KASIBU, Nueva Vizcaya (NV)– Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM), an advocacy group and a people’s movement composed of more than eighty (80) organizations from mining-affected communities and civil society organizations nationwide, condemns the illegal demolition and violent dispersal of the residents from communities, which hosts an Australian mining company owned by OceanaGold Corp. Inc. (OGPI). The incident happened last October 2 Barangay Didipio, where OGPI’s Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) covers 23 barangays in Kasibu.
Reports from human rights workers of ATM partner organizations, Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) and the Philippine Human Rights Information Center (PhilRights), narrated that there were allegedly approximately 100 heavily armed men, who arrived at Sitio Dinauyan at around 8:00AM, to carry out a demolition order for the house of Elmer Lawagan located at the foot of Dinkidi Hill, the open pit mining site of OGPI.
The demolition crew was believed to be a composite team of police operatives from the regional, provincial, and municipal government of NV. The crew was faced with the resistance from more than 100 residents from Didipio who formed a human barricade to oppose the demolition. The residents believe that if OGPI succeeds in demolishing Lawagan’s house, their homes would be next. Some residents who joined the barricade were from the villages living in or adjacent to Dinkidi Hill in Sitio Dinauyan, which is home to at least 100 families, where the proposed site for the mine tailings dam is located.
Violence broke out between the two groups when the Philippine National Police (PNP) troops tried to forcefully break the people’s barricade using teargas, truncheons and shields, while residents defended themselves with the use of water mixed with chili pepper splashed to the agressors. Kasibu Mayor Romeo Tayaban and Didipio Barangay Captain Malou Nablol were both present to negotiate with the PNP. Witnesses said that apart from the beating experienced by some residents, 5 teargases were thrown to the barricaders. Casualties from the teargas include at least 7 barricaders. Some of the harmed still experience headaches and other discomfort from the teargas after the incident. The demolition crew was forced to pull back and leave the area when the 3-day Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) issued by the Regional Trial Court (RTC) upon the request of Lawagan’s counsel was communicated past 11:00AM of the same day.
“We condemn the harm experienced by the people of Didipio in the arms of those who were supposedly mandated to protect them, said ATM Coordinator Jaybee Garganera. There were irregularities in the execution of the demolition order. To enumerate some: the unnecessary use of violence by throwing teargas, truncheons and shield to disperse the barricade; and policemen carrying firearms in the dispersal of the protesting residents, which is against the normal procedures in executing a demolition order. Two criminology students from St. Marys University Bayombong were allegedly part of the police contingent that were the ones who lobbed the teargas.” added Garganera.
To date, the RTC issued an order granting the extension of the TRO for 20 days and setting a hearing on October 19, 2009 at 10:30AM to determine whether or not a writ of preliminary injunction will be issued. Despite the favorable TRO issued, residents and their support groups vowed to remain diligent in protecting the rights of residents against any illegal and violent action by OGPI.
PhilRights Executive Director Nymia Pimentel-Simbulan said, ““We trust that Chairperson Leila de Lima of the Commission on Human Rights will look into this urgent matter. We request the CHR 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. CHR's timely and decisive intervention is vital to ensure that due process and respect for human rights would prevail in the court decision and course of action subsequently undertaken."
OGPI’s Didipio Gold and Copper Project was granted with an FTAA since 1998 and is expected to produce an average 120,000 ounces of gold and 15,000 tonnes of copper for 15 years. After a decade of its presence in the Didipio, no mine production was made by the company. Furthermore, OGPI has placed its operation under “care and maintenance” in December 2008 due to financial and management problems of the company.
According to Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (LRC) Executive Director Judy Pasimio, co-convenor of ATM, this implies that OGPI has lost its legal eligibility to carry out its obligations under the FTAA with government. In fact, DENR itself has declared to take over OGPI facility in January 2009 in the event that the company cannot operate within six (6) months.
“For this year alone, OGPI has already displaced more than a hundred indigenous families in Didipio. Furthermore, the companys aggressive fencing, which include closing of accustomed public way and the installation of check points covered by their FTAA have restricted what used to be free movement of the residents in the area. Now, communities feel that they are deprived of their rights to their own land and majority of the residents already lost their faith and trust in OGPI. LRC submitted a demand letter dated September 23, 2009 to the DENR to act upon and take necessary steps to finally carry out the CLOSURE of the Didipio mining tenement of OGPI,” concluded Pasimio.