MAC: Mines and Communities

Philippines: Nueva Vizcaya folk celebrate as Oceanagold suspends operations

Published by MAC on 2019-12-02
Source: The Guidon, Bulatlat, PDI, ABS-CBN

OceanaGold Corporation announced in October that it will suspend operations at its gold and copper mine in Didipio, Nueva Vizcaya.

The suspension of operations of a mining company in Nueva Vizcaya is a hard-fought victory for the community, and local government, who have been opposing the company and enforcing the expiry of its license. The recent victory was credited to the people’s barricade which started in early July after the expiration of Oceanagold’s permit.

Mine over matter

by Pioee B. Bassig and Zachary C. Gonzales

Published 24 November 2019 from the October 2019 print issue

FOR 30 years, the Australian-Canadian mining firm OceanaGold Corporation has maintained an unwavering presence in the mineral-rich province of Nueva Vizcaya. In 2006, OceanaGold acquired Didipio Gold-Copper Mine in Barangay Didipio, Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya, through a merger with Australian mining firm Climax-Arimco Mining Corporation. It currently operates in the mine through through its OceanaGold Philippines Incorporated (OGPI) subsidiary. Last June 20, the company’s Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) finally expired.

In an unexpected move, OceanaGold boldly continued to conduct mining operations despite its expired license. Subsequently, this sparked discontent, leading to physical intervention through manned checkpoints and people’s barricades from anti-mining groups and local government councils. With a track record marred by environmental hazards, unkept promises, and human rights abuses, OceanaGold faces protests and suspension orders from activists and local government units that are pushing to prevent the company’s FTAA renewal for good.

Dogged determination

The FTAA is a grant between the Philippine government and the mining company that allows the firm to “explore, extract, and utilize minerals for development and commerce for a 25-year period.” In anticipation of its license’s expiration, OceanaGold filed for a FTAA renewal in March 2018. The motion for renewal reached the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, who then forwarded it to the Office of the President. However, due to a lack of Free, Prior, Informed Consent (FPIC) from the indigenous peoples (IP) from Nueva Vizcaya, the request was not approved.

In an interview with The GUIDON, Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC) Research and Advocacy Coordinator Lia Alonzo mentioned that Didipio’s barangay council deemed the license renewal to be illegal. This prompted the Sangguniang Barangay to release Resolution No. 59 on June 21—with the provincial government quickly following suit on June 25—to restrict OceanaGold’s operations.

However, even as resident volunteers teamed up with local state security agents to prevent OGPI trucks from leaving the 975-hectare mining site, Samahang pang Karapatan ng Katutubong Magsasaka at Manggagawa Incorporated (SAPAKKMI) Leader Julie Simongco, along with other members of the team, recalled the sound of helicopters going to and from the area. “[We] fear the company may be smuggling out produce,” she said.

Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE) national coordinator Leon Dulce, together with other groups, threatened to sue the company to rehabilitate the areas that are being affected by mining. “There [is] plenty of…evidence that OceanaGold violated various environmental, socioeconomic, and human-rights regulations, which should warrant the mine’s stoppage,” Dulce stressed.

Determined to legitimize their continuing operations, OceanaGold General Manager David Way sent a letter addressed to the Didipio barangay council. It cited a Mines and Geosciences letter which stated that “existing licenses ‘shall not expire’ until the application for renewal has been finally determined.”

Upon reviewing the controversy surrounding OceanaGold, Alonzo argued that the Mining Act of 1995 allegedly lacks provisions regarding the renewal process. “[OceanaGold] illegally operated since the renewal process [of the license] is still ongoing. [It] should have accomplished all requirements before applying for a renewal,” she retorted. “In addition, it has not complied with the agreements statement in the environmental compliance certificate which should have been sufficient basis for the non-renewal of their FTAA.”

Risking leaf and limb

Despite the criticism against them, OceanaGold has not been hesitant to call itself a champion of sustainable operations. “Responsible mining is fundamental to the way we do business…This is true for all our operations… [including] Nueva Vizcaya in the Philippines,” OceanaGold CEO Mick Wilkes remarked in August this year, referencing the company’s comprehensive sustainability report in 2018. Several parties, including researchers and environmental groups, have argued that there is a disjunct between OceanaGold’s perception of itself and reality.

OceanaGold’s presence in Didipio is not just another narrative of environmental degradation. It is also a story of displaced IP families, substandard wages, and violence. Still, OceanaGold claims to be a partner in community-building.

In spite of that claim, “187 houses were demolished and 133 families were evacuated since 2006 because of the presence of armed forces,” Alonzo narrated. She added that IPs, particularly the Tuwali and Bungkalots, have also been caught in the middle, as their ancestral lands have fallen into OceanaGold’s purview.

On OceanaGold’s alleged offenses, Alonzo took the liberty of corroborating a distinct few. She noted the change in topography and land use due to the land’s conversion into a mine and a materials byproducts depository. These developments have caused the community to be wary of potential landslides or spillage of byproduct materials. “The environmental destruction and social problems that OceanaGold has caused is enough basis to stop [their] operations,” she argued.

The situation is not better off on the livelihood front. Despite Nueva Vizcaya being a significant contributor in the agricultural sector, Kalikasan-PNE pointed out in a report that local farmers lamented the agricultural activity, which has actually stunted by 30%. Apart from this, local workers in the operation also complained about insufficient compensation.

In the same Kalikasan-PNE report, a 2011 Commision on Human Rights probe found that 100 members of the Philippine National Police used truncheons, shields, and tear gas to neutralize residents who protested against the demolition of their homes. The same year saw the security forces' establishment of a compound, allowing for 100 military men and 150 security guards to either fire teargas on or breach the village. Mining crews moved in to aid in the demolition.

OceanaGold’s foremost argument for its renewal and continuing operations is the premise that they are not causing massive harm to the environment. However, the evidence to disprove this claim is compelling—and to some, outright incriminating. Researchers from Canada, the United States, and the Philippines published a comprehensive report on OceanaGold back in 2018. The document cited 10 areas of violation—from water-source contamination to human rights abuses—and nine legislations that have also been breached by the company.

A matter of time

The company has maintained that it has authorization from the [MGB] to continue operations. Truck movements have been perfunctorily stopped to prevent further blowback, but the mining firm continues to operate despite public outcry and bypassed laws. As such, LGUs and environmental groups such as SAPAKKMI have maintained a steady opposition to further limit the company’s operations.

However, while the national government remains silent on the issue, the junking of OceanaGold’s FTAA renewal is far from fruition. While the Office of the President has the final say on whether or not to renew OceanaGold’s license for another 25 years, Dulce has stated that the Duterte administration’s decision will serve as an “acid test” of its stance on mining.

Nevertheless, only time will tell if the next 25 years in Didipio will be marked with the locale’s gradual restoration or further destruction.

Gold mining suspended; group asks for return of land to IPs

By: Jhesset O. Enano

Philippine Daily Inquirer -

17 October 2019

MANILA, Philippines — An environmental group on Wednesday challenged the administration to return the lands of indigenous peoples (IPs) after OceanaGold Corp. suspended production at its gold and copper mine in Didipio, Nueva Vizcaya.

Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment called the suspension a “hard-fought victory” for the residents.

“We challenge the Duterte administration to follow suit by rejecting OceanaGold’s contract renewal with finality and returning the mineralized lands to the indigenous communities who rightfully own the land,” the group’s national coordinator Leon Dulce said.

Dulce said the lapse of OceanaGold’s financial or technical assistance agreement (FTAA) in June meant that the tenement area should have been returned to the government, which he said is obliged to return the land to the indigenous Tuwali-Ifugao communities.

No choice

OceanaGold cut its full-year output guidance to 460,000 to 480,000 ounces of gold and 10,000 to 11,000 tons of copper, and assumed no further production or sales for the remainder of the year at Didipio.

It had sought renewal of its 25-year operating license for Didipio last year, but the local government wants the mine shut down due to environmental concerns.

OceanaGold president and CEO Mick Wilkes said the company “had no choice but to temporarily suspend production at Didipio,” after the “uncertain” outcome of its appeal for a court injunction last month, and “ongoing” efforts to finalize the renewal of its FTAA. —With a report from the wires

Mining firm halts operations in Vizcaya as LGU, NGOs continue ‘blockade’

Kristine Sabillo

ABS-CBN News -

16 October 2019

An environmental group on Wednesday called the suspension of operations of a mining company in Nueva Vizcaya “a hard-fought victory.”

Australian-Canadian company OceanaGold Corporation, in a statement on Tuesday, announced that it will have lower output following its suspension of operations at its gold and copper mine in Didipio, Nueva Vizcaya.

“With the timing of the Court of Appeals injunction decision uncertain, and efforts to finalize a renewal of the FTAA (Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement) ongoing, we have no other choice but to temporarily suspend production at Didipio,” Mick Wilkes, President and CEO of OceanaGold said in a statement.

The company also cited a “local government unit blockage impacting operations in the Philippines.”

Reuters reported that OceanaGold requested for the renewal of its operating license last year but it was blocked by the local government because of environmental concerns.

In the past months, anti-mining and environmental groups have been protesting against the corporation.

And while the Mines and Geosciences Bureau has agreed that the company should be allowed to operate because of its application to renew its FTAA, Nueva Vizcaya Governor Carlos Padilla has questioned the bureau’s opinion.

Asked for a reaction to the suspension of mine operations in Didipio, Padilla told ABS-CBN, "The announcement of OceanaGold is misleading. The suspension is not upon their unilateral decision. It is simply because their FTAA has expired."

This “barricade” went up two days after the lapse in June 2019 of OceanaGold’s FTAA, a mining license granted to OceanaGold under the Mining Act of 1995.

According to reports, the local government and anti-mining groups have been manning a checkpoint to prevent OceanaGold from operating without an FTAA.

Environmental group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) said this is based on a restraining order issued by the local government. The checkpoint has also been augmented by a barricade formed by community groups.

In a statement, Kalikasan’s national coordinator Leon Dulce called on the Duterte administration “to follow suit by rejecting Oceanagold's contract renewal with finality and returning the mineralized lands to the indigenous communities who rightfully own the land.”

The group asserted that the lapse of OceanaGold’s FTAA last June “meant the tenement area should have returned to the effective ownership of the State, which in turn is obliged to return the land to the ancestral domain of the indigenous Tuwali-Ifugao communities.”

Dulce said the government should respect the indigenous groups’ right to self-determination over their land. He also said OceanaGold must ensure that workers find secure jobs and that the area undergo environmental rehabilitation.

Meanwhile, OceanaGold CEO Wilkes said in the statement, “The operations will remain in a state of readiness for re-start and the health and safety of our employees will continue, as always to be a top priority. We also remain actively engaged with the national government and our regulators to finalise a renewal of the FTAA and secure the long-term future of the best mining operation in the Philippines.”

President Rodrigo Duterte can decide to grant OceanaGold an FTAA based on the endorsement of the MGB and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

But in a phone interview, DENR Undersecretary Benny Antiporda said the company needs “to communicate with the local government to see what they can do in terms of mitigation of the said mining site.”

“There are a lot of grievances being cited by the locals wherein until this very moment, they don’t have a clear answer on that,” Antiporda said.

Kalikasan said that OceanaGold’s operations have negative effects on the forest and bodies of water in Nueva Vizcaya. It claims that an unsafe concentration of heavy metals has been detected in the water – be it for irrigation or the river. Kalikasan also said that endemic species are being affected because of the deforestation and other environmental impacts caused by the mining operation.

Nueva Vizcaya folk celebrate as Oceanagold suspends operations

John Aaron Mark Macaraeg -

17 October 2019

MANILA — The community of Didipio, Nueva Vizcaya celebrates as the mining company Oceanagold temporarily suspended its gold and copper operations due to the recent decision of regional court denying the company’s appeal to continue its operations.

The recent victory was credited to the people’s barricade which started in early July after the expiration of Oceanagold’s permit. The local folk blocked the company’s exit and entry of supplies and raw materials. They have been supported by the provincial government, which issued a restraining order against the company.

Environmentalists applauded the people’s victory.

Leon Dulce, national coordinator of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, said in a statement,”We challenge the Duterte government to follow suit by rejecting Oceanagold’s contract renewal with finality and returning the mineralized lands to the indigenous communities who rightfully own the land.”

The group further explained that the expiration of Oceanagold’s financial and technical and technical assistance agreement (FTAA) last June 20 should have prompted the immediate return of the ownership of the occupied land to the State, which in turn is mandated to pass on to the Tuwali-Ifugao indigenous communities.

After its FTAA expiration, Oceanagold has applied for renewal and was promptly endorsed to President Rodrigo Duterte by Mines and Geoscience Bureau (MGB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources despite the lack of necessary documents such as free, prior, and, informed consent (FPIC) of the indigenous people.

Locals have long been complaining of the environmental destruction and human rights violations committed by Oceanagold. In 2016, the late Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Gina Lopez suspended its operation.

OceanaGold suspends Didipio mine operations in Philippines amid dispute

15 October 2019

MANILA, Oct 15 (Reuters) - Australia’s OceanGold Corp warned of lower output this year after it suspended production at its Didipio gold and copper mine in the Philippines citing a dispute with local government.

OceanaGold cut its full-year output guidance to 460,000-480,000 ounces of gold and 10,000-11,000 tonnes of copper, assuming no further production or sales for the remainder of the year at Didipio.

That was down from previous guidance of 500,000-550,000 ounces of gold and 14,000-15,000 tonnes of copper for the year from its four mines - Didipio, Haile in the United States, and Macraes and Waihi in New Zealand.

The company also revised its guidance for all-in sustaining costs to $1,040-$1,090 per ounce sold, from $850-900 previously.

The mid-tier miner had sought renewal of its 25-year operating licence for Didipio in Nueva Vizcaya province last year, ahead of its expiry earlier this year, but the local government wants the mine shut due to environmental concerns.

OceanaGold had initially stopped trucking while operations at Didipio continued, despite a move by the Nueva Vizcaya government to impede access to and from the mine site.

Last month, the miner said it had sought a court injunction as part of its appeal against the Nueva Vizcaya provincial court ruling denying its request to end what it called an “unlawful restraint of operations”.

“With the timing of the Court of Appeals injunction decision uncertain, and efforts to finalise a renewal of the FTAA (Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement) ongoing, we have no other choice but to temporarily suspend production at Didipio,” OceanaGold President and CEO Mick Wilkes said in a statement.

“This is a very disappointing outcome for the company, our shareholders and our truly valued Filipino workforce,” he added.

The Didipio mine, when operational, directly employs 1,500 workers, of whom about 97% are Filipinos, according to the company.

The company, however, remains actively engaged with the Philippine government and regulators to finalise the FTAA renewal, Wilkes said.

The Philippines’ Mines and Geosciences Bureau, the industry watchdog, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources had endorsed OceanaGold’s application for FTAA renewal to President Rodrigo Duterte’s office.

But Duterte’s office had found the application incomplete and sent it back.

Mining is a contentious issue in the Philippines after past environmental mismanagement by miners, and Duterte himself has repeatedly warned miners to follow tighter environmental rules or shut down.

OceanaGold shares closed up 0.3% on Tuesday.

A Philippine community fights a lonely battle against the mine in its midst

by Leilani Chavez

15 October 2019

MANILA — Tribal leader Celia Bahag no longer remembers what Mount Dinkidi looked like before the wave of mining activities washed over her barangay, or village, of Didipio in the Philippine province of Nueva Vizcaya. Beckoned by untapped gold and copper deposits, Arimco Mining Corporation made the area the center of its Philippine operations in the 1990s, bulldozing the high peak into steps of tilled land for a large-scale open-pit mine.

Bahag only knows the mountain from a vicarious memory: a single black-and-white photograph unearthed with the help of nongovernmental organizations. But like her, the Ifugao community that calls Didipio home knows by heart the decades of struggle against the mining giant.

Over the past two decades, the mining activities have gone from open pit to underground, and the operating permit, the Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA), has been transferred from Arimco to Climax-Arimco Mining Corporation to Australasian Philippine Mining Inc., which since 2007 has been known as OceanaGold Philippines Inc. (OGPI).

The 27,000-hectare (66,700-acres) Didipio mine straddles the border between the provinces of Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino, some 270 kilometers (170 miles) northeast of Manila. It’s believed to hold 1.41 million ounces of gold and 169,400 tons of copper, enough to keep it running for at least another 20 years. And keeping it running seems to be the operator’s plan — despite the fact that the FTAA, signed in 1994, expired this past June.

Bahag, like most residents of the barangays affected by the mining operations, had hoped the expiration signaled the end — a reckoning of sorts for the Australia-based miner that demolished 187 houses here in 2008 and imposed a climate of impunity in the once sleepy town.

Instead, the expiration of the country’s first mining FTAA has become a complicated tangle as the community and OGPI engage in a battle both on the streets and in the courts, revealing inherent gray areas in the agreement, the mining law itself, and the lack of standards on renewals and expirations for large-scale mining contracts.

‘People’s barricade’

OGPI began the process of applying for a renewal in October 2018, seeking to extend its contract for another 25 years “under the same terms and conditions.” But the renewal process dragged on until the contract expired on June 20 this year.

The provincial government, headed by Governor Carlos Padilla, a staunch opponent of mining in general and OGPI in particular, issued a directive that same day. He urged local officials in the barangays of Didipio and Alimit, which host the mine, “to restrain any operations of OceanaGold upon the expiration” of the FTAA.

OGPI rebuked this, saying that the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), an arm of the environment department that handles mining contracts, had allowed it to continue operating pending a contract extension.

“Whilst the renewal is being processed, OGPI has the right to continue the Didipio Mine despite the initial term of FTAA,” OGPI general manager David Way said in a letter.

On June 25, Padilla issued a provincial order to stop the mine’s operations. By July 1, community members in Didipio and two nearby barangays had turned two abandoned police checkpoints into a barricade to stop trucks and service vehicles from entering or exiting the site. Armed police officers with patrol vehicles were stationed near the checkpoints, sent by the governor to support the communities.

Three months on, the blockade remains, manned by locals working in shifts.

“We all know that their FTAA is expired yet they insist that they have the right to continue,” Bahag says. “We’ve been fighting for 25 years because we believe that if we allow this foreign corporation to continue, there will be no environment left for the future generation.”

OGPI said it was carrying out preventive maintenance to avoid skirmishes and temporarily halted the entry of vehicles to the site. In a letter to Mongabay, OceanaGold states that the barricade “have impeded access to and from the mine site in response to an unlawful directive from the Governor.”

The resistance has snowballed into a province-wide protest, gathering support from peasant groups, farmers, indigenous peoples’ groups, and provincial organizations. Even the Catholic Diocese of Bayombong in Nueva Vizcaya called for a street demonstration on Oct. 9 against the renewal of the contract.

The stuggle has also reached beyond Philippine shores. Last August, global indigenous peoples alongside national and international organizations held simultaneous rallies in Australia, El Salvador and Canada to call for the non-renewal of OGPI’s FTAA in Nueva Vizcaya.

“We filed as many the petitions that we can — from the Office of the President, to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources [DENR], the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, the municipal, the provincial — but nothing changes,” Bahag says.

“That’s why we believe it’s time to do extralegal measures and set up a barricade … and we intend to continue this until OceanaGold leaves.”

Evading a cul-de-sac

The community isn’t the only side digging in for battle. OGPI has filed five legal challenges to the blockade in the past three months. A regional court has junked two of those petitions on the grounds that the FTAA had expired. As such, the court ruled, “the right from which OGPI derives its authority to conduct mining operations ceases to exist.”

The mining company, in a press release, said the provincial government has no authority over the fate of the Didipio mine and has appealed the ruling.

The standoff stems from the fact that OGPI’s request for an FTAA extension is unprecedented in the Philippines.

“It’s the first time that a mining contract applies for renewal so there’s no precedence,” Leon Dulce, from the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE), an NGO, tells Mongabay. “It’s not clear in the IRR [implementing rules and regulations] of the mining act how the renewal process goes.”

He adds that the national government’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau only has a checklist of documents as basis for renewal but “doesn’t include existing complaints and violations.”

To address the current stalemate, the MGB is eyeing issuing an “interim renewal,” which would allow the company to legally continue its operations for two years while the renewal process is ongoing.

The curious case of ‘FTAA 001’ and a process veiled in secrecy

OceanaGold’s Didipio contract is the first in the country to expire under the oversight of the Mining Act of 1995. The FTAA, however, was signed a year before the promulgation of the act and five years before the Indigenous People’s Rights Act of 1997.

As such, the FTAA issued to Arimco Mining Corporation in 1994 made little mention of rehabilitation and clustered it under “Work Programs,” which also includes exploration and extraction activities.

“Compared to the regulations stipulated in the Mining Act, OceanaGold’s FTAA is far from the bar set by the mining act,” Dulce says. “That’s why OceanaGold has free rein over their operations.”

But even the mining act itself is “fundamentally flawed,” Dulce adds, explaining that it conflicts with numerous other laws. For one, the act gives the national government the sole power to approve large-scale mining operations, which in effect snubs out the jurisdiction of local governments.

To that extent, OGPI’s ongoing renewal process has largely bypassed the provincial government, which was not furnished with copies of the MGB letter the company claims allow it to continue its operations after the expiration of its FTAA. Nor was it informed that the environment department had endorsed a renewal to the office of the president.

Residents have similarly been overlooked for consultation during the renewal process. “It did not inform the local governments about its application and has not secured the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of the affected indigenous peoples,” Alyansa Tigil Mina, an anti-mining coalition, says in a statement.

The position of the president’s office was the same: It returned the renewal application and mandated the company to comply with the process of obtaining FPIC from the community, a requirement by the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP), the MGB said.

Bad blood, escalating tensions on the ground

The ongoing blockade is the second time for residents. In 2016, it hosted its first standoff against a 400-meter (1,300-foot) drilling operation. They succeeded: OGPI halted its operations and then-environment secretary Gina Lopez vowed to suspend the mining giant’s operations in the province.

By 2017, the DENR under Lopez suspended five mining corporations including OceanaGold in a massive nationwide crackdown. The suspension was revoked before Lopez stepped down in the same year, and the Didipio mine was set for an assessment that didn’t go through because the FTAA expired this year.

The mine, however, has long seen violence.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) found that in 2011, OGPI was responsible for the violent evictions of residents and demolition of hundreds of community homes in 2008 through a “demolish now, pay later” scheme.

However, no legal cases were filed against OceanaGold for the events of 2008, nor was its presence investigated for human rights abuses that could lead to the withdrawal of its FTAA despite the CHR’s recommendations.

After the recent string of legal victories, supporters conducted a solidarity mission in July but while the mood was celebratory, the tension on the ground was palpable, Dulce says. “The rumormongering that these farmers are members of the New People’s Army resurfaced. Even personnel who work at the mines observed that they’re being tailed.”

When the president goes quiet over mining

Bahag traveled for more than eight hours to Manila last June, wearing the ancestral loincloths of the Ifugao-Tuwali, the indigenous tribe that lives in the northern border of Nueva Vizcaya, to seek support for an anti-mining petition and to rally in Mendiola, a famed site for street protests.

The tribe, headhunters in centuries past, was displaced by a hydro project and a mining operation in Ifugao. They struck a blood pact with the Bungkalot, the original inhabitants in the area, and today constitute the majority of residents in the affected mining communities.

Bahag felt she had good reason to go: President Rodrigo Duterte has always spoken out against destructive mining practices in his three state of the nation addresses (SONA) and upheld a ban on open-pit mining introduced in 2017.

But at this year’s SONA, Bahag was left disappointed: Duterte made no statement on mining in general, and has said nothing about the standoff over OGPI’s expired FTAA.

“Duterte had all the opportunities to cancel the renewal if he’s true to his word against destructive mining practices and open-pit mining,” Dulce says. “Yet he didn’t and there’s zero mention of mining in the last SONA … Instead, they became technical. That’s alarming for us because it’s possible for the president to change his tune on mining.”

Despite the current atmosphere, the community is adamant about maintaining the blockade. Its fate, however, will depend on the president, whose signature will either extend the mining operation or end it for good. It’s also a decision that will reverberate far beyond the Didipio mine, groups say, as it could set the template for how existing mining permits are dealt with upon expiration.

“OceanaGold is a litmus test,” Dulce says. “We’ll see if he’s going to hold this company accountable or if he’s going to reward them despite the violations and of course, the strong local resistance.”

OceanaGold’s FTAA should not be renewed

Tony La Viña

5 October 2019

"In fact, the mine should be closed."

On Sept. 24 2019, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau endorsed the interim renewal of OceanaGold’s financial and technical assistance agreement.

The FTAA allows OceanaGold, an Australian company, to continue its mining operations in Didipio, Nueva Vizcaya after the original agreement has expired. This decision was made despite the vehement opposition of indigenous peoples, residents, and local government officials. If granted, the renewal will effectively reverse a Feb. 14, 2017 suspension order issued by then-secretary of Environment and Natural Resources Gina Lopez. It will reward a company that has trampled national laws and local sentiment with impunity. I echo the demands of affected residents and key officials, including the Provincial Government of Nueva Vizcaya: The FTAA renewal application must be denied, and the mine should be closed.

The MGB’s support for an interim renewal of the FTAA flies in the face ofreason. A 2018 report authored by the US-based Institute for Policy Studies and MiningWatch Canada documents the harm that the mine has done to the people and environment of Didipio. It analyzes independent studies conducted by international organizations, local NGOs, academic institutions, and government institutions. IPS and MiningWatch conclude that the mine has had “significant negative impacts on water, forests, land, indigenous peoples, human rights, biodiversity, and human rights.”

I must disclose that one of the authors of the IPS report is related to me. I have also been following this mining operation in the last 25 years as an environmental justice advocate, high level environmental official, and as a law professor. In my view, applying my expertise, the findings of the 2018 report are impeccable. I summarize the key findings below.

Water: “OceanaGold is depleting and contaminating water around the mine, and damaging the watershed downstream leading into the Cagayan river.” The report shows that mining operations has harmed the surrounding environment: “Contamination of waterways near the mine impacting water quality and flora and fauna of these waterways; degradation of agricultural land in surrounding communities; impacts on human health; impacts on downstream waterways leading to the Cagayan Valley.” Many of these findings are backed by a monitoring report conducted by a 2016 Multi-partite Monitoring Team that had input from OceanaGold.

In addition, a 2017 report by the Provincial Government of Nueva Vizcaya states that the Didipio River has “twice the copper concentrate permitted for irrigation use and eight times the maximum level for the survival of organisms.”

This supports a 2017 study by the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan) which found that the farmers in the area have had lower yields. The farmers believe that lower yields are due to the toxic contamination of the streams and rivers surrounding the mine. The contamination of surrounding bodies of waters has significant consequences not only for the residents of Didipio, but all Filipinos.

The Provincial Government declared that the Cagayan Valley is a “consistent agricultural achiever” that “provides 13 percent of the country’s palay and 22 percent of the national corn supply.” The mine, which is located at the Addalam River that flows into the Cagayan River, endangers the Cagayan Valley’s status as the breadbasket of the Philippines.

Forests: “OceanaGold has failed in its obligations around reforestation.” Researchers have found that OceanaGold’s reforestation sites fall far short of its obligations under the FTAA.

For example, most of the trees are too small to survive or are already dying. Furthermore, its tendency to replace cut down native hardwoods with plantation species puts into question the company’s commitment to reforestation. In fact, the authors estimate that “estimate that over 100 native hardwood trees have died in the effluent of the OceanaGold’s tailings impoundment...”

Land: “OceanaGold has disregarded the provincial land use plan, has committed illegal land conversion, and has operated in areas beyond its approved project area.” To begin with, the Nueva Vizcaya provincial land use plan disallows mining within its jurisdiction. Additionally, there are hectares of alienable and disposable lands within the area covered by the FTAA. These lands, however, can only be used for non-agricultural purposes if it undergoes a process of land conversion.

No Order of Conversion has been issued by the Department of Agrarian Reform. The Provincial Government also found that OceanaGold has violated its Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC): “Upon examination of the project map as laid out within given coordinates on the Google Earth, it becomes apparent that OGPI has encroached on areas beyond the extent of the approved project area as determined in the existing ECC, albeit within the FTAA tenement.” The expansion of the mining area can only be done requires a new ECC application. There has been no application.

Chemicals: OceanaGold has not disclosed what chemicals have been used or released in the mine. There is reason to believe that toxic chemicals have affected surrounding bodies of water. OceanaGold, however, has not been forthcoming with its hazardous waste management protocol. They have not disclosed the chemicals that have been used. They have not named the “DENR-EMB accredited treaters and transporters” that supposedly handled its hazardous wastes. The IPS-MiningWatch report states:

“The damage to trees in the tailings pond and impacts on water quality and biota downstream suggests that chemicals used in, or released through processing, are dangerous to the health of surface waters as well as potentially to groundwater.”

In the next column, on Tuesday, I will cite other findings of the Institute for Policy Studies and MiningWatch Canada report that show conclusively that the OceanGold FTAA must not be renewed.

More arguments vs. OceanaGold

Tony La Viña

8 October 2019

"Such sentiments must be respected and not disregarded by the national government."

In last Saturday’s column, I argued against the interim renewal of OceanaGold’s financial and technical assistance agreement (FTAA). I cited a study conducted by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and MiningWatch Canada. I continue to that in this column where I provide more arguments againt the continued operations of this Australian mining company in Nueva Vizcaya. Below are additional excerpts from that report:

Human Rights: “There have been numerous violations of human rights since the beginning of construction of the mine.” A 2011 Commission on Human Rights (CHR) report on the Didipio mine makes at least three important findings. First, it declared that OceanaGold “violated the Right to Residence, the Right to Adequate Housing and Property Rights of several Didipio residents.” In June 2008, OceanaGold demolished around 187 houses in Didipio without securing writs and in a manner “attended by unnecessary, violence and destruction.” The displaced residents received no just compensation and were given no alternative options for relocation and settlements. Second, OceanaGold supposedly “violated the Right to Freedom of Movement and the Right not to be Subjected to Arbitrary Interference with the Home[s] of the people of Didipio.” This occurred when the company fenced off the mining area and blocked off roads that had long been used by the residents to enter and exit the town. Finally, the CHR concluded that OceanaGold “violated the Right to Security of Person of the people of Didipio.” People have been beaten and shot during the unlawful demolitions of houses. For example, Emilio Pumihic was shot and wounded by OceanaGold’s security personnel when he tried to stop the demolition of his neighbor’s house.

Indigenous Rights: “The company violated local indigenous peoples’ right to manifest their culture and identity.” A 2007 Oxfam Australia report on the Didipio mine found that: “The company has failed to obtain the community’s free, prior, and informed consent in accordance to both indigenous practices and local decision-making processes.” It said that indigenous people have accused OceanaGold of, among other things, “forcing the community members by intimidation and harassment to provide the mining company access to or sell their land at prices dictated by the company. The company has also tried to bypass “established regulatory informed consent requirements that prioritize the need for the consent of barangay Didipio.” In addition, the 2011 CHR report found that many of the displaced families were Ifugao. The demolition of their homes meant “the destruction of life and a way of life intimately connected with the land they nurtured, with a view to leaving a legacy for their children and their kin that will come after.”

Biodiversity: “There is evidence that the mine is threatening the rich biodiversity of the area.” The IPS-MiningWatch report quotes a study conducted by The Philippine Biodiversity Conversation Priorities Final Report, which was prepared by the DENR, the Conservation International and the Biodiversity Conservation Program-UP Center for Integrative Development Studies. It found that Didipio, which is part of the Caraballo-Palali Mountain range, can be classified as “Very High Biological Importance for Terrestrial and Inland Water Areas,” “Very High as Conservation Priority Areas for Terrestrial and Inland Water Area,” and “Extremely High Conservation Priority Areas for Amphibians and Reptiles,” among other things. A 2014 study conducted by Kalikasan and AGHAM determined that there was less biodiversity in water bodies that were impacted by the mine than in water bodies that were outside of the impact area. This indicates that the mine could endanger the rich biodiversity of Didipio.

Labor Rights: “The Didipio mine has failed to significantly improve the welfare of its employees.” The 2014 Kalikasan and AGHAM report conducted interviews and group discussions with communities affected by the mine. Residents who worked at the mine said that “there was no significant improvement in their lives despite the wages the earn from it.” They also claimed that “basic social services such as health care and education did not improve.” In fact, since mining operations began, the company has only built an elementary school for the community. This is despite the company’s promise to build other infrastructure.

Irresponsible Global Actor: “OceanaGold has acted irresponsibly elsewhere throughout the world.” The IPS-MiningWatch report argues that OceanaGold has a poor track record in other countries. The case of El Salvador is particularly striking: “OceanaGold purchased a “junior” mining firm, Pacific Rim, in El Salvador in 2013. Pacific Rim had sued the Salvadoran government in 2009 in the biased “investor-state” tribunal at the World Bank Group and sought over $300 million from the government for not issuing the company a mining concession—even though the company had not met the legal requirements to get one.” In 2016, the tribunal unanimously ruled against the company and ordered it to pay the Salvadorean government $8 million. The victory of the Salvadorean government is illuminating since these tribunal tend to favor transnational companies like OceanaGold. It indicates that the company’s actions in El Salvador were, even by the most pro-business of standards, out of line. In large part due to the country’s ordeal with OceanaGold, in March 2017, El Salvador became the first country in the world to place a blanket ban on metals mining.

It must also be pointed out that there is no legal basis for any interim renewal of an FTAA. This is one of the most important contracts that the national government can enter into. Allowing interim renewal of such contracts undermines its character and severely weakens the hand of the government in negotiating with the private sector.

Finally, the OceanaGold FTAA is opposed by all levels of local government. Under the Local Government Code, such sentiments must be respected and not disregarded by the national government.



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