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Indigenous women in Philippines mark Women’s Day with protest dance against mining

TAYAW DANCE. Photo courtesy of Shar Balagtas and Susan Corpuz

More than 100 indigenous women and women’s rights advocates in Brgy. Didipio in Kasibu town dance the Tayaw to protest the mining operations of OceanaGold Philippines

Mavic Conde | Rappler | March 07, 2020

“Tayaw,” a traditional dance of the Tuwali tribe in Nueva Vizcaya, is about unity and the power to face threats against a community.

On Friday, March 6, more than 100 indigenous women and women’s rights advocates in Brgy. Didipio in Kasibu town in this province danced the Tayaw to protest the continuing mining operations of Australian-Canadian company OceanaGold Philippines, Inc (OGPI).

Among the Tuwali women who danced was Myrna Duyan, who called the action “a dance of our lives.”

With this dance, “What we are fighting for is our life and our children’s future. Mining has destroyed our way of living. They have destroyed our sources of food and water,” Duyan said.

“To mark International Women’s Day, we dance, we protest, and we say – no more mining. OGPI has to leave,” she said as the leader of the community organization, Bileg Dagiti Babbae (Power of Women).

According to LILAK (Purple Action for Indigenous Women’s Rights), “the Tuwali women have led the movement against the destructive gold mining of OGPI for almost two decades. They now guard the picket-line in Sitio Verona, Brgy. Didipio where they maintain a round-the-clock schedule.”

LILAK added the community set up the barricade several months ago to prevent the entry of mining equipment following OGPI’s permit expiration. The women, armed only with placards and streamers bearing their calls to end mining, have successfully faced against ten-wheeler trucks and backhoes.

Expression of struggles, aspiration, and support

The “Tayaw” dance has 3 main movements, with each move representing unity, power, and freedom.

The women also held a “Gopa”, a Tuwali ceremonial chant that told the interwoven stories of their past and the future they are fighting for. The Gopa told the women’s decades-long struggle against mining and told a story of a future where they are finally freed from it.

The Tuwali women were joined by support organizations such as LILAK and Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM), Didipio Earth Savers Multi-purpose Association Inc., (DESAMA), and Samahang Pangkarapatan ng Katutubong Magsasaka at Manggagawa Inc. (SAPAKMMI).

“As women, we understand the indescribable pain when you witness your land being destroyed and poisoned, the land where you come from – the land where you grow food,” said Mary Ann Forton, a member of LILAK and an Iraynon Bukidnon indigenous woman from Antique.

“As indigenous women, we are one with the Tuwali women in this fight for the land and against mining,” she added.

Strengthening the women’s movement

According to Judy Afan Pasimio of LILAK, joining the action of the Tuwali women for Women’s Day is staying true to its origin.

She said, “International Women’s Day has its roots from the march of thousands of women to demand their right to vote. More than a hundred years later and women are still fighting for their rights. It is important that we continue to strengthen the women’s movements as we fight for our rights and freedoms. On this day, we join the Tuwali women in their fight for their land and their life against OceanaGold.”

“We call on DENR (Department of Natural Resources) to cancel the mining permit of OGPI. They must never be granted another renewal of their mining license; else we allow another 25 years of destruction and violations of human and environment rights. Enough is enough,” said Caryl Pillora of ATM.

2018 report slams OceanaGold

Mining Watch Canada and the Institute for Policy Studies supported this call, as its 2018 report found “not only of lack of compliance, but also of unacceptable impacts of OceanaGold’s Didipio copper and gold mine on water, forests, land, indigenous peoples, human rights, biodiversity, and workers’ rights” because of the following:

  • No social license to operate, nor the Free Prior and Informed Consent of the Indigenous Peoples in Didipio;
  • Depletion of groundwater;
  • Contamination of surface water;
  • Failure to comply with commitments made in a 2013 Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the community;
  • Labor rights; and
  • Security/Red-tagging.

In a separate statement in 2018, Mining Watch Canada said OceanaGold’s November 2018 response to their report “does not address, let alone refute, the critical findings in our October 31 report: OceanaGold in the Philippines: Ten Violations that Should Prompt Its Removal.”

Mining Watch Canada’s secondary statement thus reiterated calls by local affected community members, including indigenous Ifugao peoples and the provincial and national organizations that support them, for the president and the DENR secretary to act on OceanaGold’s mining license. (READ: Environment group hits Oceanagold for operating without gov’t contract)

“OceanaGold’s 25-year mining license ends in June 2019. The Philippine government can – and should – deny the mining company’s request for a renewal. So too should OceanaGold’s requests for new exploration permits in the Philippines be denied,” it said.

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The Marcopper mine spill and the unending wait for justice in the Philippines

A run-down office building inside the Marcopper mining area, abandoned in 1997, after Placer Dome, Inc. left the Philippines following the mine spill. Erik de Castro

Another example of how quickly ‘World Class’ mining companies abandon their responsibilities when things go wrong with their ‘World Class’ mines, leaving local people to suffer the devastating long term consequences alone

Nikko Dizon | ABS/CBN News | April 02 2019

The people of this island province have endured the brunt of the worst mining disaster in the country, but the bigger heartbreak in their two-decade-long quest for justice might just be the wait for redress that is not sure to come. 

There’s nothing more tragic than to hear stories repeatedly told, but nothing done. It’s been 23 years since March 24, 1996, when a badly- sealed drainage tunnel in Marcopper Mining Corporation’s Taipan pit burst, spilling 1.6 million cubic meters of toxic mine tailings that choked Boac River, flooded villages and killed marine life. 

One village, Barangay Hinapulan, was buried in six feet of muddy floodwater, displacing 400 families. Cows, pigs and sheep including pets were poisoned and died. Crops were destroyed. Boac River, a source of sustenance for surrounding communities, was declared unsafe.

Three years before that, the company’s Maguila-guila siltation dam also burst, flooding the town of Mogpog, where two children drowned in the mine waste.

Soon after the mining disaster, the United States Geological Survey said in a study that the Makulapnit and Maguila-guila siltation dams were in danger of collapsing. 

In 2001, Canadian research firm Klohn Crippen – hired by Marcopper’s Canadian mother company Placer Dome Inc. as consultant – issued a similar warning. 

“They are a clear and present danger to us,” said Joven Lilles of the dams. Lilles is the provincial government’s environmental management specialist and is part of the province’s disaster management council.

Catherine Coumans, research and Asia-Pacific program coordinator of Mining Watch Canada told Vera Files in an email that a lot of mine waste remains at the mine site. Marcopper started operations on Marinduque in 1969.

“The acute danger is being swept away by the waste and drowning in it,” said Coumans, who had lived on the island for two years before the 1996 mine spill.

“The longer-term harm is from the toxicity of the waste,” Coumans said of the highly acidic and metal-laden tailings. “It is extremely environmentally toxic and can destroy productive ecosystems that people rely on.” 

The last known inspection of the Marcopper property was done on January 23, 2017 by the office of Marinduque Representative Lord Allan Jay Velasco, together with engineers and geologists of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Mines and Geosciences Bureau’s regional office.

The team discovered a leak in the Upper Makulapnit Dam and heavy siltation in the Maguila-guila spillway tunnel. That prompted Velasco to ask the MGB to regularly inspect structures within the Marcopper site, a task that’s not easy because the area is off-limits. But the MGB and provincial officials, managed to find ways to get information.

The Velasco briefing paper listed among MGB’s concerns:

  • “possible seepage” from the Tapian Pit observed at the Lower Makulapnit Dam.
  • monitored seepage in Hinapulan Creek from the plug installed after the 1996 mine spill. “The bright blue discoloration can be attributed to the presence of heavy metal, particularly copper, in the water.” 
  • The Makulapnit Bypass Tunnel was described as a “problematic MMC structure.” Fresh water was leaking from a busted pipe and a build-up of water inside the tunnel “might lead to an eventual flooding of downstream communities along Boac River.”

The Boac River, declared biologically dead after the Marcopper mine spill looks serene at dusk. A dike had been built to prevent it from overflowing where there are heavy rains. Erik de Castro

But what “needs the most immediate attention,” the MGB team said, is the Maguila-guila siltation dam as also pointed out by the USGS and KhlonCrippen reports 20 years ago.

“Since the water flowing through the spillway has no viable exit point due to the siltation clog, there is a possibility that the water pressure will build up and force its way out through the existing structures, causing damage to the latter,” the briefing paper said.

After its last visit to the MMC premises, the MGB team found out water has decreased to ground level. “However, there is still an increased amount of siltation inside the facility which may clog the hole of the down-drain tunnel,” the briefing paper added.

In 1990, residents of Mogpog town, comprised of 13 villages, had opposed the building of the Maguila-guila dam, but Marcopper was allowed to construct it the next year. The dam was needed as another repository for the San Antonio pit’s waste which the Tapian pit would not be able to hold. 

Marcopper denied responsibility when the Maguila-guila dam burst in 1993. Mining officials blamed an unusual rainfall brought by a typhoon. But the Velasco paper noted that when the dam was rebuilt, “an overflow was added for the first time, in an implicit acknowledgment of faulty engineering.”

Trees now swallow the collapsed copper belt conveyor that leads to the primary crushing area. Erik de Castro

Repairing dams, tricky ownership issues

MGB’s regional director Roland de Jesus said his office plans to secure the dams and waterways near the mining site. However, the safety features, estimated to cost some P25 million, will be built outside the Marcopper property because “legalities” prevent even government officials from entering the site.

De Jesus said P5 million has been earmarked for the safety measures’ design. With no project bidder, the MGB initiated a negotiated one “to start the ball rolling.”

“There’s a continuous monitoring being done in the area. There’s sufficient time to install the prevention design,” De Jesus said.

But who is really responsible for the dams’ repair? 

“This question is critically important,” Coumans said.

It leads to the complicated and tricky ownership of the Marcopper mining site, the structures inside it, and everything left behind by MMC and Placer Dome, Inc., and Placer Dome Technical Services Inc., a subsidiary set up by Placer Dome in 1997 to clean up the mine spill.

Placer Dome, Inc. owned 40 percent of Marcopper shares but divested from it a year after the mine spill. Five years later, it closed its Philippine office. In 2006, the Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation, the world’s largest gold mining company, acquired Placer Dome, Inc.’s remaining common shares.

Coumans said Placer Dome divested to F Holdings, known as the Bernardino Group, “through its wholly-owned Cayman Islands subsidiary—MR Holdings.”

The Supreme Court, in a 2012 ruling, described MR Holdings, Ltd. as “a non-resident foreign corporation, organized and existing under the laws of Cayman Island.”

“It is a subsidiary corporation of Placer Dome, Inc. (Placer Dome), a foreign corporation which owns 40% of respondent Marcopper Mining Corporation,” it said.

Coumans said she would have been unaware that MR Holdings was exercising ownership over the Marcopper property “if not for the lawsuit by the Solid Bank to recover money it had lent Marcopper before the Boac Spill.”

She said MR Holdings, possibly still the legal owner of assets and mineral rights at the site, has not maintained the area and neither has F Holdings.

“Unless Marinduqueños find a way to hold MR Holdings’ parent company, now presumably Barrick Gold, to account, the state will likely have to step in to maintain the mine structures in order to protect Marinduqueños,” she added.

Ghost town

Mine tailings remain in the Tapian pit, where the spill originated on March 24, 1996 and caused one of the worst environment disaster in the Philippines. Erik de Castro

More often than not, it is difficult to enter Marcopper’s abandoned mine site. Provincial officers like Lilles had been denied entry several times. Even then Environment Secretary Gina Lopez was said to not have been allowed to inspect the area. 

But there was no guard in sight when Vera Files went there one afternoon in February. The guide surmised the guards may have skipped work that day.

The area looked like a ghost town. The power lines had collapsed, the wires a tangled mess on the ground. The doors of a warehouse, a backhoe, a couple of vehicles, even the crushing machinery were decaying and rusty. “MR Holdings” was painted on the primary crusher. 

In its heyday, the Marcopper site was like a “city within the forest” with first class apartments and amenities, including a golf course, the guide said. No trace of that upscale community remains.

This used to be Marcopper’s busy primary crusher chute, where trucks dumped the ore to start the process of extracting copper. Erik de Castro

From a hill, Tapian and San Antonio pits looked like serene lakes surrounded by lush trees. 

But Coumans cautioned that the bluish green water is highly toxic. “The pit water will be acidic and the strange color in the shallower areas is metal leaching, likely copper sulphate,” she said.

Heavily silted with mine tailings, Boac and Mogpog rivers are both considered biologically dead. Lilles said no carabao drinks water from Mogpog river because of its high acidity. Even the coconut trees along Mogpog river have been slowly poisoned, dying one by one. 

Boac river is less acidic because of the mix of “mineral and criminal water” that it gets from two different tributaries.

“The mineral, or clean, water comes from its upper tributaries in the villages of Canat, Bayote, and Tambunan. The criminal water is from Upper Hinapulan and Makulapnit, and the Bol river, all of which have been contaminated by the mine tailings,” Lilles said. 

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