“Finally! We can now sleep without fear of being arrested anytime” exclaimed Mr. Jaime Ananayo, one of the nine accused Ifugaos and a member of Didipio Earth Savers Multipurpose Association (DESAMA). After more than 2 years of waiting, Indigenous Ifugaos of Didipio Nueva Vizcaya were euphoric yesterday upon hearing Judge Atorba of the Municipal Trial Court of Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya dismissed the case filed against them by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for allegedly occupying forest lands illegally.
The case was filed against 9 indigenous Ifugaos for allegedly violating Section 69 of the Presidential Decree 705 or the Revised Forestry Code branding them as “illegal forest occupants”. The majority of the 9 indigenous Ifugaos are leaders and members of DESAMA, an organization resisting the large-scale mining project in Didipio, Nueva Vizcaya awarded to OceanaGold, an Australian mining company. “This dismissal only proves that we were right from the very beginning. They were just trying to harass or intimidate us because of our opposition to the large-scale mining project in our village,” adds Mr. Ananayo.
According to Atty. Minerva Quintela, legal counsel of the accused from the Legal Rights & Natural Resources Center (LRC), “These are Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) cases filed against members of our partner community which are invalid and abusive suits designed to chill the opposition against large-scale mining in Baranggay Didipio. Based on the new Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases, this is ground for dismissal under Rule 19. Our partners cannot be accused as ‘illegal forest occupants’ because they have legally occupied their lands since the 1960’s and 1970’s in pursuit of livelihood based on various legal tenurial instruments. Also, the revised Forest Code, Section 53 clearly shows that ‘cultural minorities and other occupants who entered into forest lands and grazing lands before May 19, 1975, without permit or authority shall not be prosecuted’.”
“This decision by Judge Atorba reinvigorates our resolve to continue the fight for our rights and our lands. To continue our two decade struggle against large-scale mining project in our village. That in the end, truth, law and history is on our side,” avers Manong Tolentino Inlab, Chairperson of the indignant DESAMA.
LRC Executive Director, Judy Pasimio says that, “Filing SLAPP suits against community rights defenders is one of the common tactics employed by mining companies designed to break the resolve of resisters opposing their mining projects. What is deplorable in this case is that the DENR has lent itself to be part of the mining company’s tactics to silence the DESAMA leaders and members. It is fortunate that the resolve of the Ifugaos of Didipio is unwavering, and that they were able to overcome this particular hurdle. Many others have not been this fortunate. This situation only bolsters the urgent need for a new law on mining and minerals management; a new law that promotes and safeguards the rights of the people, most importantly that of the indigenous peoples,” Pasimio said.