By SHERWIN DE VERA
BAGUIO CITY — Kasibu residents, together with environmental groups in Nueva Vizcaya province, held protest actions in the nation’s capital to demand the non-renewal of the mining permit of OceanaGold Philippines, Inc. (OGPI) and rehabilitation of its gold and copper mines.
On November 18, more than 200 individuals marched to Mendiola to call on President Rodrigo Duterte to reject the Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) renewal of OGPI. Leaders of church and youth groups, lawyers, and environmental advocates from NCR joined the protesters.
“Nandito po kami para maririnig ni President Duterte na kami po ay hindi sangayon sa renewal ng FTAA dahil ang pagkarenew ng FTAA ay dapat pumasa sa proseso. Dapat manggaling sa lokal at hindi lang sa president (We are here so President Duterte can hear that we are not in favor of the FTAA renewal because the renewal of the FTAA should pass a process. It should not come solely from the president but must involve the local government),” said Kasibu Mayor Romeo Tayaban.
He said the president should consult local officials and residents instead of relying on reports from government agencies or the company. The mayor underscored that they are in a better position to tell Duterte the actual impacts of OGPI’s operation in their lives and environment.
“Dapat tutulan natin ang operasyon para hindi masira lahat ang environment sa didipio. Yung mga maliliit na magbubukid ang sabi nila wala ng tubig mula noong nagoperate ang OceanaGold (We should oppose the operation so we can preserve the environment of Didipio. The small farmers complained that since OceanaGold operated, water has disappeared),” Tayaban said.
According to him, OGPI should compensate the farmers for the destruction of their livelihood.
“Dapat bayaran ang compensation ng mga magbubukid dahil walang tubig. Kahit papaano noong wala pa ang OceanaGold kumakain sila ng tatlong beses pero ngayon nahihirapan na sila (The company should compensate the farmers for the loss of water. Before OceanaGold, they can eat three meals a day, but now it is difficult for them),” Tayaban narrated.
“Yung operation ng Didipio ang palaging sinsabi ng OceanaGold magbibigay ng mataas na tax. Pero kung meron mang ibibigay mas importante sa atin ang preservation ng environment hindi yung pera. Kasi yung pera 25 years lang iyon, eh kumusta naman ang agriculture? Wala ng naiwan (OceanaGold would always say the Didipio operation would provide higher taxes. However, preserving the environment is more important than money. The money will only last for 25 years. But how about our agriculture, nothing will be left),”he added.
The mayor stressed that officials from the barangay to the provincial government are against the FTAA renewal of the company. Instead of applying for another 25 years, Tayaban said that the company should start its rehabilitation work and compensations for the damage caused by its operation.
Appeal to the president
After the program, leaders of the group led by United Peoples of Kasibu and Save Nueva Vizcaya Movement went to Malacañang. They filed their formal demand for the president to reject OGPI’s renewal application.
The letter, signed by the conveners of Save Nueva Vizcaya Movement and local officials of Kasibu, said the company did not get the consent of indigenous peoples. They also noted that OGPI “failed to conduct sufficient environmental impact assessment and human rights due diligence” regarding violations attributed to its operation.
“As such, permitting Oceanagold to operate at this point would not only be [in violation] of social and environmental regulations but also of ethical standards of public officials as it unduly favors a company despite many outstanding grievances raised regarding their operations,” the letter stated. Earlier, groups and the provincial government assailed the Mines and Geosciences Bureau Director Wilfredo Moncano for recommending the granting of an interim-renewal of OGPI’s FTAA. The pronouncement came amid growing calls from the affected communities and local governments not to renew the permit.
OGPI announced a temporary suspension of its operation in mid-October following months of protest and barricade by Kasibu residents, local governments, and environmental groups.
Affected communities in Kasibu decided to set up the barricade on July 1. The action came after OGPI continued its operation despite the expiration of its FTAA on June 22 and restraining order from operating issued by the provincial government.
The company filed for an injunction against the restraining order from the provincial government. On July 26, a regional trial court in Nueva Vizcaya ruled against the case filed by OGPI.
However, the FTAA renewal proceeded after the MGB-DENR and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples forwarded the application to the office of the president. The agencies made the endorsement without prior consultation with the concerned local governments and indigenous peoples’ communities.
The MGB-DENT also did not take into account the findings of the 2014 environmental investigative mission led by Agham. According to the report, the mining operation caused massive forest damages and water pollution, contaminated the air, brought health concerns, and affected the livelihood of residents.
In the mining audit commissioned by then DENR chief Gina Lopez in 2016, officials found that OGPI violated provisions of its Environmental Compliance Certificate. The audir also affirmed the previous findings by Agham and discovered additional violations such as non-payment of mine waste and tailings fee, absence of tree cutting and water permits, and absence of ISO 14001 certification, among others. # nordis.net / With reports from Nathaniel Fabian