Bishop Ramon Villena has called on Philippines President Macapagal-Arroyo to suspend the operations of Australian miner, OceanaGold, as local officials near the Didipio mine site express fears of rice shortages in the wake of the company’s land clearing operations.
The Daily Inquirer reports that tribal residents of this upland town have expressed disgust over the rapid loss of their rice lands amid the ongoing land-clearing operations by Australian mining firm OceanaGold Philippines Inc.
Officials of Didipio village told the paper they fear a possible shortage of locally produced rice and other farm products as OceanaGold continues to bulldoze lands despite controversies hounding its planned operations.
Didipio is the site of OceanaGold’s proposed $117-million gold-copper project which is opposed by the residents as well as the Catholic Church owing to alleged human rights violations.
“The company does not yet have any assurance if it will definitely start operations as scheduled because of the numerous problems it is encountering now. Yet, it is destroying farm lands everywhere,” said village council member Carmen Ananayo.
“Residents here echoed concerns that the current rice shortage is partly because of the loss of rice lands.
“What if later on, the company is ordered to stop this project, can it bring back the lands it has destroyed to their original fertile state?” she asked.
Lorenzo Pulido, also a village council member, said he fears the day when villagers of Didipio will have to go to the lowland areas to buy their staple because their rice lands have been converted into a mining site.
Since December, OceanaGold has been clearing lands in Didipio in an attempt to meet its February 2009 target as start of production.
But residents continue to resist the company’s attempts to eject them from their lands.
Officials have also denounced the haphazard destruction of the village’s water sources, which drain into the Didipio River.
Bishop Villena, who is also chair of the Regional Development Council for Cagayan Valley, has opposed the Didipio project, saying it does not follow the Arroyo administration’s goal of developing Northern Luzon as an agribusiness hub.