A Catholic diocese in the northern Philippines expressed strong opposition to continuing operations of an Australian mining company in the province of Nueva Vizcaya, 270 kilometers northeast of Manila.
The Bayombong Diocese made a manifestation during a congressional inquiry last week into alleged violations committed by OceanaGold Corp, an Australian mid-size miner of gold and copper.
Father Vicente Tiam of the diocese’s Ecology ministry said the Church remains firm with its call to close the mine, adding that stakeholders should look at the issue in the context of climate change.
“This is clear in the pope’s encyclical about the environment and taking care of our common home,” said the priest.
He pointed out that mining operations result in the destruction of the environment. “Our environment is very fragile, that’s why we should take care of it,” said Father Tiam.
The congressional inquiry looked into OceanaGold’s application for the renewal of its mining rights, known as Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement, for another 25 years.
Residents in the village of Didipio, Kasibo town, backed by church and activist groups have vowed to continue opposition to the renewal of OceanaGold’s license application.
The people even questioned the congressional committee on Feb. 28 for holding the inquiry in the mining company’s compound.
“We are questioning why the public hearing is held within the private company,” wrote village leader Erenio Bobola to the House of Representatives.
He said the committee hearing should have opted for public places and facilities available in the village or town.
Activists said the venue of the inquiry resulted in the perception of “lack of neutrality” that discouraged some stakeholders from attending the proceedings.
Father Tiam, however, said the hearing was just a “formality” to say that the committee looked into the concerns of the people.
OceanaGold was forced to suspend mining operations in October 2019 as barricades blocked incoming supply and outgoing vehicles of the mining company.
The company has denied any wrongdoing, saying it has been implementing environmental standards.
OceanaGold, through subsidiary OceanaGold Philippines Inc, has been operating the high-grade gold-copper Didipio mine on the strength of a license granted by the Philippine government in 1994.
The company acquired Didipio in 2006 through a merger with Climax Mining Ltd and commenced commercial production as an open-pit operation in 2013.
In 2016, the mine transitioned from an open pit to underground operation, with production from the underground commencing in early 2017.
Its 25-year license expired on June 20, 2019, though it can be renewed for another 25 years.
The Philippines is one of the most mineral resource-rich countries in the world with an estimated US$840 billion worth of mineral wealth as of 2012.
It is among the world’s top three nickel ore producers (along with Indonesia and Canada) and it is estimated to have the world’s second largest gold deposits that lie largely untapped.