Philippines: A battle of mines
Juanita Cut-ing remembers the day when two armed solders came to her home, accompanied by mining company representatives and tried to force her to sell her land.
“They tried to force us to sign the receipt [of an offer to buy land] but we refused. I was afraid because they saw the ‘no to mining’ sign outside my house. The military men were there with their fingers on the trigger and were peering behind the house and in the bathroom,” she recalls.
Juanita’s story is one of many outlined in Oxfam Australia’s latest Mining Ombudsman case report, which focuses on the proposed Didipio gold and copper mine in North Central Luzon, the Philippines. The Didipio area is a fertile agricultural region, with farmers growing food for consumption or cash crops such as citrus trees, both of which rely on clean water from the nearby river.
Calling for an Ombudsman
The report outlines the tactics Australian mining company Oceana Gold has used in trying to develop the mine, despite opposition from many community members. As recently as October, the Didipio community elected a new local council dominated by councillors opposed to the mining project.
Our Mining Ombudsman became involved with the proposed mine at the request of local community members, who claimed the company was trying to force through the mine’s development without listening to community concerns. Over the past five years, the Mining Ombudsman has conducted interviews and participated in community meetings involving hundreds of villagers from Didipio, as well as meeting with government officials, local councillors and mining company representatives.
Right to be heard
The results of those investigations are alarming. Alleged tactics include attempting to pressure people to sell their land at a company-determined price, threatening legal proceedings against illiterate farmers, offering money, employment and inflated land prices to democratically-elected councillors, and deliberately inciting an adversarial atmosphere that has fuelled community division over the proposed mine operation.
At the heart of this case is the right of all indigenous people and local community members to be heard and to be able to influence decisions that will affect their lives. For the people of Didipio, this means having the opportunity to approve or reject the mine, without coercion or manipulation, and with all the facts at hand.
Listening to local communities
While we believe that Australian mining companies can contribute to local development and poverty eradication, the Didipio case highlights the need to establish a formal independent complaints mechanism for communities affected by Australian mining companies overseas.
Such a mechanism would ensure that individual and community rights are protected, force less ethical companies to improve their practices and enable companies to be more accountable to communities affected by mining. More importantly, it would make sure that communities like Didipio are listened to.
Story by Oxfam Australia, October 2007.