The indigenous community of Didipio on the island of Luzon in the northern Philippines has been resisting foreign gold mining for decades. The gold mine, owned by Oceana Gold Philippines, Inc. (OGPI), has destroyed massive areas of jungle, poisoned the land and water, and displaced hundreds of villagers.
Two resistance figures were shot and killed by anonymous gunmen in 2012, but resistance has continued.
In June 2019, a key mining permit expired. The local community has been fighting this whole time and sensed an opportunity, so they erected a roadblock to stop OGPI from accessing the mine. Last month, the company tried repeatedly to access the site but were rebuffed by non-violent protests.
On April 6th, 2020, Philippine police forces violently dismantled the roadblock, as this video shows. One leader, anti-mining advocate Roland Pulido, chairman of Didipio Earth Savers’ Movement Association (Desama), was arrested and others were beaten.
Background of the Struggle
The Oceana Gold and Copper mine, located in Barangay Didipio, Nueva Vizcaya, was the first mining project awarded a Financial Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) by the Philippine government, allowing the company to operate large-scale mining explorations, 100% owned by foreign investor OceanaGold Corporation.
The mine is located in an area in which the majority of people are indigenous. It has become a much contested site due to large complaints over human rights violations as well as environmental destruction. The company has been alleged to have obtained a Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) of affected communities by creating a ‘council of elders’ comprised by people that either did not belong to the affected communities, or received rewards in exchange for their consent.
Awarded with the FTAA in the 1990s, the company started project [in the year] 2000. Formal petitions against the FTAA were lodged in 2006 but dismissed. On October 2, 2009, it was reported that the company forcefully evicted local villagers without prior consent, bulldozed and burned 187 houses, assisted by private security forces, using teargas and violence against villagers and neighbors who resisted leaving.
In relation to the tension surrounding the mine, Kalikasan reported that in December 2012, two opponents of large-scale mining; both members of the Didipio Earthsavers’ Multipurpose Association (DESAMA), were killed by unidentified assailants in Didipio, Nueva Vizcaya. Cheryl Ananayo, was shot dead along with her cousin-in-law Randy Nabayay as they were riding to Didipio at 6:00PM on December 7, 2012.
DESAMA is a people’s organization opposed to the ongoing implementation of the 17,626-hectare Didipio gold-copper project owned by Australian large-scale miner OceanaGold Corporation. Nabayay was a small-scale miner who had differences with OceanaGold over his property. Ananayo was with her 4 year-old child and carrying her 3 month-old baby, both unharmed.
The Commission for Human Rights (CHR) of the Philippines urged the government to withdraw the FTAA due to large evidences of rights abuses. However, the government apparently sided with the company, which claimed to do “ethical, responsible, and sustainable mining.”
Construction was completed in 2012 and commercial production started on April 1, 2013. Since production started, increasing contamination of rivers by heavy metals has been recorded, significantly exceeding the standard safety limits, thus, strongly affecting the environment and the livelihood of local communities. People living next to the river, as well as downstream, are concerned about declining fish stock and irrigation of nearby agricultural fields. Increasing noise and air pollution adds to the situation, while the company was further accused of avoiding tax payments.
Nowadays, petitions and protests against the Didipio mine, targeting the company and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) issuing the permits, go on. On the national level, the OceanaGold mine is one of many mines, causing severe tensions between corporate interests in search of new commodity frontiers and indigenous communities, aiming to preserve their identities, opposing these trends which they call “development aggression.”
The Philippines is a dangerous place for indigenous land defenders and environmentalists. Thirty were murdered in 2018 alone (number aren’t yet available for 2019).
The following is a statement made on the Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) Facebook Page. ATM is an alliance of mining-affected communities and their support groups of NGOs/POs and other civil society organizations who are opposing the aggressive promotion of large-scale mining in the Philippines.
Press Release: Condemnation of violent dispersal of peoples’ barricade in Nueva Vizcaya
April 6, 2020, Quezon City – Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) strongly condemns the violent dispersal by the police against indigenous community leaders in Brgy. Didipio, Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya, late afternoon today.More than 100 personnel of the Philippine National Police from the regional and Quirino provincial units escorted a diesel tanker and forcibly entered the premises of the Didipio mine of Oceana Gold Philippines, Inc. (OGPI).
Violence erupted when local residents resisted the entry and stood their ground to prevent the entry of the diesel tanker. A barricade has been set-up by local groups in July 2019, when the mining contract of OGPI expired. Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement No. 1 (FTAA #1) expired last June 20, 2019, and has since been left pending at the Office of the President.
Reportedly, the mining company and its escort brandished a letter dated January 2020 from the Office of Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea endorsing the entry of fuel trucks inside the mining area.
This forced entry of the diesel tanker is illegal and against the people of Nueva Vizcaya. The mining contract has expired so there is no activity allowed inside the mine. The local governments have not given any permit for the mining company to operate. The area is part of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) order of Pres. Duterte, therefore no work activity is permitted.
This is a clear violation of the work-stoppage, the physical distancing and the quarantine procedures imposed by the ECQ in the whole Luzon island.More importantly, the barricade set-up by local organizations DESAMA, BILEG, AMKKAS and SAPAKKMI is a clear indication of the rejection of the people to the continued illegal operations of OGPI in Brgy. Didipio.
We call on the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to immediately conduct an investigation to this tragic and unnecessary confrontation. We demand that DENR urgently issue a cease-and-desist order to OGPI on their illegal operations in Didipio. We insist that the DILG conduct an investigation on the conduct and performance of PNP elements in Region 2, Quirino Province and the Municipality of Kasibu, but specifically violations of the quarantine rules by the OGPI itself.
The use of violence by the police today is a reflection of the blind and draconian measures that this government is willing to use to pursue the greedy interests of the mining industry. The local leaders sustained injuries when the police used unnecessary force in dismantling the barricade. Our alliance strongly denounces this ferocious and aggressive behavior of the PNP against a non-violent and legitimate protest action of Didipio residents.
We note with anger similar instances in the past few weeks of illegal mining activities in the town MacArthur (Leyte), the island of Homonhon in Guiuan, Eastern Samar and clandestine drilling operations in Tampakan, South Cotabato.
We support the continued resistance of the people of Kasibu against the mining operations of OGPI in Didipio. The recent quarantine procedures have harshly impacted the people there when they lost income and livelihoods. Their access to food and health supplies were severely constrained. This violent dispersal has only added more misery to their fragile lives.
- Jaybee Garganera, ATM National Coordinator – (+63) 9175498218 / firstname.lastname@example.org
- Emer Perocho, ATM Campaign Officer – (+63) 9567591524 / email@example.com