By SHERWIN DE VERA
BAGUIO CITY — The province of Nueva Vizcaya stands by its action to stop the operation of OcenaGold Philippines. Incorporated (OGPI), despite the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) order to “remove or dismantle” the checkpoints installed by the people and local government.
Governor Carlos Padilla, on Sunday, December 15, told Nordis that they already responded to DILG Secretary Eduardo Año’s request.
“We are politely turning down the request of the Secretary sapagkat ito ay isang issue na nasa korte (because this issue is already in court) and under the sub judice principle, not even the DILG has jurisdiction on this question,” he said.
He was reacting to the November 22 letter from the agency signed by Año. The DILG chief asked the province to “remove or dismantle the checkpoints” that the people and local government installed at OGPI’s entry.
Año said the provincial government has to first “coordinate with the [Philippine National Police] or the [Armed Forces of the Philippine] and secure the necessary permit” to establish checkpoints.
The DILG also wants the provincial government to “maintain status quo” before the Cease-and-Desist Order (CDO) issued by Padilla on June 25.
OGPI continued commercial operations despite the expiry of its Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) last June 20. The company cited the letter from Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) director Wilfredo Moncano. According to the MGB letter, the Administrative Code allows OGPI to operate as it has allegedly made a “timely and sufficient application for the renewal of a license.”
On July 1, residents of Didipio in Kasibu town and environmental groups, backed by the provincial and municipal governments, put up three checkpoints leading to the mine site of OGPI. The people put up the barricade to ensure the implementation of the CDO and halt the mining operation.
Notwithstanding their letter to the DILG chief, Padilla said that they are also verifying the authenticity of the letter. The governor noted that Diocese of Bayombong Bishop Jose Elmer Mangalinao informed him that DILG Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya was not aware of the document.
However, the governor also told Nordis that DILG Nueva Vizcaya personally brought the letter to his attention. According to him, the following day, the regional office of the agency also inquired if he received the letter.
“In the absence of proof to the contrary, we are treating [the letter] as something from DILG,” he said.
Asked if he suspects anyone who would do such deceptive step, the governor responded: “Ang tingin ko ang OceanaGold ang number one suspect (I think OceanaGold is the number one suspect).”
Padilla said that mining companies, in general, use deception to protect their interests. He also questioned why the DILG furnished the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Steven Robinson, a copy of the letter.
“Medyo nagdududa rin kami dahil doon sa sulat ni Sec. Año sa amin dahil copy furnished ang opisina ng ambassador ng Australia sa Philippines. Pwede nating sabihin na tahasang pakikialam ito sa internal concerns ng ating gobyerno at ng ating bansa (We also doubt the letter of Sec. Año because they furnished the office of the Ambassador of Australia to the Philippines a copy. We can say that this is an outright intervention to the internal concerns of our government at country),” he said.
“Ang amin lang is panawagan sa DILG, tooto man o hindi ang sulat na yan, ang paniwala naming ay wala sa kamay ng DILG ang usaping ito (Our message to DILG, whether the letter is genuine or not, we believe that this matter out of the hands of DILG),” the governor added.
Actions are in order
“Nasa korte na ito at sa first round, sa [Regional Trial Court] level, ay panalo kami ((This is already in the court, at the RTC level, we won) so the presumption is what we are doing is in order,” said Padilla.
He explained that the issues raised by the DILG secretary were the same matters cited by OGPI in its court petition. The company filed for a temporary restraining order and injunction against the action of the people and local governments.
RTC Branch 30 in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, ruled on July 25 to deny the mining company’s petition.
“The OGPI not having clearly proven, at this point, its clear and unmistakable right to be protected, the prayer for a preliminary injunction is denied…,” stated the decision penned by Judge Paul Attolba, Jr.
The judge also noted in his ruling that “other issues raised will be best threshed out in full-blown trial” and ordered the Pre-Trail Conference to proceed.
Padilla stressed that the provincial government “do not want to enter into a dispute with DILG” since the matter is up for the court to decide.
“We are asking Secretary Año to understand that it is within the jurisdiction of the court; that is why we cannot comply with the content of his letter addressed to us,” he added.
Reinforce the barricade
Learning of the DILG, the Alyansa ng Nagkakaisang Novo Vizcayanos para sa Kalikasan (ANNVIK) called on Didipio residents and other groups to send reinforcements for the barricade on Thursday, December 12.
The group reiterated that different the “people’s barricade” was instrumental in forcing the company to stop its operation temporarily. It stressed that its success was the result of the sacrifices of the different sectors that joined and sustained the action for five long.
“Nais lampasan ng DILG ang ligal na proseso ng korte at ipinipilit ang kanyang awtoridad para i-pressure ang mga lokal na pamahalaan sa Nueva Vizcaya (The DILG wants to go beyond the legal process in court and use its authority to pressure the local government of Nueva Vizcaya),” ANNVIK said in a statement posted on Facebook.
Besides the court proceeding, LGU Kasibu and the Save Nueva Vizcaya Movement filed a petition before the Office of the President to deny the FTAA renewal of OGPI. More than 6,000 individuals signed the petition.
“Subalit sa kabila ng kaliwa’t kanang reklamo ay narito ang DILG upang saklolohan ang minahan (Despite the numerous complaints DILG is here to help the mine),” the group said.
The MGB has also admitted that the Office of the President found deficiency with OGPI’s FTAA renewal application under the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act. According to the bureau, the company has to undergo the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) since the area covered by its operation is now under the ancestral domain application by the Bugkalot tribe. This matter came up after the DENR recommended the interim renewal of the FTAA.
ANNVIK added that the DILG letter and the previous endorsement of DENR for the interim renewal of FTAA renewal are proof that the Duterte government favors corporate mining interests. #