Environmental protection groups on Monday asked the Ombudsman to investigate mining-related actions and decisions made by the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) which, they said, had led to the destruction of the province’s forests and watersheds.
In a letter-complaint to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, the environment groups also asked that the appropriate cases be filed against the PCSD officials once their complaints had been verified.
The letter was signed by ABS-CBN Foundation manager Regina Lopez, Aldaw Network chair Artiso Mandawa, Calategas Irrigators Service Association president Danny Cabiguen and Sagip Brooke’s Point representative Job Lagrada.
Enforcement of provisions
In the letter, they said PCSD officials had failed to enforce the provisions of the Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) for Palawan, a special law that aims to ensure that forests would be protected through a total commercial logging ban in environmentally critical areas and that watersheds and biological diversity are protected.
The SEP also seeks the protection of tribal peoples and their culture, as well as rare and endangered species and their habitats, among others.
According to the environment groups, the PCSD officials issued SEP clearances for mining operations within natural forests. They noted the SEP states that natural forests must be fully and strictly protected and be free of human disruption.
Clearances for operations
But they charged that nine mining firms had been issued clearances for their operations that “covered and endangered natural forests.”
“The issuance of SEP clearances paved the way for the conduct of mining operations in natural old growth and residual forests,” they said.
They further alleged that the mining activities resulted in the nickel laterite pollution of farmlands in Narra and Bataraza, deforestation in portions of watersheds and key biodiversity areas, a reduction in farmers’ incomes, and seasonal cases of skin problems among residents in the mining areas.
The groups also contended that the Palawan officials essentially allowed the rezoning of natural forests to accommodate mining interests.
They said as well that the PCSD failed to monitor and prevent the encroachment of palm oil plantations into forest areas.
“While palm oil plantations are generally located in agricultural lands, it is disturbing to see edges of forest areas being threatened by such exotic species,” they said.
The Palawan officials also allegedly failed to stop the development of fishponds in mangrove areas, the groups said.
They said PCSD officials had demolished illegally constructed fishponds in the past, but the efforts were not continued. They also alleged the PCSD did not initiate actions that would have led to the rehabilitation or restoration of abandoned mine sites in Palawan.
“We strongly believe that if these key and senior officials of the PCSD were doing their jobs faithfully and conscientiously, the deforestation and resource degradation taking place in Palawan could have been avoided or mitigated,” they said.
In Puerto Princesa City, Palawan Governor Abraham Kahlil Mitra, also the PCSD chairman, said “maybe she (Lopez) should attend to environmental destruction at the Makati West Tower of the Lopez family first before proclaiming she is an environmentalist.”
In a text message to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Mitra added: “Also, her family controls the power plant that gets its gas from Malampaya which is in Palawan, which is also an extraction of natural resources.”
Mitra said he would not comment on the letter of the environmental groups to the Ombudsman “until I see it.”
Elizabeth Maclang, advocacy officer of the Palawan NGO Network that was part of the group that initiated the complaint, said their complaint was “part of our overall effort to demand accountability from our local officials on the clear violation of our environmental laws in Palawan.”
P50-M damage suit
She said that in October, farmers from the mining town of Narra filed a P50-million damage suit against PCSD officials led by former Governor Joel Reyes for allowing a Canadian mining project in alleged violation of Palawan’s special law which protects natural forests from mining and similar “resource extractive” project.
The case stemmed from the Canadian firm MBMI Resources’ alleged failure to prevent siltation of their farm lands that resulted in widespread damage to rice fields.
The company, according to Maclang, was extended “special favors” by the PCSD and the provincial government which allowed them to operate.