“OceanaGold’s operations should immediately be stopped by DENR to prevent further pollution, and should immediately hold these environmental criminals accountable.” – Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE)
By DEE AYROSO
QUEZON CITY — Ifugao farmers from Nueva Vizcaya and environmentalists protested at the Department of Natural Resources (Denr) main office today, Sept. 18, calling for a halt to the large-scale gold and copper mining operations of Australian corporation OceanaGold, which, they say, had caused “environmental degradation and violation of people’s rights.”
The protest was timed on the week of the Mining Conference and Exhibition that is being held by the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (Comp) at the Sofitel hotel in Manila.
OceanaGold was one of the first mining companies to be given a Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) in 1994. The Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (Kamp) said the company’s FTAA gave it full ownership of 14,187 hectares of gold-rich land in Didipio and its nearby villages in Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya.
“The quaint wooden homes of community members are now replaced by austere bunkhouses, the rushing pristine rivers are now murky brown, and the Dinkidi mountain that once loomed over the community is fast becoming a hole in the ground,” said Lea Fullon, KAMP’s public information officer.
Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE), said OceanaGold’s mining operations had posed “a serious environmental risk” on the communities in Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya.
An Environmental Investigative Mission (EIM) conducted this month by Kalikasan PNE, scientist group AGHAM, and provincial alliance Alyansa ng Nagkakaisang Novo Vizcayano para sa Kalikasan (ANNVIK) in the river systems affected by the mining operations showed that there is “massive heavy metal contamination” in the water, particularly in the Didipio river.
“The copper concentration levels in the tested water was also found to be twice above the permitted levels for irrigation use and eight times the maximum level for the survival of organisms,” Bautista said. “These levels would severely deplete fish and shellfish populations, and stunt the growth and productivity of agricultural lands that are irrigated or flooded by these waters.”
The EIM also found presence of heavy metal copper that “greatly exceeded the maximum tolerable levels” for water organisms. There is also copper presence in the rice fields, which affect land productivity and can be passed on through human consumption.
Bautista said “copper poisoning can cause various diseases that afflict our circulatory, digestive and excretory systems. Long-term exposures can damage our liver and kidneys.”
“The community’s livelihood has diminished with the loss of farms and freshwater, and those who have resorted to jobs in OceanaGold found themselves discriminated and with no proper benefits and protection. Many remain unjustly compensated for the encroachment and damage to their land and livelihood.” Bautista said.
“OceanaGold’s operations should immediately be stopped by DENR to prevent further pollution, and should immediately hold these environmental criminals accountable,” Bautista said.
In 2011, the Commission on Human Rights recommended to President Aquino to withdraw OceanaGold’s FTAA after the company was found guilty of human rights violations against the communities resisting its operations. The company however continued its operations, going into commercial production since last year.
“OceanaGold was a consistent environmental criminal throughout its different projects across the globe,” said Bautista. In El Salvador, government denied OceanaGold’s mining permit after it failed to comply with regulations, which the company fought back by filing a USD $301 million lawsuit against the El Salvador government.
KAMP and the Scrap the Mining Act Network meanwhile also called for the repeal of the Mining Act of 1995, which, they said, had brought suffering to many communities affected by large-scale mining in many parts of the country.
“To end the chaotic environmental degradation and the violation of people’s rights, mining should be geared towards meeting people’s domestic needs rather than private profit margins and global market demands.”
The groups called for “the reorientation of the mining industry from being profit-driven, import-oriented and export-oriented to one that will ensure that the extractive industry will not trample on people’s rights.”