Vizcaya lumad battles open pit mining firm
Artemio Dumlao (The Philippine Star) - July 11, 2019 - 12:00am

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines — Indigenous people in Nueva Vizcaya are banking on the national government to stop the open pit mining operations of a foreign company, which have allegedly wreaked havoc on the environment. 

The Philippine Task Force for Indigenous Peoples’ Rights (TFIP) expressed support for the Igorot and Ifugao tribes in Kasibu and other parts of Nueva Vizcaya as it urged the Australian-Canadian firm OceanaGold to shelve operations.

OceanaGold’s Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) with the government expired on June 20. Its underground Didipio Gold and Copper Mine started open-pit commercial production in 2013.    

Nueva Vizcaya Gov. Carlos Padilla has issued a cease-and-desist-order (CDO) against OceanaGold. An FTAA is a license agreement issued to a multinational company that will share technology and resources to explore and extract minerals in the Philippines.

Anti-mining groups including the TFIP have been deploring OceanaGold’s mine operations due to alleged “severe environmental damage and human rights violations it has committed.”   

More than a decade of destructive mining has damaged the ecosystem and indigenous peoples’ livelihoods, they claimed, adding “numerous violations of indigenous peoples’ rights occurred during their active operations such as forced evictions and burning of homes of indigenous and peasant families from 2008 to 2009.”

A study by American, Canadian and Filipino researchers led by Catherine Coumans, John Cavanagh, Rico La Vina and Robin Broad on Oct. 29, 2018 found a number of instances where OceanaGold had not adhered to commitments under its mining permit and various Philippine laws and regulations including ample documentation of the detrimental impacts of the firm’s mine on water, forests, land, indigenous peoples, human rights, biodiversity and workers’ rights.

They also found out that Nueva Vizcaya’s agriculture – one of Luzon’s main sources of fruits and vegetables – is “threatened by adverse environmental impacts of the mine.”  

Elevated levels of copper, lead, manganese, cadmium, sulfates, iron, arsenic and selenium were also found in rivers and streams around the mine, potentially decreasing agricultural yields and impacting fish in the surrounding waterways, they said in the report.

The reseachers have visited the Didipio mine on fact-finding missions four times since 2013 and accordingly have studied numerous reports and other fact-finding missions on OceanaGold’s record in the Philippines.   

“We have carefully reviewed the multitude of complaints about the mine from the local community and provincial authorities dating back to when construction began. This report lays out the results of our investigation, including our finding of numerous violations by OceanaGold of its FTAA and of national and provincial laws and decrees,” they explained.

The Mines and Geosciences Bureau, however, has virtually permitted OceanaGold’s continued operations pending renewal of its FTAA.  

OceanaGold’s FTAA 1 now only covers 10,266 hectares, including the currently operating mine in a 925-hectare area in Barangay Didipio in the mineral-rich upland town of Kasibu. 

More residents have become dependent on the mining operation for their livelihood and are instead pushing for renewal of the firm’s FTAA. “We may have been divided because of the mining project, but please let us maintain peace and harmony in our communities and let us not allow mining issues to destroy our culture and unity,” the governor said.

Legal experts in the mining industry also claim that the actions made by the local government unit to stop OGPI’s operations may not have legal effect. They said the local government may not be authorized to do so as it is the Office of the President that has the final say on the continuance or stoppage of OceanaGold’s operation.

The provincial government may have crossed its boundaries by claiming the authority which only belongs to the President, the experts explained. 

The provincial board in a special session last week has also declared all mining activities in Didipio as “illegal.” 

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