MAC/20: Mines and Communities

"It's time to put an end" to violence at Didipio, Philippines

Published by MAC on 2009-10-26

The people of the mountains of Northern Luzon are still suffering in the aftermath Typhoon Pepang. Despite this, further violence has erupted at Didipio, where local people continue to resist forced evictions by OceanaGold. It seems this latest outbreak may finally have persuaded the Commission on Human Rights to take a more active interest in the case.

 

Groups Condemn Illegal Demolition and Violent Dispersal of Mining Affected Communities

ATM Press Release

13 October 2009

KASIBU, Nueva Vizcaya (NV)– Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM), an advocacy group and a people’s movement composed of more than eighty (80) organizations from mining-affected communities and civil society organizations nationwide, condemns the illegal demolition and violent dispersal of the residents from communities, which hosts an Australian mining company owned by OceanaGold Corp. Inc. (OGPI). The incident happened last October 2 in Barangay Didipio, where OGPI’s Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) covers 23 barangays in the Municipality of Kasibu.

Reports from human rights workers of ATM partner organizations, Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) and the Philippine Human Rights Information Center (PhilRights), narrated that there were allegedly approximately 100 heavily armed men, who arrived at Sitio Dinauyan at around 8:00AM, to carry out a demolition order for the house of Elmer Lawagan located at the foot of Dinkidi Hill, the open pit mining site of OGPI.

The demolition crew was believed to be a composite team of police operatives from the regional, provincial, and municipal government of NV. The crew was faced with the resistance from more than 100 residents from Didipio who formed a human barricade to oppose the demolition. The residents believe that if OGPI succeeds in demolishing Lawagan’s house, their homes would be next. Some residents who joined the barricade were from the villages living in or adjacent to Dinkidi Hill in Sitio Dinauyan, which is home to at least 100 families, where the proposed site for the mine tailings dam is located.

Violence broke out between the two groups when the Philippine National Police (PNP) troops tried to forcefully break the people’s barricade using teargas, truncheons and shields, while residents defended themselves with the use of water mixed with chili pepper splashed at the aggressors. Kasibu Mayor Romeo Tayaban and Didipio Barangay Captain Malou Nablol were both present to negotiate with the PNP. Witnesses said that apart from the beating experienced by some residents, 5 teargases were thrown to the barricaders. Casualties from the teargas include at least 7 barricaders. Some of the harmed still experience headaches and other discomfort from the teargas after the incident. The demolition crew was forced to pull back and leave the area when the 3-day Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) issued by the Regional Trial Court (RTC) upon the request of Lawagan’s counsel was communicated past 11:00AM of the same day.

“We condemn the harm experienced by the people of Didipio in the arms of those who were supposedly mandated to protect them, said ATM Coordinator Jaybee Garganera. There were irregularities in the execution of the demolition order. To enumerate some: the unnecessary use of violence by throwing teargas, truncheons and shield to disperse the barricade; and policemen carrying firearms in the dispersal of the protesting residents, which is against the normal procedures in executing a demolition order. Two criminology students from St. Marys University Bayombong were allegedly part of the police contingent that were the ones who lobbed the teargas.” added Garganera.

To date, the RTC issued an order granting the extension of the TRO for 20 days and setting a hearing on October 19, 2009 at 10:30AM to determine whether or not a writ of preliminary injunction will be issued. Despite the favorable TRO issued, residents and their support groups vowed to remain diligent in protecting the rights of residents against any illegal and violent action by OGPI.

PhilRights Executive Director Nymia Pimentel-Simbulan said, ““We trust that Chairperson Leila de Lima of the Commission on Human Rights will look into this urgent matter. We request the CHR to immediately send a team of investigators to Barangay Didipio to verify these alleged incidents of human rights violations and abuses to facilitate redress for victims, especially Elmer Lawagan, and to hold the perpetrators liable for their actions. CHR's timely and decisive intervention is vital to ensure that due process and respect for human rights would prevail in the court decision and course of action subsequently undertaken."

OGPI’s Didipio Gold and Copper Project was granted with an FTAA since 1998 and is expected to produce an average 120,000 ounces of gold and 15,000 tonnes of copper for 15 years. After a decade of its presence in the Didipio, no mine production was made by the company. Furthermore, OGPI has placed its operation under “care and maintenance” in December 2008 due to financial and management problems of the company.

According to Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (LRC) Executive Director Judy Pasimio, co-convenor of ATM, this implies that OGPI has lost its legal eligibility to carry out its obligations under the FTAA with government. In fact, DENR itself has declared to take over OGPI facility in January 2009 in the event that the company cannot operate within six (6) months.

“For this year alone, OGPI has already displaced more than a hundred indigenous families in Didipio. Furthermore, the companys aggressive fencing, which include closing of accustomed public way and the installation of check points covered by their FTAA have restricted what used to be free movement of the residents in the area. Now, communities feel that they are deprived of their rights to their own land and majority of the residents already lost their faith and trust in OGPI. LRC submitted a demand letter dated September 23, 2009 to the DENR to act upon and take necessary steps to finally carry out the CLOSURE of the Didipio mining tenement of OGPI,” concluded Pasimio.

For more information:

Jaybee Garganera, ATM Coordinator, (0915) 315.3719
Roslyn Arayata, ATM Policy Officer (0917) 521.7937
Ronald Gregorio, LRC-Luzon, (0917)548.1674

Video footage of the evictions can be viewed at:- Violence in Didipio_02-Oct-09.wmv

 


CHR Chairperson on Illegal Demolitions in Bgy. Didipio, Kaisbu, Nueva Vizcaya: “It's Time to Put an End to This"

Commission on Human Rights Press Statement

16 October 2009

On 5 October 2009, the Commission on Human Rights received reports of continued harassment of residents of Bgy. Didipio, Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya, which escalated into an incident of violent dispersal of a human barricade composed of local residents.

The land comprising Bgy. Didipio is the subject of a long-standing dispute over a mining claim owned by OceanaGold Philippines Inc. The barangay is one of 23 barangays covered by a Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) granted to OceanaGold. Bgy. Didipio in particular is the site of OceanaGold's Didipio Gold and Copper Project. Since 2006, there has been intensive opposition to mining operations in the area. As early as 2007, there have been reports of human rights violations in the area, allegedly related to the operation of the mining claim.

While mining activities have remained in oblivion in light of the harsh opposition to continued operations, several residents have been systematically evicted from their homes. The latest estimates from Alyansa Tigil Muna (ATM), Philippine Human Rights Information Center (PhilRights) and Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) show that over a hundred indigenous families in Bgy. Didipio have been displaced this year. In addition, it appears that OceanaGold itself has aggressively installed fences and checkpoints on accustomed public thoroughfares within the barangay, thereby restricting the free movement of residents.

The efforts to remove residents from Bgy. Didipio reached a violent climax on 1 October 2009, when members of an estimated hundred-man contingent of the Philippine National Police (PNP), clad in anti-riot gear, destroyed the home of a resident at the foot of Dinkidi Hill. The PNP contingent forcefully dispersed residents who formed a human barricade to prevent further demolitions, detonating teargas canisters and beating fleeing residents with truncheons.

The violence ended when the PNP contingent was forced to pull out when a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) was issued by the RTC by 11:00 am on the same day. The demolitions are currently on hold with the issuance of a subsequent 20-day TRO and a hearing on the same scheduled for the 19th of October.

The CHR Chairperson, Leila M. De Lima, has responded to the residents' request for assistance relayed through NGOs ATM, PhilRights and TFDP, with a promise of a more assertive intercession by the Commission. “This protracted dispute requires an En Banc-level intervention,” the Chairperson said. “The resolution of this broad conflict over mining operations has taken too long, and violence in the interregnum was a disaster waiting to happen.”

The CHR had recently intervened in a successful return to their community of displaced indigenous peoples (the Manobos) in Surigao del Sur at the end of August this year. “Just as we had done in Surigao,” De Lima said, “we intend to carry out a top-level investigation in Bgy. Didipio, Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya.”

From initial reports, it appears that the October 1 demolition is fraught with irregularity. “I will personally visit Bgy. Didipio and determine for myself the extent of the illegality of the demolition operations and alleged harassment of residents,” De Lima remarked. “If the Commission finds that there is truth to allegations that the PNP conducted the operation for the private benefit of OceanaGold and not for the welfare of the public-at-large, if the PNP contingent was indeed armed, in violation of protocols on forced evictions and if the force that was employed was unnecessary and excessive, I will make sure that not only must the residents be restored to their homes, but members of the demolition team and their superiors will be held administratively and criminally liable.”

On the issue of harassment of residents by the installation of fences and checkpoints, the Chairperson added, “The rights of the indigenous inhabitants and residents of Bgy. Didipio to have an abode, to free ingress and egress from their homes cannot be impaired on the whim and caprices of the government, let alone a private enterprise such as OceanaGold. We will get to the bottom of OceanaGold's complicity in the dispersal and in all these alleged incidents of harassment.”

The Chairperson, together with a team of Commission lawyers and investigators, will visit Nueva Vizcaya on 22-23 October 2009, to carry out an investigation in Bgy. Didipio.


Australian mining firm 'harassing' residents

By Jeff Waters for PM - abc.net.au/pm

21 October 2009

* Audio: Australian miner investigated for human rights abuses (PM) - http://mpegmedia.abc.net.au/news/audio/pm/200910/20091021pm7-phils-mine.mp3

The head of the Philippines Commission on Human Rights says she will investigate the activities of an Australian-based mining company in the north of her country.

Human Rights workers are accusing the OceanaGold company of intimidating and harassing residents around their proposed mine site.

The company is also accused of forcibly demolishing local homes.

The homes are in or around a proposed mine site, at Didipio on Luzon Island in the north of the Philippines, which is owned by the Melbourne-based OceanaGold company.

Much of the demolition work has been guarded by local police.

But this ongoing controversy in the remote region has finally found a tipping point.

Early this month about 100 home owners are said to have clashed with a demolition crew and their police minders.

Truncheons and teargas were said to have been used.

Ronald Gregario is a local human rights worker speaking from the Philippines.

"They don't want to be evicted from their houses. So the people come together to protect one house, knowing that if ever this house, this particular house is demolished their house is the next one," he said.

"So they have to protect one after another. The police use force and anything that is really an excessive force. They wear anti-riot shields and truncheons. They use teargas against these people."

The chairwoman of the Philippines Commission on Human Rights has now become personally involved.

She plans to travel to the region next week with a team of lawyers and investigators.

In a strongly-worded statement, Leila M De Lima says that if the police are found to have been operating for the private benefit of OceanaGold, residents will be restored to their homes and criminal charges will be laid.

Oxfam Australia has been following the case closely and its executive director, Andrew Hewitt, welcomes the intervention.

"These are just the latest allegations of widespread harassment, intimidation of the local communities by OceanaGold," he said.

"There's a real need for the company to step back, learn the lesson that they've never had the free, prior, and full consent of the local communities and that their heavy handed means of operating are not going to succeed," he said.

"There's also a need for the Australian Government to much more closely monitor this situation and to set in place mechanisms so they communities can take their complaints for resolution.

"There's a need for Australia to improve its act in this area."

Nobody from OceanaGold in Melbourne was available to comment on the allegations or the investigation.

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