*** I wrote this awhile ago about a job journalist Abe Almirol and I did for Oxfam-Australia in January about a town just beginning to build the infrastructure for an Australian open-pit mining operation in Nuevo Vizcaya, Luzon.  For more images please visit my Portfolio Page. ***

It was a Wednesday afternoon and I was conducting a photography workshop in Cavite, a city near Manila when I got a call from Oxfam-Australia’s mining ombudsperson. That night I rushed back to my place in Manila (2 hours away), packed, and jumped on an overnight bus headed north towards the mineral rich mountains in Nueva Vizcaya.

Didipio is an open pit mine in development by Australian OceanaGold. The site contains an estimated 75,000 kilos and 350,000 tons of gold and copper. In the process they have to evict people from at least 200 homes, and create a massive dam in the valley to hold back the coming flood of mine waste.

This image is of a wooden window shutter found in the community directly under the mountain of gold the Australians renamed “Dinkidi” (which I’m told means something like “eureka!” in the language of Australian Aboriginals).

From this simple image I think you can see some of the issues around the early days of a mine’s entry:
– clearly English is not the first language, yet all contracts given by the company to residents, like those that give the details of how they will be relocated, are in English;
– the people of the area currently live simple lives (as farmers or small-scale miners) and they don’t have the money to fight large scale mining through the justice system.

The company has a contract to pay this woman’s daughter for her home, however they refuse to pay for hers. They don’t consider it a dwelling because of its small size.

For the indigenous Ifugao people, however, small homes are common.

This frail elderly lady cooks, eats, and sleeps here. It begs the question: What constitutes a home? Moreover, as it’s the company that is coming in and wants the locals off the land, why are they writing the definition?
At the time of my visit the company was still playing nice. They promised to pay for homes (instead of forcing locals out without paying), and they promise one member of each household a job.

The problem there is that they dictate the price. Homes and land (used for farming an small-scale mining) are paid over market value says the company, however if you ask the locals they tell you that their valuing doesn’t take into account how much money is made from crops/mining.

For example they pay P250,000 for a hectare of land, which is a good price if you were buying barren land, however as much of the land has planted crops the value should be much higher. Rice paddies for example, require alot of labour to clear, irrigate, and plant. And then there are all the citrus plants. It takes years for the trees to mature and once they mature make hundreds of thousands of pesos a year for a few hectares.

And the problem with the ‘promised jobs’ are that they promise them a job, but there’s no promise as to the length of time. The job given is 99 times out of 100, a job in manual labour. Other mining sites across the country, and the developing world, show that these are usually temporary. Once the infrastructure is built there is no longer need for much manual labourers, as contractors running heavy machinery do the mining.

And then there’s the all to common problem that this woman has: sometimes the company doesn’t want to play by its own rules. There were numerous complaints by community members selling their homes. Some weren’t paid for all their property. Some were only partially paid with the rest promised at some unspecified time in the future. Some had contracts, but had not yet been paid, and yet found their homes demolished one day without notice (one woman had just left her home to pick some leaves for her betel nut chew to come back with a demo team dismantling her home).

And all this is in the early stages. As I have seen in other sites, and have read about in even more, after this comes the force. The company is already telling the community that now is the time to sell, as now they are buying at “high” prices. Those that refuse to sell will simply be given what they will be given (an unveiled threat to say “sell now, or loose your house anyway for much less money”).

This lady is now afraid to leave her home, as she fears it won’t be there when she comes back if she does.

One of the big problems hitting Didipio at this early point in the mine’s entry into the community is family and community division. Many families and friendships have been strained and challenged by differing opinions regarding the mine. Some see it as an opportunity to modernize, and as opening up job opportunities.

This has led to some family members selling off land without consulting the rest of the family and in Philippine society, this sort of divide and conquer has horrible ramifications.

In this photo you see the remains of a home and farmland of one such family. A few years ago (when the mine was still in the exploratory stage) the illiterate parents of a college educated woman gave title of the land over to her in order to protect them from being ripped off by the coming mine.

The parents wanted to stay, or at the very least be paid well, for their land. The company’s scare tactics, unfortunately, worked and the daughter (who no longer lived in the community anyway) ended up selling (minus one home, which met the same fate as that of the woman in my previous post). The family is now at odds with one another.

Their homes dismantled and land bulldozed, the parents are now fighting to be compensated in what they see as fairly. They’ve put up caution tape around their land and keep watch in an attempt to keep the company off their land.

This is a common story here. Many families have been broken up in the pro and against camps. In some cases this has resulted in family members no longer speaking with one another.

Divide and Conquer. It’s an old game in the Phils. The Spanish, American, and Japanese found it effective, and so now do the multinationals.

The events taking place in Didipio are in the early stages. At the time of my visit in early January 2008, it was still attempting to get agreement with landowners before moving in. Even at this stage there were social and economic problems. Economically some locals were not getting paid for all of their homes/property/crops; or not being paid before having had their homes demolished. Socially, the entry of the mine has severely divided the community and even families.

Since then the company has stepped up their operations. As the writer who accompanied me has since reported in an email to me:

According to Ramoncito Gozar, Vice President for communications and external affairs of OceanaGold Philippines, Inc., the company will now fully use its rights vested by the Mining Act of 1995 to pave way to the construction phase of the Didipio Gold-Copper mine. OceanaGold management have ordered their contractors to demolish houses, then negotiate later.

The company requested the presence of a composite team from the Philippine National Police Mobile Group in Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino provinces to augment its security contractor, Sagittarius Security Agency to avert possible resistance from those who will defy the demolition order. Villagers are protesting the company’s “demolish now, negotiate later” scheme.

He has also posted amatuer video on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-T5QfDmWGw

I asked the Australian Ambassador to the Phils about mining in the Phils and laid it down straight for me in an earlier post.


[Photo Notes: ©2008 alex felipe, All Rights Reserved, contact photographer for use queries: alex.felipe@gmail.com]


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For detailed information on the Didipio project visit Oxfam-Australia, there’s a summary on this page and a full case report can be downloaded (at the bottom of the page): http://www.oxfam.org.au/campaigns/mining/ombudsman/cases/didipio/

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General Info about Philippine mining:

The Philippines is ranked second to South Africa in production (per unit of land area). Gold is found throughout the islands and mining is one of the centre pieces of the government’s economic strategy–that’s part of what makes this so tragic for me as I don’t see any of that wealth reaching the common people.

The Philippine Mining Act (RA 7942) allows:
– 100% foreign ownership.
– Renewable 5 year tax holidays (after which they pay 2%).
– Tax and duty-free importation of capital equipment and spare parts.
– Tax credits and exemption from the Value Added Tax.
– 100% repatriation of profits, investments, remittance of loans and obligations, and freedom from expropriation.

There are three main financial centres for global mining multinationals. They are:
– London, England
– Toronto, Canada
– Melbourne, Australia

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See my other stories on mining HERE.