DAVAO CITY - The Provincial Board of Compostela Valley has voted in favor of the move to cancel the July 30 bidding of the 729-hectare gold rush area in Mt. Diwalwal.

The board approved the resolution filed by Board Members Heracleo Codilla, Dexter Lopuz, and Ruwell Peter Gonzaga supporting the stand of the small-scale miners who oppose the bidding.

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During the session, several board members expressed their support for the Diwalwal miners' cause but admitted that they are just helpless against the National Government's plan on the area.

Before the boards' decision, more than 5,000 residents of Barangay Diwalwal held a silent picket outside the Provincial Capitol while awaiting the decision of the council.

In the past weeks, since the declaration that the gold rush area will be opened to large-scale private miners through a public bidding, Diwalwal folks and environmental advocates have been demanding the bidding's cancellation.

Community-led protest actions to oppose the bidding have also been widely held.

The board's decision stemmed from the demands forwarded by the Panalipdan Mt. Diwata Alliance through conveners: Nagkahiusang Katawhan sa Diwalwal and Panalipdan Southern Mindanao Region (Panalipdan-SMR), which urged the cancellation of the bidding and called for the scrapping of the Joint Operation Agreement (JOA) between the National Resources Development Corporation (NRDC) and JB Management Mining Corporation (JBMMC).

In a statement, Davao-based religious and environmental group Panalipdan-SMR joined in the celebration of the Diwalwal folks.

"We commend the council for heeding the voice of the people of Diwalwal and for upholding genuine national interests despite the heavy pressure coming from large-scale miners that have long been wanting to have complete control of Mt. Diwalwal's rich bounty," said Panalipdan-SMR secretary-general Francis Morales, also one of the conveners of the Panalipdan Mt. Diwata Alliance, a multi-sectoral group at the forefront of the opposition against the private takeover of Mt. Diwata.

Rey Elejorde, chairperson of the Nagkahiusang Katawhan sa Diwalwal (Nagkadiwa), a local organization of small-scale miners and farmers in Barangay Diwalwal, also supported the commendation.

"We are glad with the decision of the council. As threats of large-scale takeover remains, we will continue to oppose attempts to privatize and open Diwalwal to large-scale and open pit mining operations, especially foreign - funded mining operations," Elejorde said.

The groups had previously held people's forum on the impacts of large-scale mining in Davao City last July 12 wherein the Panalipdan Mt. Diwata Alliance has been formally launched and a unified people's action in opposition to the sell-out of Diwalwal was forged.

On the next session, the Provincial Board will deliberate on the other demand of Panalipdan Mt. Diwata Alliance, the cancellation of the JOA between the JBMMC and the Natural Resources Development Corporation (NRDC), which allowed the latter the exclusive right to mine within a 429.52 hectares portion of the 729-parcel.

"This is a dangerous move as it might facilitate the swift takeover of private firms over the much contested gold rush mining area," Morales said.

Panalipdan Mt. Diwata Alliance said the JOA did not go through the required community consultation and even bypassed the authority of the local government unit.

"We also fear that this sweetheart deal is a repeat of the past tie up between the JBMMC and the foreign large-scale mining company SEM back in the 1990's which resulted to the escalation of violent incidents in Diwalwal and led to the heavy troop deployment in the late 1990s," Morales said.

Hundreds of small-scale miners trooped to the Provincial Government building of Compostela Valley Wednesday to protest the selling of the gold-rich Diwalwal to multinational mining corporations.

The miners were barred from entering the Capitol grounds as Governor Arturo Uy ordered for the gates to be closed. A firetruck was also placed at the entrance gate where several fully-armed policemen and military were stationed.

Mt. Diwata village chief Franco Tito, who was allowed to enter, appeared before the Provincial Board that was conducting a committee hearing on Diwalwal Wednesday morning.

Tito said that aside from the National Government's plan to bid out the 8,100-hectare Diwalwal Mineral Reservation Area (DMRA) to multinational companies, the Provincial Board must also look into the involvement of one of their colleagues, Board Member Joselito Brillantes, in the controversial JOA with the NRDC.

The JOA entered into by the government's NRDC with the JBMMC was for the 452.29 hectares of the 729-hectare Diwalwal area.

The 729-hectare Diwalwal area is the area where about 40,000 small-scale miners have been operating since the 1980's and it is within the 8,100-hectare DMRA.

Tito said the JOA was forged and made effective starting March 15, 2010 and will last for 25 years. The signatories to the agreement were NRDC president Melchor Monsod and Brillantes.

Brillantes was absent in Wednesday's session.

Aside from the JOA, Tito said the JBMMC was also awarded another mining area outside the 729-hectare Diwalwal. This, he said, shows just how greedy the JBMMC is in cornering deals with the government to the detriment of the small-scale miners.

Board Member Dexter Lopoz, meanwhile, urged President Benigno Aquino III to listen to the Diwalwal miners and order a comprehensive review of any agreements entered into by the previous administration with the mining corporations. (JCZ/BOT/PR/Sun.Star Davao/Sunnex)