BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya: Gov. Carlos Padilla has appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte to discontinue mining operations in this province, particularly the two government-sanctioned large-scale operations of OceanaGold Philippines Inc. (OGPI) and FCF Minerals Inc. (FCF).
OGPI has been contracted by the national government to operate the Didipio Gold and Copper Project in Kasibu town while FCF was also contracted to operate the Runruno Gold-Molybdenum Project in Quezon town, both under a 25-year Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA).
Due to the June 10, 2019 expiration of the initial validity of the 25-year FTAA, OGPI has suspended the company’s operation for more than a year now and has been working with the national government for its renewal possibly for another 25 years.
Padilla appealed to Malacañang, following Duterte’s instructions to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Finance to renegotiate and finalize the renewal of OGPI’s FTAA.
An FTAA is a license issued to a multinational company that shares technology and resources to explore and extract minerals in the Philippines. OGPI’s FTAA, which was the first in the country under the Mining Act of 1995, covers 10,266 hectares, including the temporarily suspended mine in a 925-hectare area in Barangay Didipio.
Duterte’s order to the DENR also came after the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples issued to OGPI a Certification of Non-Overlap (CNO), which states that the FTAA area is outside the ancestral domain of the indigenous group, comprised of the Bugkalot tribe.
The Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) said Nueva Vizcaya province’s Bugkalot tribe that stays near OGPI applied to expand its ancestral domain, which would include the Didipio Mine’s FTAA area of operation. This development has delayed the renewal of the OGPI, which has been addressed with the NCIP issuance of the CNO.
In his letter to Duterte, Padilla expressed his apprehensions against the continued mining, which included, among others, that Barangay Didipio and Barangay Runruno are sub-watersheds of the Cagayan River and that these are “critical watersheds,” which need protection.
“Continuous operation of OGPI and FCF endangers the lives of the community,” he said.
Padilla cited the declaration made by the National Economic and Development Authority that Nueva Vizcaya is a “watershed haven and agroforestry hub,” which makes the province the “life support system” of Region 2 (Cagayan Valley) and neighboring areas.
“Our watersheds supply water both for irrigation services and hydroelectric power,” he said.
Appealing for the nonrenewal of the OGPI FTAA, Padilla said the expansion of the company’s mining operation would endanger the unexplored areas and that it may affect some famous tourist destinations in the mineral- and agriculture-rich upland town of Kasibu.
The governor also cited the MGB Geohazard Map, published in 2012, indicating that Nueva Vizcaya is “highly susceptible” to landslides.
According to Padilla, the MGB in 2011 has also listed the province as No. 3 among the 10 landslide-prone provinces in the Philippines.
OGPI claims otherwise that the FTAA renewal has the “strong endorsement of the residents in the local communities in and around the Didipio Mine including other Indigenous Peoples in the area.”
“The company looks forward to the continued engagement with the national government with the goal of finalizing the FTAA renewal,” OceanaGold said in a statement.
It also added that “as a contractor of the Philippine government and a responsible multinational miner, the company is ready and waiting to restart the Didipio operations and to continue contributing to the Philippines’ post-Covid-19 recovery.”
Earlier, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu came out with an order to close illegal small-scale mining operations in the province and ordered the MGB-Region 2 to look for an area for the possible establishment of a Minahang Bayan for displaced miners, particularly those near the Runruno Mine.
MGB Region 2 Director Mario Ancheta said the secretary’s order of finding a Minahang Bayan site results in having the displaced miners legalized and regulated to ensure their safety and to provide for their continued livelihood while preventing further destruction of the environment.