Shooting of Filipino villager by security guard of Melbourne based miner, OceanaGold, highlights need for independent oversight

Campaigns and Advocacy, Media Releases article written on the 26 Mar 2008

Oxfam Australia is calling for an independent inquiry to determine whether the opposition of residents in a remote community in the Philippines is being appropriately responded to by Melbourne based mine operator OceanaGold, which plans to develop a gold and copper mine in the village of Didipio. The move follows reports that a security guard from the mine shot and wounded a villager.

According to The Philippine Daily Inquirer, the incident took place at around 11am on Easter Saturday 22 March when a demolition team from OceanaGold commenced tearing down the home of a local resident, reportedly asleep in the house at the time. According to the acting provincial police director, a group of local men rushed to the aid of the sleeping man and, in the process, one of the local men, Emilio Pumihic, was shot in the arm by a guard of OceanaGold.

‘This is a very serious incident,’ said Oxfam Australia’s Mining Ombudsman, Shanta Martin. ‘An independent inquiry is needed to inquire into grievances that have long been raised by opponents to the mine operation and the extent to which OceanaGold’s actions are consistent with the human rights of those that have lived in Didipio for generations,’ Ms Martin said.

The incident follows a report published last year by Oxfam Australia, following five years of investigation, which found that many villagers in Didipio complained of harassment and intimidation by agents of the Melbourne-based mine operator. Alleged tactics included attempting to pressure people to sell their land at a price determined by OceanaGold and threatening legal proceedings against illiterate farmers – allegations flatly denied by OceanaGold.

Oxfam Australia called on the Australian mining industry and parliament to establish an independent complaints mechanism to help resolve complaints from communities affected by Australian mining operations overseas and avoid situations such as those that are now occurring in Didipio. ‘Until such a mechanism is established, companies such as OceanaGold should respond to community requests for independent oversight and assistance by institutions that have the trust of those local communities – including the elected Council, the Church, national Human Rights Institutions, and trusted non-governmental organisations,’ said Ms Martin.

On Tuesday this week, Oxfam contacted OceanaGold to raise its concerns over recent events in Didipio and to urge the mine operator to give public assurances that it does not and will not forcibly remove people from their houses; and will in no circumstances conduct a demolition while people or their belongings remain in their homes. Oxfam also raised the need for an independent body to assist resolved the situation, to which OceanaGold indicated in-principle agreement, and has urged the company to ensure that sufficient time is made available for those who are opposed to relocation to seek an agreed resolution.