By Cheryl A. Galili

A TOWN mayor here in Palawan has earned the accolade of members of several non-government organizations (NGOs) for issuing a moratorium to stop new mining explorations and operations in his municipality and avoid the destruction of its environment.

Being praised is Mayor Cesario R. Benedito, Jr. of the first class municipality of Brooke’s Point in southern Palawan who issued an executive order recently to stop further mining explorations and operations that many residents allegedly claim will only destroy the balance in their environment. It took effect on June 3, 2008 and will be enforced for 10 years.

Currently, there are 38 large and small scale applications for mining explorations in Brooke’s Point, and two have reportedly been given their mineral production sharing agreements (MPSAs), MacroAsia Corporation and Ipilan Nickel Company (INC).

Executive Order No. 28, which was actually done by Benedito on December 20, 2007, it is stated that “Republic Act 7160, otherwise known as the Local Government Code (LGC) of 1991 mandates the municipal mayor to issue such executive orders as necessary for proper enforcement of laws.”

It stated further that “one of the primary concerns of the local government unit of Brooke’s Point is to intensify environmental laws, particularly the protection of its forest and marine resources, its utilization and conservation as well. And to effectively safeguard the environment and protect the rights of affected communities.”

Section 2 of the EO specified that “only mines whose permits are approved by the Mines and Geo-Sciences Bureau (MGB) confirmed and already operating in Brooke’s Point as of this date, shall be the only recognized mining entities in the municipality and a moratorium for new mining applications shall be implemented for a maximum period of 10 years.”

The executive order, according to Palawan NGO Network, Inc. (PNNI) Executive Director Cleofe Bernardino, is laudable and expresses the true sentiment of the people of Brooke’s Point, may they be indigenous peoples or not.

“Mayor Benedito should be lauded and emulated by other mayors for what he did,” Bernardino said when interviewed by radio station DYER, adding they are very happy in the NGOs that their plea did not fall on deaf ears in Brooke’s Point.

“The residents of Brooke’s Point also deserve praises because they are the reason why Mayor Benedito issued the moratorium. They spoke and the mayor listened,” she added.

Brooke’s Point in southern Palawan is where MacroAsia, a large mining company, is applying to do large scale mining. Another company, Ipilan Nickel Corporation, is currently conducting mining explorations for future operation in Barangay Ipilan.

In related news, Bernardino is calling on Board member Gil P. Acosta of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan and Governor Joel T. Reyes to speed up the approval of the proposed mining moratorium by board members Vicky de Guzman, Joselito Cadlaon and Modesto Rodriguez II.

The moratorium, she said, is Palawan’s chance at saving the balance in its environment. “They should not allow this moratorium to sleep long and be delayed,” she stated when interviewed.

From the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, Rodriguez II said he is happy that Benedito of Brooke’s Point issued a moratorium. “It’s an additional success to the moratorium that we are proposing here in the Sangguniang Panlalawigan. The EO means that different LGUs are already throwing support to our cause here to protect Palawan’s environment,” he said, adding that the chance of the moratorium being approved by other board members is at 51% currently.

Vice-Governor David A. Ponce de Leon, when asked, said he can’t comment because they have not received a copy of the EO as of Tuesday, June 3, the day it also took effect in Brooke’s Point.

By Celeste Anna R. Formoso

MACROASIA Corporation (MC) is set to obtain its environmental clearance certificate (ECC) second quarter of this year to start mining for nickel ores out of a 350 hectare area in barangay Ipilan, Brooke’s Point.

MacroAsia, a publicly-listed company owned by beer and tobacco magnate Lucio Tan, has tenement claims in Brooke’s Point that tested positive of high-grade nickel ores.

Rufo S. Cabanlig, Jr., VP-Operations on Mining of MacroAsia and president of the pro-responsible mining group Kabuhayan, Kaunlaran at Kalikasan, Inc. (KKKI), disclosed in a media tete-a-tete at Hotel Fleuris recently that they are set to get their ECC from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for future mining of nickel laterites in Ipilan.

Three hundred fifty hectares are the only areas inside MacroAsia’s 1,114 mining claim that are economically viable so far with eight million tons of nickel ore that are worth US$200 million or P8 billion based on current world market prices.

Cabanlig assured that they will only start mining for nickel ores when they have already acquired an ECC and has complied with all the other requirements of the DENR and other government agencies related to their operation – including the conduct of environmental impact assessment, public consultations for social acceptability, endorsements from the barangay and municipal councils and the provincial board.

“It’s not true that we’re already producing,” he explained, belying alleged reports that MacroAsia is already shipping mined ores.

Cabanlig also clarified that contrary to reports that their Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) is new, it is valid and active and was a conversion of an old mining lease by Infanta Mineral & Industrial Corporation that first mined the area in the 70s.

On responsible mining, he said MacroAsia believes it can happen in Palawan. He said those who oppose mining should only allow themselves to see its benefits, such as the provision of power in distant barangays, development of communications, infrastructures, livelihood and others.

He also assured that they will be following all safety measures impose on large scale mining operations under the Philippine Mining Law to protect, conserve and preserve the environment within the areas where they operate and more.

Precisely, this is why the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines was organized in the province, he said, is to assure that the mining companies “achieve the best practices in their operations. The chamber will push too for ISO (International Organization for Standardization) certification for mining operations that would be eventually approved.

Ask to comment about the 25 year mining moratorium filed in the Provincial Board by Board member Modesto Rodriguez, Cabanlig said mining companies that operate within the bounds of the Philippine Mining Law should be given the opportunity to share in the development of the economy and the people in the province.

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By Cheryl A. Galili

AN ANTI-mining rally was held in barangay Ipilan, Brooke’s Point on January 31, 2008 allegedly participated in by nearly a thousand people, according to Fr. Joseph Cacacha, parish priest of Our Lady of Lourdes

Fr. Cacacha and Pastor Jonathan Lagrada, who is also the barangay chairman of Ipilan, spearheaded the rally in an attempt to stop the operations of both the Ipilan Nickel Corporation (INC) and MacroAsia Mining Incorporated (MMC).

Those who joined the rally were reportedly residents and local officials of Ipilan and the nearby barangays of Aribungos, Saraza, Maasin, Mambalot and Barong-Barong. It also belied claims that only 200 attended.

Ipilan and MacroAsia, he claimed, were purportedly simultaneously endorsed by the past barangay administration last November 19, 2007 without consultation.

In the endorsement, the proponents were given the authority to start operations, including the cutting of trees, road right of way and water wide and road alignments.

Fr. Cacacha said the endorsement of the barangay does not have the real sentiments of the people and they want it revoked. He said they are asking for an explanation and proper consultation to the residents because the issue “is not simple” and that it is now creating divisiveness in the family.

“Iyong pamilya mismo nahahati-hati at di magkasundo (It is dividing the family that cannot agree together),” he stated.

Lagrada, on the other hand, said that base on his assessment, majority of the residents of Ipilan is “no to mining” because it would affect their livelihood. Fruits and other agricultural products are abundant in his barangay that’s why they do not need the promises of mining.

“Iyong iniingatan ng mga tao, kapag nag-operate itong mining, baka magkaroon ng damage itong mga basakan at niyogan kasi dito kumukuha ng income iyong mga tao (What the people here are protecting, if mining operates, their rice and coconut farms are their sources of income that might suffer damages),” he said.

But a source from Ipilan said they did not go to Brooke’s Point for an investment that would destroy rice and coconut farms. In their information, education and communications (IEC) campaign launching, table models were used to show how Berong Nickel Corporation in Berong, Quezon, its sister company, is implementing its rehabilitation process and its water system management.

Bishop Pedro D. Arigo, apostolic vicar of Puerto Princesa, who was present in the rally in Brooke’s Point, explained the ill-effects of mining. He said that based in an assessment report of the 2,500 scientists who conducted a study, deforestation is the main culprit in global warming and climate change.

Cutting trees, he added, paved the way for the mining industry and causes the destruction of the ozone layer that protects the people from ultraviolet rays.

Carbon emission from vehicles contributed lesser compared to the effects of deforestation. “Lahat ng mga sasakyan sa buong mundo, pagsama-samahin at doblehin iyon, iyan ang epekto ng deforestation sa global warming (All the vehicles in the world, put them together and double them, that’s the effect of deforestation to global warming),” the bishop stated.

From mining, he said heat waves, flash floods, starvation, water shortage and freezing water due to the melting of the ice in the North Pole will affect many people.

“Between 200 to 600 million people will go hungry because 50% of agriculture will be destroyed and there will also be water shortages,” he added.

If Filipinos would only notice, he said, mining investors seem to be choosing countries known as “Third World Countries” for their operations because they know its ill effects.

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By Celeste Anna R. Formoso

IN A laid-back, very charming town like Brooke’s Point in southern Palawan, numbers have become a bone of contention lately regarding the future of mining.

 

The disparity between the 6,000 plus people who attended the launching of the intensive information, education and communications campaign (IEC) done by the Ipilan Nickel Corporation (INC) at the plaza of barangay Maasin on January 29 and the 200 plus people who were inside the hall listening to the speakers in the anti-mining rally spearheaded by the non-government organization (NGO) on January 31 in barangay Ipilan, is too glaring to ignore.

 

ipilan1.jpg
School children in Brooke’s Point stand beside table models employed by Ipilan Nickel Corporation to explain the rehabilitation process and water management system by its sister company Berong Nickel Corporation in Berong, Quezon.

 

Residents in Brooke’s Point said that the anti-mining rally had been publicized since early part of January with reports that it would be attended by Bishop Pedro Arigo, the apostolic vicar of Palawan, and Mayor Edward S. Hagedorn of the City of Puerto Princesa. The anti-mining advocates in Brooke’s Point, on the other hand, would be led by Vice-Mayor Jean Feliciano, Fr. Joseph Cacacha and Pastor Jonathan Lagrada.

 

But on the day of the anti-mining rally, only Bishop Arigo was present; Mayor Hagedorn was not seen. A source who is privy to the bishop said he did not lead the rally; nor did the Catholic Church throw its weight around contrary to reports. He was just invited by the anti-mining advocates.

 

Observers present in both the IEC campaign of INC and the NGO-led rally stated the real contrast was about communication approaches.

 

While the NGOs utilized full-sized placards attacking the mining companies and very accusatory speeches, the IEC campaign of INC was done using a photo exhibit, brochures, comic books, on-the-spot painting contest and various games for the school children who came with their teachers.

 

Table models made of clay and other illustration materials were also utilized by Ipilan Nickel Corporation to provide the residents of Brooke’s Point an idea about how responsible mining is being done in Berong, Quezon by its sister company, the Berong Nickel Corporation (BNC).

 

ipilan2.jpg
INC used art activities to explain responsible mining to school children in Brooke’s Point during its IEC campaign launching.

 

Many of those who came to the launching said that the table models illustrating how the mining and progressive rehabilitation is being carried out and how water is being managed by a responsible mining company has effectively driven home the basic message that the INC Comrel staff would like to communicate to the people of Brooke’s Point, which is: that responsible mining is not going to destroy their farmlands.”medaling maintindihan kung may tiningnan na ganyan” (It is easy to understand if you have something like that to look at)

 

As early as eight in the morning, school children and local residents trooped to the venue of the Ipilan Nickel Corporation’s IEC launching to actively participate in various activities. By the afternoon, they themselves were already doing the briefing, explaining to the newcomers what the table models exemplify.

 

What served as the icing on the cake during the IEC launching was the use of music, which the INC people feel might work effectively in putting across their key messages to the residents of Brooke’s Point.

 

Local artists were invited to perform and sing with Soundoze, a famous local band from Puerto Princesa brought in by INC as a special treat for the communities of the town. Some local residents said that they have not seen anything like this in the past; not even political rallies were able to gather the kind of crowd that the IEC event succeeded in drawing together.

 

Tractors converted into family transport vehicles lined the highway during the concert. Vendors of barbeque, waffles, softdrinks, boiled eggs, peanuts and other snacks under colorful umbrellas, went home with income in their pockets and a sell-out of all their stocks.

 

Aida and Samuel Campued, a couple that had one of the stalls said they were happy about how their day turned out. “We are happy; we made good sales,” they said. There were about 15 stalls that stood near the venue of the IEC campaign launching to sell snacks.

 

Barangay Maasin chairman Ronnie Fortes was also present at the launching to personally hand the awards to the school children who won in art contests.

 

Janis Gordola and Verge Tagapulot of Soundoze enjoyed their visit to Brooke’s Point too. “This is the best crowd we have sung to… so appreciative and so well-behaved.” The couple is now enthused about learning more songs which they feel, based on their experience in Maasin, will be songs that people in the area would like.

 

Anti-mining advocates, according to sources in Brooke’s Point, continue to use various fora to disseminate misinformation about the growing industry. For instance, the NGOs claimed there are 352 mining companies in Palawan, when in actual fact, these are only applications.

 

During the University of the Philippines Alumni sponsored symposium on mining, Palawan Vice-Governor David A. Ponce de Leon had to correct this by saying: “There is no law which prohibits anyone from applying. But it does not mean that the government is going to allow all of these applicants to operate.”

 

Many folks in Brooke’s Point expressed their desire to see the anti-mining NGOs present more hard facts and alternatives than mere presumptions. “They always criticize; they do not offer alternatives.”

 

A source also said that the members of the business sector of Brooke’s Point with their own fears, yet alert to business opportunities which they know could accrue from mining, one by one, are breaking off from the anti-mining group,led by Vice-Mayor Jean Feliciano who, reportedly, has rejected several invitations to visit Berong Nickel Corporation in Berong, Quezon, and is determined to hold on to her anti-mining stand for political reasons.

 

To them she is beginning to sound like a “broken record”, continuously stating that she was elected to her position because of her anti-mining stand. “I do not like to disappoint the people who put me in this position.”

 

Apparently, this is the same song that the barangay chairmen of Ipilan and Maasin are singing. Many residents have expressed their desire to see a more intelligent analysis of their economic situation in Brooke’s Point, which according to the municipal government statistics has two-thirds of its 59,930 (as of last year’s update) population living below poverty line.

 

According to the Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP) of the municipality, Brooke’s Point’s forest cover has decreased by more than 20% since the 70’s, encroached upon by its agriculture, which continues to expand, unregulated. Between 1980 and 1990, approximately 21,500 hectares of forest cover was cleared for agriculture. Between 1990 and 2007, further clearing has taken place, but no data is currently available. In the same period from 1980 to 2007, no forest or trees were cleared for mining in the Brookes Point Municipality as there has been no mines operating.

 

Chuchi Calica, Community Relations Officer of the INC said: “Our company stand is: “Responsible mining can be another source of income for the many residents of Brooke’s Point, in addition to tilling their farmlands.” Calica further said that “there is no shortcut to sharing with the people of Brooke’s Point knowledge about how, with an efficient water management system and the use of appropriate and sustainable rehabilitation techniques, there is no need for farmers to fear mining.”

 

Ipilan Nickel hopes to alleviate this anxiety among the residents through intensified, sustained and effective information and education program which would employ a lot of music and arts, friendly community dialogues, focused group discussions and one-on-one presentations.

 

Repeatedly, during the anti-mining rally held in Ipilan last January 31, Feliciano was heard publicly lamenting the decrease in the number of anti-mining advocates in Brooke’s Point, insinuating that they have all been “bought” by the mining companies. Insiders at the municipal hall say that Feliciano, until now, could not accept the possibility that some of her former allies have begun to see responsible mining in a better light and have considered the benefits that could accrue from mining for the people of Brooke’s Point.

 

The low turnout of people who joined the rally, they said, in contrast to the overwhelming attendance at the launching of Ipilan Nickel’s education campaign, points to one glaring truth: “the large majority of the people of Brooke’s Point have minds of their own and they react positively and with a lot of intelligence to a sincere effort on the part of the mining companies to share information about responsible mining.”

 

They added that out of about 5,000 residents of Ipilan, if only 200-300 attended the anti-mining rally, not counting the usual crowd during market day, it should communicate something to its leaders.

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