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Double trouble in MIMAROPA: Brooke’s Point and Sibuyan dig their way out of mining threats

Brooke’s Point, Palawan and Sibuyan Island, Romblon communities both face mining threats from private companies, and subsequently, fight against these threats through collective action.

Words by Alex Delis, Aron Sierva, and Charleston Chang Jr.

Recent incidents proved how Palawan and Romblon are not just similar in the region they belong to, nor with the large nickel deposits that they are known for. Residents in Brooke’s Point, Palawan, and Sibuyan Island, Romblon are also united by the same cause – to collectively stand up against large-scale mining operations in their communities. 

The controversy on mining operations has sparked in Brooke’s Point and Sibuyan Island recently: both communities face a huge threat due to mining activities facilitated by two large private companies that both lack legal permits. 

Last February, the mining issue in Brooke’s Point once again resurfaced. A human barricade called “Barikada ng Bayan” was put up through the collective action of residents to oppose the mining operations of Ipilan Nickel Corporation (INC). 

Brooke’s Point residents set up the “Barikada ng Bayan” – a human barricade.

Photo from Alyansa Tigil Mina 

Residents and local government officials alike assert that the company currently operates without a Mayor’s Permit and Certificate Precondition (CP) from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP). 

Amid the call for the Department of Natural Resources (DENR) Cease and Desist Order against INC, a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) was issued last March 11, against anti-mining groups that are holding barricades at the mining site. Regional Trial Court of Brooke’s Point issued a TRO for a period of twenty days against the “rallyists that are occupying a portion of INC’s property and have set up barricades”, as stated in the order

Brooke’s Point has long been experiencing destructive mining activities of different companies. In fact, data shows that the mining sites are situated within heavily protected areas.

Meanwhile, last January, mining operations in Sibuyan Island started, which was facilitated by Altai Philippines Mining Corporation (APMC). Despite heavy opposition from residents and environmentalists, APMC pushed through with the operations until suspended by DENR due to notices of violations. 

The said suspension is not possible without the collective action of the Sibuyanons for the past couple of weeks. Residents set up their own barricade called “Barikada Kontra-Mina” in front of the mining site. Similar to Brooke’s Point, the company continues to operate despite not securing complete permits from concerned agencies. 

Two Sibuyan defenders were also left hurt after trying to block mining trucks from entering the private port. These trucks, aided by the police, forced their way through the human barricade.

The tension between Sibuyanons and police as a mining truck forced its way through the human barricade.

Photo from Alyansa Tigil Mina

In line with this turn of events, Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) launched its Anti-Mining Solidarity Week, from March 6-11, to echo calls opposing mining activities in Brooke’s Point and Sibuyan Island.

ATM is a coalition of mining-affected communities that aims to stop large-scale mining in the Philippines.

Unearthing the dangers

Brooke’s Point, dubbed as the “Growth Center of South Palawan,” is home to the Mount Mantalingahan Protected Landscape (MMPL) – the highest mountain in Palawan island and a 120,457-hectare protected area that is home to natural forest and watersheds. It is depended on for agriculture, drinking water, and various livelihoods (READ: Mining the gap: On Brooke’s Point and illegal mining).

Brooke’s Point is also home to several endangered species. In a 2021 interview with the Perspective, Brooke’s Point Vice-Mayor Jean Feliciano also deemed the place as the “food basket of Palawan”, supplying large amounts of food products in the province.

On the other hand, Sibuyan Island in Romblon dubbed the “Galapagos of Asia”, is considered “one of the densest forests in the world”. According to AGHAM – Advocates of Science and Technology for the People, Sibuyan is a small island ecosystem with “forests, mangroves and seagrass beds [that] are natural carbon sinks that serve as a defense for intensifying climate events”. Similar to Brooke’s Point, Sibuyan is relied on by residents for their basic needs.

This rich biodiversity is what the residents seek to protect as they call to stop mining activities. According to Cleng Julve, Campaigns Officer of AGHAM, “Mining has no place in a small island ecosystem such as Sibuyan.”

Elizabeth Ibanez, Coordinator of Sibuyanons Against Mining (SAM), added that mining on the island is “unacceptable”.

“To allow mining in Sibuyan, which is known to be the Galapagos of Asia, is unacceptable. Large-scale mining will drastically and negatively impact the rich biodiversity of our region as well as affect the livelihood of our people,” Ibanez said.

In fact, when DENR suspended mining operations in Sibuyan last February, they also ordered the Romblon Provincial Environmental and Natural Resources Office to investigate “the potentially damaged sea grass and other marine resources”.

Meanwhile, Feliciano also exposed the environmental implications supposedly brought upon by mining activities.

“We are already experiencing the harsh effects of the mining as our communities were damaged by flash floods, which we suspect are due to mining. We do not want to mining in the region, and the government must respect our decision to determine for ourselves our development programs,” Feliciano said, calling on the DENR to cancel the Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) of Ipilan Nickel Corporation.

A study by Palawan State University, Brooke’s Point Campus Faculty Lhynette Zambales, published in the European Scholar Journal (ESJ) in February 2021, showed the impacts of mining in Palawan. Through interviews with communities, it was found that significant effects of surface mining include land degradation. The interviews add that the use of machines in mining makes the land “uncultivable for agricultural purposes”. Mining also led to the siltation of rivers and the loss of biodiversity.

A 2021 article by the Perspective showed that mining in mountainous areas will have adverse consequences on food production capacity, while also increasing the risk of landslides. Hence, mining in Brooke’s Point – deemed as the “food basket of Palawan” – will adversely affect residents’ ability to manage food shortages.

In addition to the activities being environmentally-destructive, it accounts for a negligible contribution to the local economy.

According to IBON Foundation, while the Philippines has some 30% of its land area having high mineral potential, mining and quarrying accounted for only 0.8% of the gross domestic product (GDP) and 0.5% of total employment in 2022. The biggest beneficiaries of these activities are large mining corporations, while mining communities are said to remain among the “poorest in the country”.

Digging dubious activities

Aside from the negative effects of mining in Brooke’s Point and Sibuyan, the companies facilitating the operations also exhibit parallelism. 

Even before former President Fidel Ramos signed into law Republic Act No. 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, INC already showed interest in Brooke’s Point.

INC operates under an agreement with Celestial Nickel Mining Exploration Corp. (CNMEC), which holds MPSA No. 017-93-IV. This agreement covers a vast area of 2,835 hectares including areas situated within the Mt. Mantalingahan-Pulot Range, which is a designated protected landscape and nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In 2021, the Office of the Ombudsman suspended Brooke’s Point Mayor Mary Jean Feliciano on grounds of “oppression or grave abuse of authority”. Mayor Feliciano is at the forefront of opposing the mining activities in Brooke’s Point (READ: Mining the gap: On Brooke’s Point and illegal mining). 

In an exclusive interview with Perspective in 2021, she recounted a personal experience wherein different mining companies attempted to bribe her to continue their operations. Feliciano asserted that no abuse of power and bribery will occur if these mining projects bring positive effects to the community.

Meanwhile, APMC is allegedly linked to the Gatchalian clan. Kenneth Gatchalian, brother of Senator Sherwin Gatchalian and Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Rex Gatchalian, is the direct beneficiary of APMC’s parent firm. 

During public scoping facilitated by APMC last January, the public in Sibuyan already declared the activity as “full of irregularities”. The venue for the scoping is different from the invitation sent to the residents, and they also failed in providing details in the notice of the deadline for submitting comments.

Both mining companies, INC and APMC, also failed to secure complete legal permits for their operations.

Aside from failing to secure Mayor’s Permit, INC also operates without CP. The IP community has long been raising concerns over the lack of CP by the mining company. According to Section 59 of the Republic Act No. 8371 or Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of 1997 (IPRA), a CP from the NCIP shall be required in any agreement involving ancestral lands. 

However, INC took advantage of technicalities and claimed that its MPSA predates the IPRA’s effectiveness. They asserted to be exempted from requiring a CP since their MPSA was issued on August 5, 1993, more than three years before the IPRA went into effect.

Sibuyanons, on the other hand, triumphed in suspending APMC’s operations due to their handful of violations.

A Notice of Violation (NOV) was issued by DENR, which was received by AMPC last February 2. The company violated PD 1067 known as the Water Code of the Philippines and DAO 2004-24 and its Implementing Rules and Regulations. The violations are due to the shore easement construction of structures and the absence of a foreshore lease agreement, respectively.

In addition, two violations were added as it was further found that the mining company was responsible for violations of Section 4 of PD 1586 – construction of causeway without Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) and Section 77 of PD 705 – cutting/clearing of trees without a permit.

Notice of violations issued to APMC.

Photos from Alyansa Tigil Mina

These violations were included in the NOV which was supposed to be served on February 3, but there was no authorized person to receive the said document.

Despite these violations, police forces still favored the operations conducted by the mining company. This led to a violent incident that left two Sibuyan defenders injured.

“The police should have ensured a peaceful protest and respected the position of the Sibuyan people against the mining company. They have no business taking the side of the mining company, especially since the Altai mining has no necessary permits for their operations,” National Coordinator of ATM Jaybee Garganera said.

Cultivating calls against mining

Both Sibuyan and Brooke’s Point defenders unite to call for the cancellation of MPSA during the Anti-Mining Solidarity Week of Alyansa Tigil Mina. This is to completely revoke the mining activities in the said communities.

Under MPSA, the government grants the mining contractor the right to mine a specific area, but not to title it over. The government also benefits from the production of the contractor as the owner of the minerals. 

Although DENR’s Cease and Desist Order against APMC is a victory for Sibuyan residents, this is only a suspension of the mining operations in the area.

Likas Yaman Ipamana, Huwag Ipamina” is the rallying call among anti-mining groups during the anti-mining solidarity week. To formally launch the event, environmental groups marched towards DENR, on March 7, to conduct protest action. The groups walked under the banner of “Barikada ng Mamamayan” to enjoin Brooke’s Point’s “Barikada ng Bayan” and Sibuyan’s “Barikada Kontra-Mina”. 

Aside from this, several mobilizations also took place in different parts of the country throughout the week. ATM and anti-mining groups also joined the protest for International Women’s Day (IWD), March 8, to forward their solidarity with women in communities affected by mining. 

Last February 10, the House Committee on Natural Resources approved House Bill 259, or the People’s Mining Bill which has been lobbied by progressive groups for years. 

House Bill 259 primarily aims to develop mineral resources in the country to sustain national industrialization and the development of the agricultural sector. It also involves regulating mining activities towards a pro-environment and pro-people framework. 

This bill also challenges the current mining law implemented in the country – the Mining Act of 1995. Aside from the large-scale environmental destruction it brings, this law allows foreign owned-corporations to exploit the country’s natural resources. 

During the 28th year of its passage last March 3, student groups staged a mobilization at Vinzons Hall to call for its junking, as well as the immediate passage of HB 259. They also cited the recent incidents in Brooke’s Point and Sibuyan Island that involved the intervention of state forces.

Moreover, anti-mining groups demanded the current administration heed their calls to stop destructive mining activities in the country. “We call on the PBBM administration to listen to the demand of the people, especially those holding barricades in Sibuyan, Romblon, Brooke’s Point, Palawan, and Brgy. Didipio, Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya,” Garganera stated

Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya is also a victim of large-scale mining that plunders the natural resources in the area. During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Oceanagold mining company indiscriminately conducted its mining operations with the aid of police forces who violently dispersed barricading residents. [P]

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