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.
By ELINANDO B. CINCO mb.com.ph