BM rep urges investigation of foreign mines abuses
BAGUIO CITY — The struggle of indigenous peoples in the upland town of Nueva Vizcaya to defend their ancestral homeland against two giant Australian mining corporations has reached Congress, with the filing of two resolutions by partylist Bayan Muna.
These resolutions, the IP’s claimed, would test this landlord-dominated institution if they could work for the benefit of the marginalized indigenous peoples.
Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro A. Casiño filed two resolutions in the House of Representatives which aim to investigate, in aid of legislation, abuses committed by the OceanaGold Philippines Inc. (OGPI) and the Oxiana Philippines Inc. (Royalco Ltd. of Australia) in the process of mineral exploration and operations in the villages of Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya.
House Resolution No. 594 urges the House of Representatives’ Committee on National Cultural Communities to conduct an inquiry on the reported abuses committed by OGPI against indigenous peoples in Didipio, Kasibu, Vizcaya where OGPI started to explore minerals for its proposed US 117-million gold and copper project.
On the other hand, House Resolution No. 211 urge the same committee to look into the alleged encroachment of the Australian-backed Oxiana Philippines Inc., a subsidiary of the Royalco Ltd. of Australia, into the tribal communities of Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya.
Both resolutions are pending at the said committee chaired by Benguet Rep. Samuel Dangwa with Ifugao Rep. Solomon Chungalao as senior vice-chair.
Oceana project covers villages in Didipio, Kasibu inhabited by various tribes which include the Bugkalots and Ifugaos. Residents have been opposing the project as they believed that the project would destroy their lands which serve as the source of their livelihood, producing rice and other agricultural products.
“The residents have been raising complaints on the abuses that Australian-backed company OGPI committed against their communities due to mining exploration and operation projects in the area,” stated Resolution No. 594, wherein public hearings would be held and afterwards come up with Committee Report that would recommend action to the House of Representatives, a staff of Casino told this reporter.
The resolution cited that officials of Didipio fear for the shortage of locally grown rice and farm products as bulldozing of lands continues despite reported controversies that characterized the operation of Oceana.
Oceana allegedly started to clear lands and demolished houses and removed residents out of Didipio in December 2007 as it moved fast to meet its target production operations in February 2009. Violations in the area had been reportedly traced to the New Year’s eve demolition.
The mining exploration of Oxiana Philippines covers the villages in Pao, Paquet, Dine, Kakidugen and Kataraoan, all of Kasibu town where its inhabitants are members of the Bugkalot, Ibaloi and Kalanguya tribes.
Residents claimed that the project threatens their welfare and livelihood particularly citrus fruits growing where 200 tons is harvested annually in the towns of Kasibu, Kayapa and Ambaguio, all upland owns of Nueva Vizcaya, stated House Resolution 211 where Gabriela Party List Representative Luzviminda C. Ilagan and Nueva Vizcaya Rep Carlos M. Padilla are co-authors.
Thousands of residents have been preventing the Oxiana from mining in the area since July 12, 2007. They sustained a barricade in Paquet village but were violently dispersed on August 29, 2007 “when armed Oxiana workers and elements of the CAFGU forcibly dismantled the protester’s barricades, resulting to injury among tribal men and women who refused to clear the muddy mountain road for a bulldozer, to be used in the mining firm’s exploration site in Pao village,” stated House Resolution No. 211.
“The violent incident on August 29, 2007 is a typical modus operandi of Australian mining firms which are notorious in Latin America and Asia in disrupting tribal communities and getting local partners to do the dirty work for them. Such mining firms usually employ military and police forces to suppress legitimate opposition to their activities,” added the Casiño-sponsored resolution.
No consent from residents
Defend Patrimony, an environmental group, discovered that Oxiana allegedly failed to obtain the consent of the majority of the affected indigenous peoples as mandated by the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997.
The resolution also pointed out that the National Commission on Indigenous Population (NCIP) fast-tracked and was not transparent in conducting the process of the free, prior and informed consent citing claims of the Bugkalot tribe.
Mayor Romeo Tayaban of Kasibu led various groups in seeking the legislative inquiry for both mining projects that are located in his town.
Meanwhile, House representatives and local officials of Nueva Vizcaya were on their way to a public hearing in Kasibu on June 7 when the delegation was stopped at a checkpoint in Barangay Burgos, Cabarroguis, Quirino Province. The Philippine National Police (PNP) forces in the area held them.
Allegedly held for more than twenty minutes with Casiño were Reps. Padilla, Ilagan, and Chungalao and NV Gov. Luisa Loren Cuaresma. Some 21 vehicles made up the convoy.
Padilla condemned the act saying: “This is a direct affront on the House as well as on the duly elected officials of this province. If they can do this to members of Congress, if they can do this to the governor and other provincial officials Nueva Vizcaya, they can do this to anybody.”
A congressman’s staff, who was among the delegation, claimed that they were held by the police without giving any reason at all.
“That is why we believe that the PNP in the area have a cozy relationship with Oceana,” he said in an interview.
Police, however, maintained the convoy was just delayed, not held, for five minutes. # Arthur L. Allad-iw