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Quinta, Rolly, Ulysses, and OceanaGold

In Barangay Didipio, Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya, the Tuwali women are experiencing the harsh impacts of successive typhoons, which hit the island of Luzon in the span of a couple of weeks. First there was Super Typhoon Rolly (international name: Goni), which hit the country on October 25, 2020, followed a week after by Typhoon Quinta (Molave). Several days after came Typhoon Ulysses (Vamco). This has been extraordinarily harsh on the local communities, especially in the midst of a pandemic.

These typhoons came at harvest time for the Tuwali. When Super Typhoon Rolly hit, they were already preparing for their produce to be sold in nearby towns. Selling their produce – banana, ginger, and vegetables – is their main source of income. While they were able to harvest, bringing the crops to the markets has become the biggest problem, thanks to Rolly, then Quinta, and now, Ulysses.

The main road to get in and out of Barangay Didipio cuts through the main tailings pond of OceanaGold Philippines, Inc. (OGPI), an Australian mining company, whose mining permit of 25 years expired last year. No rehabilitation work has yet been initiated. So when heavy rains came, as they did in October 25 with Typhoon Rolly, the tailings ponds overflowed and flooded the main road.

This posed a danger to the Tuwali communities, not only because it was flooded, but because the floodwaters harbored potentially toxic particles. The run-off toxic waters go to the streams, rice fields, and vegetable gardens. These toxic waters are feared to be contaminating their water sources. The mere presence, in fact, of the tailings pond threatens people in the downstream village of Barangay Alimit. With the overflow and the successive typhoons, the danger is imminent for the villages, the downstream farmers, and their main source of food and livelihood.  

Other paths to come in and out of Didipio have been closed to the people, as these have been barred with gates and fences erected by OGPI. One of the many commitments of OGPI, still unfulfilled after 25 years, is the construction of a bridge across the Surong River as an alternative way for the local people. Without this bridge, the only way now for the people to get out of the village is to go through the gates of OGPI.

According to Myrna Duyan, a Tuwali woman farmer and leader of the indigenous women’s community organization Bileg Dagiti Babbae, they have to request from the personnel of OGPI to be allowed to pass through their gates to bring their produce to the town markets. But they have to fall in line and wait for available mining staff to escort them through the grounds. This means less time for them to sell their goods.

To date, the flooding continues, landslides have been reported, and trees have fallen and tripped over electricity wires. They still have no electricity in their village.

Sa bawat pag-ulan, sa bawat bagyo, lalong pinalala ang impacts ng OGPI mining sa amin dito sa Didipio at sa mga katabing barangay. Dapat talaga tuluyan nang mapa-alis ang OceanaGold. At dapat siguraduhin ang rehabilitasyon nito para makabangon naman kami nang ligtas at payapa,” said Duyan.

(With every rainfall, with every storm, the impacts of OGPI mining on us in Didipio and adjacent barangays are made worse. OceanaGold must really be made to leave. But it is imperative that OGPI does rehabilitation of the area, so we can recover safely and peacefully.)

For more than a year now, OceanaGold’s application for renewal of their permit to operate for another 25 years in Didipio is still pending with the Office of the President. Duyan, along with other Tuwali women and men, have put up a barricade to prevent the entry of mining trucks into the area. In March this year, their barricade was violently demolished by 100 policemen, who accompanied 3 oil tankers as they forced their way in. Duyan, along with 13 other indigenous women, have cases filed against them, with charges of breaking quarantine protocols.

Still traumatized from the violence they experienced from the policemen, Duyan now worries about their livelihood, their food source, and the safety of their village. At least 3 more typhoons are expected to come to the country. And OceanaGold, even without a permit, seems to be not moving out anytime soon.  

Duyan and the rest of BILEG, however, are not going anywhere as well. They remain in the front line of their struggle against OceanaGold, which continues to wreak havoc in their lives, worse than any typhoons that have come their way. –

Judy A. Pasimio is the coordinator of LILAK (Purple Action for Indigenous Women’s Rights).