Indigenous women from the agricultural town of Brgy. Didipio, Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya challenged the newly-appointed Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) secretary Ma. Antonia “Toni” Yulo-Loyzaga to protect the rights of the people and end the decades-long destructive mining in their community. The Tuwali women called on the new DENR secretary to cancel the mining permit renewal of Australian-Canadian mining company OceanaGold Philippines Inc. (OGPI), and hold them accountable for 25 years of environmental destruction and human rights violations.
PHOTO: Myrna Duyan (right) and Joan Sicoan (left), leaders of Bileg Dagiti Babbae, a Tuwali indigenous women grassroots organization, stand in front of a banner calling to cancel the FTAA renewal of OceanaGold Philippines Inc. Photo taken on July 22, 2022 by Shar Balagtas.
According to Myrna Duyan, Chairperson of Bileg Dagiti Babbae (Power of Women), their community has suffered land, water, air, and noise pollution because of mining operations. Water used for agriculture is almost gone. “The soil has weakened so much that it has made them vulnerable to soil erosion, landslide, and flooding during typhoon season.” (Read story: Quinta, Rolly, Ulysses, and OceanaGold)
The mining company has also severed relations within the community and has divided the barangay into two factions – those who support mining and those who oppose it. According to Myrna, their present community no longer resembles the early beginnings of Brgy. Didipio, which was built on bayanihan with neighbors helping neighbors till their lands and harvest their crops, and families sharing food and goodwill among one another.
PHOTO: The Didipio open-pit, copper-gold mine located in the agricultural town Brgy. Didipio, Kasibu, Nueva is owned and operated by Australian-Canadian mining company OceanaGold Philippines Inc. Photo taken on July 22, 2022 by Shar Balagtas.
The Bileg Dagiti Babbae (Power of Women), a grassroots organization of Tuwali indigenous women has long stood against the destructive gold-copper mining of OGPI in Brgy. Didipio.
“Land is our life,” reiterated Myrna Duyan. “It is our livelihood, our food, and our home. For all the years that OGPI has destroyed our land, we have also stood up and defended it.” Myrna cited the countless actions they have taken to protect their community. Together with other grassroots and people’s organizations, they had taken legal actions, conducted protests, and formed a people’s barricade to stop illegal operations of OGPI when their mining permit expired in 2019. (Read story: Persisting Greed Amidst Tragedy: OceanaGold Philippines Inc.)
The Local Barangay Unit of Didipio has also issued a resolution in June 2022 expressing strong opposition to the renewal of OGPI’s Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) or mining permit. The LBU cited a lack of consultation and proper assessment and audit of the last 25 years of mining activities as the bases for their non-approval and non-issuance of a business permit to the mining company. The provincial government of Nueva Vizcaya has also appealed to the national government to discontinue mining operations in the province. Yet even the strong and consistent opposition and actions of the community, supported by the LGU including national and international non-government organizations, are not enough to stop the decision of former DENR secretary Roy Cimatu and former President Rodrigo Duterte to renew OGPI’s FTAA last year and allow operations for another 25 years.
“Science with compassion and political will – these are what we badly need now,” said
Judy A. Pasimio of LILAK (Purple Action for Indigenous Women’s Rights), a
collective of indigenous women’s rights advocates. “This is what we hope Ms.
Toni Yulo-Loyzaga will bring to the DENR office.”
According to Judy, “For the longest time, save for the short stint of Ms. Gina Lopez, environmental policies and DENR actions have been heavily influenced by greedy corporations. At the time of Marcos Sr., his cronies, such as Juan Ponce Enrile and Antonio Floriendo Sr., enriched themselves from the plunder of forests, agricultural lands, and ancestral domains. Then with Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, mining became a source of profit but also a source of corporate abuses and human rights violations by state forces. Such is the case of the mining operations of OGPI.”
While Toni Yulo-Loyzaga is known for her background in science, Pasimio cited that the challenge now is a political will to fend off influences and dictates from strong powers who wish to continue profiteering from the environment and natural resources. “The new DENR secretary must stand up to corporations and their cohorts within the bureaucracy, and stand for indigenous and rural communities who suffer the most from the impacts of environmental destruction.”