Catherine Coumans, MiningWatch Canada
February 25, 2021
The international human rights organization, Global Witness, reported that in 2019 over half of all reported killings of rights defenders occurred in just two countries, the Philippines and Colombia, and that mining was the deadliest sector with 50 defenders killed in 2019.
Canadian mining companies operating in the Philippines, do so in a context of gross violations of human rights, of extra-judicial killings, of intimidation, fear, red-tagging and repression of human and environmental rights defenders. And at times, Canadian mining companies benefit from this context of oppression and impunity.
Canadian mining company OceanaGold stands accused of both human rights violations and of having degraded the environment – contaminating and depleting water resources around its copper-gold mine in the province of Nueva Vizcaya. OceanaGold faces strong and persistent opposition by local indigenous people in the village of Didipio, who are supported by their mayor and governor, as well as by provincial and national organizations.
In October of 2018, 27 individuals found themselves personally targeted in a way that is a common precursor to extra-judicial killings. The one thing these individuals had in common was their open criticism of OceanaGold’s operations. First large signs started to appear along major roads and thoroughfares in the capital of Nueva Vizcaya. The crude signs accused various organizations critical of OceanaGold of being associated with the country’s New People’s Army (NPA), an outlawed long-running communist guerilla movement. Following the signs, a pamphlet was widely distributed with the names of 27 individuals and two organizations. All were accused of being in one way or another associated with the NPA – a practice known in the Philippines as “red-tagging.” Neither the signs nor the pamphlet identified who had produced them.
Five of the individuals targeted were from the village of Didipio, where the OceanaGold mine operates, including the elected village captain of Didipio who said [quote] “I think I was named on the pamphlet because I am representing so many people in Didipio that do not want the mine to continue, or to expand, because of all the negative impacts we have been experiencing and the mine’s broken promises.” [unquote] Two weeks before the red-tagging incident, village captain Bobola had handed over a petition, signed by many villagers, to the Minister of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources asking for the suspension of OceanaGold’s mine.
In June 2019, OceanaGold’s 25-year mine permit expired and was not renewed. The company kept mining anyway. With the authorization of their municipal and provincial governments, villagers of Didipio successfully blockaded the mine site and brought the operations to a halt. They have maintained that blockade for 17 months now. Although the mine’s permit has still not been renewed, OceanaGold has twice relied on force to breach the blockade in order to bring fuel trucks into the mine site. On April 6, 2020, some 100 Philippine National Police violently dispersed 29 villagers maintaining the blockade. Rolando Pulido was beaten and arrested; others were wounded.
Canada has a duty to protect human rights. In November of 2018 I accompanied three villagers from Didipio, whose names had appeared on the red-tagging pamphlet, to the Canadian Embassy in Manila. They sought protection from the threat of extra-judicial killing that so often follows being red-tagged. It soon became clear, in this case, as in others we have documented, that while Canadian embassy staff are mandated to promote and protect the interests of Canadian mining companies operating overseas, they have no clear mandate to protect the human rights of those who are threatened, because they oppose Canadian mining operations.
Finally, as noted by MP McPherson, the Canadian government has reneged on its commitment to create an Ombudsperson who has the necessary investigatory powers to compel witnesses and documents in her investigation of human rights abuses by Canadian mining companies.