07/04/2019, 16.08
PHILIPPINES
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Didipio village erects barricades to stop mining colossus

The Australian OceanaGold Corp. is "responsible for the displacement of hundreds of families". NGOs and civil committees denounce "polluted water and air, deforestation and damage to agriculture". The possibility of renewing the company license is being examined by the government. Activist: "Fighting foreign mining companies is a gigantic undertaking. We know this will be a struggle."

Bayombong (AsiaNews) - Since last July 1, activists and citizens of the remote village of Didipio - 335km north of Manila - have resorted to barricades to stop the operations of a mine that continues to extract gold and copper, despite its license having expired.

The barrage of demonstrators interrupts the access road to the field: no trucks can enter or leave the quarry. The protest, the activists promise, will continue until the operations are definitively suspended. About 50-100 residents guard the barricades 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Gold-Copper Mine Didipio is a factory owned by Oceana Gold Corp., a giant of the mining industry based in Melbourne (Australia). The mine covers 12,000 hectares in the catchment areas of the province of Nueva Vizcaya, in the Cagayan Valley region.

The territory is located in the heart of Luzon, the largest and most populous island in the Philippine archipelago. According to data released by the Australian multinational, last year the plant produced 3.25 tons of gold and 15.239 of copper. The life expectancy of the reservoir exceeds 2032.

In a petition sent to government agencies in mid-June, NGOs and popular committees denounce that the company "is responsible for the displacement of hundreds of families, many of them tribal, since it has taken over their lands and demolished their homes ".

"Many residents - the document states - have been scammed and have not received proper compensation. During their struggle against OceanaGold, environmental defenders paid with their civil liberties, possibilities and lives. Because of the mining activities, thousands of citizens suffer from polluted water and air, deforestation and damage to agriculture ".

Permits issued by Manila for mine operations expired on June 22nd. A day before the expiry of the authorizations, fixed for last June 22, the company sent a letter to the council of the village of Didipio. Citing a provision of the Administrative Code, the OceanaGold states that the existing licenses do not expire until the competent authorities express themselves on the request for renewal.

Led by the Kalikasan People's Network Alliance for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE), environmentalists are asking the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (Denr) and the Mining and Geoscience Office (Mgb) in Manila not to renew the agreement - called Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement (Ftaa) - with OceanaGold.

On June 27, the provincial government of Nueva Vizcaya issued an order that limits the activity of the mining company. Nevertheless, according to rumors Denr and Mgb have already expressed positive support for the renewal of the Ftaa and have forwarded the file to the office of the Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte.

But in 2016, under the leadership of former secretary Gina Lopez, Dern had ordered the suspension of OceanGold after an inspection identified several violations in the administrative and environmental field.

Among those who support the protests of citizens there is Msgr. Jose Elmer Imas Mangalinao, bishop of Bayombong, capital of Nueva Vizcaya and diocese where Didipio is located. Organizations of religious activists such as Promotion of Church People's Response (Pcpr) also join the prelate.

Nardy Sabino, general secretary, told AsiaNews: "When local communities show courage and insist on not wanting a new Ftaa for OceanaGold, we must respect them. They want to stop environmental degradation and safeguard their culture and threatened agricultural areas. They should be applauded ".

"Governments - Sabino continues - should not act against the will of the people, especially when indigenous peoples are involved. It may also be true that some have earned millions from the mine, but time has shown that most of these profits are in the pockets of foreign investors. People no longer want the OceanaGold. We understand and support their decision. Fighting foreign mining companies is a gigantic undertaking. We know this will be a struggle. However, when people work together as stewards of Creation and supporters of human rights, we are confident. We believe that the closure of the mine is possible ". (P.F)

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