For mining companies, Nueva Vizcaya is just another gold mine. But for women whose children were nourished from its valleys and rivers, the fight against large-scale mining is a fight for life.
BY LISA ITO
Vol. VII, No. 34, September 30-October 6, 2007
Her serene face is as furrowed as an ancient valley, but Carlita Cumila, 70 years old, can still remember the time she and her husband settled in the lush slopes of Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya back in 1964.
”We went to Papaya from Kiangan on foot. It took us three days of walking and hiking. My son Gilbert was three months old at that time,” she recalls. Dressed simply in a faded floral blouse and black skirt, it seems hard to imagine how Cumila and her son endured the three-day trek through steep mountains and rugged terrain in search of a home.
Cumila and her growing family were among the first settlers in Barangay Papaya, Malabing Valley. It was here where her other seven children after Gilbert were born and raised.
“When we came to Papaya, we were only a few. Only gabi, corn, beans, and rice grew here. There were no fields. But if we stayed in Kiangan, there would have been little, not enough to provide for an education for our children. In my previous home, there was space for only one and a half hectares of rice terraces to till,”she said.
”Here in Papaya you could have four to seven hectares. Here we had enough food,” she said.
Cumila has seen their lives prosper since that first day she set foot in Barangay Papaya. Malabing Valley’s residents now reap the fruits from a flourishing local citrus industry that started there over a decade ago. A cooperative in the town center stands. Her son Gilbert finished Agricultural Engineering and now gives seminars to people on citrus cultivation.
Cumila, however, now fears for the verdant valley which has nurtured her family for four decades.
Foreign mining companies have recently entered Nueva Vizcaya and are eyeing the wealth beneath its rich soils. And like many other women residents living in Kasibu and its adjacent valleys, Cumila is now preparing to devote her strength to defending her home against the looming threat of large-scale mining.
Barangay Papaya – a key citrus-growing area in the region and a critical source of irrigation water for Malabing Valley’s other agricultural farms—is the target site of a mining exploration project by New Zealand-owned Oceana Gold Philippines, formerly owned by Climax-Arimco and Australasian Philippines Mining, Inc. (APMI). Oceana Gold is the holder of the original 37,000 hectares of Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) granted by then Pres. Fidel Ramos to Climax-Arimco.
Another impending exploration by Oxiana Philippines, Inc. (now owned by Australian company Royalco Resources Ltd.) threatens five other barangays of Kasibu (Pa-o, Kakidugen, Paquet, Dine & Katarawan). A barricade set up by Kasibu residents since July 2, 2007 has so far successfully blocked the entry of Oxiana’s drilling equipment into Pa-o.
Barangays Pao and Kakidugen is located few kilometers south of the Didipio Gold-Copper Project of Oceana. Almost beside Didipio, the village of Runruno, is currently being explored by MTL (formerly FCF/Greenwater) and Metals Exploration Mineral Resources Corp. (Metex).
Defend Patrimony convener Clemente Bautista Jr. says these three projects comprise “a triangle of foreign-controlled and large-scale mining projects with dire consequences for the people of Nueva Vizcaya”.
Environmental and agricultural destruction
Community opposition to the projects is largely based on the degree of environmental and agricultural destruction that large-scale mining operations will be bringing about. Oceana’s mining bid in Malabing Valley, for instance, poses grave implications on the valley’s ecosystems.
According to Cumila, Brgy. Papaya is the source of the watershed which feeds the creeks leading to four other sitios: Ubon, Paduan, Malong, and Alimaden.