“Oceana Gold took away not just the indigenous peoples’ lands but also their chance of living a decent and healthy life.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Fernando Ampil Mangili, spokesperson of Amianan Salakniban (Defend the North), shared with the media today, November 12, his group’s written “request” to Malcolm Turnbull, prime minister of Australia, who is set to participate in APEC 2015 Ministrial Meeting next week in Manila. Hundreds of locals from the north are also set to march in Manila next week hoping to meet with the Australian prime minister.
Their request: for Turnbull to take the Melbourne-based OceanaGold back with him to Australia.
Amianan Salakniban (Defend the North), a network of environment and human rights advocates in North Luzon, raised in their letter the issue plaguing their people. Oceana Gold operates a high-grade gold-copper Didipio Mine in Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino, approximately 270 kilometers north of the Philippine capital of Manila.
Mangili said the mine company is destroying the environment and the lives of the people in Didipio and the surrounding towns.
Residents have complained that the mining company forcibly evicted them from their houses and bulldozed their farmlands in 2009, when OceanaGold seized the right of way in the area to freely operate its then newly opened mine site.
Oceana Gold’s flagship project was the first mining project awarded a Financial Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) by the Philippine government. The large-scale mining exploration Is 100 percent owned by Australian company OceanaGold Corporation. The mine is located on indigenous Bugkalots ancestral land.
It has since become a hotly contested site as Oceana Gold pressed ahead with its open pit mining. Its way was cleared by Philippine government troops, so its mining operations have been marked by complaints over human rights violations on top of environmental destruction.
Nowadays, Oceana Gold is destroying the water sources of communities adjacent to the mining site with their toxic mine tailings, Mangili said in their letter to Turnbull.
In a round table discussion this week, Amianan Salakniban volunteers told Bulatlat.com that residents in other sitios in the area have been forced to leave because their water sources have dried up. They reported that OceanaGold’s drilling has hit the veins of the water supply going to the sitio.
Last year, scientists under AGHAM (Advocates of Science and technology for the people) checked the levels of toxicity in rivers near Didipio mine. The results revealed that the heavy metal copper greatly exceeded the maximum tolerable levels, and was even 6.5 to 7.4 times greater than the safety limits for benthic organisms. According to the scientists, copper poisoning can cause various diseases that can damage a human’s circulatory, excretory and digestive systems.
“This gravely impacts on the health and livelihood of the communities near the mining site and even the communities downstream whose source of irrigation water connects with the streams intersecting the mine,” Mangili said.
Before OceanaGold’s mining operations, the residents of Didipio sourced their water from natural springs and water pumps which are free for their use. But now, they said, they have to buy mineral water to drink from refilling stations because the water in the area is causing stomach aches and skin diseases especially to children.
Far from heading for the exit, reports say Oceana Gold is digging in further, literally. It started commercial operations in 2013 following the exploration that had been marked by rights violations.
Now, aside from its open-pit mining, it has begun its underground mining in Didipio’s environs, bringing concerns and fears from the residents aboveground in surrounding villages.
Oceana Gold was quoted as saying last month that it will boost its current $400 million investment in its Didipio mine “three more times” in the next 10 years, as it expects to extract much more gold in the site. OceanaGold unveiled its new $2-million plus underground training facility in Pampanga last month, housing Asia’s only underground metalliferous mining simulator.
Oceana Gold announced that it is set to expand its operations in the Philippines, and it sets its sight on existing mines and greenfield projects in Surigao del Norte and North Luzon.
OceanaGold Country Director Bradley Norman said, “It’s an opportunity simply because we would like to reproduce what we have in Didipio in as many places in the Philippines.”.
Tunbull told to speak up against Aussie’s destructive mines
“We are familiar with your stand in defense of your mining companies especially in coal mining; however, we only wish to inform you that the progress of your country brought about by your mining industry is at the expense of the lives of small indigenous peoples in a developing country like ours,” Mangili of Amianan Salakniban said.
His group demands help instead for the people of Didipio, who are mostly indigenous peoples and small farmers living off the land currently being destroyed by OceanaGold’s mining. The mine company “took not only their lands away but also their chance of living a decent and healthy life,” said Mangili.