Monthly Archives: May 2011

Escape to Palawan Island

The boats at the El Nido, Palawan

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Escape to Palawan Island for a conservation haven

Is this a good time to visit Palawan Island in the Philippines? We’re thinking of a week-long trip at the end of the month, but we’re not sure about the climate at this time of the year. Can you suggest places on the island that aren’t too crowded with tourists?

Palawan was declared a marine and wildlife sanctuary in 1967 and to this day remains one of the best conserved islands in the Philippines, boasting nearly 2,000km of coastline fringed with coral reefs. While north Palawan is relatively easy to tour, poor infrastructure makes south Palawan difficult to access.

The climate is hot and humid right through the year, much like the rest of the Philippines, but late February to May is the best time to go – after this, the islands receive torrential downpours thanks to two monsoon seasons (June to October; November to February).

If you want to avoid the crowds, drive straight through Puerto Princesa, the capital and a busy tourist destination, to Taytay, a quiet town that used to be the island’s capital. Most tourists give Taytay a miss – it’s a good eight hours by road from the capital (300 pesos [Dh26] per person by van) – but is worth an overnight stay. Spend the day snorkelling and diving off the pristine beaches, kayaking and birdwatching on Lake Manguao, Palawan’s largest lake, and swimming under the Canique waterfalls. Taytay is also home to Fort Isabel, a 17th-century Spanish citadel that’s worth a visit.

Further down the coast is the picturesque town of El Nido. Comprising 45 islands and tiny islets, El Nido is a paradise of seascapes and jungles, and is relatively free of tourists because of conservation efforts. The seven to nine-hour drive down bad roads by van (from 700 pesos [Dh60] per person) from Puerto Princesa also works as a deterrent, but is quite worth the trouble. From the reefs to the freshwater springs, El Nido has enough to keep visitors absorbed for days at a stretch. Bacuit Bay is wonderful to explore by boat, (hired locally, from 700 pesos [Dh60] per person) and is surrounded by limestone cliffs.

Port Barton is a lesser known fishing village set around pretty Pagdanan Bay in north-west Palawan, about four hours from Puerto Princesa by bus (400 pesos, Dh34). Uncluttered by touristy attractions, it is a good base from which to enjoy water-based activities. Further north is Coron Island, designated as the “ancestral domain” of the indigenous Tagbanwa people, and famous for its granite cliffs, cave systems and the wrecks of Japanese ships from the Second World War that lie a few kilometres off the coast.

Christine Iyer

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Free medical services to residents of El Nido


LGU, WESCOM deliver free medical services to residents of El Nido

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Palawan, May 16 (PIA) — To deliver free medical and dental services to its people, the local government of El Nido had teamed up with the Western Command (WESCOM) and the Joint Task Force Malampaya (JTFM) and the Shell Foundation Incorporated thru Kilusang Ligtas Malaria (KLM) in conducting a medical and dental mission in Barangay Sibaltan recently.

More than 300 underprivileged residents of the barangay availed of the free services offered in the mission, which included basic check-up, tooth extraction and free circumcision. Free medicines and vitamins were also handed out to the patients.

The said medical and dental mission was part of the “Lakbay Barangay 2011” program of the municipal government of El Nido, headed by Mayor Edna Gacot-Lim, which aims to bring basic government services to the constituents of the municipality. The program works on the theme “Strengthening Governmental Cooperation and Solidarity.”

“The Internal Peace and Security Plan of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) was also formulated on the principles of unified efforts and cooperation, which is why we give our full support to government programs that promote these values and help mold the mindset that together, we can achieve more,” LtGen Juancho M. Sabban, WESCOM Commander, stated.

WESCOM had also joined the “Lakbayan sa Palawan” program of the provincial government, its government-on-wheels community affairs program that was conceptualized to deliver government services to the Palawenyos through the concerted efforts of key players.

In the past months, the provincial government had brought the “Lakbayan” to the municipalities of Brooke’s Point, Española and Narra in Southern Palawan. More recently, “Lakbayan” had been to the municipality of Dumaran.

The medical and dental mission in El Nido had also taken a celebratory mood as it coincided with the 51st birthday of JTFM’s Commander, Captain Alexander S. Lopez.

As a tribute to their commander and as a way of marking the special day, a tree-planting activity was conducted by the JTFM team in their headquarters before proceeding to the area where the mission was going to be held. (6th Civil Relations Group/PIA4B-Palawan)

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10 million signatures to keep Palawan free from mining


Image by sehmaschine via Flickr

Palawan realities

MANILA, Philippines — There is now a feverish campaign to gather 10 million signatures to keep Palawan free from mining.  What appears to be an advocacy group called Save Palawan Movement is reportedly fronting for the foundation arm of a giant radio-TV network.  Its main campaigner, it appears, is Ms. Gina Lopez.

In an effort to clear things up, the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) sent an e-mail statement to this columnist in what it calls “sifting fact from fiction in Palawan.”

For example, the PCSD, created in 1992 through the Strategic Environmental Plan, ensures the sustainability of Palawan, Lopez says. “Since sustainability is holistic by its very definition,” then PCSD should aim for the “preservation of non-renewable resources.”

In answer, the PCSD statement said the truth is that nowhere in the law does it explicitly provide for “preservation of non-renewable resources.” If that principle applied to the Middle Eastern countries, for instance, many nations would still be living in the Stone Age, since the former would keep their oil resources undeveloped and intact.

It is the policy of the State to protect, develop, and conserve the country’s natural resources and to preserve and enhance the environment while pursuing socio-economic goals. The state can promote sustainable development through proper conservation, utilization, and development of natural resources to provide optimum yields on a continuing basis. In other words, we should use our natural resources in a responsible way.

Lopez claims that under the PCSD, Palawan has actually lost 16 percent of its forest cover compared to other provinces. PCSD was supposed to protect Palawan because of its biodiversity, and yet, she says, among the provinces in the country, Palawan appears to be the most ravaged. What is worse, she added,  is that the 16 percent decline was recorded before the Mining Act was passed.

The PCSD disputes this assertion. In 1992, Palawan’s forest was recorded at 738,886, representing about 52 % of Palawan’s total land area. In 2005, the forest cover went down to 46%, appearing to have declined by about 6%, or 5,500 has. per year for the 13 years from 1992 to 2005. The decrease in forest cover is not due to mining but mostly to conversion of public lands into alienable and disposable to support the government’s land titling and agrarian land reform programs, the statement stated.

The reported forest loss is  comparatively very low as the deforestation rate was  a record high  at 19,000 has./year  in the early 80s before the SEP Law was passed, according to Romeo Dorado, OIC-exec. director of the PCSD staff.

Lopez further claims that opening Palawan to more mining companies will lead to massive deforestation.

The PCSD says the allegation is grossly inaccurate and lacking in well-established data support. PCSD scientific findings directly relate actual loss of the standing trees in Palawan not primarily to mining but to continuing harvest of timber for domestic consumption, forest land use conversion for agricultural development, and continuous establishment of human settlements to accommodate the province’s increasing population growth rate of an average of 3.5% per annum, mostly due to in-migration.

Moreover, according to PCSD, the disastrous forest fires in 1998 that engulfed southern Palawan, particularly Bulanjao Range and Mt. Mantalingahan tip, was aggravated by the El Niño phenomenon.  The 1998 forest fires practically shaved off a substantial portion of the existing natural forest.

Significantly, DAR’s  implementation of the CARP law for the past two  decades which necessitated issuance of CLOAs, including the national government’s land titling program implemented by the Land Management Bureau of the DENR, likewise converted about 35,260 has. of the forest lands in southern and central Palawan into agriculture and development. This forest land use conversion represented almost 50% of the forest loss, the PCSD statement continued.

Lopez argues that mining takes away the right of the people, especially the poor, to fish in the sea and to enjoy nature for free.

The few mining companies operating in Palawan dispute this. MacroAsia, for instance, sponsors on the average 120 scholars every school year. None of the scholars are malnourished, it says. And it also says it has provided 29 jetmatic water pumps to make potable water more accessible to the communities.

Lopez also alleges that mining activities in  Palawan do not enjoy social acceptability. She cites the case of Brooke’s Point, where a  consultation was held in two barangays where a mining company was going to operate. The “No to Mining” side won the vote, she says, but the PCSD proceeded with the project nevertheless.

The mining firm in question maintains that the public consultation in Mambalot was conducted as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process, supervised by the DENR and EMB. It was mainly intended to solicit the concerns and issues of the host communities, hence they were encouraged to voice out whatever apprehensions they may have. The meeting was not intended to prove the social acceptability of the projects and voting was not conducted.

MacroAsia claims that its host communities support the project as evidenced by the favorable endorsement from three barangays and the municipality of Brookes’ Point. In addition, the indigenous peoples in the area entered into a MoA with MacroAsia granting their Free and Prior Informed Consent.


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