Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya—The nine-month stand-off in barangay Didipio here turned into heavy Lenten drama as police dispersed anti-mining civilians blocking the entry of three hauler trucks carrying diesel fuel intended for mine dewatering activities.
Per video footage taken by Barangay Kagawad Julie Simongo posted on her Facebook page, women were heard screaming, crying and shouting at a Crowd Control Unit of the Philippine National Police armed with shields and clubs.
“Lord God in the Heavens, why are you letting this happen!” screams an old woman in a mix of Ifugao and Ilocano dialect, as police tried to physically remove her and some 15 others who laid down on the road to block the advance of hauler trucks.
“You vowed to protect us, why are you doing this to us! Your being educated has no use!” an elderly Ifugao man was seen yelling at the police officers.
Also captured in the video was word that Lorenzo Pulido, a senior citizen who led the protesters, was taken into police custody.
The beleaguered mine, operated by OceanaGold Corporation, is yet to renew its permit, a Financial and/or Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) between the national government and the Melbourne-based company.
Didipio folks are heavily divided on the issue, as the mine has sustained several hundreds of breadwinners since it began full blast construction in 2011. The mine has more than a thousand workers directly employed by OceanaGold and its contractors.
Nueva Vizcaya Governor Carlos M. Padilla praised the bravery of the protesters.
“My heart bleeds for our brave men and women of Didipio who had to suffer and be arrested for expressing their resistance against mining, a great menace to Mother Earth. I salute them for their bravery and being steadfast for the protection of the environment to ensure the survival of all living things and of our planet,” he said in a statement.
“Instead of providing protection to OceanaGold whose FTAA had expired nine months ago, the national government should tell OGPI to pack up and go home,” Padilla added.
Region 2 Mines and Geosciences Bureau director Mario Ancheta earlier warned that the underground complex might collapse if dewatering will discontinue.
DILG had earlier written Padilla and local government units to allow the passage of fuel to be used in dewatering the underground mining complex, which is crucial to protect the investment in the mine partly owned by the national government.
After long negotiations, a source from OceanaGold said Mayor Romeo Tayaban and Barangay Chairman Ireneo Bobbola agreed in principle not to block the delivery, but some anti-mining villagers staged the blockade which the police responded to.
The fuel delivery on Tuesday is the fifth attempt and the first successful one, according to OceanaGold.
The stakes of the national government are high, as Didipio mine was developed under a 60-40 profit sharing scheme as provided for in the FTAA.
At present, the pumps taking out excess water from the underground tunnels use power from the national grid. Diesel fuel is necessary to operate backup generators should grid power failure occur, OGPI explained.
At present, OceanaGold mining and mineral processing operation grounded to a halt, with only dewatering and other maintenance activities ongoing while government is yet to decide on its fate.