N. Vizcaya folk hail Aussie firm’s shelving of mine project
BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–Environment groups here on Thursday welcomed the announcement of a Australian firm OceanaGold Philippines, Inc. that it was indefinitely putting on hold its US$117-million gold copper project in upland Kasibu town due to financial difficulties.
“This is a much deserved reward for our people who have suffered long enough from the activities of this company, but who endured and fought all the odds and prove once more that we should take control of our land,” said Peter Duyapat, president of the Didipio EarthSavers Multipurpose Association, a people’s organization.
On Wednesday, Stephen Orr, chief executive officer of OceanaGold Philippines, Inc. announced that the company is placing the Didipio gold-copper project under “care and maintenance” following company’s “strategic review” of its plans since it stopped operations in June.
This means that the company, in the meantime, will not be advancing the project beyond its present status until global economic conditions improve, said Darren Clinck, OceanaGold vice president for corporate and investor relations.
“(The announcement) definitely comes to us as a welcome development. But we all look forward to the time when OceanaGold would totally abandon this project, withdraw its security forces and turn over all its assets to the Philippine government,” Duyapat said.
He said the company’s move should come as another blow for the mining industry, as the national government has tagged the Didipio venture as one of its flagship projects to help revive the country’s mineral production.
“This just proves once more that no large-scale mining project will ever succeed if it will sacrifice the environment, and abuse the rights of the locals, especially those belonging to (indigenous peoples),” he added.
Since 2006, OceanaGold has been trying to start operations at its proposed mine site in Didipio village, about 270 km north of Manila, under a 1994 financial and technical assistance agreement (FTAA) it has acquired from another Australian mine firm, Climax Arimco Mining Corp.
In June, the company stopped its land-clearing activities in the area, with officials citing financial difficulties and that the company needed an additional US$185 million to complete the project.
It has sought mergers with other mine firms and initially planned to resume activities in September, but this was apparently scuttled by the current financial crisis.
“We recognize the inherent value that the Didipio project and our exploration portfolio in the Philippines represent for shareholders but the uncertainty around current financial markets dictates that we affect this strategy,” Orr added.
For his part, Kasibu Mayor Romeo Tayaban said that despite its suspension, the company should still be made to answer for the complaints that it has generated from the people of Didipio and neighboring villages.
“That is welcome news. But what about the problems that it has created? What about the roads that they have destroyed? And why are they still there?” Tayaban asked in the dialect.
Tayaban has filed cases against the company for the revocation of its FTAA for its supposed failure to obtain the approval of affected local communities, as required by the local government code.
In a separate statement, Clinck said that despite the project’s indefinite suspension, the company will maintain its presence at the site.
“The company will maintain a team at site and will continue to work closely with the local community. We will also continue to be honor our commitments in the areas of education, health and community assistance,” he said.
For the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center, OceanaGold’s announcement also means that the company has “lost its legal eligibility” to continue the Didipio project.
“It should now withdraw from the (FTAA), and the government must take the necessary steps to safeguard the indigenous peoples, communities, and natural resources of Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino provinces,” said Ronald Gregorio, LRC campaigns director.
The LRC has been helping Didipio residents in their legal battle against OceanaGold, including about 50 villagers those whose houses have been torn down by the company allegedly without having been accorded due process and paid their just compensation.#