By Claire Burgess & Liz Downes
OceanaGold, an Australian-Canadian listed company, has been operating the open-pit/underground Dipidio copper-gold mine in the provinces of Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino, Philippines, on and off since 2013. The project has received international attention for grave human rights and environmental concerns throughout its life.
In 2017 Gina Lopez (former Energy Minister of the Philippines) cancelled 75 mining contracts due to environmental risks and violations, including that of OceanaGold. Works at Dipidio continued in defiance of the ban. In 2019 a human blockade by indigenous Twali-Ifugao activists to stop fuel deliveries to the mine was dismantled by police; protestors were subjected to forced arrests and brutality. Subsequently OceanaGold received a letter from the Special Procedures branch of the UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) and was obliged to suspend operations. In 2020, during pandemic lockdown, the company again attempted to restart works; community blockades and protests continued, with increasing support from international allies.
The 2017 mining ban was overturned by the Duterte government in April 2021. Continued resistance from civil society delayed the implementation of the lift. In July the Philippines Government renewed its contract with OceanaGold for another 25 years. OceanaGold announced in early November 2021 that it has commenced processing ore stockpiles at Dipidio.
Didipio has displaced families in the area, polluted the waters, destroyed livelihoods especially for farmers and fisherfolks, and impacted on the health and human rights of residents. Specific issues include:
- Lack of free, prior and informed consent; access through force, fraud or coercion
- Forced displacement of people from large tracts of land
- Human rights abuses: community silenced with threats and in the worst case deaths
- Environmental impacts including biodiversity loss; land destabilisation due to explosions; debris air pollution; contamination of waterways;
- Loss of livelihood due to destruction of fish stocks, impact on soils
- Extractive processes contributing to climate change
The forests where OceanaGold operates is part of the Magat River Forest Reserve where at least 499 species of flora and fauna can be found including 110 that are endemic to the Philippines. Indigenous people of the Dipidio region have opposed the mine since the 1990s on the grounds that it threatens their water supply, homes and sustainable economy. Of particular concern is the location of tailings ponds at the top of the region’s watershed, in an area prone to torrential rains and typhoons. Protests have been countered with increased force since President Rodrigo Duterte signed anti-terrorism laws which have brought concern from international human rights organisations. The Philippines government posted a permanent military guard to Didipio to protect company personnel, forcibly evicted residents, demolished houses and shot one landowner who tried to stop the company from bulldozing a neighbour’s home. Furthermore, whilst Duterte was in office there have been 166 land and environmental defenders killed – a shocking increase in an already volatile country for defenders.