Philippines: Major setback in Palawan campaign


In recent months Plant Talk has been closely following the unfolding drama in Palawan Province, Philippines, where corporations and the government are colluding to turn pristine rainforest into a giant mine. Last week the news took a turn for the worse.

Despite an oupouring of international support and solidarity for the people and forests of Palawan Province the multi-billion dollar mining giants MacroAsia recently announced (through the pages of the Philippine Star) they have received an Environmental Clearance Certificate (ECC) from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for a nickel mine covering 1,114 hectares in Brooke's Point.

This decision will lead to the devastation of one of the last and best conserved forests in the Philippines, which treasures high-biodiversity and is also home to increasingly vulnerable indigenous communities.

“ECC endorsement to MacroAsia by DENR clearly shows that National decisions are bluntly violating and bypassing all legal procedures underlying the endorsement of  mining permits. In Palawan the law requires mining companies to secure first a clearance from the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) before applying for a ECC and – as of now - MacroAsia has failed to do so.” Artiso Mandawa, ALDAW chairman

PCSD is a local government body in charge of implementing the Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP law) for the protection and sustainable management of the Province. It seems they may be neglecting their duty in this instance.

It is only two month since the indigenous peoples of Palawan and the local NGOs had succeeded in obtaining from PCSD a deferment of a SEP endorsement to MacroAsia.

lady hanging sign in protest to mine in Philippines

Local objection to the mine in Palawan Province is strong

At a PCSD meeting held on 30 July, GPS evidence presented by the ALDAW network and its international partner, the Centre for Biocultural Diversity (CBCD) – University of Kent), clearly demonstrated that MacroAsia mining interests are concentrated in areas of high biodiversity in primary forest up to and above 1,000m. Due to the evidence jointly brought forward by ALDAW and CBCD, it was decided to defer the decision to endorse a SEP clearance to MacroAsia until a multi-partite team composed of PCSD technical staff, local government officials, NGOs and Indigenous Peoples’ representatives would have visited the proposed area to investigate ALDAW findings and the complaints raised by the NGO community. This official decision is now being circumvented by DENR irresponsibility and those two short months seem a much longer time ago as hope turned to shock.

Ironically enough the DENR, through the issuing of an ECC to MacroAsia, is not only bypassing legal procedures, but it is also infringing the Philippine Mining Act, which prohibits mining in old growth or virgin forest, proclaimed watershed forest reserves, wilderness areas, and other areas of outstanding environmental value. The DENR is also neglecting those international obligations to which the Philippine Government is obliged.

“Palawan is a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve but the national government is violating the condition for which such prestigious award was granted. Not only MacroAsia operations, but also those of other mining companies in Palawan are contravening the provisions contained in well-know conventions ratified by the Philippine Government: the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” Dr. Dario Novellino, UKC/CBCD

The irony of the situation is that Palawan is said to have one of the best environmental laws in the country (the Strategic Environmental Plan), but the law itself is continuously being amended to favour large corporations. As a result, both Indigenous organisations and Palawan NGOs are now requesting the PCSD to 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’ found in the Strategic Environmental Plan have been amended by the Council to please extractive industries." Dr. Dario Novellino

Novellino added: “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”.

three men looking at evidence of mineral exploration in the forest

Palawan men looking at evidence of mineral exploration in the forest

Aside from MacroAsia, other mining companies are posing equally serious threats to the people of Brookes’ Point, in particular the Ipilan Nickel Corporation (INC) and the Lebach. And the justification is always in the name of economic development. However, a recent study by Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) - an alliance of mining-affected communities and their support groups have recently demonstrated that the mining industry in the Philippines has failed to keep its promises of investments, employment and tax revenues.

In spite of all this, the mining pressures on the Philippine's Last Frontier is escalating, with DENR fast-tracking mining contracts at an alarming speed. For both indigenous organizations and NGOs, having to deal with the widespread corruption, and with the multitude of new and emerging mining companies, it has become a very strenuous, uncertain and overwhelming task.

“For this reason we are now looking for a long-lasting and stable solution to this problem. We are appealing to the newly elected president Noynoy Aquino to scrap the mining act and declare Palawan a mining-free province. The President has the power to reverse those policies that have brought much suffering to our people and to our precious environment." Artiso Mandawa

Related links:

Sign the petition to stop mining in Palawan

Philippine mine given shock clearance (Survival International)

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