Green groups launch anti-mining drive against 'rogue' firm

Aim is to protect the environment and the rights of tribal communities from Australian-Canadian company
Green groups launch anti-mining drive against 'rogue' firm

Members of the Save Nueva Vizcaya Movement hold placards during the launch of a campaign against the continuous operation of a mining company in the province of Nueva Vizcaya. (Photo by Basilio Sepe) reporter, Manila
September 9, 2019
Church and pro-environment groups in the Philippines have launched a campaign to protect the environment and the rights of tribal communities in the northern province of Nueva Vizcaya.

In statement released on Sept. 5, the group, Save Nueva Vizcaya Movement, said its "most urgent mission" is to oppose large-scale mining in the province.

The Australian-Canadian mining corporation Oceanagold operates a 12,864-hectare copper and gold mine near the village of Didipio.

OceanaGold acquired Didipio in 2006 through a merger with Climax Mining Ltd. and commenced commercial operations as an open pit in 2013.

In 2016, the mine transitioned from an open pit to an underground operation, with production from underground commencing in early 2017.

The company claims that the Didipio mine delivers "significant socio-economic benefits" to the people of the village as it employs over 1,500 workers.

But Eufemia Cullamat, a member of Congress representing tribal people, called for an investigation into alleged violations committed by the mining company.

She said human rights groups have monitored various violations, including the lack of "free, prior and informed consent" of tribal people to the mining project.

In 2011, the Commission on Human Rights declared OceanaGold had violated the rights of residents, saying the company violated the people's right as members of a tribal group to manifest their culture and identity.

In July this year, Didipio residents set up a barricade following the expiration of Oceanagold’s license to operate.

But despite an order from the provincial government of Nueva Ecija to cease operations, the company continued operations, saying its authorization to do so comes from central government.

Leon Dulce of the group Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment said there have been reported cases of "vilification, red-tagging, surveillance, and intrusions" against those opposing the mine.

"There are also threats of dispersal and harm against the barricade," he said.

This campaign, which is supported by various local Catholic and Protestant churches, aims to "spread awareness about the situation" and "generate support and solidarity."

"We call for action to press for the cancellation of Oceanagold’s [license], and to exact accountability for their various injustices to the people of Nueva Vizcaya," said Dulce.

"We need to be involved in the protection of God’s creation because it is the source of life of our people," said Pastor Joseph Agpaoa of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines.

In July, OceanaGold filed an injunction against "unauthorized restraint of its operations," saying it will assert its right to continue operation, anchored on the permit it has obtained from the national government.

Basilio Sepe and Sharlene Festin contributed to this report.

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