MANILA, Philippines – Several environmental groups decried the violent dispersal of a barricade against the attempted entry of a foreign-owned mining company’s fuel tanks in Barangay Didipio, Kasibu town, Nueva Vizcaya.
Amid the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon due to the coronavirus, residents sat on the ground – while following physical distancing – in front of a fuel tank to show their opposition to the entry of OceanaGold Philippines Inc (OGPI) on Monday, April 6.
In a video posted by Alyansa ng mga Novo Vizcano para sa Kalikasan, members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in full riot gear were caught dispersing the people’s barricade. They also used truncheons and nightsticks to break up the crowd, causing commotion among the residents.
This led to the dispersal of the 29-manned barricade and the arrest of anti-mining advocate Roland Pulido, chairman of Didipio Earth Savers’ Movement Association (Desama).
During the dispersal, 3 were initially handcuffed: Pulido, and residents Elena Calingayan and Nardo Pugong. Other protesters were able to escape the police dragnet.
Calingayan and Pugong were later released, while only Pulido was brought to the police station for allegedly violating Republic Act 11332 or the “Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act.” He also allegedly resisted and disobeyed a person in authority.
Pulido was released on Tuesday, April 7, after posting bail of P6,000.
In a statement on April 6, OceanaGold Philippines clarified that it needed to deliver backup fuel to the Dipidio Mine, which has an advanced pumping station. With the diesel supply reaching a low point, the company said there might be a significant risk of environmental damage and loss of existing underground infrastructure if the mine floods.
They added that they were able to get approval from Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, and the Office of the President to deliver the fuel, as well as an order from the Department of the Interior and Local Government to break up the barricade.
Opposition to mining
The local government unit of Barangay Dipidio, however, has not allowed any of the fuel delivery to pass through the blockade.
Local officials, including Nueva Vizcaya Governor Carlos Padilla, and residents are against the continued operation of OceanaGold in the village.
On June 25, 2019, Padilla released an executive order ordering the Nueva Vizcaya Provincial Government, Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO), the PNP, Kasibu municipality and Barangay Didipio to stop any operations by OceanaGold Philippines.
This came after the expiration of the mining firm’s 25-year Financial Technical Assistance Agreement on June 20, 2019.
OGPI filed a plea of injunction in June 2019 before the Bayombong Regional Trial Court (RTC) to challenge Padilla’s executive order. However, the Bayombong court denied the plea on July 25 in the same year, citing that the mining firm had “not clearly proven at this point its clear and unmistakable right to be protected.”
Worried that the mining firm will still try to continue its operations, Dipidio residents, along with local groups, began setting up a makeshift barricade in front of the mining site’s entrance in July 2019.
According to ANVIK, OceanaGold Philippines has attempted to bring their fuel tanks to the mining site at least 6 times in March, despite pending renewal of its FTAA. (READ: [ANALYSIS] Time for Duterte to shut down this mining company)
This spurred residents to hold human barricades instead in April 2020, getting the support of local church leaders and civil society groups.
Mining companies not on lockdown?
Kalikasan Peoples’ Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) said the operation of OceanaGold Philippines is “the latest in a growing number of incidents of mining companies enjoying exemptions from the community quarantine lockdowns.”
Citing the participation of the local government units (LGU) in the province and the United People of Kasibu coalition, the group asserted that the Australian-Canadian company should have ceased operating and immediately embarked on its final mine rehabilitation and closure.
The Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) slammed the use of unnecessary force in dismantling the “non-violent and legitimate protest” action of Didipio residents.
Governor Padilla also empathized with the protesters. “My heart bleeds for our brave men and women of Didipio who had to suffer and be arrested for expressing their resistance against mining, a great menace to Mother Earth,” he said. – Rappler.com