MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Philippines: Aussie group to help look into "abuses" by mining firm in Vizcaya

Published by MAC on 2008-11-10
Source: Flora Taguinod, GMANews.TV

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya - An Australia-based aid and development organization has supported moves by rights groups and government agencies to look deeper into abuses allegedly committed by OceanaGold-Philippines (OGP), a Melbourne-based mining firm operating in the province.

Oxfam Australia, an Australian independent organization campaigning against poverty and injustice in around 24 countries, has responded to calls from non-government organizations (NGO) and mining-affected communities to help accelerate international awareness on the mining issues plaguing the country today.

Oxfam's statement and interviews from local stakeholders was recently aired by international media outfit ABC News.

In the interview, Bernabe Almirol, an NGO member based in Nueva Vizcaya, also appealed on Australian mining investors to (re)consider their position in the country.

"This area (Didipio), is not appropriate for mining because we are depending much on the water from the watershed and it will have a serious impact on our economy, "he said, citing studies by environmentalists that as a catchment basin, the water supply from this upland mining area can affect thousands of hectares of farm lands and potable drinking sources in towns and cities downstream if the water supply will be contaminated due to OGP's large scale mining operation.

Oxfam Australia mining ombudsman, Shanta Martin, who has been monitoring the activities of mining companies in the country's northern parts particularly that of OGP in Nueva Vizcaya's upland Didipio village, has welcomed the investigations over alleged abuses committed by the beleaguered mining firm, one of which is the dismantling without due process of around 200 houses by company workers who were reportedly protected by heavily armed police and the company's security personnel, and the alleged shooting of a villager by a company guard.

"The engagement of the local police and the security personnel by the company (OGP) is uncertain and it seems that there is a level of cooperation between them," Martin said.

Amid claims by OGP that the company has "conducted its activities to the same responsible environmental and social standards as those at their New Zealand operations," Martin disclosed that she have seen legal documents compelling people, mostly simple farmers and some illiterates to present (defend) themselves in a tribunal that is not even in the immediate area of Didipio.

Oceana Gold's operations in the country is now under deeper scrutiny as talks between the Australian and Philippine government are already in progress, with Australian authorities awaiting for final investigation reports from the Philippine Human Rights Commission whether to take further actions against the ailing mining firm.

Meanwhile, OGP, which has been shopping for more capital infusions from international funding agencies due to a lackluster performance in the stock market, has halted its operations for several months now.

Martin said that there is no clear evidence that OGP's declining share prices has something to do with the reported abuses and lack of community support, but there is a clean link that current (political) issues in the country has affected the mining company's investment shares. - GMANews.TV

[ABC News Hour's exclusive broadcast on Didipio can be seen on You Tube:]

CA voids cease and desist order vs N. Vizcaya mining project

27th October 2008

MANILA, Philippines - The Court of Appeals on Monday declared as null and void the cease and desist order slapped by the provincial government of Nueva Vizcaya on the national-government sanctioned Didipio Gold-Copper Mining Project for lack of basis.

This was in response to the petition filed by Oceanagold Mining Inc. (formerly Australasian Philippines Mining Inc.), which was undertaking the mining activities in the 975-hectare site located in Barangay Didipio in Kasibu town.

In a 15-page decision penned by Associate Justice Remedios Salazar-Fernando, the appellate court held that the CDO dated April 9, 2008 and letter-assessments dated May 9, 2008 were issued without basis.

The CA said the activities of Oceanagold do not fall squarely within the coverage of the law or taxing ordinance that the Nueva Vizcaya provincial government sought to enforce on the firm.

"Their persistence in enforcing the assailed CDO and assessments, despite the patent inapplicability of the taxing ordinance to petitioner Oceanagold amounts to nothing less than a whimsical or arbitrary exercise of judgment," the CA ruled.

The CA also said that the activities of Oceanagold could not be categorized as "quarrying," thus the provincial government cannot collect tax out of the company's alleged quarrying activities.

Named respondents in the suit were Nueva Vizcaya governor Luisa Lloren Cuaresma and provincial treasurer Perfecto Martinez Jr, who issued the CDO and letters-assessments for failure of the mining firm to secure "quarrying" permits from the provincial government.

The CA also acknowledged that the disagreement between the mining firm and the Nueva Vizcaya government, which at one point led to a forcibly entry of police personnel to the mining site, has caused an "atmosphere of tension and antagonism" in the locality.

The court also doubted that the issue could be resolved by the province's trial courts.

"Considering the brazenness of the respondents, along with other local officials of Nueva Vizcaya and their armed supporters, the trial courts of Nueva Vizcaya will be unable to give effective, equal and impartial relief," the CA said. - GMANews.TV

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