EXPLOITED

N. Vizcaya villagers hit Aussie mine firm for ‘broken promises’

KASIBU, Nueva Vizcaya–Village officials and residents of an upland barangay in this town on Wednesday (May 27) expressed opposition to the planned expansion of an ongoing foreign-owned mining project here, saying they felt shortchanged and exploited in the first two years of its operation.

In a dialogue with the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), villagers of Didipio in Kasibu town said they also “vehemently” oppose the renewal of the 25-year mining license granted to OceanaGold Philippines, Inc., an Australian firm, for its gold-copper project here.

“It is really painful for us to be in this kind of a situation now that we seem to be begging for mercy from (OceanaGold), when we are simply asking it to fulfill the promises it made, which led us to give our support in the past,” said Maria Pugong, one of the elders of the predominantly Ifugao community here.

She appealed to the MGB to step in to stop the alleged “exploitation” of Didipio and its people at the hands of a foreign mining company.

Hundreds of hectares of what used to be rice fields and vegetable farms in Didipio village in Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya are now buried under toxic mine wastes released by the ongoing gold-copper mining operations of OceanaGold Philippines, Inc., an Australian firm (click image to enlarge). Photo by Melvin Gascon
Hundreds of hectares of what used to be rice fields and vegetable farms in Didipio village in Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya are now buried under toxic mine wastes released by the ongoing gold-copper mining operations of OceanaGold Philippines, Inc., an Australian firm (click image to enlarge). Photo by Melvin Gascon

‘Molested’

OceanaGold’s Didipio project has been in commercial production since April 2013, and the company is eyeing to extract gold and copper deposits here for the next 14 more years.

However, its current mining license, a 25-year financial and technical assistance agreement (FTAA) with the Philippine government, is set to expire in 2019.

Didipio residents said they will block the renewal of OceanaGold’s FTAA, for which it has reportedly filed an application.

“I may have a disability, but I will not allow this company to cause further destruction of our land, and cause animosities among our families and people,” the wheelchair-bound Pugong said.

For the past week, this writer has repeatedly asked for comment OceanaGold officials, but they did not respond. Ramoncito Gozar, OceanaGold senior vice president for communications and external affairs, said he was on birthday leave and was on an out-of-town trip.

Company employees who were present during the Wednesday dialogue also did not respond to the issues raised.

Village officials told MGB representatives how the company supposedly reneged on its commitments in an agreement it signed with the community, including the construction of the village school, a local hospital and gymnasium.

“(OceanaGold officials) have ignored our repeated requests that they attend to these promises, when every day, the company continues to rake in profit from the Didipio mine,” said council member Celia Bahag.

The open pit of the gold-copper project has left a gaping hole at the center of Didipio village in Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya. Photo by Melvin Gascon
The open pit of the gold-copper project of OceanaGold Philippines, Inc. has left a gaping hole at the center of Didipio village in Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya. Photo by Melvin Gascon

She said most of their people are now opposed to any future expansion of the mine, and that those who have earlier thrown their support to the project are now feeling remorseful.

“Our people feel like a rape victim who, after her oppressor has molested her, is now left abandoned without any justice at all,” she said.

Council member Peter Dumangeng said company officials have given “too many alibis” for not fulfilling OceanaGold’s commitment, which, he said, have turned out to be mere “dilatory tactics”.

Red tape

Geoffrey Prado, chief of the MGB regional monitoring and technical services, told complaining villagers to prepare a formal complaint and file it with their office in Tuguegarao City.

“We cannot just act on them by these mere public statements; they must be made under oath, and we will validate the complaints. That is part of due process,” he said.

No one from the provincial government heeded the invitation for them to attend the dialogue, organizers said.

Kasibu Mayor Alberto Bumolo Jr. urged the complaining residents to use the proper forum in airing their complaints, backed up by solid evidence so that the local government can officially act on them.

“We are always with our people in this fight, but we have learned in the past that taking drastic measures is not the proper way to have OceanaGold heed our demands,” he said, referring to a 2013 incident where he ordered the closure of the mine due to non-payment of local business taxes.#

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