OceanaGold wins new permit for Philippine mine despite protests

Agence France-Presse
OceanaGold wins new permit for Philippine mine despite protests
This 2019 photo shows a scene at OceanaGold's Didipio mine.

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines defended Thursday its decision to allow a foreign miner to restart operations at a controversial gold and copper project that has been blockaded by protesters over alleged environmental violations.

OceanaGold -- which is listed in Australia and Canada -- has been given a new 25-year licence for the Didipio mine in the northern province of Nueva Vizcaya, President Rodrigo Duterte's government said. The previous agreement expired in 2019.

Didipio had been one of the largest operating mines in the Philippines, where authorities are trying to revive the stagnant industry to boost state revenues and create jobs in a coronavirus-devastated economy.

"This decision recognises that we need to have more jobs for our fellow countrymen in the time of the pandemic," Duterte's spokesman Harry Roque told reporters, vowing regulators will "ensure there is responsible mining".

Duterte -- who had previously threatened to shut down the mining sector completely -- has faced growing criticism over his handling of the pandemic that has thrown millions out of work. 

Earlier this year he lifted a ban on new mining projects that had been imposed by his predecessor, Benigno Aquino, following public backlash over a series of devastating accidents.

The Nueva Vizcaya government initiated a blockade around the Didipio mine in 2019 to prevent OceanaGold operating the site without a licence, disrupting maintenance work and sparking a still unresolved court battle.

Environmental group Kalikasan condemned the permit renewal and vowed to continue the blockade. 

"Why should we retreat?" said Leon Dulce, national coordinator for Kalikasan, accusing the company of failing to restore the "damaged ecosystem" before the previous contract ended.

OceanaGold said Wednesday it planned to rehire its Filipino workforce and "as soon as possible" start milling some of the 19 million tonnes of ore it had stockpiled.

It expected to reach full production within 12 months, with monthly output of 10,000 ounces of gold and 1,000 tonnes of copper.

Provincial governor Carlos Padilla told AFP via email that Nueva Vizcaya officials were "deeply disheartened" over the grant of the new permit.

"We are now consulting with our partners... to decide which options to take in order to prevent (OceanaGold) from further destroying our environment," he said, adding going to court could be an option.

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