A news article[i] has reported that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is finalizing the renewal of the permit for OceanaGold Philippines, Inc. (OGPI) to operate in Didipio, Nueva Vizcaya. The permit expired in 2019.
The Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (LRC), a non-profit organization that supports indigenous peoples entangled in resource rights issues, is adding its voice to environmental groups opposing the renewal.
OceanaGold operates a large-scale gold mine that uses open-pit mining, an environmentally destructive mining method. Members of the Tuwali indigenous people who live in the area have been complaining of the negative effects of OceanaGold on the environment for years now.
“The mining operations have polluted our water sources, affecting our drinking water. Because of the large volumes of water required in mining, the community and contiguous areas have had to compete with the company. We’ve also had to contend with noise and air pollution,” said Myrna Duyan of the Didipio Earth Savers Multipurpose Association (DESAMA).
The presence of OceanaGold has also sowed community division. The expiration of the permit for OceanaGold in 2019 sparked hopes among the community that rifts would finally be repaired.
With most of the revenues going to the national coffers, Nueva Vizcaya Governor Carlos Padilla himself said that the province has no use for mining. “Nothing to gain, everything to lose,” Padilla said in a video interview[ii]. Members of the Tuwali people decry, too, the negative impacts of the mining operation on agricultural livelihoods.
The operations of OceanaGold were suspended by the provincial government of Nueva Vizcaya after the former’s permit had expired. This decision was affirmed by both a local court and the Court of Appeals. The community also set up a people’s barricade after OceanaGold’s permit had lapsed.
“It comes as a shock to the community and environmental groups that the DENR should finalize the renewal without first conducting wide consultations and securing the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of members of the Tuwali indigenous people who oppose the renewal,” said Atty. Ryan Roset, direct legal services coordinator of LRC.
“We are calling on the Office of the President to reject the renewal of the permit, consistent with the Philippine Constitution, which mandates the promotion of a healthful ecology for Filipinos,” said Roset.
“The DENR should also review its stance on looking to mining as an economic recovery strategy. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that industrial encroachment on the environment, especially large-scale mining and agricultural plantations, is one of the reasons for the breakout of epidemics,” said Maya Quirino, coordinator of the SOS Yamang Bayan Network, a multi-sectoral alliance of non-governmental organizations, indigenous peoples, youth, and artists pushing for the alternative minerals management bill (AMMB).
“Instead, the government should prioritize reforming the mining industry. For one, Congress should pass the alternative minerals management bill (AMMB) and repeal the 1995 Mining Act. The AMMB aims to introduce stronger environmental and social safeguards related to mining. The AMMB will ensure, for example, that critical environmental areas, such as watersheds and key biodiversity areas, will be closed to mining,” said Quirino.