Charlie V. Manalo and Pat C. Santos
Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño yesterday reiterated his full support to the people of Nueva Vizcaya as he labelled a Court of Appeals (CA) decision preventing its provincial government from implementing an order seeking to stop mining operations in the area as “a temporary setback for environmental protection, local governance and the defence of national patrimony.”
The CA issued a 60-day injunction with temporary restraining order against the Nueva Vizcaya provincial government which issued a cease and desist order (CDO) against Australia-based mining firm OceanaGold Mining Inc.
“The militant party-list bloc in Congress supports the people of Nueva Vizcaya and its governor, Luisa Cuaresma in this fight. Gov. Cuaresma only put out a CDO to stop OceanaGold from operating the mine after it failed to pay P30 million for a quarrying permit, aside from the growing tension among indigenous tribes — including the murder of the village chief — that the entry of the mining firm has caused. The CA decision has obviously favoured the Australian firm over the local people of the province,” Casiño said.
The lawmaker visibly dismayed by the decision penned by CA Associate Justice Remedios Salazar-Fernando, which he said completely favoured OceanaGold. The company runs the Didipio Gold-Copper Mining Project in Barangay Didipio in Kasibu town.
“I cannot help but surmise that the decision is part of the Arroyo administration’s effort to allow OceanaGold to go on with its mining operations that will permanently damage the area. The OceanaGold incursion into Nueva Vizcaya at this point is the cause of brewing tension and violence among Ifugao and Bugkalot tribal communities in Didipio. The company has in fact supplanted the government in the area as it has arrogated the functions of providing social services and peace and order in the area. It has demolished houses and bulldozed rice lands. With all due respect to the Court, we went to the area last June 7, were waylaid by a police checkpoint and in fact saw the deep division among the once peaceful local community due to the entry of OceanaGold. This, to my mind, is what the Court should do to come up with a better decision,” Casiño said.
Casiño, along with Ifugao Rep. Solomon Chungalao, Nueva Vizcaya Rep. Carlos Padilla, and Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan went to the area for an on-site inquiry into alleged OceanaGold’s violations in conducting its operations.
From June 7 to 8, the House Committee on National Cultural Communities held two on-site hearings in Barangays Kakidugen and Didipio, mining sites of foreign owned mining companies RoyalCo and Oceanagold, respectively.
The investigation also focused on OceanaGold’s alleged violations of human rights, the Free and Prior Informed Consent process, certain provisions of the Mining Law and the Local Government Code in relation to its operations.
“It should also be noted that even before the CA decision, DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) Secretary Lito Atienza already branded the Nueva Vizcaya provincial government’s cease and desist order illegal. This emboldened OceanaGold to go to the CA and defy the local authorities. The municipal and provincial governments do not support the project yet Atienza is siding with the mining firm. We will not back down from this temporary setback. The militant bloc in Congress sides with the people and supports the stand of the local governments versus destructive mining operations in Nueva Vizcaya,” Casiño said.
The House militant bloc is composed of Bayan Muna Reps. Casiño and Satur Ocampo, Gabriela Reps. Ilagan and Liza Maza, and Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano.
Meanwhile, a Roman Catholic bishop demanded the total closure of a hotly contested South Korean-controlled copper and zinc mine in Rapu-Rapu Island , Albay.
Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes claimed the people would definitely be “too happy” if Korea Resources Inc. (Kores) and LG International Corp. will leave the area.
The South Korean state-run mining companies took full control of the project in April after its previous operator, Lafayette of Australia, pulled out over environmental issues.
Bastes said Lafayette got “bankrupt” after its investors backed off due to public clamor against environmental destruction.
“They (Lafayette) have no more investors. They can’t even pay their personnel anymore. It’s no longer financially viable,” he said.
The bishop said Rapu-Rapu mining is supposed to be the government’s “flagship” project in its revitalized mining industry program but it turned out to be a “fiasco.”
Bastes added Lafayette still has a balance of over P130 million in taxes.
The Rapu-Rapu mine was expected to generate revenues of up to $350 million a year from annual production of 11,000 tons of copper and 13,000 tons of zinc.
Kores and LG Group acquired Lafayette ‘s majority stake shortly after the mine was fined for spills that contaminated surrounding waters in 2005.
At least 40 fisherfolk and residents of Rapu-Rapu picketed the South Korean Embassy in Makati City to stop the South Korean investors from taking over the mining operations.
The Bicolanos, together with environmental activists and peasants, urged Ambassador Hong Jong-ki to provoke the pullout of the investments of Kores and LG International in the mining operation.