Tribe leaders tell DENR chief of bribery, fraud by mining firm
BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–Local officials and tribal leaders in an upland town here on Wednesday revealed to visiting Environment Secretary Lito Atienza the alleged bribery and deception committed by workers of an Australian company trying to explore their lands.
In a dialogue with Atienza, Kasibu Mayor Romeo Tayaban and six village chiefs disclosed how officials and employees of Oxiana Philippines, Inc. supposedly connived to push the firm’s exploration project in Pao and Kakidugen villages.
“Their common strategy is to call the people to a banquet at the village center, then let them sign an attendance sheet. We later found out that these were used as supporting documents as proof of of the people’s support for the mining project,” he said.
Geologists from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) have been entering Kasibu without giving the courtesy to local officials, Tayaban said.
“There were those who came to my office saying they were getting water samples from our rivers for a geologic study. But we were shocked later that they were actually looking for ore-rich sites,” he said.
Village chief Mariano Maddela of Pao said Royalco has allegedly been using a relative as conduit and offer him P180,000 in exchange for his support to the project.
“I just wish that the company stops all these foolishness and go home because as long as I am the village chief, [the company] can never enter our barangay,” he said in the dialect.
Pao occupies the proposed 5,873-hectare exploration site granted to Oxiana, now known as Royalco Resources Limited.
Asked to comment on the allegations, Joey Nelson Ayson, Royalco country manager, said: “That is not true.” He did not elaborate.
Royalco’s permit, issued in 2000 to Oxiana, was extended in July by MGB this year amid allegations that the extension was illegal because the maximum two-year period has already expired.
Tribal leaders blamed the lure of money offered by Royalco to some members of the Bugkalot tribe for creating envy and distrust among their people.
Documents from the National Commission on Indigenous People stated that the company has agreed to pay as much as P4,000 to 14 members of the Bugkalot tribe while 19 others were to get P3,000 a month, both as the firm’s “liaison officers”.
“The company is taking advantage because to our people, P4,000 is already a big amount, so they agreed,” said Lucas Buay, chair of the Kasibu Inter-Tribal Response for Ecological Development, a people’s organization.
Felimon Blanco, village chief of Paquet, said non-Bugkalot tribes were angered by their exclusion from the “sham” consultation process conducted by the NCIP.
He expressed concern that the peace covenant entered into by Bugkalot natives and migrant tribes there, through a blood compact their forefathers did in 1950s, would be annulled if conflicts start to arise among tribes due to the mining controversy.
Tayaban lamented that the mining issue has caused divisiveness among his people, who used to live peacefully despite belonging to various indigenous groups.
“We are now a divided town. Members of the same family, tribe or even neighbors are fighting because they are either pro- or anti-mining,” Tayaban said.
In his response, Atienza said he will order an investigation into the allegations of the tribal leaders.
“If you are saying you were not consulted, I will tell the company to include you in the consultation process. If it’s true that the process was not followed, I will personally make sure that it will be followed this time,” he told the tribal leaders.