In Brgy. Didipio, Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya, the Tuwali women are experiencing the harsh impacts of successive typhoons that hit the island of Luzon within the span of a couple of weeks. First, there was typhoon Rolly (international name: Goni), which hit the country on October 25, 2020, and was followed a week after by Super Typhoon Quinta (international name: Molave). Several days after, came typhoon Ulysses (international name: Vamco). This has been extraordinarily harsh for the local communities, especially in the midst of a pandemic.
These typhoons came at harvest time for the Tuwali. When typhoon Rolly hit, they were already preparing for their produce to be sold in nearby towns. Selling their produce –banana, ginger, and other vegetables - is their main source of income. While they were able to harvest, with Quinta, then Rolly, and now, Ulysses, bringing these to the markets has become the biggest problem.
The main road to get in and out of Barangay Didipio cuts through the main tailings pond of OceanaGold Philippines, Inc. (OGPI), an Australian mining company, whose mining permit of 25 years expired last year. No rehabilitation work has yet been initiated.
So when heavy rains came, as they did on October 25 with typhoon Rolly, the tailings ponds overflowed and flooded the main road. This posed danger to the Tuwali communities, not only because it was flooded, but flooded with water containing potentially toxic particles. The run-off toxic waters go to the streams, rice fields, and vegetable gardens. These toxic waters are feared to contaminate their water sources. The mere presence, in fact, of the tailings pond threatens people in the downstream village of Barangay Alimit. With the overflow and the successive typhoons, the danger is imminent for the villages, the downstream farmers, and their main source of food and livelihood.
PHOTO: Members of Didipio Earth Savers Movement Association (DESAMA) inspect flooding caused by successive typhoons and the open-pit mines in their barangay. November 12, 2020. Photo by Myrna Duyan.
Other paths to come in and out of Didipio have been closed to the people, as these were enclosed in gates and fences erected by OGPI.
One of the many commitments of OGPI, still unfulfilled after 25 years, is the construction of a ridge across the Surong River, as an alternative way for the local people. Without this bridge, the only way now for the people to get out of the village is to go through the gates of OGPI. according to Myrna Duyan, a Tuwali woman farmer, and leader of the indigenous women’s community organization Bileg Dagiti Babbae (Power of Women), they have to request from the personnel of OGPI to be allowed to pass through their gates, to bring their produce to the town markets. But they have to fall in line and wait for available mining staff to escort them through the grounds. This means losing time for them to sell their goods.
To date, with Typhoon Ulysses hitting their province, flooding continues, landslides have been reported, and trees have fallen, causing electricity wires to be tripped over. They still have no electricity in their village.
“Sa bawat pag-ulan, sa bawat bagyo, lalong pinalala ang impacts ng OGPI mining sa amin dito sa Didipio, at sa mga katabing barangay. Dapat talaga, tuluyan nang mapa-alis ang OceanaGold. At dapat siguraduhin ang rehabilitasyon nito para makabangon naman kami, nang ligtas at payapa [Each rain fall, each typhoon that comes, the impacts of OGPI mining to us in Brgy. Didipio, and also the adjacent barangays, are made worse. OceanaGold must really be made to leave. But it has to be made sure that OGPI does rehabilitation, so we can recover, safely, and peacefully]”, said Myrna Duyan.
For more than a year now, OceanaGold’s application for renewal of their permit to operate for another 25 years in Didipio is still pending with the Office of the President. Myrna, along with other Tuwali women and men, have put up a barricade to prevent the entry of mining trucks into the area. In March this year, their barricade was violently demolished by 100 policemen, who accompanied three oil tankers, as they forced their way in. Myrna, along with 13 other indigenous women, have cases filed against them, with charges of breaking quarantine protocols.
Still traumatized from the violence they experienced from the policemen, Myrna now worries about their livelihood, their food source, and the safety of their village. At least three more typhoons are expected to come to the country. And OceanaGold, even without permit, seems to be not moving out anytime soon.
Myrna, and the rest of BILEG, however, are not going anywhere as well. They remain in the frontline of their struggle against OceanaGold which continues to wreak havoc in their lives, worse than any super typhoons that came their way.
This article was originally published on November 13, 2020.