Climate and Environment

Nueva Vizcaya folk challenge OceanaGold mine renewal in court

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
Nueva Vizcaya folk challenge OceanaGold mine renewal in court
Members of a student environmental group and residents picket in front of the office of Australia-based mining company OceanaGold in the financial district of Manila on March 4, 2015.
AFP/Ted Aljibe

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 2:32 p.m.) — Religious leaders and residents from Nueva Vizcaya filed a petition for certiorari before a local court to cancel the mining agreement granted to an Australian-Canadian company, arguing it was made without proper consultation with affected communities. 

The petition, filed on Monday at the Bayombong Regional Trial Court, seeks to nullify the Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA)-001 issued to OceanaGold Philippines Inc. (OGPI), which operates the Didipio gold and copper mine in Kasibu town. 

OceanaGold’s mining operations have faced resistance from communities who claim the extraction of ores has scarred their lands and polluted their water systems. 

Led by Bayombong Bishop Jose Elmer Mangalinao, Pastor Romualdo Robles and Didipio Earth-Savers’ Multi-Purpose Association Inc. (DESAMA), the petitioners stressed the Office of the President’s renewal of the FTAA without “prior consultation and Sanggunian endorsement constitutes grave abuse of discretion.”

The Didipio mine operates under FTAA-0001 executed between the government and OGPI in 1994. In July 2021, the government of then-President Rodrigo Duterte renewed OceanaGold’s permit for another 25 years, over two years after the original agreement expired. 

“The Local Government Code requires the national government to conduct consultations with different stakeholders before the implementation of an environmentally critical project. Since no prior approvals have been secured by OGPI over its renewed FTAA, the project cannot be implemented and should be deemed illegal,” said lawyer Ryan Roset of the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (LRC). 

Eduardo Ananayo, vice chair of DESAMA, said OGPI had notified them in writing of the FTAA renewal approval while also attempting to set up a consultation.

“We know there should be a consultation with us since we are an organized group and residents in Didipio, and that we need to agree before the FTAA of OGPI gets renewed,” Ananayo said in Filipino. 

The petitioners also argued the operations of OceanaGold violate the province’s ordinance strictly prohibiting open-pit mining. 

‘Food, not mining’

Aside from canceling the agreement, the petitioner also asked the court to cease the mining operations of OceanaGold and order the immediate rehabilitation of the area affected by the open pit mining operations. 

Respondents of the case include Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin, Environment Secretary Ma. Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga, Nueva Vizcaya Governor Jose Gambito, Kasibu Mayor Romeo Tayaban, and OceanaGold. 

Anti-mining group Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) urged the government to protect the watershed of Nueva Vizcaya instead of pursuing mining. 

“We urge the government to heed the communities’ call—food, not mining. What the province needs is not more mining but support for agriculture and people’s livelihoods. Sustainable development programs should instead be pursued,” ATM national coordinator Jaybee Garganera said. 

In a statement, OGPI said it “goes beyond compliance in adhering to the Philippines’ strict mining regulations, including what is required from us based on our FTAA.”

The mining firm noted it has an Environmental Impact Assessment and complied with the requirement of community endorsement.

A statement from Brgy. Didipio chairman Henry Guay, provided by OGPI, said the FTAA renewal underwent the proper process set by the government and claimed that a majority of the village residents support the mine's operations.

The government aims to revitalize the mining industry to attract investments and spur economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

It has lifted restrictive mining policies, including the ban on open-pit mining, and increased support for the industry by leading exploration activities to identify where critical minerals can be extracted. 

The extractive sector has been linked to human rights violations, including the killings of environment defenders. According to watchdog Global Witness, roughly one-third of the approximately 281 land and environmental defenders killed in the Philippines since 2012 opposed mining operations.

Earlier, groups alleged that women and leaders of the indigenous Tuwali people who opposed the operations of OceanaGold faced threats, with some tagged as fighters or supporters of the communist armed struggle. 

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