Vizcaya miners appeal to Duterte
SEEKING the help of President Rodrigo Duterte, more than 1,200 indigenous peoples (IPs) from Nueva Vizcaya marched to the Mendiola Peace Arch on January 16 over fear of losing about 3,000 jobs from the suspension of Didipio Mine’s operations.
OceanaGold (Philippines), Inc. (OGPI) operated the Didipio Mine with a 25-year financial and technical assistance agreement (FTAA) as its mining license with the Philippine government.
The company’s FTAA has not yet been renewed since its expiration on June 20, 2019, and thus, representatives from Barangay Didipio and other 10 mine impacted villages went to Manila to emphasize the benefits they received from the development programs of OGPI in their areas.
“When OGPI arrived, they gave us three of our basic needs. First, OGPI developed the roads so that agricultural produce from Quirino and Vizcaya can be transported. Only they were able to do that. Second, they opened schools in our area so we don’t have to go to other barangay (villages) for education. Most importantly, they gave us livelihood,” Jolan Pugong, a Didipio resident, said.
Engineers and nurses who benefited from OGPI scholarship programs also joined the rally.
They pointed out how Didipio Mine projects opened opportunities for more jobs and better health services for Nueva Vizcaya residents.
“When health facilities were built here in Didipio, a lot of sick patients were treated and received free medical check-ups. OGPI did not only serve Didipio but also adjacent barangay,” Waynelyn Andres, a nurse, said.
Wilbur Habiling, a former OGPI scholar and now a mining engineer, also reiterated OGPI’s efforts gave Nueva Vizcaya residents the chance to receive accessible education.
“I saw how responsible OceanaGold is. We, the true residents of Didipio, speak the truth.
What will happen to other scholars of the company if they cease operations?” he said.
Also a Didipio resident, Madonna Dongiaho said more than 1,500 people will be directly and another 2,000 will be indirectly affected if OGPI’s operations do not resume. Meanwhile, about 17,000 IPs in Didipio and adjacent barangay will also be impacted.
OGPI also helped found the Didipio Producers Cooperative and Didipio Community Development Corp., both farm and food cooperatives.
In July 2019, the Didipio Mine ceased major operations when a local government unit-sponsored barricade was set up. The Department of the Interior and Local Government sent a letter in November 2019 to the provincial government of Nueva Vizcaya to dismantle the barricade.
OGPI officials said the company has yet to resume operations awaiting renewal of their FTAA, which gives large-scale mining projects authority to operate for 25 years.
According to engineer Mario Ancheta, Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) Region 2 director, the decision of the President to sign an FTAA is based on recommendations by the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources and the MGB.
“The Didipio Mine has passed the bureau’s evaluation and therefore, we have recommended the company to the Office of the President for its FTAA renewal,” Ancheta said.