A Gold and Copper Mine in the Philippines Is Reopening, But Protests Against It Continue
Operations of Australian-Canadian mining firm OceanaGold Corp in the town of Didipio in Nueva Vizcaya will continue after the company said the Philippine government has renewed its contract for another 25 years. This renewed Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) will apply retroactively from June 19, 2019, when mining operations were halted.
According to a media release from OceanaGold, the renewed FTAA reflects similar financial terms and conditions and provides “additional benefits to the regional communities and provinces that host the operation.”
The FTAA grants the company the rights to explore, extract and utilize minerals for development and commerce for the contract period.
“We are pleased to confirm the renewal of the Didipio Mine’s FTAA and thank the Philippine Government for their endorsement and renewal,” Michael Holmes, President and CEO of OceanaGold said. “We have worked through the renewal process in partnership with the Government and regulatory agencies. We look forward to commencing restart activities and continuing to work in partnership with our regulators, communities, employees, and all stakeholders to contribute to the Philippines’ post-COVID-19 economic recovery.”
According to previous reports, the company was spending up to $1.5 million (about P72.6 million) a month in holding costs to maintain the mine while it was closed when the initial 25-year permit expired in June 2019. The company, however, continued operations at the mine under a temporary license.
But there have been protests from the communities around the mine in Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino, on which part of the mine is located. CulturalSurvivor.org reports that indigenous peoples in Didipio have been protesting the mining operations there for nearly two decades.
In February 2019, the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights wrote a lengthy note to OceanaGold alleging human rights violations against the IPs in the area including the Bugkalot, Ifugao, Ibaloi, Kankanaey tribes, which caused a delay in the start of operations of the mine for over a decade. The report also alleged forced evictions of around 180 families from their homes in June 2008 by heavily armed members of the local police.
“Residents were beaten and suffered various injuries while their houses were being bulldozed off cliffs and burned down. It is reported that these forced evictions were carried out without a court order,” the UN report said.
In reply, OceanaGold said that, while it was true the company was first granted a permit to operate a mine in the area in 1994, and commercial production did not start until 2013, the delay in operations was not caused by protests by the IPs. The company cited a number of other reasons, including “exploration and other technical studies carried out over a number of years,” challenges to the Mining Act that had been heard in the courts and elevated all the way to the Supreme Court, a long-running contractual dispute between OceanaGold and a Philippine syndicate concerning the minerals ownership rights, among others.
According to its website, OceanaGold acquired the high-grade underground gold and copper mine in 2006 through a merger with Climax Mining Ltd and commenced commercial production as an open pit operation in 2013. In 2015, the mine transitioned to underground operation, with production from the underground commencing in early 2017.
The company said it expects to restart operations in Didipio as soon as possible.
“The Company plans a staged restart of operations with milling to recommence as soon as possible utilising stockpiled ore of which the operation has approximately 19 million tonnes available,” it said in the media release. “The Company aims to achieve full underground production capacity within twelve months. Once fully ramped-up, the Company expects Didipio to produce approximately 10,000 gold ounces and 1,000 tonnes of copper per month at first quartile All-in Sustaining Costs.
“Didipio is a major direct and indirect employer in the provinces of Quirino and Nueva Vizcaya and a significant contributor of socio-economic benefits for the local and national economies,” it added. “The Didipio Gold and Copper Mine operates to the highest environmental and social standards and has been recognised as one of the most responsible in the country.”