“We hope that under President Duterte, destructive mining operations will stop because we have felt the bad effects of mining.”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Celia Bahag, a village councilor from Didipio, Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya province, travelled all the way from her mountain village to join the gathering at Mendiola on June 30 for President Rodrigo Duterte’s inauguration. In the presidential elections last May, she said Duterte won in their village.
“He is popular even among children,”Bahag told Bulatlat.
“Nabuhay ang pag-asa ng mamamayan na matatapos ang lahat ng problema, dahil si Duterte may puso at pinakikinggan ang hinaing ng mamamayan (The people regained hope that our problems will be solved, because Duterte has a heart for and listens to the people),” she said.
Bahag and her villagemates were not in Mendiola just to show support for the new president, but to call for a stop to large-scale, destructive mining, which Duterte promised in his election campaign. It is also one of the calls in the People’s Agenda, which progressives are now campaigning for to bring about genuine change.
On June 15, Bahag had joined dozens of her village mates in a barricade in sitio (subvillage) Camgat to stop the drilling by OceanaGold Philippines Inc. (OGPI). One resident had acceded to the drilling in his land, but most Didipio residents opposed the expansion of the areas for exploration. They set up a barricade to bar the entry of drilling equipment, fuel and its accessories.
The Didipio residents gained support from no less than re-elected Nueva Vizcaya Governor Carlos Padilla, who visited them and pledged to oppose large-scale mining operations in the province.
After three days of barricade, on June 18, the mining company withdrew its drilling equipment. The two people’s organizations that led the barricade – Samahang Pangkarapatan ng Katutubong Mamamayan at Magsasaka Inc. (Sapakmmi) and Didipio Earth Savers Multi-purpose Association (Desama)– declared a “temporary victory.”
“Reassert the economic sovereignty and protect the national patrimony,” says the second of 15 points in the People’s Agenda submitted by the progressives to Duterte. This includes the call to stop large-scale, illegal and destructive mining. Agenda number 12 reads: “Ensure wise utilization of natural resources and protection of the environment,” while Agenda # 13 provides for: “Respect the right of national minorities for self-determination and development.”
The Didipio peasants and indigenous peoples hope that under the new government, Oceana Gold’s mining operations will completely stop.
20 years of destruction by large-scale mining
Like Bahag, Sapakmmi chairman Erenio Bobola was also at Mendiola. He lamented how Oceana Gold’s mining had polluted the river and water sources.
“We are against OceanaGold, because we don’t want to have these problems carry on for the coming generation,” Bobola told Bulatlat. “We hope that under Duterte, destructive mining operations will stop because we have felt the bad effects of mining,” he said.
Bobola said their groundwater has been disturbed and sucked by OceanaGold’s tunnelling. Rivers and creeks, which used to be sources of food and water, have become polluted, while water supply for farm irrigation have dried up. Worse, the company even dumps waste water from its kitchen and facilities into the river.
“They do it late at night, at around 10 p.m. to 12 midnight. Residents can smell when waste had been dumped,” he said.
Meanwhile, the company’s promise to construct a hospital and school buildings, provide chairs and computers are yet to be delivered, Bobola said.
In 2014, environmentalists and people’s scientists found heavy copper contamination in the now murky Dinaoyan River, where OceanaGold’s mine tailings spill off.
Oceana Gold was the first mining company that was issued a Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) under the Mining Act of 1995, or Republic Act 7942. Its FTAA covers 15,000 hectares in Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino provinces where it has been conducting exploration since 1994. This year, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) extended its exploration permit for copper and gold up to 2021.
Another mining company, FCF Minerals, is in the construction phase in the adjacent municipality of Quezon, for its Runruno Gold-Molybdenum project.
In a statement last, Myrna Duyan, Desama board director said that in 2012, her group sent a resolution to OceanaGold opposing its activities in the community. “The company did not respect that by asking the approval only from the landowners where the drilling machines were situated,” Duyan said.
In a statement of Amianan Salakniban, the network for the environment and human rights in North Luzon, Fernando Mangili blamed the Mining Act, which allows operations such as OceanaGold’s.
“There’s no doubt that OGPI became the ‘lowest cost gold producer’ in the world. This is all because of the Philippine’s lenient laws, cheap labor policies, and their neglect of their corporate responsibilities to the community of Didipio,” Mangili said.
Under the Mining Act, companies are allowed to export 100 percent of its profit for seven years. “They also have auxiliary rights to water, timber, and the right to demolish houses in the scope of their operations,” he said.
Environmentalist groups, along with the Didipio residents have long called for the suspension of mining operations because of the adverse impact in the area, such as how Dinkidi Hill was levelled by OceanaGold’s open-pit mining. At present, surrounding forests and hills are threatened by the company’s expansion. Health workers in Didipio have also reported increased cases of respiratory diseases.
Aside from its environmental destruction, in 2011, the Commission on Human Rights charged OceanaGold of human rights violations for its attacks on resisting residents in 2009.
Bobola recalled how in 2013, he was red-tagged as an “NPA (New People’s Army) financier” by the military, as he led his group in the campaign to resist mining operations. In spite of such harassment, Bobola and other Didipio villagers are willing to face the risks to stop the mining.
He said residents from nearby village Alimit are also geared to set up a barricade if the company’s drilling enters their community. The Alimit community have asked for Didipio’s support.
“We are uniting together, because we are all affected,” Bobola said. Pagkatapos ng operation ng kumpanya, kami ang maiiwang kawawa.”
Bahag and Bobola believed that the new government must work to have the Mining Act repealed. They also support the enactment of the People’s Mining Bill.
“If that law is scrapped, then mining in our place will stop,” Bahag said.