DENR chief gets rebuff over Nueva Vizcaya mining
BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines — A unified call from local officials, church leaders and residents to reject three mining projects in the province greeted the visit here of Environment Secretary Lito Atienza on Wednesday.
Catholic Bishop Ramon Villena, along with tribal folk from upland Kasibu town, asked Atienza to revoke the permit issued to Oxiana Philippines, Inc., an Australian firm, to explore an ore-rich area in Pao village.
Small miners also disclosed the alleged deceit and manipulation allegedly resorted to by workers of OceanaGold Philippines, Inc., also an Australian company, to convince landowners in Didipio in Kasibu to sell their lands to the company.
Provincial board members presented to Atienza a copy of their resolution asking President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to stop the exploration activities of British firm MTL Philippines, Inc. in Runruno village in Quezon town.
Atienza was here to dialogue with Villena and tribal leaders from eight upland villages in Kasibu, who have led their people in setting up and maintaining a road blockade since July 2 to prevent the entry of Oxiana, now known as Royalco Resources, Ltd.
He also separately met with local officials and Department of Environment and Natural Resources personnel.
During the dialogue, Atienza admitted he was “overwhelmed by the deluge of complaints and statements rejecting large-scale mining projects here.”
He, however, made a pitch for mining, saying “our country was bestowed with natural resources that must be used for its own development.”
He urged the tribal leaders to look at the “overall picture, and to consider the ways to help uplift the conditions of the greater number of people.”
“Not all countries have these minerals. China may be a big country, but it does not have as rich resources as the Philippines. We are poor, but it’s because we have mismanaged our government, we have mismanaged our resources,” he said.
Atienza cited the experiences of Arab countries, as well as New Zealand and Australia, which supposedly became progressive because of the “wise use” of their natural resources.
He said, however, the tribal leaders raised valid issues that the DENR must look into, including the selective consultation among landowners and the supposed defective conduct of the free, prior and informed consent for projects in areas occupied by tribal groups.
But Villena rebuffed Atienza’s statement that likened the country’s mining resources to those of oil-rich Middle East nations.
“(Let’s) look at Iraq right now. They may have all the oil, but there is no peace there, there’s always violence. So where’s the development?” he said.
Villena, whose diocese covers Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino, said he was “deeply hurt” that the entry of foreign mining projects has divided the people in upland communities, most of them belong to tribes.
“The most expensive social cost of mining is when families are wrecked. Development is good, but it must not only be done for profit, but for the center of development which is human dignity and human life,” he said.
The bishop was led to tears as he recalled how a number of those in the barricade, including women and children, were hurt after Royalco workers dragged them away from the road.
“If one life will be sacrificed because of mining, then this will be the greatest tragedy in Nueva Vizcaya. You cannot take any life for the sake of a foreign investor,” he said.
Citing allegations of corruption among DENR personnel, Villena assailed officials who, he said, were bribed by the company to get their mining permit and be allowed to push through with their mining activities.