DISTRUST

Mine firms blamed for breakup of families, communities in N. Vizcaya

Delegates of an international solidarity mission have scored foreign mining companies operating in Nueva Vizcaya for supposedly causing division among families and residents in the upland communities they have occupied.

The group expressed disgust over how mining companies OceanaGold Philippines, Inc. and Metals Exploration, Inc. have “systematically” destroyed close-knit relationships among clans and villagers, allowing them to enter the areas and carry out their mining activities despite local opposition.

They noted the “great disparity” between claims of the mining companies, which operate two large-scale mining projects in Nueva Vizcaya, on their treatment of the communities and the “reality on the ground”.

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This view of the Didipio mine site in Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya gives villagers a constant reminder of the extent of destruction that the OceanaGold Philippines’ gold-copper project has caused on the mountains and the valley that used to be their main source of livelihood. The damage, however, is not only environmental. Photo by Melvin Gascon

‘Unreal’

Fr. Claude Mostowik, director of the Justice and Peace Centre of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart in Australia, said he was “shocked” to see the conditions in the local communities that are forced to deal with the effects of the mining projects in Didipio and Runruno.

“I am very much concerned about the marketing aspect of the mining projects, with companies telling us how good they are, how responsible they are, but in reality, this is not what is happening. We need to let the world know about it,” he said.

The observations form part of the findings of 13 delegates from nine countries who took part in an international solidarity mission and visited communities affected by OceanaGold’s Didipio and Metals Ex’s Runruno mining projects in Kasibu and Quezon towns, respectively.

OceanaGold, an Australian-Canadian firm, entered its second year of commercial operation in its gold-copper venture in Didipio this year, while Metals Ex, through local subsidiary FCF Minerals Inc., is on the construction stage of its gold-molybdenum project. It is advertised to start production later this year.

Both ventures have been granted licenses to conduct mining activities here by virtue of financial and technical assistance agreements (FTAA) entered with each of them by the Philippine government, amid widespread allegations of bribery and manipulation of processes.

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Barbed fences make sure the mineral processing site of Metals Exploration PLC’s gold-molybdenum project in Barangay Runruno in Quezon, Nueva Vizcaya, with the surrounding excavated mountains in the background, are off-limits to its host community. Photo by Melvin Gascon

Mostowik said he feels “very ashamed” as an Australian, having seen how foreign-owned mining companies have been “harshly” treating Filipino people in the areas where they operate.

“I am very sad to see the people, listen to their stories about family members who have grown up together but are now at odds with one another just because of these mining projects. This may have been caused by greed while for others, just looking for better opportunities, but is causing division among communities,” he said.

Mining companies and its officials are only concerned about the benefit to them and to the company, and not the price that the people had to pay, the Australian cleric added.

The group said they were alarmed that because of the mining projects, the people have lost trust on almost all aspects of their way of living, because of past experiences that exposed their helplessness in opposing the mining project.

“The people (of Runruno and Didipio) no longer trust other people, even their own families, thinking they are just out to take advantage of them; they don’t trust the government and church; they no longer want to drink water from their rivers because they don’t trust that it is safe,” said Daniel Banuoku Faabelangne, regional coordinator of the Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Organizational Development (CIKOD) in Ghana.

The group listed at least 36 issues gathered in their visits to the two sites, including economic, political, environmental, socio-cultural and health concerns.

The group presented their findings to Catholic Bishop Ramon Villena of the diocese covering Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino, who, in turn, welcomed the offer of support from international organizations in the church’s opposition against foreign-owned mining projects here.

Evasion

Sought for comment, top officials of OceanaGold and FCF Minerals, however, avoided answering head-on the issues raised by the group.

“We are committed to creating a positive legacy in all of our communities. This means that while we seek to achieve our operational and organisational objectives, we also strive to accomplish this in a socially responsible and inclusive manner, which embraces traditional rights and local cultures and values,” said Ramoncito Gozar, OceanaGold senior vice president for communications and external affairs.

For his part, Craig Watkins, FCF Minerals country president, said: “FCF works closely with the community and is proud of our social and environmental achievements which have been acknowledged by a number of awards. It is committed to responsible and sustainable mineral development.”#

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