To the surprise of both NGOs and indigenous participants, the representative of the Mineral Geoscience Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources proposed that it would be better to revise the ‘core zones’ rather than challenging the company’s actions and operations. Again this statement ignited the debate even further “ECAN amendment in Brooke’s Point would be inconsistent. Any proposed change to the zoning system should be discussed publically in a Barangay Assembly and in close consultation with the communities. Core zones should be protected rather than amended to accommodate the interests on the mining companies” responded Mayo-Anda and Congressman Alvarez.
In addition to geotagging and ocular inspection, MacroAsia was also challenged on the bases of social acceptability. “It will not be difficult to establish that the people of Brookes Point are overwhelmingly against any mining. This is what we indigenous peoples and farmers have been trying to communicate to the government for the past two years through public demonstrations and rallies but they did not listen” said ALDAW Chairman Artiso Mandawa.
Hon. Baham Mitra, Governor of Palawan and newly elected PCSD chairman, finally approved the motion. This entails that the decision to endorse a SEP clearance to MacroAsia is deferred until a multipartite team composed of PCSD technical staff, local government officials, NGOs and Indigenous Peoples’ representatives visits the proposed area and investigates the ALDAW findings and all pending issues raised by the NGO community. The team should also be in charge of determining: 1) the legality of endorsements by local government units; 2) the expected impact of mining on indigenous culture and livelihood; 3) the potential impact of mining on tourism industry; 4) the economic value of the 91 hectares for which SEP clearance is being sought by MacroAsia.
“This is just an initial victory for the indigenous peoples and our NGOs supporters” commented Artiso Mandawa (ALDAW Chairman) at the end of the meeting. “It proves that illicit affairs are not unstoppable, when the evidence brought forward is there to light up every dark corner and to expose all bed practices of mining companies and their political allies” addend Mandawa.
Some reflections on the way forward
To avoid the transformation of Palawan (the Last Philippine’s Frontier) into a mining destination the following actions would be required.
The Local Government (LGU)
The LGU should ensure that all mining related decisions which are likely to affect local communities and their environment, be discussed with an independent committee formed by indigenous peoples, local farmers, NGOs and IPs organizations’ representatives in order to enhance transparency and accountability in decision making process.
Moreover, the LGUs should stick to their original Municipal Comprehensive Land Use Plans (CLUPs) without trying to reclassify ECAN zones into multiple/manipulative use zones to allow extractive activities.
The PCSD should stop issuing permits to mining companies to operate in ecologically precious and/or fragile areas, since this is in violation with the agency’s own mandate. Even more importantly, PCSD should stop any attempt of changing the definition of core zones and other zones to allow mining activities in forested land. It has already been established that some definitions such as those of ‘controlled use zones’ have been amended by the Council to please big corporations’ interests. For instance, according to the SEP law, in Controlled Use Area – (the outer protective barrier that encircles the core and restricted use areas) “strictly controlled mining and logging, which is not for profit…may be allowed”. Recently the ‘not for profit’ specification has been eliminated, thus opening these zones to commercial extractive activities.
Evidence, also indicate that PCSD maps are also inconsistent with the SEP zoning criteria. For instance, those areas that encircle and provide a protective buffer to the ‘core zones’, rather than being demarcated in blue (the color of restricted-use zones) are demarcated in brown, the color of ‘controlled use zones’ where mining is now allowed. These inconsistencies should be explained and rectified by the PCSD, as soon as possible.
Before, issuing SEP clearances the PCSD should consult indigenous and farmers communities. As of now, this has never been the case.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)
The DENR should stop fast-tracking mining contracts in Palawan. It should make watersheds off-limits to mining, as well as those areas of high biodiversity and endemism, to include Indigenous Peoples’ Ancestral Domains. This should lead to the suspension of all existing MPSA and FTAA until all controversial issues and ambiguities are clarified.
Ultimately, the DENR should solve its inherent conflict of interest caused by its dual functions: on one hand protecting the environment and the indigenous peoples and, on the other, promoting mining. Therefore, it is suggested that the responsibility related to the issuing of mining licenses should be dealt with by the Department of Mines, Hydrocarbons and Geosciences.
NCIP should stop issuing certificate of pre condition/clearances to mining applications and influencing indigenous peoples into endorsing mining projects. NCIP should also ensure that all FPIC processes carried out in conjunction with mining issues are evaluated by an independent body formed by indigenous leaders elected by their own communities, by representatives of indigenous organizations and, if the latter require so, by members (researchers, journalists, advocates, etc) of foreign institutions.
The National Government
The State should call for an immediate halt of mining operations in Palawan since such activities contravene those provisions contained in well-know conventions ratified by the Philippine Gove[e.g. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)], the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage and; the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Ultimately, the National Government should revoke the 1995 mining act and issue a new act placing more emphasis on human rights and ecological balance, while regulating mining for the public interest.
The Provincial Government
In late 2008, the provincial board of Palawan has passed a provincial resolution providing for a moratorium on small-scale mining for a period of 25 years. This local legislative effort is not enough to prevent large scale and exploration activities in the province. The Provincial Government should prove and demonstrate to the National Government that the revitalization of the mining industry is not compatible with the special environmental status of Palawan Island, nor with the PCSD’s primary goal of achieving sustainable development in accordance with the Strategic Environmental Plan (RA 7611).
Having established Palawan as a “Man and Biosphere Reserve” the UNESCO should play a more incisive and pro-active role, specifically when national governments, such as the Philippines, violate the condition for which such ‘prestigious awards’ have been granted.