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.
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).
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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