Nueva Vizcaya solon warns DENR on mining order


BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya — Nueva Vizcaya Rep. Carlos Padilla on Sunday warned environment officials to be “more careful” in directing a foreign mining company to resume operations and defy an order of stoppage from the provincial government.

Environment Secretary Lito Atienza earlier warned the provincial government that the order to stop the earth-moving activities of OceanaGold Philippines Inc. in upland Didipio village in Kasibu town was illegal.

“Nobody can stop the governor, not even Atienza. I am warning the secretary, that being a former city mayor, and a person in authority, he should not be violating the provisions of law; he should uphold the law,” Padilla said.

On May 6, OceanaGold’s activities in Didipio stopped after provincial officials blocked the company’s access roads to enforce a cease-and-desist order (CDO) issued by Gov. Luisa Cuaresma on April 9 for its refusal to settle its supposed local tax obligations.

Warning

The CDO has hampered the company’s efforts to meet its target of starting mineral production in February 2009.

In a statement, Atienza warned provincial officials against the “illegal act” of blocking the operations of OceanaGold, saying the province could not collect quarry taxes from the company because it is not engaged in commercial quarrying.

He said OceanaGold’s mining operation is allowed and governed by the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 (Republic Act 7942). The law, he said, provides that a contractor which holds a financial and technical assistance agreement (FTAA) is exempted from quarrying fees and has the right to extract and remove sand and gravel and other materials without a permit.

Atienza said he was acting “for the best interest of the country and was not siding with anyone but the rule of law that everyone must adhere to.”

He ordered the resumption of construction of OceanaGold’s Didipio mine as “it cannot be delayed by an illegal order” issued by the local government.

In a letter to Cuaresma, Atienza clarified that the ongoing activities of OceanaGold are “part of the development of the FTAA area in accordance with the company’s approved declaration of mining project feasibility.”

He said he was hoping that the dispute with the provincial government would be settled soon as the impasse “sends the wrong signal to both foreign and local investors.”

But Padilla said Atienza cannot issue an order for OceanaGold to resume and violate the CDO, a legal directive that is based on the authority granted by the Local Government Code.

Citing the code, Padilla said parties who question the legality of a local government’s tax ordinance should seek relief from the Department of Justice, then the courts.

Not binding

“Regardless of his opinion, whatever he says or whatever he does is not binding to the provincial government of Nueva Vizcaya. He has no business telling the governor what she can and cannot do,” Padilla said.

“It is Atienza who is out of his senses,” he said, alluding to Atienza’s earlier statement telling Cuaresma to “come to her senses” after issuing the CDO.

Padilla said the House of Representatives’ committee on cultural communities would inspect Thursday the areas of operation of OceanaGold and Royalco Resources Ltd., two Australian companies operating in Nueva Vizcaya, over reported human rights violations.

He also warned Mario Ancheta, acting Cagayan Valley director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, against enforcing Atienza’s order.

“If he follows the illegal order of Secretary Atienza, I will see to it that I will make life difficult for him,” he said.

Sought for comment, Ancheta said: “We’re just doing our job.”

Asked whether he will enforce Atienza’s resumption order and disregard Cuaresma’s CDO, Ancheta said his agency would act “depending on the situation on the ground.”

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