Saturday, January 23, 2010

Counter-mapping in the Philippines: The Gantong Geo-Tagged Report

On July 2009, a mission led by the Philippine-based Ancestral Land/Domain Watch (ALDAW) and the Centre for Biocultural Diversity (CBCD) at the University of Kent traveled to the eastern side of the Gantong range, in Brooke’s Point Municipality, Province of Palawan. Palawan is part of the “Man and Biosphere Reserve” program of UNESCO and hosts 49 animals and 56 botanical species found in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The mission’s actual ‘matching’ of collected GPS data to photographs shows that the Mineral Production Sharing Agreements (MPSA) of two mining firms [MacroAsia and Celestial Nickel Mining and Exploration Corporation (CNMEC) now operated by Ipilan Nickel Corporation (INC)] overlap with precious watersheds endowed with numerous creeks, springs and waterfalls providing potable water to the local indigenous communities and lowland farmers. More importantly, under the ECAN Guidelines of the Strategic Environmental Plan for Palawan (Republic Act 7611), such areas constitute the so called “core zones” of maximum protection where industrial extractive activities are not allowed.

At an altitude of about 500m ASL the mission reached indigenous settlements inhabited by very traditional Palawan having limited contacts with the outside. Their sustenance totally depends on the available forest resources, and it consists of a heterogeneous economy where sustainable swidden cultivation is integrated with foraging and the collection of non-timber forest products (NTFPs).

Overall, the mission moved from an elevation of a few meters ASL to an altitude of about 670m ASL, where one of the furthermost Palawan settlements is located. The mission’s GPS coordinates were obtained through the use of the JOBO GPS device being connected to the camera’s hot shoe. Positions were taken at intervals of several meters in order to reconstruct the mission’s full itinerary. The geo-tagged images were then loaded into ‘Photo GPS Editor’ and displayed on satellite Google map. All upland Palawan interviewed during the ALDAW/CBCD mission have declared that they have never been consulted about the entrance of mining companies in their traditional territories.

According to indigenous representatives, the Palawan branch of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) – the government body mandated to ‘protect and promote the interest and well-being of cultural communities’ – is now siding with the mining companies. It is hoped that the ALDAW/CBCD Gantong geo-tagged report will facilitate the circulation of information, at both the national and international levels, on the threats faced by ‘irresponsible mining’ in the Philippines’ “last frontier”. An international campaign to support indigenous Palawan claims to their ancestral land has also been initiated by Survival International.


The ALDAW NETWORK (Ancestral Land/Domain Watch) is an advocacy-campaign network of Indigenous Peoples jointly constituted by NATRIPAL (United Tribes of Palawan) and BANGSA PALAWAN PHILIPPINES (Indigenous Alliance for Equity and Wellbeing) on August 2009.

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