Mining watchdog seeks probe of Aussie firms’ rights ‘abuses’
BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–The Australian mining ombudswoman has called on the Commission on Human Rights in the Philippines to investigate the alleged human rights abuses committed by a Melbourne-based mining firm in remote Didipio village, site of its proposed US$117-million gold-copper project.
Shanta Martin, Oxfam Australia mining ombudsman, made the call amid reports of escalating human rights violations by OceanaGold Philippines, Inc. highlighted by last month’s shooting of an Ifugao native by a company-hired security guard.
“I urge the (CHR) to please investigate the situation as an independent party, and to assist the communities of Didipio to defend their human rights,” she said in a letter to Dr. Purificacion Valera-Quisumbing, CHR chair.
Since December 2007, OceanaGold has been trying to clear the land in Didipio, an agricultural village dominated by Ifugao natives, in preparation for its planned start of production by February 2009.
Such activities, however, have triggered unrest in the village due to the alleged illegal demolition of houses that are located within its projected 425-hectare mine production area, and the non-payment of compensation for displaced residents.
On March 23, villager Emilio Pumihic was shot by a member of the company’s security force as Pumihic tried to prevent a demolition crew from tearing down a house owned by a neighbor who was still sleeping inside his house. The victim has filed criminal charges against the guard.
Martin urged the commission to step in the absence of a sufficient grievance mechanism that is available to the villagers, as the company supposedly continues to downplay community members’ complaints through disclaimers and denials.
“My fear was that such a response (from the company) would fail to resolve community grievances and may lead to an escalation in tensions and even violence. Unfortunately, that fear has recently been realized (by the shooting incident),” she said.
The mining ombudsman cited the findings of Oxfam’s series of field investigations in Didipio, the latest of which was released in a report in October 2007.
These include: “1) interruption to the social cohesion of the community; 2) lack of social acceptability or free prior informed consent; 3) lack of a sufficiently rigorous and certain relocation process; 4) complaints of intimidation and harassment of community members; and 5) allegations of bribery.”
Sought for comment, Ramoncito Gozar, OceanaGold vice president for communications and external affairs, said the company would welcome a CHR investigation. He declined to elaborate.
But quoting her conversation with Stephen Orr, OceanaGold chief executive officer, Martin said he has committed that “the company would be disposed to an independent third party being involved”.
She, however, expressed concern over the company’s existing policy on settling disputes raised by the local community.
“Mr. Orr stated that community members may approach the company’s field office or the local barangay council. However, from my discussions with community members, their interactions with company staff have not engendered a sense of trust which would be necessary to ensure that their concerns would be fairly dealt with,” she said.
“Further, the company has historically ignored the concerns expressed by the barangay council,” Martin added.
The Didipio village council has repeatedly expressed its opposition to the mining project, citing its supposed detrimental effects on the environment and the community.