Activists and remote village residents have built barricades to stop the operations of an Australian multinational. Local mayors and the provincial governor oppose the renewal of its license, but Filipino authorities are inclined to it. For Bishop Mangalinao, the “destruction caused by OceanaGold is far greater than the promised benefits”.
Bayombong (AsiaNews) – “Supporting my people, whatever the cost, is one of the best ways to show my love for God,” says Mgr Jose Elmer Imas Mangalinao (pictured), bishop of Bayombong, a largely rural diocese that overlaps with Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino provinces.
A small village in the ecclesiastical district has recently attracted the attention of the Filipino public for its courageous stance against a mining giant. Activists and residents in Didipio – 335 km north of Manila – built barricades to stop the operations of a mine that threatens their lands.
"Mining and nature are each other’s enemies,” said Mgr Mangalinao. “By opposing the operations of OceanaGold Corp, we render a service to the environment and, at the same time, to the people."
The Australian multinational owns the Didipio Gold-Copper Mine, which covers 12,000 hectares in Nueva Vizcaya. Although its license expired on 22 June, the company has continued to extract gold and copper, sparking an angry reaction by NGOs and local committees, which have already complained about the mine’s past disastrous environmental impact.
Protesters have blocked access to the mining area, urging government authorities not to renew the company’s license. Local administrations have already expressed their negative opinion, but according to many observers, the central government is inclined to renew the deal.
"At present, the governor of Nueva Vizcaya, Carlos M. Padilla, and local mayors represent the voice of the people within government institutions, saying enough is enough,” Mgr Mangalinao explained.
“OceanaGold promised that it would protect the environment, build a hospital and open new roads, none of which has come to pass. Unfortunately, in Manila they do not want to pay attention to the studies that have been done,” added the prelate.
"The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) do not even want to hear the governor. The barricades have been removed. Padilla reassured activists and citizens that he will monitor and promptly intervene if operations resume.”
“To prove to the national government that the Diocese of Bayombong and Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino provinces are united in demanding the closure of the mine, tomorrow I will go to Didipio. At 9.30 am, I will celebrate a solidarity Mass."
"On 20 June, we took part in a meeting attended by all the municipalities affected by the mine as well as the governor. Everyone agreed that the destruction caused by OceanaGold is far greater than the promised benefits.”
On its website, the Australian giant claims that “The Didipio Mine delivers significant socio-economic benefits to the Barangay of Didipio, neighbouring communities, the provinces of Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino and the Philippines. It directly employs over 1,500 workers of which 97% are Philippine nationals and 59% are from local communities.
However, the bishop dismisses the claim. "As one of the leaders of the communities noted at the meeting, the mine employs some people, but the damage it causes touches everyone."
In the Philippines, the fight for economic, social and environmental justice often involves great risks. Under the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte, civil society groups have complained about a rise in threats, acts of intimidation and reprisals.
“I honestly am more worried than scared,” explained Mgr Mangalinao. “Recently, a friend of mine told me: ‘You are brave to say these things during your homilies and on the radio program you host’.”
“Actually, I am worried like everyone. I am worried about the safety of those involved in frontline protests. However, I find inspiration in them as well, especially the young. I know I have only one life to live but supporting my people, whatever the cost, is one of the best ways to show my love for God."
"We are fortunate to live in a country rich in precious minerals, where nature is lush. Love and care for the environment are part of our being Filipino. For years, the Bishops' Conference (CBCP) has been committed to protecting the environment and sustainable development.”
What is more, “When three years ago Pope Francis published the encyclical Laudato Si’, in the hearts of us Filipino bishops there was a fire that pushed us to renew our efforts against climate change. The rising temperatures in the summer, the storms and typhoons that periodically devastate the nation are just some of the consequences of the phenomenon." (P. F.)