Alleged human rights issues in Didipio alarms UN - Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines
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Alleged human rights issues in Didipio alarms UN

By on March 26, 2019

Governor Carlos M. Padilla called for a meeting with the PPDC, PIHO, PENARO and some NGOs and CSOs in the province on March 12 at the NV Pasalubong Center, Bayombong to discuss with the representatives from the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Region 02, headed by Assistant Regional Director Ferdinand Tumaliuan, the details of an attached letter which the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) had addressed to NEDA Secretary Ernesto Pernia.

On February 13, The DFA received a joint communication from nine United Nations Human Rights Special Procedures Mandate Holders (SPMH) to bring attention to the Philippine Government the information they received concerning allegations of the failure of the government to protect human rights of the indigenous peoples and local communities living near Barangay Didipio in Kasibu, the impact on the livelihood of the population, and the overall environmental degradation which are resulting from the exploitation of a gold and copper mine by OceanaGold Corporation, an Australian-based mining company.

OceanaGold operates under a Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA). The FTAA will expire on June 2019, but can be renewed by the national government for another 25 years.

From the information received by the SPMH, around 180 families were forcibly evicted from their homes without a court order and houses were destroyed by the company staff accompanied by heavily-armed members of the national police in 2008. In addition, some small farmers, including from indigenous communities, were forced through intimidation and harassment to sell their lands and farms to the company. In 2009, another attempt to demolish several houses was reported.

The Commission on Human Rights investigated the abuses and violations in 2011. It concluded that OceanaGold had violated the residents’ rights to adequate housing, rights to property, rights to freedom of movement, and their rights to security, as well as the rights of the indigenous communities to manifest their culture and identity. It also concluded that the police had used excessive force during the forced evictions.

Through 2017, forced evictions of at least 133 families were carried out in some villages. In addition, there has been an increase of military presence in the region, allegedly to fight against communist insurgents. However, in practice, the military appear to be protecting the company and preventing any form of protest against the company and its activities. As a result of this heavy military presence, community leaders and environmental rights defenders feel increasingly at risk of being harassed, arbitrarily arrested and detained, especially as they have been accused of supporting the communist rebels.

In February 2017, the provincial government, headed by Governor Padilla, issued a report in which it denounced the negative impact of the mine activities on the environment and the local communities. Following an audit, former Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Gina Lopez, issued an order of suspension of the mining activities of the company in Didipio. However, OceanaGold appealed to the Office of the President, which stayed the suspension order, citing due process issues. Furthermore, the DENR Secretary was replaced by Roy Cimatu, a former military officer.

In 2018, OceanaGold requested to extend and expand its mining operations. Local communities sent numerous petitions to the government, including the DENR Secretary and to local authorities to oppose the extension of the mine and to request the suspension of its operations. The petitioners have not received any reply yet.

“The intention of the meeting is not to pass judgement but to have a common understanding of what actually happened, what has been done, and what is the current state of affairs in the area. We will be asking reactions, comments and validation on the issues which will be included in the report and briefer to be submitted to the Secretary,” Tumaliuan said.

NEDA will gather data on the allegations on human rights violations, environmental degradation, and non-implementation of national policies by the mining firm.

The SPMH is expecting a response from the government within 60 days and wants to know what actions the government has done on the issues. #bg