By MARY LOU MARIGZA
BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya – The people of Nueva Vizcaya, particularly the people of Kasibu and Quezon, are determined to oppose three mining giants exploring for gold and other minerals in their areas.
This was the finding of the International Study Tour to Mining Communities of Nueva Vizcaya (ISTNV) last July 10-11. The ISTNV visited the areas of Oceana Gold Philippines, Inc. in Didipio, Kasibu; FCF Minerals in Runruno, Quezon; and Royalco Resources, Ltd in Belance, Kasibu.
The international delegates came from Australia and New Zealand where the three mining corporations are located and listed or have mining claims. Local delegates were organized from the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines-Cagayan Valley, Clergy Laity Formation Program, Cagayan Valley Regional Ecumenical Assembly, Katinnulong daguiti Umili iti Amianan, Masipag, Defend Patrimony, Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment and Kabataan Party List.
The ISTNV findings show that Oceana Gold and FCF are already in the development phase of their application while Royalco is still in the exploration stage. Oceana and FCF intend to start commercial production in 2012.
The areas covering 19,363 hectares were applied for by Australian Climax-Arimco Mining Corporation which sold its concession to Oceana Gold when it could no longer proceed. Their mining operations was delayed by the fierce opposition put up by the affected people.
While the FCF Mining Corporation got its concession from the Greenwater Mining Corporation application covering 3,093 hectares in Runruno. The Royalco concession of 5,873 hectares was from the former exploration application made by Oxiana Philippines.
The opposition remains strong despite harassment and other ploys being resorted to by the three mining companies. Some of their leaders might have sold them out to the company but new ones took over and have remained steadfast in their opposition. In the study tour, the women have taken a very active role in their opposition to large scale, open pit mining.
The battle cry of the diocese of Nueva Vizcaya under Bishop Villena was displayed in many areas – No to mining, YES to Life!
The years 2007 to 2009 saw violent dispersals of people��s barricades set up to protest mining and prevent company equipment from entering the areas. In 2009, a Congressional Hearing in aid of legislation was conducted by the Committee on National Cultural Communities which held an on-site investigation with the congressman from Nueva Vizcaya as member on June 2008.
The Congressional committee saw for themselves the destruction of the environment and livelihood of the people from the exploration of Oceana Gold in Didipio and Royalco in Kikidungen, Kasibu. They also heard reports of human rights violations from the people affected. The Committee was headed by then Ifugao Representative Solomon Chungalao, Nueva Vizcaya Representative Carlos Padilla, Bayan Muna Representative Teodoro Casino and Gabriela Women Partylist Representative Luz Ilagan.
In November 2009, the Commission on Human Rights conducted an investigation of human rights violations in the affected mining communities. The CHR was able to document many cases of illegal demolition, harassment, and shooting of residents who tried to stop the demolition of their homes. The CHR report cited Oceana Gold committed for violations against the right to property, right to adequate residence, freedom of movement and the right to security.
The tension in the mining areas eased a bit after the investigation of the CHR headed by then Commissioner Leila de Lima. The mining companies employed a new tack in their engagement with the people to push for their exploration.
Oceana Gold started to buy the lands of the people ostensibly to clear the mountains for their mine tailings. Some were offered money they could not refuse or worse their ricefarms were covered with rocks and soil, condemning it not fit for farming. Their citrus farms could not be watered since the creeks and rivers were diverted to make way for the construction of the mill and mine tailing containment dam.
In Belance, the community is now divided by armed, pro-mining Bugkalots and non-armed opposition to Royalco. Much like the experience of Bakun, Benguet Royalco has fomented divisiveness among the people causing the once peaceful community to be on the edge of tension and disarray.
In fact, the ISTNV team to Belance was prevented from going to Yabbi for an ocular survey and talks with the people at a checkpoint set up by pro-mining Bugkalots supported by Royalco for nearly the whole afternoon of Sunday. The persistence of the team to reach the area and talk to the people as well as the intervention of the barangay council and priests who were with the group finally got them to reach the elementary school in sitio Yabbi where they slept for the night.
FCF, like Oceana is buying lands of the people and preventing them from engaging in small scale mining which used to be their livelihood for a long long time as recounted by their elders. FCF has also allegedly bribed leaders of the opposition who have now turned pro-mining and are cajoling the people to sell their lands to the foreign mining company.
It is also a fact that nearly all anti-mining candidates lost in the recently conducted barangay elections. Most barangays officials of the areas are pro-mining and have received largesse from the mining companies like “ambulances.”
The community people interviewed admit that small scale mining has increased when the mining companies tried to take over their lands. Informants admit this is a matter of survival since their once rich valleys planted to citrus, vegetables, rice and corn are now fenced off areas for the mining companies.
In Didipio, Oceana has fenced off a large area it has bought and placed guardhouses along the long fence to prevent “illegal entry” of people in their territory. In Runruno and Belance where there is only one road, FCF and Royalco placed guardhouses that check on people and vehicles going to the barrios.
In Didipio, there are 11 cases pending with the DENR of illegal cutting of trees in the citrus farms of the opposition farmers. These are citrus they have planted and which are providing for their daily needs even before martial law.
This year, two of the cases were dismissed when the two farmers decided to sell their citrus farms covering 32 hectares to Oceana. Now they are facing a new threat — the water source for the community will be diverted by Oceana for its mining operation. Even now, they have to buy drinking water from afar since their former household water supply is now polluted or is too muddy for household use.
The ISTNV presented their findings to the provincial government during their weekly sessions. Only the Didipio and Runruno team were able to proceed to the Provincial capitol since the Belance team were still on their way to Bayombong.
The Australian delegates promised to bring the case of the people of Kasibu and Quezon to the headquarters of Oceana, Royalco and FCF as well as the public to put pressure on the companies to stop destructive mining and respect the rights of the people. Later the group met with Governor Cuaresma and invited her to the forum in the afternoon. The Governor reiterated her commitment to oppose large scale mining in Nueva Vizcaya.
In the afternoon of July 11, the Belance, Didipio and Runruno teams presented their findings to the students, concerned advocates for the environment and teachers of the Nueva Vizcaya State University. The gym was jampacked and reverberated with cries of “No to Large Scale Mining” as the international team and the local advocates presented the findings. The students were challenged to support pro-people and pro-environment initiatives since they will eventually inherit the riches of Nueva Vizcaya.
Local government officials, Bishop Basilio Wandag of the Philippine Episcopal Church and representatives of Bishop Villena were there.
The international delegates pledged to bring the case of the people of Nueva Vizcaya to the Australian and New Zealand public so they would know that the foreign mining companies glowing financial reports are covering the truth about the mining aggression in Nueva Vizcaya.