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Illegal renewal of OceanaGold mining contract brought to court 




(Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya) — Despite protest from communities and civil society in 2021, amid a raging COVID-19 pandemic yet, the mining agreement for a Canadian company to operate in Nueva Vizcaya was renewed in 2021. Yesterday, a legal case was brought to a local court in the province assailing the legality of the renewal. 


A Petition for Certiorari seeking the reversal of the Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA)-001 issued to mining firm OceanaGold Philippines, Inc. (OGPI) was filed yesterday at the Bayombong Regional Trial Court by the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (LRC) on behalf of a handful of petitioners. The petition was based on the lack of consultation with communities and disregard for local autonomy.  


“​​The President’s renewal of the agreement  without prior consultation and the endorsement of the local government constitutes grave abuse of discretion. The Local Government Code requires the national government to conduct consultations with different stakeholders before the implementation of an environmentally critical project. Since no prior approvals have been secured by OGPI over its renewed FTAA, the project cannot be implemented and should be deemed illegal,” said Atty. Ryan Roset, senior legal fellow of LRC.  


An environmentally critical project (ECP) is a project that has high potential for a negative environmental impact.* 


According to LRC, Section 96 of the 1995 Mining Act  stipulates that the violation of the terms and conditions of the permits or agreements shall be a sufficient ground for cancellation of the same. This  provision was repeated in Section 56 of the Mining Act’s Implementing Rules and Regulations, which enumerate the mandatory provisions under an FTAA. 


LRC also believes that OGPI’s operations violate the provincial ordinance against open-pit mining.  Local autonomy allows the enactment of ordinances to protect the environment, making local government units more responsive, accountable, and empowered in managing their jurisdictions. 


“Sadly, the respondents of the case, among them the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, have refused to perform their ministerial duty to enforce these environmental laws, allowing OGPI to continue with its mining project that has been detrimental to the environment and the community, ” Atty. Roset said. 


According to Eduardo Ananayo, vice chair of the Didipio Earth-Savers Multipurpose Association (DESAMA), who is a party to the case, OGPI had written and notified them of the approval of the FTAA renewal while also trying to set up a consultation.  


"Sumulat po sa akin ang OGPI na sinasabing na-renew na nga raw po ang FTAA nila. Pero sinasabi rin po sa sulat na iyon na nagfofollow-up sila sa request nilang meeting sa amin. Alam po namin na dapat may konsultasyon po muna sa amin, bilang kami po ay isang organisadong samahan sa Didipio at mga residente rin po dito, at kailangang pumayag po muna kami bago po ma-renew ang FTAA ng OGPI (OGPI wrote to us to say that the FTAA has been renewed. But in their letter, they were also following up their request to meet with us. We know that there should be a consultation with us, since we are an organized group and residents in Didipio, and that we need to agree before the FTAA of OGPI gets renewed),” Ananayo said. 


“Pero binigyan na po agad sila ng panibagong FTAA na magtatagal na naman ng 25 years. Parang nawalang saysay po yung karapatan namin sa ilalim ng batas (But they were given a new FTAA that will last 25 years. It feels like our rights have been disregarded under the law)," Ananayo said. 


If the petition is granted, the addendum and renewal agreement for FTAA No. 001 will be canceled, ceasing all operations of OGPI in Didipio in Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya. The rehabilitation of areas affected by the open pit mining operations will also be initiated. 


Members of the community, the Catholic Church and civil society held a press conference and mounted a march on the day of the filing, which was Earth Day. 


Nueva Vizcaya is considered  a “watershed haven”, hosting critical watersheds that sustain the region’s water and agricultural needs. 


OceanaGold operates a lucrative gold-copper mine project in Didipio, Nueva Vizcaya. Its permit for 25 years expired in 2019, but was renewed by the Office of the President in 2021 for another 25 years. OceanaGold is poised for an initial public offering worth P7.9 billion this May. **  ### 



Notes:


*An ECP is defined in PD 2146, s 1981. See here: https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/1981/12/14/proclamation-no-2146-s-1981/ 

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