Vizcaya group opposed to mining questions DILG move
MANILA, Philippines — An environmental group in Nueva Vizcaya has called on residents around a copper and gold mine in the province to man the “people’s barricade” to stop the continued operation of an Australian mining company whose license had expired.
The Alyansa ng mga Nagkakaisang Novo Vizcayano para sa Kalikasan (Annvik) made the call on Thursday after it learned that the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) had ordered the provincial government to dismantle the checkpoints it had set up to block mining equipment from leaving or entering the OceanaGold Philippines, Inc., mine site at Didipio village in Nueva Vizcaya’s Kasibu town.
“The DILG wants to overstep the legal court processes and is enforcing its authority in order to exert pressure on the local government of Nueva Vizcaya,” Annvik said in a statement.
Despite the many complaints against it “here we have the DILG saving the mining company,” it added.
The group, which opposes the mining operation, was referring to a Nov. 22 letter from Interior Secretary Eduardo Año telling Gov. Carlos Padilla to “maintain the status quo” before OceanaGold’s license expired on June 20. The Inquirer has obtained a copy of the letter, which was received by the provincial government on Dec. 6.
“You are hereby enjoined to remove or dismantle the said checkpoint, unless the local government coordinates with the [Philippine National Police] or the [Armed Forces of the Philippines] and secure the necessary permit to establish the [checkpoints],” Año said in his letter to Padilla.
He reminded the governor that the DILG was the “topmost government agency which coordinates with, and exercises supervision over local government units” and responsible for ensuring that rules were being followed.OceanaGold’s mining license, a 25-year financial and technical assistance agreement (FTAA) with the Philippine government, has not yet been renewed.
Padilla issued a cease-and-desist order on June 25 after he was informed that the company continued mining operations without a new FTAA.
Villagers, backed by the town and provincial governments, set up in July three checkpoints at roads leading to the Didipio mining site. As a result copper concentrates from the mine could not be transported.
OceanaGold maintains that it can resume its mining activities while awaiting approval of its license, which is pending in the Office of the President.
It petitioned the Regional Trial Court in Bayombong, the provincial capital, to compel the provincial government to dismantle the barricades. The court has so far denied its request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, the initial remedies it had sought.
Annvik urged Novo Vizcayanos to support the effort to stop the mining company from continuing its operations by sending people to man the “people’s barricade to show unity in our struggle.”
The group also appealed for food and other forms of support for the barricaders and for volunteer lawyers and paralegal workers for documentation and “emergency response to the violations of human rights.”
Since the start of its commercial operation in 2013, the Didipio gold-copper project has been opposed by residents and the local government over the alleged damage to the environment through the contamination of local waterways and the depletion of the water table. But the company had assured residents in the area that all mine debris were safely contained.
Opponents also claimed that the mining operation had caused disunity in the communities that led to splits even within families into those who support and those who oppose the mine. The mining company also allegedly did not fulfill pledges to help develop host communities.
The provincial government has invoked its duty to protect Nueva Vizcaya as a watershed of Cagayan Valley from mining-induced degradation of the environment.
Año said he had written Malacañang seeking guidance and an update on the status of OceanaGold’s FTAA renewal.
“Pending the official pronouncement of the Office of the President, the province of Nueva Vizcaya is directed to maintain status quo prior to the issuance of the June 25, 2019 order,” the DILG chief said.
Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya, the DILG spokesperson, said Año’s letter was not meant to pressure the provincial government to allow the operation of the mining company.
“[Mining] is not the mandate or concern of [the DILG] but of the [Department of Environment and Natural Resources.] The concern being raised [in the letter] is the presence of checkpoints without authority from the PNP or the AFP,” he said in a text message.
He, however, said he has yet to verify the authenticity of the letter, which was leaked to the media by Annvik.
“Granting that it’s genuine, [the letter] simply reminds the provincial government of the need to coordinate with law enforcement authorities before checkpoints may be validly established and does not in any way pressure the [local government unit] to allow mining operations,” he said.
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