Largely out of sight in the rugged mountains of Nueva Vizcaya, Australian-Canadian company OceanaGold has been making millions mining gold and copper, while local people and the environment suffer.
The company has repeatedly violated President Duterte’s calls for responsible mining. OceanaGold has not adhered to its commitments under its mining permit and various Philippine laws and regulations. It is time to heed local calls to shut down this company’s operations.
This is the conclusion of a report just released by researchers from the United States, Canada, and the Philippines. The report builds on our years of studying OceanaGold’s Didipio Gold and Copper Mine operations in Nueva Vizcaya, begun as an open pit operation and now converted to an underground mine.
Our conclusions reinforce the findings of President Duterte’s first Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Gina Lopez, numerous petitions by local communities and elected officials around the mine, and strong positions taken by the provincial government. We have merged our findings with those of others in the just-released study [link] to provide ample documentation of unacceptable impacts of OceanaGold’s Didipio mine on water, forests, land, indigenous peoples, human rights, biodiversity, and workers’ rights.
Now is the time for President Rodrigo Duterte and DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu to act.
OceanaGold’s 25-year mining license runs out in June 2019. The Philippine government can – and should – deny the mining company’s request for a renewal in 2019. So too should OceanaGold’s requests for new exploration permits in the area be denied.
This action is urgent for at least two reasons.
First, Nueva Vizcaya is one of Luzon’s most bountiful sources of fruits, vegetables, and rice. The province’s rich agricultural lands feed not only its half million residents, but also the markets of Manila. That verdant land and its life-giving water are being threatened by the adverse environmental impacts of the mine.
Second, the mine stands at the headwaters of a river that flows into the longest river system in the entire Philippines. Along the way, that river system runs through four provinces, past millions of homes, and becomes the mighty Cagayan River before emptying into the Pacific Ocean on the northern end of Luzon.
These waters flow through irrigation facilities that sustain agriculture and through hydro-electric dams that provide power to the Luzon Grid. Contamination from the mine could potentially put at risk millions of livelihoods and critical ecosystems. Presidential Decree 705 designates a critical watershed as one that supplies water to vital infrastructure facilities such as power and irrigation. This “critical watershed” is desperately in need of protection.
Water and forests
Our report examines OceanaGold’s irresponsible mining and related violations of its permit and of Philippine laws and regulations in ten areas. Here we share parts of just two areas: water and forests.
On water, we document elevated levels of copper, lead, manganese, cadmium, sulfates, iron, arsenic, and selenium in the rivers and streams around the mine. Our evidence references a 2017 Kalikasan report that found that: “Local farmers in barangay Didipio observed that agricultural activity drastically reduced by as much as 30%.... The farmers also attributed the low yield to the effects of air pollution, river pollution, and water shortage due to the large-scale mining operations in their barangay. There was also high incidence of plant diseases in their farms.”
On forests, we observed that over 100 native hardwood trees have died in the effluent of OceanaGold’s tailings impoundment. OceanaGold defends itself by stating that it has carried out a number of reforestation projects.
Two of us visited three reforestation sites of OceanaGold. None met the criteria for successful completion by OceanaGold of its obligations under its mining agreement. Each of the three sites had its unique problems, but overall, we found nothing that could be termed a “successful” plantation, never mind reforestation. A majority of trees were either too small to survive or already dying.
In April 2018, President Duterte warned mining companies that those not complying with Philippine government reforestation requirements would be shut down: "I do not want to see bald mountains in the areas you have mined. I want to see trees as tall as me in 6 months. If I don't see any in the area you destroyed, consider your permit revoked."
Our report provides evidence that OceanaGold is neither meeting its reforestation commitments nor President Duterte’s expectations.
Petitions to government
Beyond our own fieldwork, documentation from such expert national groups as Alyansa Tigil Mina and Kalikasan, and findings by the government’s own Commission on Human Rights, our report includes documentation from affected community groups.
These communities have long protested the impacts from OceanaGold’s mine and called for its closure. They have sent many petitions to the government, most recently on October 2, when local elected officials and constituents hand delivered an appeal to Secretary Cimatu of DENR strongly urging the suspension of the operations of OceanaGold in Didipio.
The provincial government of Nueva Vizcaya has also called for the closing of the mine. An important Water Summit of multi-sectoral stakeholders from Nueva Vizcaya and neighboring provinces, held in September 2018, concluded with an agreement “to reject the extension of large-scale mining operations in Nueva Vizcaya, including the approval of new application for mining rights.”
The OceanaGold mine is one of over two dozen that President Duterte’s first Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources recommended be suspended or shut down.
As we conclude in our report, the time to close this dangerous mine is now.
Robin Broad (photo above) is a Guggenheim Fellow and Professor at American University in Washington, D.C. John Cavanagh (photo above) directs the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington. Catherine Coumans is Research Coordinator and Asia Pacific Program Coordinator of MiningWatch Canada. Rico La Viña is a researcher at the Institute for Policy Studies and is finishing his Master’s degree at Fordham University.