Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Workers, residents drive away soldiers from Zambales mine

Some 150 mine workers and residents on Monday gathered inside the Coto Mines in Masinloc, Zambales, in a bid to force 80 Army soldiers out of the area after a business dispute broke there on Friday.

Arsenia Lim, owner of the Compania Minera, said she mobilized the protesters to resume normal operations at the mines this week.

“We decided to all go up today (Monday). We also sought the help of the governor (Zambales Gov. Amor Deloso) just so this standstill would [end],” Lim said by telephone.

“They are also angry because the soldiers hurt two miners,” she said.

The protesters gathered on Gate 2 and pitched a tent there.

Lim said she bought the chromite tailings from the Benguet Mines, which used to have an operating contract with the Consolidated Mining Inc. (CMI) for 50 years until July 8 this year. She also bought 100 percent shares of Compania Minera, CMI’s partner, after Benguet Mines’ stint at Coto Mines.

CMI has contested Lim’s rights to claim the chromite tailings and extract minerals on Coto Mines, which CMI has been running since 1934.

CMI president Ben Teodoro Eusebio, however, denied asking the military to help his company regain control of the area.

Maj. Gen. Ralph Villanueva, chief of the 7th Infantry Division based in Nueva Ecija, said he has not pulled out his troops from Coto Mines. They belong to the 24th Infantry Battalion.

“We’re there for counter-insurgency operations, not for the business dispute,” Villanueva said, referring to the 20 New People’s Army rebels seen in the area last week.

He said the soldiers have been staying at the Coto Mines’ staff house.

“This is a legitimate mission,” he said.

On April 28 this year, Villanueva stopped the illegal use by retired Army Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. of soldiers belonging to the 24th IB when the retired general and his security firm took over the port in Masinloc, 23 km west of Coto Mines.

Deloso went to the mine site on Monday and reported seeing two tanks there.

“It’s really like they’re going to war but there are no rebels here. These soldiers entered without coordinating with me or my office. They didn’t even have the courtesy to inform me [of their action],” he said.

He said he saw soldiers manning a checkpoint on Km 12. The others were in the “Cage Pool,” a private swimming pool amid a small forest.

“If they were really on an anti-insurgency campaign, why did it seem like they were having a picnic here?” he said.

He said he saw about 50 security guards in the area.

The governor said he would meet with Villanueva to allow the companies to settle their disputes without using the military or police.

“These business disputes can be best handled by local officials because after all, we are after business taxes due our constituents,” he said. By Tonette Orejas - Inquirer Central Luzon Desk

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