UP forest advocates harassed, barred from tree planting in mining-affected area by mining security

Source: 
Task Force-Justice for Environmental Defenders Press Release
Date of publication: 
4 June, 2014

‘Reforestation not allowed here,’ police said to environmentalists

Environmental advocates condemned today the security forces of a mining corporation in Nueva Vizcaya province for harassing students and professors from the University of the Philippines (UP) trekking to the mining-affected community of Sitio Bit-ang, Barangay Runruno.

“Forest advocates from UP who were on a tree-planting activity in Barangay Runruno were harassed by heavily armed security personnel of FCF Minerals Corporation and local policemen. Since when did efforts to plant trees and ultimately reforest an important watershed area affected by mining development activities become a prohibited action? We condemn this latest episode of violation of our environmental defenders’ rights by FCF Minerals and call for an immediate investigation into the matter,” said Leon Dulce, spokesperson for the Task Force-Justice for Environmental Defenders (TF-JED) and campaign coordinator of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE).

The UP contingent, composed of 3 professors and 12 students who are members of a university-based environmental organization including a reporter from the university’s publication Philippine Collegian, was held up by 13 security guards in civilian clothes for more than 6 hours, preventing them from conducting their tree-planting activity last May 31. The group had already secured earlier a permission to visit the community.

“A certain PO1 Primo Valdez told the group that ‘reforesting Sitio Bit-ang is not allowed.’ This is absurd considering that we need to protect our forests especially the watershed areas of Nueva Vizcaya,” said UP Prof. Joanne Manzano, member of the regional advocacy group Taripnong Cagayan Valley and participant in the tree-planting activity.

According to Noni Abao, member of the university-based group Minggan-UP Diliman that sponsored the tree-planting activity, “we can only surmise that FCF Minerals Corporation is behind the action of barring our volunteers. The mining firm stands to gain from minimizing visitors arriving in Sitio Bit-ang. With few visitors to the area, the issue [of mining] in the community will remain unknown to many.”

Several human rights violations have already been previously recorded in the area. In March 2009, FCF filed a harassment case against residents who refuse to sell their lands to the company. In December 16, 2012, local residents who put up a people’s barricade were violently dispersed by FCF and local police. Last June 2013, houses of small scale miners in the area were demolished by FCF security and PNP elements.

Threats to indigenous people’s rights

The mining firm, which owns a 3,000-hectare gold and molybdenum mining project in Barangay Runruno under a Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA), is planning to demolish structures in Sitio Bit-ang as part of their mining operations. Community members have long been protesting the entry of the big mining project, having set up barricades, sent letters of protest to authorities, and conducting dialogues with local government officials.

“During a fact-finding mission we held in Brgy. Runruno last year, FCF Minerals cited that they have ‘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. This is a clear example of how state and private security forces are used to perpetrate rights abuses towards citizens opposed to destructive mining operations,” explained Dulce.

“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 furthered.

Threats to right to balanced ecology

Prof. Manzano said that the FCF Minerals’ FTAA “allows mining firms to cut down our trees, utilize and even pollute our water sources and expel people from their homes and take away their livelihood all in the name of profit for large foreign mining firms.”

A total of 515,520 hectares of watershed reserves have been proclaimed in Nueva Vizcaya. The province has in fact been 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.

The mining operations will also threaten the biodiversity of the Sierra Madre mountain range,” lamented Abao. “It is quite tragic to know that one of the country’s last frontiers will be wiped-out because of greed.”

The province is also home to forest reserves and protected areas, including parts of the Palali-Mamparang Mountain Range, a section of the Sierra Madre Mountains in Kasibu and Quezon towns that is one of the eight biodiversity hot spots 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. 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,” ended Dulce.

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Reference:

Allan Mesina, Taripnong Secretariat – 0920 675 2468
Leon Dulce, TF-JED – 0917 562 6824