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Indigenous group backs call to revoke mining deal in Vizcaya

January 18, 2011 3:20pm
In support of a Commission on Human Rights (CHR) resolution, an indigenous peoples’ group on Tuesday called on President Benigno Aquino III to immediately cancel an agreement with a mining firm operating in Nueva Vizcaya province.

At a press conference in Quezon City, Kasibu town residents led by the Didipio Earth Savers Multi-purpose Association (DESAMA) called on Aquino to revoke the Financial Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) awarded by the government to Australia-based OceanaGold Philippines, Inc. (OGPI) because the firm allegedly violated indigenous people’s rights.

“We are urging President Aquino to heed CHR’s recommendations and the call of the indigenous people in Kasibu’s Didipio village to revoke the OGPI’s FTAA," said Tolentino Inlab, an Ifugao and DESAMA chairperson.

A CHR investigation report said it found OGPI liable for violating the indigenous peoples’ rights of Didipio residents to “residence, adequate housing and property" and the “right of the indigenous community to manifest their culture and identity."

“The Commissions resolution is a validation of our complaints and we are grateful to Chairperson Etta Rosales and the Commissioners for this wonderful New Year’s “resolution" (Gift)!" said DESAMA’s Tolentino Inlab.

CHR Resolution No. A2011-004 was signed by Chairperson Loretta Rosales, and commissioners Ma. Victoria V. Cardona, Norberto Dela Cruz and Jose Manuel S. Mamauag on January 10, 2011.

The FTAA allows OGPI to go on full-scale commercial production and utilization of gold, copper, nickel, chromite, lead, zinc and other minerals except for cement raw materials, marble, granite, sand and gravel and construction aggregates.

In 1994, the government issued the first FTAA to Climax Arimco Mining Corp. and then to OGPI, covering more than 3,000 hectares of land in Barangay Didipio.

DESAMA members and Didipio residents filed human rights violations complaints against OGPI in 2008. The firm has since denied the allegations.

As of posting time, GMANews.TV's correspondent in Nueva Vizcaya is trying to contact OGPI for comments on the CHR resolution.

CHR resolution

In its Jan. 10 resolution, the CHR said, “The ultimate goal of economic development is to raise the quality of life of all people. To this end, the State promotes the full and efficient use of its human and natural resources by encouraging private entities to invest... However, when private entities violate the fundamental rights and entitlements of the people in the name of economic development, they not only lose their moral legitimacy, they also defeat the very purpose...."

Among the violations allegedly committed by OceanaGold against the indigenous community, which the Commission has cited in its report, are: the right to adequate housing and property rights’; right to freedom of movement, the ‘right not to be subjected to arbitrary interference; ‘the right to security of persons’; and ‘the right of the indigenous community to manifest their culture and identity.’

Also, the resolution finds the “Philippine National Police-Regional Mobile Group accountable for violating its own operational procedures during the October 2, 2009 incident where they participated and used excessive force in suppressing the resistance of the indigenous community who banded together on that day to prevent the demolition crew in dismantling the house of their neighbors."

The Commission also asked OceanaGold to ‘exercise great caution in exploiting the water resource of Didipio’, where the possibility of endangering the ‘community’s water resource for domestic and agricultural use’ is great, which could ‘violate the peoples fundamental right and to access to clean water’.

“OceanaGold’s gold-copper mining project intends to produce 120,000 ounces of gold in its first 10-years of operation, which also amounts to at least 3.8 billion liters of freshwater, will be expended every year, for the next ten (10) years, sufficient enough to irrigate more than a hundred hectares of agricultural lands twice every year," the report said.

For his part, Ronald Gregorio, team leader of Legal Rights and Natural Resources (LRC)-Luzon, also reminded Aquino of his promise to investigate the environmental degradation of the mountains in Nueva Vizcaya, now that the findings of the CHR investigation on Didipio is already out.

Meanwhile, Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) lauded CHR's resolution, which reflects the strong stance of the commission to protect and defend human rights.

In a statement, ATM said this should serve as a valuable lesson to large multi-national companies who continue to deny the indigenous peoples of their right to free, prior and informed consent.

Meanwhile, the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center-Kasama sa Kalikasan/Friends of the Earth Philippines (LRC-KsK/FoE Phils) welcomes the CHR resolution.

LRC-KsK/FoE Phils serves as the legal counsel of DESAMA. The LRC, together with other organizations, is also involved in the overall advocacy to stop the implementation of the government’s mining revitalization program that places our economy in a disadvantaged position economically and our environment in jeopardy.

According to Mr. Ronald A. Gregorio, Team Leader of the Luzon Regional Office of LRC, “The resolution on Didipio is a big gesture on the part of the Commission, and shows the level of their commitment to uphold and protect human rights." — Jerbert Briola/LBG/KBK, GMANews.TV
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