No ZTE in Mt. Diwalwal, village chief insists

(The Philippine Star) - September 10, 2008 - 12:00am

DAVAO CITY — Mt. Diwalwal Barangay chairman Franco Tito said it would be impossible for the controversial Chinese firm ZTE Corp., which was also linked to the cancelled national broadband network (NBN) deal, to operate a gold mining venture in Mt. Diwalwal in Monkayo, Compostela Valley.

“It is impossible for ZTE to enter the 729-hectare area. Besides, the small-scale miners already have an existing contract with PMDC (Philippine Mining Development Corp,) for us to explore a part of the area, particularly the Victory Tunnel portion,” Tito said.

Tito said he does not have any idea if ZTE is already operating in areas outside of the 729-hectare mining reservation, which is under his jurisdiction.

“We would strongly oppose the entry of ZTE to our area. It would mean trouble if they insist on coming in,” said Tito.

The government had virtually awarded a $1-billion mining contract to ZTE after it signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for the exploration, development and operation of mining rights at the gold rush site in Mt. Diwalwal.

ZTE Corp. was the firm involved in the controversial National Broadband Network project of the government that was canceled after the disclosure of alleged bribery and overpricing in the contract.

Lawyer Harry Roque said Trade Secretary Peter Favila and officials of ZTE signed the MOU on July 12, 2006.

The MOU reportedly also covered the operations of North Davao Mining Co. located in the adjacent province of Davao del Norte.

Roque said President Arroyo reportedly signed a special authorization, in effect allowing Favila to enter into an agreement with ZTE regarding Mt. Diwalwal.

He said former Presidential Management Staff chief Michael Defensor witnessed the signing of the MOU.

Roque said the MOU and the special authorization violated the Constitution and the existing mining laws of the country.

The MOU was signed almost at the same time that Mrs. Arroyo brought along with her top ZTE officials during a brief stopover in Monkayo, Compostela Valley in July 2006.

The President announced to residents who gathered at the congressional office of Rep. Manuel Zamora that ZTE was interested in developing Compostela Valley into a self-contained information technology development center.

Roque likewise stressed that it was clear that the MOU was not only a Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) that foreign firms are allowed to enter with local mining companies.

“When you say explore, develop and operate mining rights, it is different from the FTAA. What happened was government ceded to ZTE the mining rights to Mt. Diwalwal,” Roque added.

Roque said the $1 billion amount was arrived at through a mining study that was made by the PMDC, a government-owned and controlled corporation, considered to be the corporate arm of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The geological mapping and sampling that PMDC conducted on Mt. Diwalwal reportedly cost the government P200 million, Roque further said.

“After disclosing the signing of a memorandum of understanding between government and ZTE on Mt. Diwalwal, the government should disclose all the other details of the MOU and other pertinent contracts,” Roque said.

Malacañang believes that the issues being raised against the mining between the government and Chinese firm ZTE Corp. were merely part of the political agenda of the opposition against the administration.

In an interview over RMN radio, Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said there are no activities going on at the Mt. Diwalwal gold mining site in Monkayo, Compostela Valley, particularly in relation to the MOU with the Chinese firm.

He said the MOU was merely a preliminary arrangement and no ground exploration has actually taken place yet.

Dureza said Roque’s latest moves were obviously part of the political agenda of the opposition aimed at discrediting the current administration.

“I call this carpet bombing. He comes up with an issue and does not finish it. He just raises the issue and when it develops, he moves to another issue,” Dureza said.

He challenged Roque to gather evidence to support his case and bring this to the proper forum.

“How many more will come, will clearly show that the agenda here is not about getting justice, not about being able to have transparency, but really there is a political agenda at the end of the day,” Dureza said.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita expressed confidence that any deal entered into by Favila and other government officials would not violate the Constitution.

He also noted that agreements such as the one with ZTE Corp. were being done to encourage more investments in the country, including in the mining sector.

Meanwhile, the Picop Resources, Inc., a local paper producer, had also questioned the MOU that Favila forged with ZTE despite a court injunction that was earlier issued by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 20.

Picop stressed in a manifestation before the Supreme Court that Favila signed the agreement with ZTE to explore the Mt. Diwalwal gold rush site despite a decision and mandatory injunction issued by a local court.

The Quezon City RTC had ordered the Palace to respect its contract with Picop over forest reserves, which included the Mt. Diwalwal area.

The court order was in connection with Picop’s Timber License Agreement (TLA), which was upheld by the Court of Appeals on Feb. 14, 2004.

The Supreme Court’s Third Division through Associate Justice Minita Chico-Nazario subsequently reversed the RTC and the CA on Nov. 26, 2006, three months after the MOU between government and ZTE was signed on July 12, 2006.

Roque likewise argued that government entered into an MOU with ZTE for mining rites in Mt. Diwalwal despite a pending land dispute case that the Supreme Court still has to resolve involving Marcopper’s subsidiary Southeast Mining Corp. and the over 50,000 small-scale miners operating at the mining site.                          – With Marvin Sy

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