TROUBLE IN DIWALWAL

Miners set to barricade Davao-Agusan highway

BY ROGER M. BALANZA

Small scale miners of Mt. Diwata in Monkayo, Compostela Valley are awaiting action of President Aquino on their request to stop a government plan to sell Mt. Diwata to foreigners.

This developed as they aborted last month a plan to barricade the Davao-Agusan highway to force Malacanang to abort a planned bidding of portion of the gold-rich barangay.

The bidding  set on July 31, 2010 by the Philippine Mining Development Corporation (PMDC), the government agency partly managing gold mining operations in Mt. Diwata, has been postponed.

franco-tito

Mt. Diwata barangay captain Franco Tito said miners are “gearing for battle” and would barricade the highway if their demand is not answered by President Aquino.

Large foreign mining companies are set to participate in the bidding of portion of Mt. Diwata, also known as Diwalwal, where about 40,000 small-scale miners depend for a living.

Tito said he had already submitted to Malacanang  a petition letter asking Aquino to stop the bidding,

We need an answer before this patrimony of the nation, where thousands depend for a living, could be sold to foreigners.

Meanwhile, ComVal governor Arturo Uy is set to meet with Tito and leaders of 729 Coalition, which is spearheading the planned mass action. Gov. Uy was expected to appeal to Tito and the smallscale miners to give time to Aquino to assess the situation in Mt. Diwata.

Gov. Uy earlier had convinced Aquino to postpone the schedule bidding last May, as smallscale miners warned mass actions like barricading vital Davao-Agusan highway if the bidding pushes through.

The blockade on the highway would have fatal effect on the region’s economy. Several years back, smallscale miners blocked the road thrice over government mining policies that threatened their livelihood.

The 729 Coalition, composed of small scale miners, ore millers, underground laborers, small and medium traders, indigenous peoples, Moro people, farmers and residents in unity with the local government unit, peoples organizations, non-government organizations and religious organizations, in its petition hand-carried by Tito to Malacanang asked Aquino to stop the bidding of the Mt. Diwata area that small scale miners have been mining since 1983.

The area of 729 hectares earlier had been awarded by government to the small scale miners.

729 Coalition also asked Aquino to cancel the illegal Joint Operating Agreement entered into by and between the Natural Resources Development Corporation (NRDC) and JB Management and Mining Corporation (JBMMC) covering areas presently being mined by small scale miners with service contracts with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

The coalition also asked for a review of government policies in Mt. Diwata and to reorganize the National Task Force Mt. Diwata into a lean force with small scale miners given a bigger voice in policy making on the management of the Diwalwal Integrated Development Area (DIDA).

It also sought the abolition of the PMDC and National Resources and Development Corporation (NRDC)—another agency involved in management of Mt. Diwata–or take away the government agencies’ management rights over Mt. Diwata gold mining operations.

The coalition also asked that NRDC and PMDC officials be subjected to proceedings in the Truth Commission due to corporate mismanagement that led to the sad state of affairs in the Diwalwal Gold Rush.

In its petition, 729 Coalition said “Mt. Diwata has been at peace until PMDC and NRDC decided to sell this valued patrimony of the nation—upon which thousands depend upon for their livelihood.”

“This would be a blatant betrayal of your vision to give equal opportunities to all. The entry of the foreign mining companies is an affront to social justice, the government’s program on poverty alleviation and would rob us of our right to decent living,” it said.

The coalition said that Presidential Proclamation No. 297 issued by former President Arroyo institutionalized the smallscale miners’ right to 729 hectares and allowed allowed them to contribute to the development of our country by giving government its rightful share; initiate efforts to protect the environment; end decades of violence and gave us the right to make the mining industry in Mt. Diwata responsible and sustainable.

“It is unfortunate that the very government agencies designated to bring harmony to Mt. Diwata are now themselves destroying the strides we have made through all the years to make Mt. Diwata a peaceful community and a major contributor to the progress and development of the nation, “ said the coalition.

“What is worse is that this would come at the expense of the people who had labored for more than 30 years to make Mt. Diwata what it is today—for the benefit of foreigners, “ said the coalition.

729 Colation said selling Mt. Diwata to foreigners would violate Section 5 (Mineral Reservation) of RA No. 7942 which provides “preferential right to small-scale miners to apply for agreement for a maximum aggregate area of twenty-five percent (25%) of such reservation.”

It said thousands of the smallscale miners would be displaced if the bidding pushes through and the large mining company which won the bid brings in mechanized mining.

“There is no alternative livelihood program for thousands who would be displaced after the take-over by the foreign companies, contrary to the mandate of the PMDC to improve the quality of life of the people through policies and programs,” said the coalition, adding that the local government of Mt. Diwata or the municipal government of Monkayo has not issued endorsement to any prospective bidder in violation of bid requirements in 4.3 of No. 4 of the Term of Reference to qualify for the bidding.

The Coalition also asked the cancellation of the the “midnight deal” entered into by NRDC and JBMMC under the Joint Operating Agreement (JOA) that covered part of the 729 hectares reserved for small-scale miners per DENR Administrative Order No. 66. The JOA also subsumed areas already covered by service contracts between the small-scale miners and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau Region XI and delegated in NRDC Memorandum of December 22, 2009, it said.

The National Task Force Diwalwal should also be abolished and replaced with another body to manage the Diwalwal mining industry that would “have ears closer to the people.” The task force is presently composed of a myriad of government agencies. The new body should be a lean-and-mean team so that problems in the gold rush area could immediately be heard and resolved, said the coalition.

With the bidding only a few days away, the Mt. Diwata community is in a state of shock and restiveness at such wanton disregard of their right. The fear of economic dislocation is an old issue in Mt. Diwata and was the root of violence in the past. We beg you Mr. President to take a look immediately at a potential social problem that could erupt anytime if the Mt. Diwata community could not find an answer to their current problem of an impending dislocation, the coalition.

729 Coalition heaped the sad state of affairs in Mt. Diwata on NRDC and PMDC and accused the agencies of corporate mismanagement.

“Despite the huge collection from mining operations (15% of gross output as share of government), NRDC in its three years of operation has accumulated operating losses P44 million. NRDC management has refused to explain the losses before the local government and the small-scale miners. PMDC is as well guilty of gross mismanagement for failing to implement the Mabatas Tailings Dam Project with a fund of P50 million which could have been vital in addressing pollution in Mt. Diwata,” it said.

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