Villagers urge Duterte to stop destructive mining

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A quarrying site in Rodriguez, Rizal. Photo by Kenneth Valladolid

RESIDENTS of Didipio and other nearby villages in Kasibu town in Nueva Viscaya have expressed hope that large scale mining in their areas that has been going on for the longest time will finally be stopped as they called on President Rody Duterte to make good on his campaign promise to stop destructive mining activities.

In an interview, Councilor Celia Bahag said she along with her fellow residents travelled all the way from their mountain village to join the gathering at Mendiola last June 30 for Duterte’s inauguration and to reiterate their call on im to stop destructive mining.

Battle against OGPI

They are particularly decrying the mining activities being conducted in their village by Oceana Gold Philippines Inc. (OGPI) that operates the Didipio Gold –Copper Mining Project is operated by Oceana Gold Philippines that is expected to run up to December 2018.

Records indicated that the previous Aqino administration had granted the Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) to OGPI that originally covers 370 square kilometers that was reduced to 158 square kilometers after several years of exploration relinquishments.

The open pit mine is expected to produce 200,000 ounces of gold and 70,000 tonnes of copper concentrate per year.

Bahag said that they have been opposing the continued operations of the mining firm because of their destructive effects to their communities not to mention the fact that they were not even consulted before a permit was granted to the company.

These prompted various people’s organizations among them Samahang Pangkarapatan ng Katutubong Mamamayan at Magsasaka Inc. (Sapakmmi) and Didipio Earth Savers Multi-purpose Association (Desama) to conduct protest activities against the mining operations.

Sapakmmi chairman Erenio Bobola for his part said Oceana Gold’s mining had polluted their river and water sources.

“We are against Oceana Gold, because we don’t want to have these problems carry on for the coming generation,” Bobola said. “We hope that under Duterte, destructive mining operations will stop because we have felt the bad effects of mining.”

He said that their groundwater has been disturbed and dried up by Oceana Gold’s tunneling activities.

The rivers and creeks that used to be their sources of food are now polluted, while water supply for farm irrigation has dried up.

Worse, the company even dumps waste water from its kitchen and facilities into the river.

“They do it late at night, at around 10 p.m. to 12 midnight. Residents can smell when waste had been dumped,” he said.

To dramatize their opposition to the project, they set up a barricade to bar the entry of drilling equipment, fuel and its accessories.

The Didipio residents gained support from no less than re-elected Nueva Vizcaya Governor Carlos Padilla, who visited them and pledged to oppose large-scale mining operations in the province.

After three days of barricade, the mining company withdrew its drilling equipment.

The Didipio peasants and indigenous peoples hope that under the new government, Oceana Gold’s mining operations will completely stop.

Destruction

Meanwhile, the company’s promise to construct a hospital and school buildings, provide chairs and computers are yet to be delivered, Bobola said.

In 2014, environmentalists and people’s scientists found heavy copper contamination in the now murky Dinaoyan River, where OceanaGold’s mine tailings spill off.

Oceana Gold was the first mining company that was issued a Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) under the Mining Act of 1995, or Republic Act 7942.

Its FTAA covers 15,000 hectares in Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino provinces where it has been conducting exploration since 1994. This year, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) extended its exploration permit for copper and gold up to 2021.

Another mining company, FCF Minerals, is in the construction phase in the adjacent municipality of Quezon, for its Runruno Gold-Molybdenum project.

Under the Mining Act, companies are allowed to export 100 percent of its profit for seven years.

“They also have auxiliary rights to water, timber, and the right to demolish houses in the scope of their operations,” Fernando Mangili of Amianan Salakniban, the network for the environment and human rights in North Luzon, said.

Suspend mining operations

The reason why environmentalists group, along with the Didipio residents have long called for the suspension of mining operations is because of the adverse impact in the area, such as how Dinkidi Hill was leveled by OceanaGold’s open-pit mining.

At present, surrounding forests and hills are also threatened by the company’s expansion.

Health workers in Didipio have also reported increased cases of respiratory diseases.

Aside from its environmental destruction, in 2011, the Commission on Human Rights charged OceanaGold of human rights violations for its attacks on resisting residents in 2009.

Bahag and Bobola believed that the new government must work to have the Mining Act repealed. They also support the enactment of the People’s Mining Bill.

“If that law is scrapped, then mining in our place will stop,” Bahag said. (With reports from Bulatlat.com / OpinYon, Rosemarie Señora)