HUMAN rights and environment groups have urged the Philippine Commission on Human Rights to investigate the violent dispersal on October 2 of some 100 anti-mining protesters, most of them members of indigenous groups, by police operatives in Barangay Didipio, Kasibu town in Nueva Vizcaya.
The area hosts the large-scale mining operation of the Australian firm OceanaGold Corporation, whose mining concession covers 23 of Kasibu’s 30 barangays.
The group Alyansa Tigil Mina said the protesters massed up at 8 a.m. on October 2 to stop the police from carrying out an order to demolish the home of anti-mining leader Elmer Lawagan, which is located at the foot of Dinkidi Hill in Sitio Dinauyan, the site of OceanaGold’s open pit mining.
Alyansa Tigil Mina said violence broke out when elements of the Philippine National Police tried to forcibly break the barricade using teargas, truncheons and shields. In response, residents defended themselves by splashing water mixed with chili pepper at the police.
Alyansa Tigil Mina said residents feared that once Lawagan’s house falls, the rest of the community would be wiped out. Dinkidi Hill is where OceanaGold plans to locate its mine tailings dam. “We condemn the harm experienced by the people of Didipio in the arms of those who were supposedly mandated to protect them,” said Alyansa Tigil Mina coordinator Jaybee Garganera.
Garganera cited irregularities in the execution of the demolition order: the unnecessary use of teargas, truncheons and shields to disperse the barricade, and policemen carrying firearms in the dispersal of the protesting residents.
Garganera also cited the presence in the police contingent of criminology students from St. Mary’s University in Bayombong.
PhilRights Executive Director Nymia Pimentel-Simbulan said, “We request the Commission on Human Rights to immediately send a team of investigators to Barangay Didipio to verify these alleged incidents of human rights violations and abuses to facilitate redress for victims, especially Elmer Lawagan, and to hold the perpetrators liable for their actions.”
Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center executive director Judy Pasimio said for 2009 alone, more than 100 indigenous families in Barangay Didipio had been displaced because OceanaGold has been fencing off its concession area and installing check points.
OceanaGold obtained a Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) from the government in 1998 but had not gone into actual mining operations for 10 years. There have also been reports that the company has been facing financial and management problems.
Pasimio added that OceanaGold is on the verge of losing its mining rights for its failure to comply with FTAA terms. In January, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) threatened to take over the OceanaGold facility if the company does not operate within six months.
Pasimio said her group has submitted a demand letter dated September 23 to the DENR to take necessary steps to finally carry out the closure of OceanaGold’s Didipio mining tenement.
The Kasibu mines were expected to produce for OceanaGold an annual average of 120,000 ounces of gold and 15,000 tons of copper in 15 years of operations.
— Luz Rimban, VeraFiles, http://verafiles.org