Noynoy vows probe off mining activities in Nueva Vizcaya
By Charlie Lagasca
The Philippine Star
BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines – Liberal Party presidential bet Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III has vowed to initiate an investigation into the illegal mining activities in the province if elected president.
Aquino said he has personally witnessed from above on a chopper during a campaign sortie how unfettered mining activities have left mountains in the province eroded.
“(We will seek) an investigation on this matter. It’s disturbing that the whole mountain top is almost gone,” he said.
Aquino was referring to an area in the remote Barangay Didipio in Kasibu town where the controversial government-backed multimillion-peso Australian mining firm-funded Didipio Gold-Copper Project is located.
Dipidio is a mineral-rich village nestled along the Nueva Vizcaya-Quirino mountain boundary.
The town has attracted hundreds of small-scale miners using unregulated explosives and deadly chemicals.
Aquino said he even asked his pilot to fly nearer to the mining sites to see the extent of the destruction in the mountains in Didipio.
“I saw the dying state of the mountain. It’s frightening. The soil and boulders have become loose that these would give in during rainfall, which endangers the lives of the residents,” he said.
The Didipio venture, the first large-scale mining project approved by the government since the enactment of the 1995 Mining Act, has been the subject of opposition by the Catholic Church and environment groups for being “anti-environment” and “anti-people.”
Illegal small-scale mining operations in the area have also gone unabated despite repeated warnings by authorities of deadly accidents due to cave-ins and premature explosions.
Aquino’s call for probe came on the heels of Bayombong Bishop Ramon Villena’s statement that the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines is also scrutinizing the stand of every presidential candidate on mining issues.
“Besides morality and gambling, we will also look on one’s candidate’s stand on mining. This is a crucial issue for everyone since it concerns the environment and future of our children,” Villena said.
On the other hand, lawmaker-allies of President Arroyo assured Aquino that the administration would not enter into “midnight contracts or deals.”
Maguindanao Rep. Simeon Datumanong said it was unfair for Aquino to insinuate that the outgoing government may be entering into questionable transactions.
“That’s baseless and unfair. Mrs. Arroyo is our President until June 30, and it is her legal responsibility to promote the welfare of our country. She will not allow any contracts or deals to be forged in haste and which are disadvantageous to our country’s interest,” he said.
Representatives Danilo Suarez of Quezon and Pedro Romualdo of Camiguin said Aquino should win first before threatening to invalidate contracts entered into by the outgoing administration.
Suarez said the insinuation of an irregularity “is another black propaganda against the Arroyo administration.”
He said the country is not wanting in laws on accountability that the next government could use against those who profited from questionable deals.
Aquino has warned all those dealing with the government that he would not honor midnight contracts entered into by Mrs. Aquino and her officials if he wins the presidential race on May 10.
In particular, Aquino said he was addressing his warning to foreign governments and contractors in the light of information that the Department of National Defense and Armed Forces of the Philippines were rushing $300 million worth of equipment procurement.
Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales later admitted that the defense-military leadership had started groundwork for the acquisition of sophisticated navy vessels, attack helicopters and some other equipment.
A Cabinet-ranked official in charge of sequestered media entities has also reportedly entered into a joint venture contract with R-11 Builders group of companies for the development of the sequestered four-hectare Broadcast City lot, which is a stone’s throw away from the affluent Ayala Heights and Ayala Hillside subdivisions.
The Broadcast City was reportedly valued at P10,000 per square meter, or about half the price of Ayala lots.
The undervaluation has put the government at a disadvantage, since its share of the joint venture would be based on a much lower price for the property.
The R-11 group is owned by billionaire businessman Reghis Romero, who is said to be close to President Arroyo and her husband and is a supporter of Nacionalista Party standard-bearer Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. – With Jess Diaz