OceanaGold’s financial and technical assistance agreement should not be renewed 

The Manila Standard

Originally posted in The Manila Standard, October 05, 2019 by Tony La Viña

"In fact, the mine should be closed."

On Sept. 24 2019, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau endorsed the interim renewal of OceanaGold’s financial and technical assistance agreement [FTAA].

The FTAA allows OceanaGold, an Australian company, to continue its mining operations in Didipio, Nueva Vizcaya after the original agreement has expired. This decision was made despite the vehement opposition of indigenous peoples, residents, and local government officials. If granted, the renewal will effectively reverse a Feb. 14, 2017 suspension order issued by then-secretary of Environment and Natural Resources Gina Lopez. It will reward a company that has trampled national laws and local sentiment with impunity. I echo the demands of affected residents and key officials, including the Provincial Government of Nueva Vizcaya: The FTAA renewal application must be denied, and the mine should be closed.

The MGB’s support for an interim renewal of the FTAA flies in the face ofreason. A 2018 report authored by the US-based Institute for Policy Studies and MiningWatch Canada documents the harm that the mine has done to the people and environment of Didipio. It analyzes independent studies conducted by international organizations, local NGOs, academic institutions, and government institutions. IPS and MiningWatch conclude that the mine has had “significant negative impacts on water, forests, land, indigenous peoples, human rights, biodiversity, and human rights.”

I must disclose that one of the authors of the IPS report is related to me. I have also been following this mining operation in the last 25 years as an environmental justice advocate, high level environmental official, and as a law professor. In my view, applying my expertise, the findings of the 2018 report are impeccable. I summarize the key findings below.

Water: “OceanaGold is depleting and contaminating water around the mine, and damaging the watershed downstream leading into the Cagayan river.” The report shows that mining operations has harmed the surrounding environment: “Contamination of waterways near the mine impacting water quality and flora and fauna of these waterways; degradation of agricultural land in surrounding communities; impacts on human health; impacts on downstream waterways leading to the Cagayan Valley.” Many of these findings are backed by a monitoring report conducted by a 2016 Multi-partite Monitoring Team that had input from OceanaGold. 

In addition, a 2017 report by the Provincial Government of Nueva Vizcaya states that the Didipio River has “twice the copper concentrate permitted for irrigation use and eight times the maximum level for the survival of organisms.”

This supports a 2017 study by the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan) which found that the farmers in the area have had lower yields. The farmers believe that lower yields are due to the toxic contamination of the streams and rivers surrounding the mine. The contamination of surrounding bodies of waters has significant consequences not only for the residents of Didipio, but all Filipinos.

The Provincial Government declared that the Cagayan Valley is a “consistent agricultural achiever” that “provides 13 percent of the country’s palay and 22 percent of the national corn supply.” The mine, which is located at the Addalam River that flows into the Cagayan River, endangers the Cagayan Valley’s status as the breadbasket of the Philippines.

Forests: “OceanaGold has failed in its obligations around reforestation.” Researchers have found that OceanaGold’s reforestation sites fall far short of its obligations under the FTAA.

For example, most of the trees are too small to survive or are already dying. Furthermore, its tendency to replace cut down native hardwoods with plantation species puts into question the company’s commitment to reforestation. In fact, the authors estimate that “estimate that over 100 native hardwood trees have died in the effluent of the OceanaGold’s tailings impoundment...” 

Land: “OceanaGold has disregarded the provincial land use plan, has committed illegal land conversion, and has operated in areas beyond its approved project area.” To begin with, the Nueva Vizcaya provincial land use plan disallows mining within its jurisdiction. Additionally, there are hectares of alienable and disposable lands within the area covered by the FTAA. These lands, however, can only be used for non-agricultural purposes if it undergoes a process of land conversion.

No Order of Conversion has been issued by the Department of Agrarian Reform. The Provincial Government also found that OceanaGold has violated its Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC): “Upon examination of the project map as laid out within given coordinates on the Google Earth, it becomes apparent that OGPI has encroached on areas beyond the extent of the approved project area as determined in the existing ECC, albeit within the FTAA tenement.” The expansion of the mining area can only be done requires a new ECC application. There has been no application.

Chemicals: OceanaGold has not disclosed what chemicals have been used or released in the mine. There is reason to believe that toxic chemicals have affected surrounding bodies of water. OceanaGold, however, has not been forthcoming with its hazardous waste management protocol. They have not disclosed the chemicals that have been used. They have not named the “DENR-EMB accredited treaters and transporters” that supposedly handled its hazardous wastes. The IPS-MiningWatch report states:

“The damage to trees in the tailings pond and impacts on water quality and biota downstream suggests that chemicals used in, or released through processing, are dangerous to the health of surface waters as well as potentially to groundwater.”

In the next column, on Tuesday, I will cite other findings of the Institute for Policy Studies and MiningWatch Canada report that show conclusively that the OceanGold FTAA must not be renewed.

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