Philippines: Mines look to re-start amid protest and killingsPublished by MAC on 2020-08-26
Source: Mongabay, Manila Bulletin, Mindanews
Mines seek to re-open, and in the case of nickel miners expand
The last month has seen the Philippine government signal the unsuspending or re-open mines that were shuttered by the late Environmental Secretary Gina Lopez in September 2017 for violating environmental standards and the Philippine Mining Act of 1995. According to the Departent of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) this will be a process of review over the coming months. However, the announcement has been criticised by civil society groups, not least because it is taking place during the COVID-19 pandemic, when it will be more difficult to engage or monitor any due process.
The timing is also unfortunate, given it coincided with the release of the Global Witness annual report on violations against environmental rights defenders. The Philippines scored the second highest death rate of such activists, with mining the industry most linked to those killings. With no apparent irony the Philippine government warned activists not "mix up issue of insurgency and environment", which is ironic as it is often government inspired accusations of activists being insurgents that is leading to their deaths.
Even if the suspensions are reversed there are many further hurdles given the unpopularity of mining with local communities. The much criticised and delayed Tampakan project has been re-issued its environmental license, but has now had the local municipal government body withdraw its support for the project.
OceanaGold's Didipio project is still subject to a local barricade, at the request of the provincial authorities, given it has not been able to renew its license to operate (FTAA). The Philippine Court of Appeals has rejected the company's appeal to restrain the local government, noting that “since the initial term of the FTAA already expired without it being renewed yet, there is no prevailing agreement on which the petitioner can anchor its right to continue its mining operations,”
As mines seek to re-open, and in the case of nickel miners expand, it will be interesting to see how easy they find it.
LGU terminates agreement with Sagittarius Mines
by Madelaine B. Miraflor
16 August 2020
Pursuing the $5.9-billion copper-gold mining project, which could be one of the largest copper mines in the world, is becoming a case of ‘one step forward, two steps back’ for Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI).
This, after the Sangguniang Bayan (SB) of the Municipality of Tampakan suddenly terminated its municipal principal agreement with SMI, a month after the latter got back its Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) for the project.
Based on the minutes of their meeting, Tampakan SB, composed of eight members, moved to terminate the 2009 Municipal Principal Agreement (MPA) executed by and between the local government of Tampakan and SMI.
This was decided upon during the regular session of the 16th Sanggunian held on August 10 at the SB Session Hall, Tampakan, South Cotobato, which was attended by all SB members as well as the Liga President and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) Federation President.
SB is the local legislative branch of municipal governments responsible for passing ordinances and resolutions for the administration of a municipality.
According to Tampakan SB, there are provisions that are “considered vague, disadvantageous to inhabitants of Tampakan and unduly tie the hands of the Local Government of Tampakan as parens patriae to protect its people and the environment”.
“As such, the LGU [local government unit] cannot sit and fold its arms not to intervene in any action initiated by its people if indeed, their rights have been violated contrary to some provisions of the Agreement,” they stated.
Based on the original MPA, there should be a review of the agreement every four years to cope “with the demands and call of present times” but Tampakan SB said the Local Government of Tampakan is no longer interested in conducting any review or updating of the MPA.
However, the Municipality is open for the creation or formulation of a new agreement.
In a text exchange, Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) Director Wilfredo Moncano said he will encourage SMI to initiate dialogue with the LGU of Tampakan on hopes of coming up with an agreement to “support the development and realization of the potential of this project.”
“Everything can be settled by talking and calm dialogue,” Moncano said. “Perhaps in the assessment of the LGU, there may be terms in the principal agreement that need to be modified because it is outdated given that the document was executed several years ago. That’s how long this mining project has been gestating.”
Despite this development, Moncano still thinks this project, described by former Environment Secretary Regina Paz Lopez as a “700-football field open-pit mine” could finally start at least before the end of the Duterte administration.
For its part, environmental advocacy group Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) welcomed the decision of Tampakan SB, led by Tampakan Vice Mayor John Mark Baldon, to exercise “the spirit and substance of local autonomy in ensuring the general welfare as well as ensuring a safe and sound environment of their constituents.”
“The people of Tampakan and the Bla’an indigenous communities affected deserve to be heard in their rejection of this massive and potentially destructive mining project. This resolution should be a clear signal to DENR [Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to explain why FTAA [Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement] was given an extension without undergoing the proper and legal procedures,” ATM said.
To recall, Tampakan’s FTAA, a contract that allows a foreign-owned mining firm to operate in the Philippines as well as explore and utilize the country’s mineral resources, was extended up to 2032.
MGB, an attached agency to the DENR, said it was extended because of Force Majeure.
“The Force Majeure was the legal case that was raised and decided by the SC [Supreme Court] on the issue of the constitutionality of the FTAA, which was decided in favor of the mining company, plus the adverse government action against the company by the former DENR Secretary in 2017,” Moncano said earlier.
The extension, however, was perceived by ATM as a “midnight mining deal” that was done without the knowledge of the affected stakeholders, including the LGUs, farmers and indigenous peoples in Tampakan.
“The Office of the President must immediately order an executive review of the Tampakan mining contract. We remind President Duterte that he has promised to ban open-pit mining and that he will not allow mining to destroy our rivers and environment. This promise has been elusive for far too long. We challenge President Duterte to listen to his constituents and to be true to his word. He must terminate this FTAA as soon as possible,” ATM said.
The Tampakan project is now the largest stalled mining venture in the country, which has been put on hold since 2010 after the LGU of South Cotabato banned open-pit mining in the province.
If developed, the Tampakan project “has the potential to make a significant contribution to the economic prosperity of the Philippines and enable a better future for the people of southern Mindanao,” SMI said on its website.
Tampakan mayor to SMI: ‘P500/ha per month rent for 25 years; where’s justice in that?’
By Bong S. Sarmiento
13 August 2020
KORONADAL CITY – Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI), operator of the US$5.9-billion Tampakan project, Southeast Asia’s largest known undeveloped copper-gold minefield, will rent the ancestral lands of Lumads or indigenous peoples (IPs) for P160,000 per hectare for 25 years, or P6,400 a year or P533.33 a month, the town’s chief executive disclosed.
Mayor Leonard Escobillo revealed the amount was part of the negotiations for the free prior and informed consent (FPIC), one of the requirements that the company needs to acquire from the Lumads to operate in their ancestral lands.
“I believe there’s no justice in that. You rent one hectare of land and you’ll use it for 25 years, that’s only P500 a month. How will a family live with such (amount)?” Escobillo said on Wednesday during the Network Briefing News anchored by Secretary Martin Andanar of the Presidential Communications Operations Office aired live over state-owned Radyo Pilipinas.
The mayor said he believed that the lumads, mostly belonging to the Blaan tribe, “had already consented to the rental rate.”
MindaNews sought SMI officials for comments on Thursday but in vain.
Escobillo said he raised the rental rate issue with SMI but his concern was allegedly disregarded since the firm asserted that the local government unit (LGU) “has no authority over the FPIC.”
The FPIC process is under the turf of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples and is enshrined in Republic Act 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997.
Lawyer Wilfredo Moncano, national director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), said during the same broadcast that he does not know if both sides have already agreed on the rental rate.
“Supposedly, they should execute a memorandum of agreement. They should agree on what’s acceptable to the community, what’s acceptable to the company. The role of the LGU is to arbitrate when the IPs and the mining company disagree,” Moncano said.
Escobillo said that “being the father of the town, the tribe is also my people, and their welfare is also my interest. I will do everything to protect my people.”
The mayor said that SMI is gearing up to start the construction of facilities needed to support the mining phase.
Road rehabilitation in the Tampakan mining tenement, which straddles the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Davao del Sur, has been ongoing and power lines have already been put in place in the area.
Escobillo said the Tampakan LGU wants to reach an updated comprehensive agreement with SMI, since the existing agreement was inked in 2009 or 11 years ago.
In a cryptic message posted on his Facebook wall on Tuesday, the neophyte mayor, who succeeded his father Leonardo, a staunch supporter of the Tampakan project, said he will “never allow big companies to exploit the people of Tampakan. Not during my watch.”
“Responsible & international standard mn kaya… Dividing its people & turn them against their own government,” he added.
SMI had pointed out on many occasions that it will employ responsible mining on par with world-class standards.
The firm had announced that open-pit mining is the most viable method to extract the massive deposits for the Tampakan project, so named because the minefield is located in Tampakan, South Cotabato.
However, the South Cotabato provincial government has banned the open-pit mining method since 2010. The prohibition is contained in its Environment Code, which pro-mining supporters challenged in a local court here.
If allowed to proceed, the Tampakan project has the potential to yield an average of 375,000 tons of copper and 360,000 ounces of gold in concentrate per annum in the 17-year-life of the mine, a company briefer said.
The national government granted SMI a 25-year Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) that was to expire on March 21, 2020.
The FTAA is subject for renewal for another 25 years, but long before its expiry, SMI sought and was granted a 12-year extension of the original FTAA on June 8, 2016.
Felizardo Gacad Jr., MGB – Region 12 director, confirmed the 12-year extension of SMI’s FTAA, or until March 21, 2032, in January this year.
Also, the firm has already “reacquired” the environmental compliance certificate (ECC) canceled by the late Environment Secretary Gina Lopez in February 2017.
Omar Saikol, Environmental Management Bureau – Region 12 director, disclosed last month in a press conference here that the ECC of SMI has been “restored” by the Office of the President.
“The ECC of SMI was reinstated by the Office of the President on May 6, 2019,” Saikol, reading from a prepared document, told reporters on July 9.
Escobillo acknowledged that the mining project in the mountains poses environmental hazards and poses danger to lives and properties.
SMI had vowed to institute “best mining practices” to mitigate the environmental and social impacts of the project should they go into commercial production. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)
Some suspended mining companies may soon reopen
by Madelaine B. Miraflor
15 July 2020
Some of the mining companies that former Environment Secretary and late Regina Paz Lopez successfully shut down are poised to re-open within this year, a development seen to contribute to the struggling Philippine economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Environment Undersecretary Juan Miguel Cuna said in a text exchange that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is now reviewing the operations of select suspended mining companies to see if they can operate again.
“The DENR is now validating in the field through a composite team from DENR, EMB [Environmental Management Bureau] and MGB [Mines and Geosciences Bureau] the actions done by the suspended mining companies to correct the deficiencies or omission as found by the independent Technical Review Teams engaged by MICC [Mining Industry Coordinating Council],” Cuna, who is now the supervising undersecretary for EMB and MGB, said.
The lifting of the suspension, according to him, could happen within this year and will be beneficial to the economy.
“These firms were already previously operating but were suspended for one reason or another. So in terms of revenue and employment, the country should definitely benefit if and when the operations are resumed,” Cuna said.
Right now, the mining industry contributes only 0.85 percent to the country’s total gross domestic product (GDP).
This is despite the fact the country’s mineral resources have an estimated value of around US$1.4 trillion.
In 2018, after conducting its own review of the results of the controversial mine audit conducted by DENR during the time of Lopez, the DENR, now led by Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, decided to keep Lopez’s closure orders on Claver Mineral Development Corp., Oriental Synergy Mining Corp., and Ore Asia Mining and Development Corp.
The DENR also validated the suspension orders earlier given to Zambales Diversified Metals Corp., Krominco Inc., Mt. Sinai Exploration and Development Corp., Libjo Mining Corp., Wellex Mining Corp. 1 and 2., Carrascal Nickel Corp., Aam-Phil Natural Resources Exploration and Development Corp., Strong Built (Mining) Development Corp., and Emir Minerals Corp.
Cuna said that DENR will see to it that all the negative findings on these mining companies, including the payment of hefty fines imposed on them, have already been addressed.
“If all of the findings of the TRTs [Technical Review Teams] are addressed the DENR will lift the suspensions,” Cuna said.
Bishop slams reopening of mining firms
By Margret Fermin
Philippines Lifestyle - https://philippineslifestyle.com/bishop-slams-reopening-of-mining-firms/
24 July 2020
An official of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines expressed concern over the resumption of operations of mining firms that were suspended by former Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Gina Lopez for their violations of the country’s environmental laws.
In an interview with Radio Veritas with San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza, vice-chairman of the CBCP-Episcopal Commission on Social Action, Justice and Peace, or CBCP-NASSA / Caritas Philippines, urged the DENR to let the Filipinos know the reasons behind the reopening of the mining companies.
The Bishop stressed that there should be a third party group that will prove that companies complied with the regulations so those that cause damage to the environment would be held responsible.
“I have serious doubts and how I wish the process is transparent and open for public scrutiny. So mining companies are held accountable for any environmental damages caused by them,” said Bishop Alminaza in Radio Veritas.
Climate leader and advocate Rodne Galicha first criticized the DENR’s decision to take advantage of the pandemic to make profits from the environment.
“DENR’s action of lifting suspended mining operations is taking advantage of the pandemic mobility limitations allowing continuous plunder of our natural resources,” said Galicha.
Galicha is also pushing to replace the Mining Act of 1995 by a law centered on sustainable development, disaster risk reduction, and climate adaptation due to the current ecological crisis.
DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu clarified that only those who went through the proper process and followed the prescribed steps are allowed to return to operation.
Cimatu also confirmed on Wednesday, July 23, that the DENR’s audit team had issued a recommendation to unspecified companies that will return operations.
It will be recalled that in September 2017, the late DENR Secretary Gina Lopez ordered the closure and suspension of mining operations of 26 mining companies for violating environmental standards and the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.
These include the following:
Libjo Mining Corporation
AAM-Phil Natural Resources Exploration and Development Corporation – Parcel 1 and Parcel 2B
Carrascal Nickel Corporation
Marcventures Mining and Devt.Corp.
Filminera Resources Corporation
Strong built Mining Development Corporation
Sinosteel Philippines HY Mining Corporation
Oriental Synergy Mining Corporation
Wellex Mining Corporation
Century Peak Corporation – Rapid City Nickel Project and Casiguran Nickel Project
Oriental Vision Mining Philippines Corp.
CTP Construction and Mining Corporation
Agata Mining Ventures Incorporated
Hinatuan Mining Corporation
Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company
OceanaGold Phils, Incorporated
Adnama Mining Resources, Incorporated
SR Metals, Incorporated
‘Criminalizing’ dissent, martial law fuel attacks on Philippine environmental defenders
by Leilani Chavez
28 July 2020
- Attacks on environmental and land defenders in the Philippines have escalated under President Rodrigo Duterte, with at least 43 deaths in 2019, watchdog group Global Witness says in its latest report.
- It recorded a total of 119 defender deaths in the Philippines since Duterte took office in mid-2016.
- Martial law in Mindanao, which was only lifted last December, combined with Duterte’s counterinsurgency campaigns and wide-scale anti-drug war, exacerbated the threats against defenders, local groups say.
- A plurality of the casualties in the global tally are in mining and agribusiness; the Philippines registered the most number of deaths in both sectors, the report says.
MANILA — Forty-three land and environmental defenders were killed in the Philippines in 2019, according to a new report from the watchdog group Global Witness. The tally marks out the Philippines as the most dangerous country in Asia and the second most dangerous in the world for those taking a stand against environmental destruction.
According to the group, the criminalization of environmental and land defenders under the mantle of anti-terrorism policies imposed by President Rodrigo Duterte contributed to the attacks in the Philippines in 2019.
“[The Philippines] has been consistently named as one of the worst places in Asia for attacks against defenders,” the report says. “The relentless vilification of defenders by the government and widespread impunity for their attackers may well be driving the increase.”
The Philippines has been frequently listed among top countries considered dangerous for environmental and land defenders in Global Witness’s annual reports, and this year is no exception.
In 2016, the watchdog recorded 28 environmental and land defender deaths in the Philippines, a figure that rose to 48 deaths in 2017 — regarded as the bloodiest year on record in the Philippines and the highest number ever documented in an Asian country, Global Witness said.
In 2018, 30 deaths were recorded in the country, which put it in the top spot in the global rankings. Casualties for that year include nine sugarcane farmers, including four women and two children, who were shot by a group of unidentified gunmen after tilling a contested plot of land in the central Philippines.
Since Duterte took office in June 2016, Global Witness has listed a total of 119 killings of environmental and land defenders; this is double the combined tallies of recorded killings under his predecessors. For 2019, Global Witness reported 43 deadly attacks on environmental and land defenders in the Philippines, placing it behind only Colombia with 64 cases.
The attacks have been linked to Duterte’s counterinsurgency policies, including the declaration of martial law in Mindanao to squash a group of ISIS sympathizers who briefly took over the city of Marawi in 2017. The campaign to retake the city lasted five months, until October 2017, but Duterte only lifted martial law in December 2019, after extending it three times in a span of two years.
“Martial law ended in Mindanao without abuses by the civilian sector, by the police, by the military,” the president said in his fifth state of the nation address on July 27. Human rights groups, however, say otherwise, accusing martial law of breaching the civil and political rights of more than 800,000 people, including environmental and land defenders.
Among those people were eight Indigenous peoples farmers fighting against a coffee plantation in Tamasco, South Cotabato. They were killed by the military in December 2017. Mindanao accounted for a third of those killed in 2018 and two-thirds of those killed in 2017, Global Witness said.
In 2019, Datu Kaylo Bontolan, a Talaingod-Manobo chieftain, was killed in Mindanao during a military aerial bombardment.
“Many indigenous communities living in highly militarised regions say they are often the target of attacks and are being silenced, in a process of criminalisation that appears to goes hand in hand with protecting private interests,” the Global Witness report says. “Disturbingly, almost half of the documented murders under Duterte’s government were linked to armed forces or paramilitary groups.”
The attacks on Indigenous groups in Mindanao, on the pretext that they were sympathizers of the outlawed New People’s Army, continued until 2019, when Duterte threatened to bomb lumad or Indigenous schools. (He eventually forced shut 100 of the schools this year.)
“2019 is the year he attacked lumad schools,” says Jaybee Garganera of Alyansa Tigil Mina, a coalition of anti-mining groups. “It’s the year that we saw aggressive mining corporations and plantations entering indigenous lands because the regulatory hindrances disappeared [because of martial law].”
Global Witness recorded 50 defenders deaths worldwide linked to the mining or extractives sector; the Philippines had the highest number of deaths linked to those sectors in 2019. Ninety percent of attacks linked to agribusiness and plantations in Asia happened in the Philippines, the report says.
The figures, Garganera says, reflect Duterte’s “very low understanding” of the roots of these conflicts. The strongman’s military approach to counterinsurgency, in general, is captured in his whole-of-the-nation approach, which Garganera says endangers Indigenous defenders resisting the entry of large-scale corporations and agribusiness ventures into their ancestral lands.
“Martial law in Mindanao created more tension and displaced Indigenous peoples in their own lands,” Garganera says. “Suddenly, they cannot go to their fields, they cannot go down the mountains because they will be required to show their IDs — 90% of lumads do not have IDs. These limitations during martial law have been the root of resentment from many Indigenous people there.”
Outside Mindanao, attacks on defenders have been exacerbated by Duterte’s wide-scale war on drugs, which has claimed more than 6,000 lives, and a culture of impunity that paints activists and dissenters as sympathizers of the NPA. On Negros Island, a series of counterinsurgency campaigns beginning in 2017 has led to the deaths and arrests of farmers, peasant group leaders, activists and civilians.
“In the Philippines, individual activists and environmental organisations have been accused of being rebels or communist sympathisers — a practice commonly known as ‘red-tagging,’” the report says. “Inflammatory calls by Duterte’s government to kill activists deemed to be ‘obstructing justice’, as well as his direct threats to bomb indigenous schools puts defenders at much greater risk of attacks.”
Last year, Global Witness released a country-specific report detailing the role of businesses and development banks, as well as Duterte’s “aggressive rhetoric” in fueling attacks against environmental and land defenders in the Philippines. “The President’s aggressive rhetoric against defenders, coupled with the climate of violence and impunity fostered by his drugs war, has only made things worse,” said Ben Leather from Global Witness.
Duterte’s office, however, has dismissed this, saying last year that it considers Global Witness “a purveyor of falsity and a subservient machinery for political propaganda.” “There is nothing new to its sham assertion which mimics the recurring chants of the usual derogators of PRRD (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte),” Salvador Panelo, a spokesman for the presidential palace, said in a briefing last September.
Local human rights and environmental groups say these attacks will continue throughout Duterte’s remaining years in office as he enforces a militaristic approach in his administration’s COVID-19 pandemic response and after signing into law the contentious Anti-Terrorism Law earlier this month. Last December, Duterte also overturned mining permits previously suspended for environmental violations, laying the groundwork for an even fiercer battle for land and the environment.
“The President has a twisted notion of what human rights is,” Garganera says. “This shrinking space … for lumads, activists, dissenters are a result of this radical misunderstanding. We haven’t had any chief executive who had this twisted understanding of human rights. It’s the first time that we experienced this hostility from the executive department and the military.”
DENR to anti-mining groups: Don’t mix up issue of insurgency and environment
by Madelaine B. Miraflor
3 August 2020
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said anti-mining groups should not mix up issues of insurgency and environment and must not irresponsibly tag mining companies in the killings of environmental defenders.
This came as a Global Witness report declared the Philippines as the second deadliest country in the world, with killings in the mining sector as one of the main culprits.
In a phone interview, Environment Undersecretary Benny Antiporda encouraged environmental defenders and people in mining communities to report to authorities whenever they feel they are being harassed by miners or if they think there’s illegal activities going on in their areas.
“If there are issues [in mining communities], we meet them. If there is harassment, then report it to DENR or the authorities,” Antiporda said.
Antiporda was particularly reacting to the statement of civil society organization Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM), which was “extremely distressed” with the Duterte administration for allowing killings in the mining sector to happen.
According to the group, red-tagging and legal harassments of anti-mining leaders were recently recorded in Nueva Vizcaya, Palawan, Masbate, Leyte and South Cotabato.
The harassment, according to ATM, happened as a response to the increased resistance activities that are happening now due to the recent decision of the DENR to reverse the suspension and closure orders issued by late and former Environment Secretary Regina Paz Lopez.
Antiporda said that reviewing the operations of suspended mining companies and allowing them to reopen once they became compliant of environmental laws is a legal process.
“We didn’t reverse the suspension and closure orders of Secretary Gina. If anything, we even helped them in the enforcement of their orders. Closure orders and shutting down are two different issues. There was a closure order but there was no enforcement. We had to enforce their orders. We were the one that closed the mines and now we reviewed them,” Antiporda further said.
Philippine court rejects OceanaGold’s bid to keep mining on expired permit
16 July 2020
- The Philippine Court of Appeals has dismissed a bid by a Canadian-Australian mining company to allow it to continue operating after its mining permit expired last year.
- OceanaGold Philippines Inc. (OGPI) was challenging a provincial directive encouraging residents to block the operations of the mining giant after the June 20, 2019 expiration.
- The company cites a letter from the national government’s mining bureau that it claims allows it to continue operating its Didipio gold and copper mine pending its application for a permit renewal.
- But the appellate court upheld a regional court’s ruling, saying that there’s no Philippine law that lets the company continue mining beyond the expiry of its permit or during the renewal application process.
MANILA — A Philippine court has thrown out an appeal by a mining company seeking to continue operations despite its permit having expired last year.
The decision by the Philippine Court of Appeals against OceanaGold Philippines Inc. (OGPI) marks the latest legal victory for the Indigenous community in the Didipio region, some 270 kilometers (170 miles) northeast of Manila, who for a quarter of a century have fought against the destruction of their environment.
The ruling was handed down on June 30 but only made public by parties in the case on July 11. In a statement, OceanaGold said it wasn’t aware of the decision and only learned of the ruling through social media. “The Company [OGPI] has not received any formal order from the Court of Appeals and is seeking confirmation,” OceanaGold said in a statement issued July 13. “If the denial of the injunction is in fact accurate, the Company will continue to defend its right to operate the Didipio Mine in the interim whilst it completes the [permit] renewal process.”
The 37,000-hectare (91,400-acre) Didipio gold and copper mine (limited to 10,266 hectares, or 25,368 acres, in 2018) straddles the border between the provinces of Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino. It was covered under a mining permit known as a Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA). Such agreements are valid for 25 years, with a possibility for renewal for another 25 years. In the case of Didipio, the initial validity expired on June 20, 2019, making OceanaGold’s mining permit the first to expire under the Philippines’ Mining Act of 1995.
Without a precedent to refer to, developments in the post-expiration phase have been marked by legal wrangling and conflicting stances by the authorities. The Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), under the national government’s Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), issued a letter which OGPI claimed gave them the go-ahead to continue operating pending its FTAA renewal application. The site is believed to hold 1.41 million ounces of gold and 169,400 tons of copper.
But the provincial government of Nueva Vizcaya issued a directive on the same day the FTAA expired, calling on locals to “restrain any operations” by OceanaGold. Residents, mostly members of the Indigenous Ifugao-Tuwali tribe, erected two blockades. They worked in shifts, barricading the entrance to the mine site to prevent service vehicles from going in.
The blockade prompted OGPI to file five legal cases against the provincial administration of Governor Carlos Padilla last year, including an injunction against the barricade. Last year, the regional court rejected OGPI’s request for an injunction, forcing the Canadian-Australian mining giant to take the ruling to the country’s
Court of Appeals.
But the higher court has dismissed the petition on the same grounds. “Since the initial term of the FTAA already expired without it being renewed yet, there is no prevailing agreement on which the petitioner can anchor its right to continue its mining operations,” the court said in the ruling seen by Mongabay.
The appellate court also said no Philippine law grants OGPI any right to conduct mining operations after the end of its mining agreement or while in the process of applying to renew its mining permit.
The court said the injunction OGPI was seeking “must be granted only in the face of injury to actual and existing substantial rights” and that it “cannot be a remedy to protect or enforce contingent, absolute or future rights.”
Groups opposed to the mine have welcomed this latest ruling. “With this, the Duterte government should immediately reject the pending renewal of Oceanagold’s FTAA,” said Leon Dulce, national coordinator of the environmental group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment. “It is crucial and urgent to immediately close the mine and expedite the rehabilitation of the mine site to mitigate the multiple risks it poses on the COVID-19 pandemic situation faced by the host communities in Vizcaya.”
OGPI says it will take the case to the Supreme Court of the Philippines, if necessary. Prior to the petition for an injunction, the company had an existing case challenging the legality of Governor Padilla’s blockade order. “Due to delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the parties are still undergoing pre-trial conference,” OGPI said in a statement.
The company says the authority over the Didipio mine rests with the national government, and that local government units cannot restrain any operation entered into by the national government. OGPI’s renewal process has already been endorsed by the MGB to the president’s office and is awaiting the signature of President Rodrigo Duterte.
“The renewal of the FTAA is a separate and independent process which the Philippine National Government has authority over,” OceanaGold said. “In this regard, the status of the FTAA renewal has not changed, and it remains with the Office of the President of the Philippines.”
Governor calls for mine pullout from NVizcaya
Leander C. Domingo
15 July 2020
BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya: Gov. Carlos Padilla has called for the pullout of the Australian -owned OceanaGold Philippines Inc. from the province for failure to get a renewal of its license to operate that expired a year ago.
Padilla said the call was in view of a recent decision of the Court of Appeals (CA) 16th Division denying OceanaGold’s petition in connection with its claim that it can continue to operate the Didipio mine in Kasibu town, pending renewal of its financial and technical assistance agreement (FTAA).
“In view of such development, we now strongly demand the complete pullout of OceanaGold from the area,” he added.
OceanaGold’s 25-year FTAA became effective on June 20, 1994 and that its initial term expired on June 20, 2019.
But the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) allowed the firm’s operation pending its FTAA application for renewal with the Office of the President.
An FTAA is a permit issued to a multinational company that will share technology and resources to explore and extract minerals in the Philippines.
The MGB said: “[T]his office has taken its position that OGPI (OceanaGold Philippines Inc.) is permitted to continue its mining operation pending the approval of the renewal of FTAA 001.”
The continuous mining operation was put on hold when Padilla issued an order directing local government units to “restrain any operations” of the company.
The governor said the June 30 decision of the CA 16th Division only proved that the MGB position was not correct.
“It clearly belies the position taken by the MGB [that OceanaGold is permitted to continue its mining operations pending renewal of its FTAA,” Padilla added.
The CA decision denied OceanaGold’s petition to continue its mining operations at the Didipio mine in Kasibu town, stating that the company’s FTAA had expired and thus the company has no right to continue operating the mine.
“Since the initial term of the FTAA already expired without it being renewed yet, there is no prevailing agreement on which the petitioner can anchor its right to continue its mining operations,” the decision stated.
It was in July 2019 when OGPI applied for an injunction with the Regional Trial Court (RTC) here as a temporary measure to allow interim operations of the Didipio mine while it challenges the legality of the order issued by Padilla to restrain the activities of the company pending renewal of the FTAA.
The RTC denied the firm’s application for injunctive relief, which was upheld by the CA.