Church and environmental activist groups condemned the reported dispersal of anti-mining protesters in the northern Philippine town on Kasibu on April 6.
At least a hundred policemen dismantled a barricade set up by residents of Didipio village in Kasibu town to allow the entry of three fuel tankers into a mining site.
The policemen also dispersed 29 people who were manning the 9-month-old barricade, resulting in the arrest of two tribal community leaders.
Father Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of the social action secretariat of the Catholic bishops’ conference, said the police action was “uncalled for” amid the new coronavirus pandemic.
The priest said the acts of violence were “unnecessary” and violated the “right of the people to deny and resist any attempt to operate a mining site that has no permit.”
The permit to operate of Australian-Canadian mining corporation OceanaGold, which operates a 12,864-hectare copper and gold mine near the village of Didipio, has expired last year.
OceanaGold acquired Didipio in 2006 through a merger with Climax Mining Ltd. and commenced commercial operations as an open pit in 2013.
In 2016, the mine transitioned from an open pit to an underground operation, with production from underground commencing in early 2017.The Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement that allowed the mining firm “to explore, develop, and utilize minerals” expired on June 20, 2019.
Romeo Tabayan, mayor of Kasibu town, admitted that the police informed him about the plan to escort the fuel tankers to the mining site.
Tabayan, who had expressed opposition to the renewal of the mining firm’s contract agreement, said he was told the fuel would be used to pump water out of a tunnel to prevent overflowing and flooding.
“I was also told [that the police] received an order from the top to dismantle the barricade and disperse the crowd after the residents resisted,” he said.
Jaybee Garganera, coordinator of the group Stop Mining Alliance, said there should be no activity inside the mines because the mining contract of the company has already expired.
He said the entry of the fuel trucks is “a clear violation” of the government order to stop work, physical distancing, and other quarantine procedures during the pandemic.
Garganera called on the Commission on Human Rights “to immediately conduct an investigation into the tragic and unnecessary confrontation.”
He also called on the environment department to “urgently issue a cease-and-desist order” against the mining company.
In a statement, the mining company said the “unlawful barricade” had prevented the on-time delivery of the fuel that resulted in “a critically low point” of the mine’s diesel supply.
“The local interpretation of enhanced community quarantine measures in response to COVID-19 has also hampered the movement of goods and services essential to protecting the mine from a significant flooding event,” read the company statement.