More arguments vs. OceanaGold

The Manila Standard

Originally posted on The Manila Standard, October 08, 2019 by Tony La Viña

"Such sentiments must be respected and not disregarded by the national government."

In last Saturday’s column, I argued against the interim renewal of OceanaGold’s financial and technical assistance agreement (FTAA). I cited a study conducted by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and MiningWatch Canada. I continue to that in this column where I provide more arguments againt the continued operations of this Australian mining company in Nueva Vizcaya. Below are additional excerpts from that report:

Human Rights: “There have been numerous violations of human rights since the beginning of construction of the mine.” A 2011 Commission on Human Rights (CHR) report on the Didipio mine makes at least three important findings. First, it declared that OceanaGold “violated the Right to Residence, the Right to Adequate Housing and Property Rights of several Didipio residents.” In June 2008, OceanaGold demolished around 187 houses in Didipio without securing writs and in a manner “attended by unnecessary, violence and destruction.” The displaced residents received no just compensation and were given no alternative options for relocation and settlements. Second, OceanaGold supposedly “violated the Right to Freedom of Movement and the Right not to be Subjected to Arbitrary Interference with the Home[s] of the people of Didipio.” This occurred when the company fenced off the mining area and blocked off roads that had long been used by the residents to enter and exit the town. Finally, the CHR concluded that OceanaGold “violated the Right to Security of Person of the people of Didipio.” People have been beaten and shot during the unlawful demolitions of houses. For example, Emilio Pumihic was shot and wounded by OceanaGold’s security personnel when he tried to stop the demolition of his neighbor’s house.

Indigenous Rights: “The company violated local indigenous peoples’ right to manifest their culture and identity.” A 2007 Oxfam Australia report on the Didipio mine found that: “The company has failed to obtain the community’s free, prior, and informed consent in accordance to both indigenous practices and local decision-making processes.” It said that indigenous people have accused OceanaGold of, among other things, “forcing the community members by intimidation and harassment to provide the mining company access to or sell their land at prices dictated by the company. The company has also tried to bypass “established regulatory informed consent requirements that prioritize the need for the consent of barangay Didipio.” In addition, the 2011 CHR report found that many of the displaced families were Ifugao. The demolition of their homes meant “the destruction of life and a way of life intimately connected with the land they nurtured, with a view to leaving a legacy for their children and their kin that will come after.”

Biodiversity: “There is evidence that the mine is threatening the rich biodiversity of the area.” The IPS-MiningWatch report quotes a study conducted by The Philippine Biodiversity Conversation Priorities Final Report, which was prepared by the DENR, the Conservation International and the Biodiversity Conservation Program-UP Center for Integrative Development Studies. It found that Didipio, which is part of the Caraballo-Palali Mountain range, can be classified as “Very High Biological Importance for Terrestrial and Inland Water Areas,” “Very High as Conservation Priority Areas for Terrestrial and Inland Water Area,” and “Extremely High Conservation Priority Areas for Amphibians and Reptiles,” among other things. A 2014 study conducted by Kalikasan and AGHAM determined that there was less biodiversity in water bodies that were impacted by the mine than in water bodies that were outside of the impact area. This indicates that the mine could endanger the rich biodiversity of Didipio.

Labor Rights: “The Didipio mine has failed to significantly improve the welfare of its employees.” The 2014 Kalikasan and AGHAM report conducted interviews and group discussions with communities affected by the mine. Residents who worked at the mine said that “there was no significant improvement in their lives despite the wages the earn from it.” They also claimed that “basic social services such as health care and education did not improve.” In fact, since mining operations began, the company has only built an elementary school for the community. This is despite the company’s promise to build other infrastructure.

Irresponsible Global Actor: “OceanaGold has acted irresponsibly elsewhere throughout the world.” The IPS-MiningWatch report argues that OceanaGold has a poor track record in other countries. The case of El Salvador is particularly striking: “OceanaGold purchased a “junior” mining firm, Pacific Rim, in El Salvador in 2013. Pacific Rim had sued the Salvadoran government in 2009 in the biased “investor-state” tribunal at the World Bank Group and sought over $300 million from the government for not issuing the company a mining concession—even though the company had not met the legal requirements to get one.” In 2016, the tribunal unanimously ruled against the company and ordered it to pay the Salvadorean government $8 million. The victory of the Salvadorean government is illuminating since these tribunal tend to favor transnational companies like OceanaGold. It indicates that the company’s actions in El Salvador were, even by the most pro-business of standards, out of line. In large part due to the country’s ordeal with OceanaGold, in March 2017, El Salvador became the first country in the world to place a blanket ban on metals mining.

It must also be pointed out that there is no legal basis for any interim renewal of an FTAA. This is one of the most important contracts that the national government can enter into. Allowing interim renewal of such contracts undermines its character and severely weakens the hand of the government in negotiating with the private sector.

Finally, the OceanaGold FTAA is opposed by all levels of local government. Under the Local Government Code, such sentiments must be respected and not disregarded by the national government.

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