Governor Wants Australian Mining Firm Out of Nueva Vizcaya

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya: Gov. Luisa Lloren Cuaresma, apparently slighted by the seeming disregard of a foreign mining firm for the provincial government’s “cease and desist order,” on Tuesday advised officials of the Australian mining firm to just leave the province if it could not pay the taxes and fees being collected by her administration.

“If you can’t pay, then better get out,” the irate Cuaresma told officials of the Australian-owned Oceana Gold Phils. led by Jake Foronda, general manager of its Didipio Gold-Copper Project, at the field office of the province’s Environment and Natural Resources Office in the said mining village in Kasibu, Nueva Viscaya, where the firm is conducting mining exploration activity.

Cuaresma, along with members of the provincial board led by Vice Gov. Jose Gambito and other provincial officials had gone the other day to Didipio to have the said order implemented and pressure Oceana Gold officials to pay the taxes and fees which the provincial government was charging for its quarrying activities.

But the mining firm refused to pay, insisting that the said activity was part and parcel of construction being undertaken by the firm.

Cuaresma’s cease and desist order to Oceana Gold stemmed from its failure to pay all provincial taxes relating to its quarrying activities in the said village, which provincial officials had estimated to be some P25 million.

“It is only right that the provincial government make this order against the mining firm. This is an expression of the provincial government’s power under the local government code,” said Vice Governor Gambito, who also chairs the 14-member provincial board.

The national government expects to collect around P30 billion from Didipio project’s 15-year operation, aside from the millions of local taxes and thousands of jobs to be generated for the town residents.

Meanwhile, Gambito said that the provincial board is readying a resolution authored by Board Member Tony Dupiano withdrawing its support for the Didipio project, which they endorsed unanimously in 2006, if the said firm would not pay the taxes it owes the provincial government.

Officials of the said mining firm led by Foronda met with the provincial officials at the field office of the provincial government’s Environment and Natural Resources Office in Didipio. The officials led by Cuaresma had earlier gone there in full force accompanied by elements of the Philippine National Police and the provincial security division.

Cuaresma, however, stressed that her administration was not questioning Oceana Gold’s whole mining activity per se, but only their nonpayment of fees for the quarrying activities being conducted by their subcontractor, Delta Earth Moving.

“We are asking only for what is due to the provincial government, but if they continue to ignore us or refuse our reasonable demands, that is another matter,” she said.

Earlier, the mining firm executives cited Environment Secretary Lito Atienza’s letter to Cuaresma which said that under the Mining Act of 1998, there was no need for a mining firm like Oceana Gold which has a Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) with the national government to file for a quarry permit with the provincial government and pay any necessary fees.

They later requested that the provincial government give them time to study its request and for the quarrying to be allowed to continue, but the governor turned this down.

In his earlier letter to Cuaresma, Atienza said that according to Section 48 of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, “a (FTAA) contractor has the right to extract and remove sand and gravel and other minerals without need of a permit . . . within the area covered by the mining agreement for the exclusive use in the mining operations.”

The mining firm had also earlier said that the activity that the provincial government called quarrying was essential to its ongoing construction activities and should not be taxed by the provincial government.

But, Gambito, a lawyer, insisted that in the opinion of the provincial government, the quarrying activity was fully under the activities it could levy taxes on based on the local government code.
–Francis C. Hidalgo Jr.

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