Move to oust mining firms gains ground in Vizcaya
BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–The campaign against large-scale mining intensified here after the provincial board on Wednesday moved to oust two foreign companies that tried to operate gold-copper mining projects in two upland towns.
In a resolution, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan asked President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to stop the exploration activities of MTL Philippines Inc., a British company, following its rejection by residents in Runruno village in Quezon town.
Also on Wednesday, Board Member Edgardo Balgos denounced in a privilege speech the “terrorism” being committed by OceanaGold Philippines Inc. (Ogpi) in its attempt to start its gold-copper project in the village of Didipio in Kasibu town.
In issuing the resolution, the board gave credence to a petition by farmers’ groups opposing the project, fearing a repeat of the 2006 tragedy that killed 13 people and rendered families homeless as mudslides buried houses and farmlands in the village.
“Most of the petitioners who are dependent on agriculture as their primary source of income are alarmed and troubled that their farmlands will be buried in mud, rocks, sand and gravel as what happened during the onslaught of Typhoon ‘Paeng,'” the board said.
It cited the findings of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) that declared the vulnerability of the area to flashfloods and mudslides, which may be worsened by ongoing mining activities.
“The provincial planning and development office [also] expounded on the potential social and environmental effects of mining in the province wherein mining claims encroach on settlement and [ancestral domain claim] areas, critical watersheds, protected lands and hazardous areas,” the board said.
Lawyer Nena Santos, MTL counsel, declined to comment on the board resolution. Santos, however, referred the writer to a resolution of the Quezon town council that supposedly denounced the provincial board resolution.
In July, Governor Luisa Cuaresma asked former Environment Secretary Angelo Reyes not to renew MTL’s expired exploration permit, and instead asked the national government’s help to rehabilitate the area.
Reyes, however, renewed the permit before he was transferred to the Department of Energy.
In his speech, Balgos accused Ogpi of violating the six conditions set by the board when it issued its endorsement of the project in 2005. These included road development in the area and jobs for locals.
Because of the unfulfilled conditions, Balgos said: “My message to OceanaGold is this: Leave Didipio. Leave Nueva Vizcaya.”
The company, he said, has promised the board several times that they will improve the roads leading to Didipio.
“But what did they do? They improved the road from the Quirino side,” Balgos, chair of the SP committee on legal affairs, said.
Because of this, according to Balgos, Didipio residents would now rather buy their basic commodities and other needs from markets in Quirino, instead of those in Nueva Vizcaya.
This is because travelling using the newly-improved Quirino route is now easier, faster and cheaper, he said.
The promise of jobs was likewise not fulfilled, Balgos said, because OGPI has been importing miners from Benguet, supposedly because locals lacked the skills.
“How can they say that our people are unskilled when many of them had small mining as their source of livelihood for generations?” the official said.
Balgos also called for an investigation into the alleged illegal entry of OGPI into the nearby village of Papaya, where the company has been starting to conduct exploration without obtaining the consent of local communities.
Ramoncito Gozar, Ogpi vice president for communications and external affairs, on Thursday asked to be given time to respond to Balgos’ statement.