By Melvin Gascon
Local officials, tribal leaders and anti-mine advocates on Tuesday called on President Rodrigo Duterte to reject attempts of an Australian firm to extend its gold-copper operations in Nueva Vizcaya province due to alleged violations in its expiring mining contract.
The groups urged Filipinos to unite and stand up against the renewal of the financial and technical assistance agreement (FTAA) granted to Australian firm OceanaGold Philippines Corp., which expires on June 20.
“We are calling on President Duterte, since he used to say that mining is very destructive. Mr. President, if that is your sentiment, we hope you will remember it, so that OceanaGold will no longer have any operation in Nueva Vizcaya and anywhere else in the country,” Nueva Vizcaya Gov. Carlos Padilla said.
The groups are opposing the renewal of OceanaGold’s 25-year FTAA, which allowed it to operate a mining project in upland Didipio village in Kasibu town, about 260 km north of Manila.
The FTAA for Didipio gold-copper project was granted in 1994 to Climax-Arimco Mining Corp., which was eventually sold to OceanaGold. Since 2013, the Australian firm has been conducting commercial mining in Didipio.
Padilla presented a copy of the resolution, approved unanimously by the provincial board on Monday, which rejected OceanaGold’s application for renewal. The barangay council of Didipio turned down the firm’s application in October.
“This will prove that at the outset when this mining firm came to our province, we were never consulted,” the governor said at a press briefing in Quezon City.
According to Padilla, while the Nueva Vizcaya government may have collected about P500 million in real property taxes from the mine firm’s operations, this will never be enough to repair the environmental damage its activities have caused.
“We estimate that P3 billion may not even be enough to rehabilitate, excluding (the areas covered by) the tailings dam, which is now severely contaminated with toxic chemicals,” he said.
Village council member Celia Bahag appealed to President Duterte to listen to the cries of people who are directly affected by the mining operations.
“We have always supported his administration and we believe in his sincerity; we hope he will believe in us, as well,” she said.
Catholic priest Fr. Vic Thiam, chair of the environment group Alyansa ng mga Nagkakaisang Novo Vizcayano para sa Kalikasan (Annvik), said the church, through the papal encyclical “Laudato Si”, supports the government mandate of protecting the environment.
“We call on the government to please stop activities which continue to destroy our remaining forests. Please have mercy on the next generations,” he said.
Farmer Lorenzo Pulido said Didipio villagers have been fighting over the scarcity of water in their community, while water in rivers and creeks have either begun to dry up or are no longer safe for farming or household use.
“We have heard President Duterte say he did not want mining in his home province in Davao because it destroys the environment. We now humbly ask him to extend the same protection to Nueva Vizcaya,” he said.
According to lawyer Neri Colmenares, counsel for the Nueva Vizcaya residents against OceanaGold, the Philippine government has yet to submit its response to the cases the groups filed against Mr. Duterte and the Cimatu for the alleged violations caused by the mining operations.
With the rejection by the resounding call from residents and officials of Nueva Vizcaya, the national government no longer has any reason not to implement the suspension order slapped by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) against OceanaGold’s Didipio project in 2016, said Jaybee Garganera, Alyansa Tigil Mina national coordinator. MCG