MANILA (AFP) — An Australian mine operator in the Philippines is to be investigated for alleged human rights abuses, the Commission on Human Rights said Thursday.
The Manila-based rights body said investigators would examine reports of rights violations by Oceana Gold (Philippines) Inc. at its mining site in Didipio in the northern province of Nueva Vizcaya. The firm is a unit of Australia's Oceana Gold Corp.
Commission chairwoman Leila de Lima said the company had been accused of forcibly demolishing more than 180 houses owned by the local tribal community.
She said alleged abuses included "killings, forced negotiations and harassments."
Investigators would also look into reports that an armed national police contingent was guarding the Oceana mine site, she said.
"The issue of development aggression must be fully analysed and the commission will further look into the case and find out how these mining companies affect the human rights of the communities," she told AFP.
However, she said the commission would also look into complaints by the mining firm that it was being harassed by the local government, after provincial governor Luisa Cuaresma ordered it shut down because it had allegedly failed to pay local taxes.
In May, a village official was shot dead after acting as mediator between local officials and the mining firm. Police have not pinpointed a suspect, but say the killing was clearly related to the dispute.
De Lima on the other hand said there were also reports that Oceana security personnel had shot at locals and in one instance physically attacked villagers.
"This investigation is multi-dimensional. We can't just listen to one side," she said, adding that the findings could form the basis for any criminal complaints in the future.
The 320-million-dollar Didipio project employs many locals for mine construction activities ahead of production, which is scheduled to start in 2010.
Oceana Gold describes the deposits as "one of the highest grade gold-copper porphyries in the world," and the Philippine government is expecting some 700 million dollars in tax revenues over the mine's lifespan.
Oceana Gold Corp. is listed on the Australian, New Zealand and Toronto stock exchanges.
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