Withdrawal symptoms

Move to oust Aussie mine firm gains ground

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–Officials and anti-mining groups on Tuesday stepped up their campaign to support the proposal of the Commission Human Rights to cause the ouster of an Australian mining company from the province and the revocation of its mining permit for supposed abuses it committed against villagers in a remote community in Kasibu town.

Catholic Bishop Ramon Villena of the Diocese of Bayombong said expressed support to the CHR recommendation for the government to withdraw the financial and technical assistance agreement (FTAA) it entered into with OceanaGold Philippines, Inc. (OGPI).

“We are again inspired and fired up to continue the uphill struggle in Didipio and the other areas in the Diocese of Bayombong endangered by mining applications. We will not relent nor give up. Our battle cry lives on: no to mining, yes to life,” he said.

Didipio village is the site of OGPI’s proposed gold-copper mining project, which has met stiff objection from locals composed mostly of Ifugao natives. The conflict has triggered complaints from residents of OGPI’s alleged abuses, prompting the CHR to conduct an investigation in November 2009.

In a 19-page resolution dated Jan. 10, the CHR urged government to “consider the probable withdrawal of the FTAA granted to (OGPI) in view of the gross violations of human rights it has committed.”

The FTAA is an instrument under the Mining Act of 1995 whereby government allows foreign-owned companies explore, exploit and develop the country’s mineral resources, subject to conditions such as acceptance by the host community.

The CHR found that OGPI, in its attempt to launch actual mining operations since 2008, allegedly committed human rights violations against the people, including their right to property, to have adequate residence, their freedom of movement, and right to security.

The CHR also directed agencies like the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), the police and the military to “submit (to CHR) reports on concrete actions they have taken to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of the affected community.

In a statement, OGPI officials maintained that the company has not violated any provision under its FTAA “in partnership with the Philippine government”.

“The company is firmly committed to building strong and enduring relationships with our community in the development and ongoing operations of the Didipio Project for the benefit of all stakeholders,” said Mick Wilkes, OceanaGold chief executive officer.

The company statement expressed lament that OGPI was not yet officially notified of the resolution, when the CHR has already released the document to various “interest groups” and Philippine media.

“(OGPI) is compliant with all the laws and regulations associated with operating as a foreign company in the Philippines and is committed to ethical, responsible and sustainable mineral development,” OGPI said in a statement.

The CHR findings also drew praise from officials and community leaders here, who considered the CHR resolution a victory in a crusade that has spanned 17 years.

Nueva Vizcaya Rep. Carlos Padilla said President Aquino now has more reason to cause the revocation of the FTAA.

“The findings of the (CHR) only confirm what our (House) inquiry had discovered two years ago. It is now high time that government acts on this,” he said.

The CHR issuance now affirms the position taken by the people of Didipio, Padilla said, that while the country may reap benefits from the mining operations, this will be far outweighed by the damage that the project will cause on the communities and the environment.

“The mining project may indeed give us benefits, but only for 25 years. Meanwhile, the injury to the environment and the people will transcend many generations,” he added.

He expressed concern how villagers described the situation in Didipio as “worse than martial law”.

Anti-mining groups said the CHR resolution is not only a victory for the indigenous peoples (IPs) of Nueva Vizcaya, “but for the whole rural sector who are pursuing sustainable development”.

“The CHR report…should serve as a valuable lesson to large multi-national companies who continue to deny and marginalize rural poor communities, particularly the IPs, by side-stepping important steps and procedures in securing genuine consent and participation from affected communities,” Alyansa Tigil Mina said in a statement.

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