had hounded its operations. Photo by Melvin Gascon

Nueva Vizcaya board blocks Aussie mine firm’s bid to renew expiring permit

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya — Provincial officials here on Monday made clear they were blocking attempts by a mining foreign firm’s to renew its permit, as they assailed its “bad faith” in its dealings with the people Nueva Vizcaya as host province of its gold-copper project.

Board members vowed not to endorse the new mining permit for OceanaGold Philippines, Inc. citing a pile of problems that had hounded its operations since it was granted a license in 1994.

“This mining company has shown bad faith in its dealings with our province, and must no longer be allowed to continue operating for all the sufferings it has brought to our people,” said board member Flodemonte Gerdan on Tuesday (Feb. 27).

Gerdan rendered a report Monday the proceedings of last week’s committee hearing, which OceanaGold sought to present to the board the status of its operations and laid down its social development programs.

But board members were wary, he said, that OceanaGold’s “token” appearance before the board will be taken as an endorsement and will be presented as compliance to the requirements for its license renewal.

“They are saying this is not yet a request for endorsement. But even so, I don’t think anything will change given our experiences with this company,” said the board member, who chairs the board’s environment committee.

OceanaGold has been in commercial operation in 2013, but its 25-year mining license, a financial and technical assistance agreement (FTAA) granted in 1994, expires in 2019.

Under the mining act of 1995, no foreign mining project shall be allowed to operate without proof acceptance by their host communities, usually expressed through their local councils.

In his report, Gerdan said board members quizzed OceanaGold officials led by general manager David Way, on issues hounding the Didipio project, but mainly on the company’s refusal to recognize Nueva Vizcaya as host province.

“It is disgusting to note that when they were asking permission for all their licenses, they have always came to Nueva Vizcaya, but now that they are bound to pay taxes, they keep saying they have doubts if Didipio is in Nueva Vizcaya,” he said.

He was referring to an interpleader suit filed by OceanaGold, which asked the courts to determine which of the two provinces — Nueva Vizcaya or Quirino — was the rightful recipient of taxes paid by the company from its Didipio mine operations.

The suit was filed in a Regional Trial Court in Makati City, which, officials said, is a clear attempt to cause inconvenience for litigants representing both provinces.

While the suit is unresolved, OceanaGold’s tax payments will be held in an escrow account until the case is resolved, depriving ints intended recipients of benefits, Gerdan said.

During their Feb. 20 meeting, officials confronted Way on the company’s uneven payment scheme for the lands it occupied; the alleged failure to secure conversion for these tracts of land; the unfulfilled scholarship pledges; as well as on the damage to Didipio’s environment that it supposedly failed to check.

Board members questioned why OceanaGold has not begun the promised “progressive rehabilitation” more than a year after it has wrapped up its open-pit mine operations and switched to tunneling method.

The author sought Pam Azuki, vice president for media relations, and country president Norman Bradley, but they did not respond to an email sent to them.

But in a statement the company released Feb. 22, OceanaGold president and chief executive officer Mick Milkes said that in 2017, the Didipio operation produced a record high 178,000 ounces of gold valued at around US$236 million (P11.8 billion).

It has also produced some 8,400 tons of copper, with a value of US$118 million (P5.9 billion), the report added.#

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