These corporations should be penalized for stonewalling the government’s regulations and thus prolonging the suffering of affected communities.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Nickel mining giant Benguet Corporation and Australian-Canadian transnational mining corporation OceanaGold are just some of the large-scale miners ordered to stop their mining operations by Environment Secretary Gina Lopez last February 14. Yet, to this day, these companies are still mining, prompting the locals to troop again to the capital Thursday, March 2, to bring their protest at the doors of the mine companies’ headquarters in Makati.
“The closure and suspension of big mining companies remain standing and in force, but these notorious offenders are still operating with impunity,” said Leon Dulce, campaign coordinator of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE).
He said these corporations should be penalized for stonewalling the government’s regulations and thus prolonging the suffering of affected communities.
In Zambales where Benguet Corporation and three others are supposed to have stopped their large-scale nickel mining following the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) order, a peasant woman leader said their farmlands and fisheries are now severely damaged. Their lands have hardened against planting and their waters have been polluted by nickel. Worse, their communities do “not get a single centavo out of this mineral wealth,” according to Cristeta Sison, spokesperson of Movement for the Protection of the Environment in Zambales (MOVE Now! Zambales).
Benguet Corporation’s wholly owned subsidiary BenguetCorp Nickel Mines, Inc. is the mining giant’s growth driver. In 2015, its profits almost doubled (to P137 million or $2.72 million) as it shipped an increased tonnage of nickel out of the country. Benguet’s nickel mines delivered 73 percent of Benguet Corp.’s revenues.
In Nueva Vizcaya where the Australian-Canadian transnational mining corporation OceanaGold has mining operations, large tracts of previously fertile agricultural lands are no longer arable.
OceanaGold owns and operates the high-grade gold-copper Didipio Mine located approximately 270 kilometers north of the Philippine capital of Manila. Considered as Oceania Gold’s “flagship” mining operation, the Nueva Vizcaya mine is reportedly producing 25 thousand tons of copper and 106,256 ounces of gold annually.
Aside from having degraded parts of the province’s environment and agriculture, OceanaGold is being blamed by the host community for the presence of government troops and human rights violation in the area.
“OceanaGold should be reinvestigated for its continued defiance of the mining suspension order of the DENR. It has been in a business-as-usual operations, continuing to pollute our environment and displace our livelihood,” said Celia Bahag, a Nueva Vizcaya Councilor and board member of the Samahang Pang Karapatan ng Katutubong Magsasaka at Manggagawa (SAPAKKMMI). The group together with the Alyansa ng Nagkakaisang Novo Vizcayano para sa Inang Kalikasan (ANNVIK) led today’s protest action at the office of OceanaGold.
Locals shun mining companies’ subterfuge
Aside from continuing their mining operations despite the government’s suspension order, the two mining companies have been trying to rebrand their disruptive mineral extraction in environmentalist-sounding terms. Peasant leader Cristeta Sison bared during their protest at Benguet Corp. that the mining company, like other big mining companies, has been “trying to justify its last-ditch effort to plunder” by misnaming their attempts to export their stockpiles as supposedly a rehabilitation measure.
Although not part of this morning’s protesters, the locals in Marinduque province have also bared in previous protest actions similar excuses as by Marcopper to resume mining operations in the province.
The Marcopper Mining Disaster in March 24, 1996 on the Philippine island of Marinduque remains one of the largest mining disasters in the Philippines.
Before the mining operations in Didipio and Zambales reached the same dangerous level of Marcopper, the protesters pressed for upholding the DENR’s decision to suspend the said mines, and expressed openness to other legal or legislative interventions to hasten the process.
“An important step forward is passing House Bill 2715 or the People’s Mining Bill,” said Dulce of Kalikasan PNE. If this bill were to be enacted, he said, it will remove various legal impediments that big miners such as Benguet Corporation and OceanaGold have been exploiting to continue plundering our mineralized lands.