MAC: Mines and Communities

Human rights violations against OceanaGold to be aired in court

Published by MAC on 2010-03-02
Source: GMANews.TV (2010-02-25)

While locals still await the results of November's visit from the Philippine Commissioner of Human Rights (see http://www.minesandcommunities.org/article.php?a=9637), OceanaGold have been taken to court over the illegal demolition of houses at Didipio two years ago.

Development at the mine is stalled, and even previous supporters have turned against the company thanks to more recent forced evictions.

Trial vs OceanaGold to hear alleged violations

FLORO TAGUINOD, GMANews.TV

25 February 2010

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya ­ - A trial is expected to publicize alleged human rights violations committed by OceanaGold Philippines Inc. (OGPI), two years after the mining company reportedly demolished houses in a Didipio, Kasibu village in this province.

This was disclosed by Peter Duyapat, chairperson of Didipio Earth-Savers Multipurpose Association (Desama), which represents communities displaced by the mining company's operations.

"We have long waited for this trial stage to commence and our dream that OceanaGold will be finally held accountable for the damages meted upon us is now a reality," Duyapat told GMANews.TV.

In February 2008, a regional trial court restrained OGPI from further demolishing houses of Indigenous Peoples, saying that the mining firm's activities "are tainted with irregularities and contrary to law."

OGPI has been accused of a massive demolition of 29 houses in Kasibu's Didipio village, the site of the mining company's operations, without writ or special order of demolition from the courts, unaccompanied by a sheriff, and without just compensation and a relocation site.

Lawyer Minerva Quintela, representing Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (LRC-Ksk) and lead counsel for the plaintiffs told GMANews.TV that OGPI has "indeed violated the constitution's Bill of Rights that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty and property without due process."

But OGPI's counsel, Jaon Catiling disagrees.

The company made hefty offers for those willing to sell their lots, Catiling told GMANews.TV.

"Some chose the monetary equivalent while some opted to be awarded house and lots which will be constructed in relocation areas on top of P200,000 cash remuneration," she said.

Last November, members of the Commission of Human Rights (CHR) led by its chairperson Laila Delima visited the mining town to investigate allegations against the Philippine affiliate of the Australia-based company.

Besides illegal demolition, residents have also complained that they are being restricted to some access roads by fences that were constructed around the mining firm's impact zone.

In response, OGPI said the fences were there for the safety of the residents especially the children "when heavy equipment comes rolling by."

New alliance versus mining

Josie Guillao of Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) said that majority of the people in Didipio used to support large scale mining but "after a number of human rights violations have been attributed to OGPI, most of them have joined the anti-mining movement," she said.

CHR's visit to the area was due to new developments following an informal alliance between the pro and anti-mining group.

Previously, OGPI supporters outnumber the anti-mining groups due to the "economic advantages" promised by the company.

However, the firm was placed on a "care and maintenance" mode last year by its officials due to the scarcity of fresh funds from off-shore financiers.

Quintela claimed that the beleaguered mining company has resorted to forced evictions and demolitions to prepare for the resumption of its mining operations as promised to their funders.

According to Didipio village chief Marilou Tablon, a former field engineer of OceanaGold, majority of the residents now want a total stoppage of OGPI's operations.

Unpaid tax obligations

Governor Luisa Cuaresma lamented that OGPI still refuses to pay some P28 million in unpaid taxes due to the province.

The governor through the provincial board has earlier endorsed the operation of OceanaGold but withdrew its support when it said that it is not bound to pay quarry taxes to its host government.

After Nueva Vizcaya issued a Cease and Desist Order (CDO) against OGPI last year due to alleged non-payments of taxes, cases have since been filed by both parties claiming that they are just following the law.

Still upbeat over mining

Despite the Didipio situation, Chito Gozar, OGPI's Vice President for Communication and External Affairs, remained confident that anti-mining groups will see the industry's advantages.

"We may not be popular due to the accusations hurled against us but we're sure things will be seen in better perspective in days to come," he said during the visit of the CHR.

In the meantime, the CHR chief promised that an in-depth investigation regarding the matter will be forthcoming but not before the DENR-MGB (Mines and Geosciences Bureau), National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) and the local government has explained what they had or had not done to address the situation which unfolded right before their very eyes.

New environment chief assailed

In a meeting with the media before the first court trial between the plaintiffs and respondent OGPI on Wednesday, Quintela and Gerry Arances of LRC, also assailed the appointment of new Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary (DENR) Horacio Ramos.

Ramos is accused of kowtowing to the whims of the environmentally-destructive mining companies when he was still the MGB's national director.

"We cannot trust somebody who played coy with foreign capitalists who are oblivious to the plight of the IPs and the environment," Arances said.

Ramos denied the accusations, adding that it was mining for sustainable development that he supported during his stint as MGB director. - GMANews.TV

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