BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya: Environment Secretary Gina Lopez has assured Nueva Vizcaya Gov. Carlos Padilla and residents of Kasibu town that she would cancel the extension of the exploration permit granted to OceanaGold Philippines Inc. (OGPI) amid strong opposition from residents and anti-mining advocates to the mining activities in the area.
OceanaGold’s operation has long been opposed and rejected by residents of Didipio Village in Kasibu town in the province.
On Wednesday, anti-mining activists, together with Padilla, his wife former Governor Ruth Padilla and provincial planning and development chief Edgardo Sabado, met with Lopez at a dialogue in Rockwell, Makati City to express their grievances about destructive mining in the province.
“I promise I will not let you suffer anymore,” Lopez told leaders of the Didipio Earth Savers Multi-Purpose Association (DESAMA), Salakniban ti Lubong Ken Aglawlaw Dagiti Umili iti Nueva Vizcaya (SALAKNIB) and Alyansa ng Mangagawa at Magsasaka ng Kasibu (AMMKAS) as well as the Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) and Task Force Detainees of the Philippines during the dialogue.
In a statement, the Alyansa Tigil Mina quoted Lopez as saying she has ordered Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) Director Leo Jasareno to immediately start working on the cancellation of OceanaGold’s exploration permit.
In March, OceanaGold, an Australian-Canadian miner, was granted a five-year extension to the exploration period of its Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) in the Philippines, valid until 2021.
Lopez, a staunch supporter of anti-mining advocates, said she would also issue a memorandum making community consent, and not just local government endorsement, a requisite for the issuance of exploration permits and that she would call for an environmental summit in Nueva Vizcaya soon.
“If there has been no consultation with the people, there should be no exploration. Why would we let the people suffer if they don’t want to suffer,” Lopez said.
For his part, Governor Padilla promised to “exercise the full powers of my office to strictly implement the Environmental Code of Nueva Vizcaya. There will be no sacred cows where the rights and welfare of the people are concerned.”
Padilla said the town of Kasibu where OceanaGold is conducting its exploration is not only an agricultural land which produces citrus and ginger and other products but is also an ecotourism site where the Capisaan cave system is located.
“That is the severe suffering of the people in Didipio and there was no consultation with them prior to an extension and expansion of OceanaGold’s explorations and therefore it should be terminated immediately,” Padilla said.
OGPI general manager David Way has said they are very much willing to have a dialogue with President Rodrigo Duterte regarding their operations.
“We want to show the President that we are promoting responsible mining and that we are protecting the environment by keeping our operations safe to our employees, visitors and the whole community where we are operating,” Way said.
The anti-mining activists led by DESAMA said they have gone back to their posts to man the barricades they put up earlier to block access to OceanaGold’s exploration areas until the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) issues its order canceling mining firm’s exploration permit extension.
MGB reviewing OceanaGold permit
MGB’s Jasareno said they are now reviewing the permit granted to OceanaGold in March this year.
OceanaGold’s mining claim covers around 15,000 hectares, but the company has only explored and developed around 900 hectares.
The company earlier said it has mobilized additional resources to further identify and build its pipeline of targets within the 13,000-hectare area while commencing drilling of the more advanced targets in the second half of 2016.
The exploration area is a rich agricultural area, the citrus capital of Nueva Vizcaya. They have a program for agro-forest. “The LGU wants to use land for agro-forestry rather than exploration,” he said.
“We will clarify that. If it can be found that the petitioners are valid, then the secretary will have to withdraw the permit. We will investigate,” he added.
OceanaGold operates the Didipio mine, a high-grade gold-copper open pit and underground mine located around 270 kilometers north of Manila.
The mine is one of the lowest-cost gold mines in the world, with nominal production of 100,000 ounces of gold and 14,000 tons of copper. It has an estimated reserve of 1.59 million ounces of gold and 210,000 tons of copper. It had its full year of operation in 2014.
OceanaGold holds significant exploration tenements in the Philippines and the FTAA covers approximately 158 km2 located in the provinces of Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino.
Over the past few years, previous geochemical sampling has identified several gold and copper soil anomalies in close proximity to the Didipio operation.
Lopez earlier said the DENR will conduct a one-month audit of all existing mining operations as part of the process to weed out illegal and irresponsible miners in the country.
“Should they fail the standards, we will follow the rule of the land and suspend the operations. My non-negotiable commitment to the Nueva Vizcaya residents is to the common good,” Lopez said.
WITH AN ADDITIONAL REPORT FROM JAMES KONSTANTIN GALVEZ