8 December 2018

The Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment and indigenous peoples from an anti-mining group based in Nueva Vizcaya filed a complaint against the Duterte government through the United Nations’ Special Procedures mechanism over its failure to stop human rights violations and environmental destruction by Canadian mining firm Oceanagold, which has been operating an open-pit mine in the province.

“We filed a UN special procedures complaint against President Duterte as he allows Oceanagold to continue operating even after his erstwhile Environment Secretary Gina Lopez ordered the mine to be suspended in February 2017. Worse, indigenous people and environmental defenders opposing Oceanagold mining have now become the targets of Duterte’s crackdown and militarization,” said Leon Dulce, National Coordinator of Kalikasan.

Communities and individual environmental defenders have recently experienced a series of human rights violations for the past year. It can be recalled that last September 16, 2017, 620 individuals from hinterland villages of Kakiduguen, Biyoy, and Dine of Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya were forced to evacuate due to the 84th Infantry Battalion’s combat operations in the area. The communities were opposed to the proposed expansion of Oceanagold’s operations in their area.

Two weeks later, on September 29, five members of the Kasibu Inter-Tribal Response for Ecological Development (KIRED) and Samahang Pangkarapatan ng Katutubong Magsasaka at Manggagawa (SAPAKKMMI), including a minor, were illegally detained by policemen and falsely charged with illegal possession of explosives. KIRED and SAPAKKMMI are also opposed to Oceanagold’s operations in the province. One of SAPAKKMMI’s members, Vicente Ollagon, remains in prison up to present.

Just last October, leaflets distributed by suspected military agents alleged that Bayombong diocese priest Vic Tiam, Friends of the Environment for Development and Sustainability Inc. (FRENDS) executive director Teresita Acosta; Sustainable agriculture Alfonso Shog-oy, and SAPAKKMMI Chairperson Ereneo Bobola, all critics of Oceanagold, were “NPA recruiters, sympathizers, and contacts.” Even Feny Cosico, whose organization AGHAM helped provide technical assistance to the mine-affected communities was in the list as well. The red-tagging is intended to vilify and justify the extrajudicial killings of these people later on, Dulce added.

“The Philippines is under de facto martial law which makes Duterte difficult to be held to account here, thus our resort to the UN. This UN complaint will be one of the next of a series to be filed in order to hold Duterte accountable for the human rights violations his security forces perpetrate against environmental defenders,” he said.

The Philippines’ present condition where has been seen as not conducive for obtaining justice. He cited the recent slapping of trumped-up charges of child trafficking against those groups involved in the rescue of Lumad schoolchildren threatened by the paramilitary in Talaingod and the filing of series of harassment suits against congressmen and journalists seen to be critical of the Duterte administration.

“For years, we have tried with the Commission on Human Rights, congressional hearings, and even through then-environment secretary Gina Lopez’ mining audit. All of these bodies had found that Oceanagold has been involved in various human rights violations but it still remains open and operating, to no avail,” he said.

The Financial Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) of Oceanagold is set to expire next year. The company is expected to apply for renewal of its FTAA.

The environmental groups in their complaint are also asking the United Nations to visit the country and actively investigate their allegations; to call the attention of the Philippine government over its violations of human rights; to recommend the Philippine government to review the FTAA of OceanaGold and order it to immediately cease and desist from its expansion activities and destructive actions; and for the Philippine government to compel OceanaGold to justly compensate property owners and those in the community for the use and deprivation of their land and property. #