Sunday, January 23, 2011

Macroasia and the Plundering of Protected Areas: Unravelling the Roots of Illegality

ALDAW, Puerto Princesa - In spite of the growing outpour of international support and solidarity, it appears to be no end to the attempts of some government institutions to transform the Philippines “Last Frontier” (Palawan Island) into one of the most popular mining destinations (click on the map below to see the details!).

Click the map to enlarge it to its original size !
Indeed, the violation of indigenous ancestral land rights on Palawan Island (Philippines) has exacerbated towards the end of 2010, with the proliferation of street protests and peaceful demonstrations. On December 21, the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) [in the absence of the chair, NGO representative, and with the vice governor opposing] affirmed the decision of the PCSD executive committee made last December 4, 2010, to issue Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) clearances to Macro Asia Mining Corporation and Ipilan Nickel Mining Corporation (INC).
According to the Environmental Legal Environmental Center (ELAC) such clearances would enable these mining corporations to conduct large-scale mining operations within natural forests, protected areas and within the ancestral domain of the Palawan indigenous peoples. According to the SEP, the affected areas are classified as ‘strict protection’ or ‘core zones’ and ‘restricted use zones’. “The PCSD decision overstepped the bounds of the law that it is mandated to uphold, and ultimately placed Palawan’s natural and cultural heritages at great risk” said ELAC Attorney Gerthie Mayo Anda.

Surprisingly, on July 30, the indigenous peoples of Palawan and the local NGOs had succeeded in obtaining from the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) a deferment of a SEP endorsement to MacroAsia Corp. On that occasion Governor Baham Mitra agreed to defer the decision to endorse a SEP clearance to MacroAsia until a multipartite team composed of PCSD technical staff, local government officials, NGOs and Indigenous Peoples’ representatives would have visited the proposed area to investigate indigenous peoples complaints. Sadly, since then, the PCSD has made no efforts in constituting the much-wanted “multipartite team”.

The PCSD is the government body in charge of implementing the “Strategic Environmental Plan”, a very special environmental law aiming at ensuring the sustainable development on the island. This ‘Strategic Plan’ was created and put into place through conspicuous financial resources coming from the European Union which culminated with the  implementation of the Palawan Tropical Forestry Protection Programme (PTFPP). “It would be tremendously useful if the European Commission itself would begin an in-depth evaluation on how its multi-million investments in the preservation of Palawan Island have been rather vilified by reckless mining policies and by short-sighted politicians. Somebody must be made accountable for these conservation failures” said Dario Novellino, International Coordinator of the ALDAW Network (Ancestral Land Domain Watch).

Palawan is well known as the bio-diversity richest province in the Philippines and, for this reason, in the eighties, the entire island was declared by the UNESCO as a Man and Biosphere Reserve. “We tried to approach UNESCO several times on this issue” said a spokesman of the ALDAW Network (Ancestral Land/Domain Watch). “Through its silent and inertia, the UNESCO has shown, once again, how these declarations bring little or no benefits to local communities, especially when there is no clear political commitment to uphold them. Overall UNESCO has revealed the general weakness of the entire United Nations system, that is a chronic incapacity to take unequivocal positions on urgent matters requiring unambiguous and concerted political efforts” he added.

The political squabbles underlying the mining saga on Palawan Island are clearly detected in the ambiguous behavior of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) - the official government body in charge of protecting the rights of tribal communities. As of now, the NCIP Palawan Provincial Office has bluntly violated all required procedures leading to transparent and genuine FPIC processes, siding instead with the mining companies. As a result, the indigenous communities of Brooke’s Point Municipality have bitterly rejected the so-called Certificates of Precondition issued by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), in favor of mining companies.

On January 2011, Alyansa Tigil Mina (“The Alliance Against Mining”) - the largest advocacy network in the Philippines - has asked clarifications to NCIP national office on the compilation of an investigation report allegedly prepared by NCIP Provincial Officer Roldan Parangue, in response to the complains raised by the indigenous people of Brookes’ Point. In a letter dated 11 January 2011 Myrna L. Caoagas, from NCIP National, stated that the NCIP main office has never received such report.
Obviously, while the NCIP is unable to provide evidences of Indigenous Peoples’ Free and Prior Informed Consent, MacroAsia Corporation and INC are working hard to prove that their operations have been favorably accepted by local communities.  Village people that are not from Brookes’ Point Municipality are “induced” by both companies to make positive statements in their favor. Specifically, Mrs. Apolonia “Onyang” De Las Alas, a councilor from Mabalot village - and originally from the Municipality of Agutaya, in the North of Palawan - was invited to talk on the behalf of the indigenous peoples of Brookes’ Point in a press conference jointly organized by MacroAsia and INC, on January 5.  This has raised a fierce reaction on the part of the traditional and legitimate indigenous leaders.  Meanwhile, the ALDAW network has decided to approach Congressman Teddy Brawner Baguilat  (chairperson of the National Cultural Committee) requesting a Congressional Investigation of these matters.However, time to save Palawan is running out: towards the end of this month, Baham Mitra, Governor of Palawan and chairman of the PCSD will express his own decision on whether to endorse a SEP clearance to MacroAsia, Ipilan Nickel Corporation and LEBACH. As of now, all these companies have failed to secure the needed social acceptability requirements and have bluntly violated the basic tenets of both the Strategic Environmental Plan (SEC) and of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA Law).

Once again, one of the government agencies to be blamed for these violations is the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (SEP). ELAC believes that “the Council overlooked the clear intent of the SEP law when it compromised its zoning policy to accommodate certain mining interests”. For the same reason, the ALDAW network has recently requested the PCSD to stop any further 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” found in the Strategic Environmental Plan have been amended by the Council to please extractive industries. 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”. Uncharacteristically, the “not for profit” specification has been eliminated, thus opening these zones to commercial extractive activities.

Clearly, the newly produced ALDAW video and additional geotagged evidences reveal that MacroAsia and INC have carried out exploration activities in ‘core zones’ (areas of maximum protection), as well as in ‘restricted zones’ and watershed areas. The locations of MacroAsia test-pits have been documented in areas of pristine virgin forest, and also at high altitudes (e.g. around and above 1,000 meters ASL) and specifically in those areas of primary forest where indigenous people harvest the resin of Almaciga trees (Agathis philippinensis), which is traded by the local communities for rice and other prime commodities.ALDAW geotagging-data further indicates that LEBACH drilling activities are also taking place out of the limits of its Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) area.  Recently, the company has also harassed and intimidated local farmers by cutting their coconut palms, in the attempt of forcing them out of their own land. In conjunction with these field investigations, Artiso Mandawa, ALDAW national coordinator, has received persistent dead threats. “I will continue to fight for my people and my land, until the President of the Philippines puts a halt to all those mining investments that are genocidal to indigenous people” said Mandawa.

We are afraid that the pronunciation of the newly elected President and especially of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is that they would pursue mining as an economic policy, just like the previous Arroyo government. We cannot fight climate change if we will not prioritize sustainable development” added Alyansa Tigil Mina National Coordinator Jaybee Garganera.

It is rather ironic that President “Noynoy” Aquino’s centerpiece program is poverty alleviation and strict implementation of anti-corruption measures. Corruption, however, is not only about grafting, it is a state of mind, something that contradicts all ethical principles on which human coexistence and well being should be based.  Sacrificing watersheds, forests and people’s livelihood in favor of foreign profit is unethical; it is the most corrupted way of dealing with public welfare while jeopardizing the future of the coming generations.  Surely, “Noynoy” Aquino’s fight against corruption and poverty will not be credible, until the new administration comes up with a new mining policy to ban mining in Palawan, while revoking Executive Order 270-A or the revitalization of mining for the Philippines as a whole.

What you can do ...

Sign a Petition to Stop Mining in Palawan!

And address your concerns to:

For more information watch ALDAW videos on Vimeo and on YouTube or contact the ALDAW INDIGENOUS NETWORK (Ancestral Land/Domain Watch) , ELAC (Environmental Legal Assistance Center) or and or Alyansa Tigil Mina ( or )

Source: ALDAW, 22 January 2011

(Ancestral Land/Domain Watch)
is a Philippines-based advocacy campaign network of Indigenous Peoples
 defending their ancestral land and resources from mining corporations, oil palm companies, top-down conservation schemes and all forms of imposed development.


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Giacomo Rambaldi said...

The Philippine Daily Inquirer just published this interesting article By Gina Lopez:
Guardians or opportunists?