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Nueva Vizcaya stands by checkpoints, barricade against OceanaGold

By SHERWIN DE VERA
www.nordis.net

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.

Proactive response

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. #

MGB hit for ‘lawyering’ for embattled Aussie mine firm

By Melvin Gascon

Environment and civil society groups on Friday slammed the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) for supposedly coming to the defense of a foreign mining firm and allowed it to resume operations despite the lapse of its 25-year mining license.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said the MGB’s endorsement of the continued operation of OceanaGold Philippines, Inc. at its gold-copper mining site is an “insult” against the people of Nueva Vizcaya, who are calling for its stoppage.

“This dubious endorsement it is being used by the mining company to insult the people of Nueva Vizcaya by continuing their operations,” he said in a statement.

Bayan Muna, as well as environment groups Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment and Alyansa Tigil Mina have questioned the endorsement by the MGB and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for the renewal of OceanaGold’s financial and technical assistance agreement (FTAA), the processing of which was supposedly done surreptitiously.

OceanaGold is seeking to continue its operations at its mine project in Kasibu town in Nueva Vizcaya despite the expiration of its 25-year FTAA on June 20.

Based on the Mining Act of 1995, the FTAA is the mining license that allows foreign companies to exploit the country’s mineral resources.

In a letter to the OceanaGold, MGB director Wilfredo Moncano said the firm may continue to operate pending the approval of its renewed FTAA by President Rodrigo Duterte.

In a special session on June 28, the provincial board of Nueva Vizcaya declared ongoing activities of OceanaGold as illegal after it failed to renew its FTAA. The board also authorized Nueva Vizcaya Gov. Carlos Padilla to take “all necessary steps” to stop the mining firm’s operations.

On June 26, Padilla directed the Philippine National Police and the village governments to set up checkpoints along the roads and block any attempt by the company to ship out its mine production.

In a media statement, OceanaGold said it continues to operate the Didipio mine.

“We are committed to operating in accordance with the law and will always comply with all our responsibilities under our contract with the Philippine government,” the company said.

OceanaGold said it lodged its application for FTAA renewal in March 2018, and received confirmation on June 20 from the MGB that it is allowed to continue operations pending the approval of its renewed FTAA.

But Leon Dulce, Kalikasan PNE national coordinator, dismissed OceanaGold’s claims that it was conducting “responsible mining” in Didipio.

“No amount of greenwashing by OceanaGold can gloss over the fact that rivers are vastly silted, periodically dumped with undeclared chemicals, and depleted by its operations,” he said.

According to Dulce, OceanaGold’s operations are also “chronically exposing” the important biodiversity corridor of Caraballo mountain range to air, noise, and water pollution.

“These are just one of many sins of OceanaGold that should warrant the long-deserved cancellation of this foreign mine’s FTAA contract,” he said.

DENR Undersecretary Benny Antiporda said that by stopping the mining activities, the local officials of Nueva Vizcaya are within their mandate of implementing the law.

He said he is verifying reports that MGB had allowed OceanaGold to continue its operations despite the lapse of the the FTAA.

“For me, it is rather simple: if one does not have a license, then it should not be allowed to operate,” he said in a phone interview.

Oceana Gold hit for illegal operations

By Melvin Gascon 

Residents and environment activists on Monday denounced Australian firm Oceana Gold Philippines, Inc. for supposedly continuing its mining operations in Kasibu town in Nueva Vizcaya despite the lapse of its license on June 20.

Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) said OceanaGold has been conducting illegal activities since the expiry of its financial and technical assistance agreement (FTAA), prompting the provincial government to alert the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the local environment officers on the company’s operations. “There are plenty of pending reports, complaints, government resolutions, and other documented evidence that OceanaGold violated various environmental, socio-economic, and human rights regulations which should warrant the mine’s stoppage and not its perpetuation,” said Leon Dulce, Kalikasan PNE national coordinator.

Nueva Vizcaya Gov. Carlos Padilla on June 20 issued an advisory to the PNP and its provincial and municipal environment offices and the village council of Didipio to “restrain any operations of OceanaGold upon the termination of the FTAA,” based on the Local Government Code of 1991 and the Environment Code of Nueva Vizcaya.

OceanaGold’s FTAA states that the mining agreement “shall be terminated and the parties shall be relieved of their respective obligations” upon the expiration of the contract.

However, David Way, OceanaGold’s general manager wrote a letter to the Didipio village council citing a June 20 letter from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), citing Administrative Code which states that existing licenses “shall not expire” until the application for renewal has supposedly been finally determined.

In a June 20 press statement, OceanaGold said it has lodged a notice to renew the FTAA in 2018 and has been “working collaboratively with the government of the Philippines on the renewal process.”

Dulce said the MGB and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) cannot invoke the Administrative Code since they were remiss in their duties to consult host communities.

“They endorsed Oceanagold’s FTAA renewal application to the Office of the President instead of cancelling it outright,” he said, citing the resolutions of rejection by the provincial and village councils.

Kalikasan PNE urged the MGB and DENR to withdraw their endorsement of Oceanagold’s FTAA to the Office of the President. “In the dialogues we conducted with the MGB and the DENR, these agencies admitted that they failed to put into consideration the body of evidence submitted to them over the past year,” Dulce said.

“With concerns such as the full withdrawal of social acceptability and a lack of environment and human rights due diligence, there is no way a legitimate regulatory body would have let OceanaGold’s license renewal application go any further,” he added. According to Kalikasan PNE, the MGB’s legal opinion allowing OceanaGold to resume operations amid the absence of a mining agreement and the clear opposition of LGUs is “patently wrong and irresponsible.” “It would be hypocritical of the Duterte government to claim that it wants to stop mining for creating a monster in our country, but then allowing a foreign corporation like OceanaGold to operate with impunity,” he said.

The MGB has been lawyering for this foreign mining corporation instead of defending our national patrimony from it. The people of Nueva Vizcaya will definitely take action to halt Oceanagold’s operations and demand indemnification and other just compensations for its various crimes against the people and the environment,” Dulce said. #

Agpayso A Balitok (Real gold)

This is a 2009 Kodao video-documentary produced in the once-remote villages of Didipio, Alimit and Malabing in Kasibu, Nueve Vizcaya. It tells of the people’s resistance against destructive mining operations by the Australian company Oceana Gold.

This film not only chronicles one struggle of the indigenous Ifugao communities in the mountains of Nueva Vizcaya but also dramatizes and probes into the people’s rising resistance in defense of their patrimony and human rights. It shows how a people reclaims its unity and struggle as one to win back a beloved land torn apart by foreign greed and environmental destruction. Read more