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Bayombong Bishop leads court challenge to Oceanagold mining agreement renewal

As the world commemorates Earth Day, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bayombong together with communities and civil society in Nueva Vizcaya filed today a Petition for Certiorari and Mandamus to cancel the 2021 renewal of the Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) issued to mining firm OceanaGold Philippines, Inc. (OGPI) for allegedly violating the constitutional guarantee of local autonomy and failure to conduct a prior consultation and environmental impact assessment.

In his homily delivered last Sunday anticipating the case filing, Most Rev. Elmer Mangalinao, D.D., Bishop of the Diocese of Bayombong and petitioner in the case, said in Filipino: “Ilegal ang renewal na ito dahil hindi dumaan sa proper and prior consultation. Hindi nagkaroon ng panibagong environmental impact assessment. Mismo ang Environment Code ng Nueva Vizcaya ay hindi pinahihintulutan ang pagkakaroon ng open-pit mining.”

“I am putting myself on the line for our environment. And I ask you to rally behind us,” he said.

In the 400-page petition filed before the Regional Trial Court in Bayombong, the petitioners led by Bp. Mangalinao argued that under Sections 26 and 27 of the Local Government Code,  the national government is required to conduct local consultation and secure prior consent for every environmentally critical project, including the renewal of Oceanagold’s FTAA.

They furthered that Presidential Decree No. 1151, Presidential Decree No. 1586, and the Philippine Mining Act itself require an Environmental Clearance Certificate (ECC) and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) based on an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for every environmentally critical project.

The Nueva Vizcaya provincial government’s Environment Code, Ordinance No. 2014-108, also strictly prohibits the open pit mining of the Didipio Mine. The petitioners argued that Oceanagold’s open pit mining continued to operate three years after the open pit mining ban was instituted, and continues to be maintained at present despite the prohibition.

According to Eduardo Ananayo, an indigenous Tuwali who serves as vice chair and representative of the Didipio Earth-Savers Multipurpose Association (DESAMA) in the case, OGPI had written to them notifying them of the approval of the FTAA renewal while admitting that the mining firm still needs to conduct a dialogue with the Didipio community.

"Sumulat po sa akin ang OGPI na sinasabing na-renew na nga raw po ang FTAA nila. Pero sinasabi rin po sa sulat na iyon na nagfofollow-up sila sa request nilang meeting sa amin. Alam po namin na dapat may konsultasyon po muna sa amin, bilang kami po ay isang organisadong samahan sa Didipio at mga residente rin po dito, at kailangang pumayag po muna kami bago po ma-renew ang FTAA ng OGPI,” Ananayo said.

“Pero binigyan na po agad sila ng panibagong FTAA na magtatagal na naman ng 25 years. Parang nawalang saysay po yung karapatan namin sa ilalim ng batas," Ananayo added.

FTAA Riddled with Issues

Former Didipio Barangay Captain Erenio Bobolla, who served as village chief during OGPI’s first FTAA, noted that there have been many complaints regarding the mining company’s operations. He noted that during his term as barangay captain, the council had issued numerous resolutions opposing or stopping OGPI's mining operations.

"Ang mga reklamo sa mining operations ng OGPI na nanggaling sa FTAA No. 001. Mula noong ako ay naging kapitan, maraming reklamo ang dumating ukol dito. Ang Barangay Council ng Didipio ay laging naglalabas ng mga resolusyong tumututol, o kaya ay tuwirang pumipigil, sa pagmimina ng OGPI sa aming lugar," Bobolla explained. 

If the petition is granted, the addendum and renewal agreement for FTAA No. 001 will be declared void for failure to comply with relevant laws. It will also compel the Office of the President to cancel the addendum and renewal agreement.


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