By Andrea Lim
Progressive environmental groups condemned the security forces of a mining corporation in Nueva Vizcaya for harassing students and professors from the University of the Philippines (UP) trekking to a mining-affected community in Sitio Bit-ang in Barangay Runruno.
According to Leon Dulce, spokesperson for the Task Force-Justice for Environmental Defenders (TF-JED) and Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE) campaign coordinator, forests advocates from UP were on a tree-planting activity in Barangay Runruno when they were harassed by heavily armed security personnel of FCF Minerals Corporation and local policemen.
The party, composed of three professors and 12 students who
are also members of a university-based environmental organization, including a reported from the university’s publication Philippine Collegian, was held up by 13 security guards in civilian clothes for more than six hours, preventing them from conducting their tree-planting activity last May 31.
The group had already secured earlier permission to visit the community.
“Since when did efforts to plant trees and ultimately reforest an important watershed area affected by mining development activities become a prohibited action?” Dulce said.
UP Prof. Joanne Manzano, member of the regional advocacy group Taripnong Cagayan Valley and a participant in the tree-planting activity, said that a certain PO1 Primo Valdez told the group that ‘reforesting Sitio Bit-ang is not allowed.’
Threat to indigenous people
The mining firm plans to demolish structures in Sitio Bit-ang as part of their mining operations. Meanwhile, community members continue to carry out protests against the big mining project, from setting up barricades to sending out letters of protests to authorities to conducting dialogues with local government officials.
A fact-finding mission in Brgy. Runruno last year states that FCF Minerals claimed they had ‘mineral rights’ on the land below the properties of the peasants and indigenous people in the area who only had ‘surface rights’ and thus can be displaced by the mining company.
“We fear that what happened to us will also be done to indigenous peoples in Nueva Vizcaya. If they can intimidate professors and students from the University of the Philippines, they can surely do it with the residents of the communities,” Prof. Manzano added.
Threat to balanced economy
Prof. Manzano says that the FCF Minerals’ Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) permits mining firms to cut down trees, utilize and even pollute water sources, and expel indigenous people from their homes, taking away their livelihood for the large foreign mining firm’s profits.
A total of 515,520 hectares of watershed reserves have been proclaimed in Nueva Vizcaya. The province was declared by NEDA as a ‘watershed haven’, supporting seven multi-million infrastructure projects for irrigation and hydroelectric power generation purposes, including the Magat and Casecnan Hydroelectric Power Dams.
Noni Abao, a member of the university-based group Minggan-UP Diliman that sponsored the tree-planting activity, also says that the mining operations threaten the biodiversity of the Sierra Madre mountain range.
The province is home to forest reserves and protected areas, including parts of the Palali-Mamparang Mountain Range, which is a section of the Sierra Madre Mountains in Kasibu and Quezon towns that is one of the eight biodiversity hotspots in the country.
“By preventing the work of environmental advocates, violating the rights of indigenous peoples and anti-mining activists, and perpetrating environmental destruction, FCF Minerals is clearly one of the biggest threats to our rights to land, life, and a healthful and balanced ecology in Nueva Vizcaya.” Dulce said.
“These human rights violations should be immediately investigated by the Commission on Human Rights and the provincial government, and FCF Minerals’ permit should be cancelled if proven guilty,” Dulce concluded.