Nueva Vizcaya provincial gov’t can’t pay in full back wages

The provincial government cannot pay in full the back salaries and other benefits of about 70 returning employees who the Civil Service Commission (CSC) earlier ordered reinstated, officials here said.

In a meeting on Tuesday, lawyer Voltaire Garcia, provincial legal officer, told the employees that the province had no sufficient funds to cover about P33.3 million in back wages and other benefits.

“We have already complied with the first part of the [CSC order], which is reinstatement. As for the second part, which is the payment of back wages, we will still try to find the possible sources [of funds],” he said.

Provincial officials face the reinstated employees to explain that the provincial government cannot fully comply with the payment of back wages, while security personnel keep a close watch. Photo by Melvin Gascon

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C. Valley motorists blast DPWH for road gridlocks

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–Residents of Cagayan Valley and nearby provinces on Friday assailed the alleged incompetence of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for failure to address the traffic congestion problems in many of its road projects along the national highway.

They complained how DPWH year-round road repairs along the Daang Maharlika, from Nueva Vizcaya, Isabela and Cagayan have supposedly caused trouble to the traveling public, made worse by the delays and mismanagement of vehicular traffic.

Things came to a head when, for the past three days, thousands of motorists were being stuck on the road for as long as 10 hours due to a road reblocking project in Cordon town in Isabela.

“The government’s failure to address this simple problem very well represents the dysfunction that is plaguing our country. This is criminal negligence,” said Rustico Babaran, Jr., a bank employee from Cagayan.

Hundreds of vehicle are stuck on the road near the Nueva Vizcaya-Isabela border, due to a trailer truck that conked out at a single-lane portion of a road-reblocking work in Barangay Caquilingan in Cordon. Photo by Melvin Gascon

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Blind weaver’s masterpiece a tribute to Ifugao heritage

SOLANO, Nueva Vizcaya

THE HOUSE of Rogelio Guinannoy, which overlooks a road intersection in the upland village of Comonal in Solano, Nueva Vizcaya, has become a favorite hangout for his relatives and neighbors. They are his biggest fans, never getting tired of admiring his creations of varied pieces of woven rattan handicraft.

The 48-year-old weaver’s latest creations have become an attraction among villagers—a pair of eight- and seven-foot rattan statues that, by their intricate designs, reveal the maker’s extraordinary patience, creativity and a discriminating eye for detail.

But these works of art are, to them, extraordinary: Guinannoy, their maker, is blind.

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N. Vizcaya gov sued for failure to reinstate dismissed employees

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–A group of provincial employees on Thursday filed contempt charges against Gov. Ruth Padilla for her alleged failure to reinstate some 70 of the 180 employees she illegally terminated and demoted in 2013.

In their petition, the group asked the commission to cite Padilla in contempt and that she be meted administrative sanctions for supposedly defying its Sept. 2014 order to reinstate the employees and to pay them their back salaries and other benefits.

“(This) is a crystalline, willful and contumacious refusal and failure on the part of (Padilla) to comply with lawful orders of the honorable commission which she swore to comply (with) and abide (by) when she assumed her position as the honorable governor of the province of Nueva Vizcaya,” the petitioners said.
The employees said Padilla allegedly ignored their appeals and did not act on a notice from the CSC regional office which reminded her of the executory nature of the decision, and warned her of possible criminal and administrative liability for failure to comply.

The petitioners said Padilla also did not respond to two letters they sent her–on April 8 and 24–before she left and after she returned from her 12-day travel abroad.

“Instead of complying [with] and heeding the letters, (Padilla)…filed a ‘leave of absence on account of a personal travel abroad’,” the complaining employees said.

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CSC to N. Vizcaya gov: let dismissed workers return or face charges

The Civil Service Commission has warned Gov. Ruth Padilla of possible criminal and administrative charges if she continues to defy an order from the agency to let the provincial employees, who she illegally removed from their posts in 2013, return to their work.

In a letter, lawyer Neil Agustin, acting CSC director for Cagayan Valley, sought Padilla for an update on the implementation of the decision which reinstates about 180 permanent employees of the provincial government, who the governor ordered dismissed and demoted upon her assumption to post.

Agustin cited the civil service law, which states: “Any officer or employee who willfully refuses or fails to implement the final resolution, decision or ruling of the (CSC)…may be cited in indirect contempt of the commission and may be administratively charged…or be held criminally liable…”, he said.

The letter of lawyer Neil Agustin, CSC acting regional director.
The letter of lawyer Neil Agustin, CSC acting regional director.

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In Ifugao, calls for calm amid ‘war’ dance

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya—Local and tribal leaders on Sunday appealed for calm amid calls for vengeance from family, friends and sympathizers for the deaths of three Ifugao Special Action Force (SAF) commandos at the hands of Moro rebels in Maguindanao province.

Ifugao Rep. Teodoro Baguilat Jr. dismissed speculation that the relatives and friends of the slain troopers were out to exact revenge, following the staging of a “him-ong”, a tribal ritual said to be equivalent to a war dance.

“We appeal to our people not to put extra meaning to rituals like [the him-ong] because this is not the way to honor our departed heroes,” he said in a telephone interview.

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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.#