CONTEMPT

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.

Continue reading

WARNING

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.

Continue reading

Sobriety

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.

02082015_MCG01 Continue reading

Unwanted

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”.

Image
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.#

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.

Image

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.#

Clock ticking

Mine firm in N. Vizcaya braces for workers’ strike

(Published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, January 29, 2014)

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya—An Australian company operating a gold-copper project in upland Kasibu town in Nueva Vizcaya province has alerted employees about an impending strike by members of a workers’ union over wages.

Brennan Lang, general manager of the Didipio project of OceanaGold Philippines Inc., said employees who are not members of the union would be asked to change their schedule or perform functions in anticipation of the vacuum that would be created by those who would join the picket line.

“All department heads have been tasked with developing contingency plans to maintain operations in the event of a strike,” he said in a memorandum circulated among workers last week.

The work stoppage at OceanaGold Didipio mine loomed after members of Pun-oh-ohaan Hi Kiphodan (Kiphodan) labor union, the only recognized workers’ group of the Didipio project, voted last week to proceed with the strike.

Image
In this 2013 file photo, mine workers at OceanaGold Philippines, Inc.’s gold-copper project in Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya undergo routine security check before entering the mining site in Didipio village. The company is preparing for a possible strike that will be staged by the workers union as should final attempts at negotiations continue to fail. Photo By Melvin Gascon

Failed negotiations

The Jan. 20 balloting came more than a month after the union filed on Dec. 10 a notice of strike in the Department of Labor and Employment, following failed negotiations.

Lang said workers who do not report for work, regardless of whether they joined the strike, would not receive their wages.

The union has at least 80 members, mostly Didipio residents, out of the 350 workers of OceanaGold.

The impending strike is the latest problem to hit the Didipio mining project, which began commercial production in 2013 amid continuing opposition from the antimining community led by the Catholic Church in Nueva Vizcaya.

The dispute stemmed from disagreements between Kiphodan and OceanaGold over terms of the three-year collective bargaining agreement, mainly provisions on the workers’ compensation and other economic benefits.

P12 vs P32

In previous talks, union members demanded a P32 per day across-the-board wage increase, or about P1,000 a month, but OceanaGold offered an increase of only P12 a day, to go along with other forms of remuneration.

The offers, however, may no longer hold up for the remainder of prolonged negotiations, Lang said in a memo.
“In declaring a bargaining deadlock, the union has effectively rejected this offer and the company cannot guarantee that all or any of the above benefits will be part of any final agreement,” he said.

In a phone interview, Wendy Nicano, Kiphodan union president, said they rejected the company’s offer because it was too meager for today’s living standards.

“We studied [our numbers] carefully and concluded that we really cannot go below P1,000. If the company has reasons for the offer, we too have our own reasons [to reject it],” she said.

Cheaper gold

In his memo, Lang cited the financial distress that the company has been going through as the reason it cannot grant the union’s P1,000 demand in wage increase.

“The company has suffered from a 27-percent decrease in the price of gold over the past year. In order to reduce costs and remain profitable, the company has laid off 40 percent of our exploration department staff in the Philippines, and our New Zealand staff has accepted pay reductions,” he said.

Even OceanaGold’s corporate leaders in Melbourne in Australia have agreed to a 5-percent salary cut earlier this year, Lang said.#

Reversal

DOJ pushes raps vs Chinese aliens for illegal mining

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–The Department of Justice has recommended the filing of criminal charges against 23 Chinese and their three Filipino partners for alleged illegal mining in the coastal villages of Aparri in Cagayan in August 2013.

In a resolution, lawyer Rommel Baligod, regional state prosecutor, found probable cause to indict workers of the Hua Xia Mining and Trading Corp. for alleged theft of minerals from the beaches of Paddaya and Dodan villages.

“It is beyond dispute that respondents extracted about 150 metric tons of magnetized sand (black sand) from the shores of Aparri, Cagayan and then transferred and stockpiled them in their processing plant inland for processing. Such act constitutes theft of minerals under the Mining Act,” the six-page DOJ resolution read in part.

Image
A cargo ship docked at Port Irene at the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport in Santa Ana, Cagayan awaits loading of processed magnetite from blacksand mining operations in the coastal and riverside communities of the province, with the help of mineral processing plant such as this one in the foreground. Anti-mining advocates said these activities are illegal and are benefiting mainly unscrupulous politicians and officials in government. Photo by Melvin Gascon

The DOJ named the accused aliens as Wang Wendong, Yang Yonglian, Ma Pei Hua, Zhu Liren, Hou Linlin, Fu Yujun, Xiao Peibao, Li Wenyong, Li Liming, Jin Dejun, Li Laijie, Wang Chengqiang, Jiang Bin, Lin Quiang, Xu Jianjun, Jiang Bin, Lin Quing, Xu Jianjun, Jiang Nan, Zheng Feng and Wang Gongliang.

It also implicated Hua Xia’s other corporate officers, including Chinese Gao Dejun, Zhang Deliang, and Filipinos Rebecca Gregorio, Atanacio Hipolito and Alejandro Fernandez.

The case was filed before the Cagayan DOJ in August by agents of the National Bureau of Investigation, days after rounding up the suspects in a series of raids against illegal blacksand mining activities in Aparri, Buguey and Gonzaga towns.

The arrested suspects however, were released days later after Cagayan prosecutors, cleared the suspects of the charges, citing mostly technical errors.

This prompted the NBI to elevate the case to the regional DOJ on appeal.

In its Jan. 6 resolution, the regional prosecutor’s office contradicted the earlier findings of the Cagayan DOJ, saying the technical lapses they cited were “substantially” complied with by the NBI, which acted as complaining party.

It debunked the respondents’ defense that the volume of blacksand which was found in their possession was only derived from a “test-run” operation.

“(The suspects) alienated the State’s ownership of the minerals by appropriating the same for processing whether for a test run of their plant or a full scale operation. What matters is that they exercise ownership over the sand that they take away,” the DOJ said.

The respondents’ claim that their activities were tolerated by the agents of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) does not likewise absolve them of criminal liability, the resolution said.

“If indeed the MGB people gave such instructions or blessing for the respondents to extract and dispose of the minerals without permit, it will not free the respondents of any criminal liability; the only effect is that it will also make the erring MGB official/s equally liable for complicity,” it added.

Sought for comment, Mario Ancheta, MGB regional director for Cagayan Valley, laughed off allegations that they “gave their blessings” for the Chinese mining company to conduct blacksand mining operations in Aparri.

“We were told that there was a (memorandum of agreement) between Hua Xia and the local government of Aparri which required the extraction of blacksand, and we allowed it out of respect for the (town government),” he said, adding that most blacksand extraction activities in Cagayan were covered by permits.