Bataraza tribes demand closure of mineral processing plant

IPMR Artolin Edlap reads the press statement of the indigenous cultural communities in Barangay Rio Tuba, Bataraza, that are calling for the closure of the lime milk manufacturing facility of Unichamp Mineral Philippines Inc.

The Pala’wan tribes of Bataraza are demanding the closure of Unichamp Mineral Philippines Inc. (Unichamp), a company engaged in lime milk processing in their indigenous territory, for alleged non-payment of royalty shares and for failing to obtain a certification precondition (CP) as required by law.

Represented by their 27 tribal chieftains, the communities on Monday accused the company of refusing to pay more than P8 million in royalty shares and penalties for the past three years.

The $24-million facility, they said, has also failed to obtain the CP, which is issued by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), confirming their grant of Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC).

The demand was addressed to the NCIP and was aired in a press conference held at the Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation (RTNMC).

Artolin Edlap, one of the tribal chieftains and the indigenous peoples mandatory representative (IPMR) in the Barangay Council of Rio Tuba, claimed Unichamp owes them a total of P3,217,195.52 in royalty shares since 2015, including P5 million in penalty interest.

The entrance to the Gotok Limestone Quarry of Unichamp in Bataraza.

The P3 million represents three years worth of royalty shares, and the P217,195.52 is the unpaid balance for 2015 when Unichamp stopped giving their royalty share for operating the Gotok Limestone Quarry.

“Ang royalty ay nagkakahalaga ng P1 milyon bawat taon at para sa 2015. Ang Unichamp ay may balanse ng P217,195.52. Wala kaming bayad na natanggap para sa 2016, 2017, at 2018,” Edlap said.

The royalty share payment obligation, he explained, was part of a memorandum of agreement (MOA) they signed with the lime milk manufacturing facility on October 22, 2011, represented by plant manager Alvin Trazona and company president Rommel Ibuna.

Despite numerous dialogues and attempts to hold Unichamp compliant of its obligation, the Pala’wan tribal leaders of Rio Tuba claimed it refused to honor its commitment.

“Ipinaalam namin sa Unichamp ang kanilang pagkukulang na igalang ang kanilang pangako at hiniling ang kanilang pagsunod. Ang mga pag-uusap ay ginanap sa pagitan ng mga chieftains at ng mga kinatawan ng Unichamp simula noong Enero 18 hanggang Pebrero 15, 2018 subalit ang problema ay hindi nalutas,” said Edlap.

The tribal chieftains passed two resolutions withdrawing their consent previously issued to the company and ordering it to stop operations in their ancestral land.

The Gotok limestone quarry site

“Ang mga chieftain ng mga kinatawan ng mga komunidad ng Pala’wan IP ay pinagtibay ang Resolution No. 1 na bawiin ang kapahintulutan na dating ipinagkaloob para sa pagtatatag at pagpapatakbo ng lime milk processing plant ng Unichamp at Resolution No. 2, serye ng 2018, na nagsasabi na itigil ang operasyon nito,” he said.

They complained that after sending copies of their resolutions to the NCIP last February 22, they have not yet received any reply if Unichamp will be closed down.

“Mahigit na isang buwan ang lumipas at wala pa rin tayong natatanggap na sagot o aksyon ng iba’t-ibang tanggapan ng NCIP sa aming [mga] resolusyon,” added Edlap.

Edlap said Unichamp was claiming that it cannot pay their royalty shares yet because it has not yet been issued the certification precondition by the NCIP.

“Ang sabi nila di sila magbabayad kasi wala silang CP. Kung wala silang CP bakit sila nag-o-operate? Iligal ang operasyon nila,” he said.

NCIP’s reply

Local NCIP representative Rico Sanga claimed he has informed their provincial and regional offices about the problem of the Pala’wan IPs in Rio Tuba, but until now, they too, have not heard of any development.

“Dapat bago mag-operate ay makuha muna nila ang CP. Batay sa guidelines, maliwanag ang sinasabi ng Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) sa Section 59 na hindi dapat mag-bigay ng permit, o kasunduan,  katulad ng mga concession o lease na papasok sa Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) kung walang CP mula sa NCIP,” said Sanga.

Sanga said he did not know why until now Unichamp has not been issued the certification precondition.

“Yon ang hindi namin alam kasi dito sa level namin nagawa namin ang bahagi ng FPIC dahil noong nasa kalagitnaan ay napunta ako sa Mindoro kaya di ko alam ang sumunod na pangyayari,” he explained.

Asked if he followed up, Sanga said only NCIP Palawan chief Roldan Parangue would be able to answer.

Parangue told Palawan News on Wednesday that his provincial office has received copies of the resolution of the IPs in Rio Tuba, which he forwarded to their regional and central offices.

“Nasa legal office ng NCIP na ang mga resolution para makahingi ng opinion. But dapat nagbibigay ng royalty ang Unichamp kasi nag-o-operate naman sila. Ang CP ay confirmation lang at di naman sila tumitigil mag-operate,” he said.

Parangue disclosed that in March, Unichamp was called into a meeting by their central office to shed light on the matter, and it was in this where its representatives were told to fulfill their obligations signed under the MOA with the Pala’wan IPs in Rio Tuba.

“Sinabihan sila noong March kahit wala pa ang legal opinion na magbayad ng royalty at SDMP at dapat malinaw kung ano ba ang binibigay nila, royalty o SDMP ba,” he said further.

Informed that the NCIP is being blamed for resolving the issue in a sluggish manner, Parangue claimed he has been following up the concern with their regional and central offices.

“Hindi totoo na wala kaming ginagawa, nag-fo-follow up kami at si Unichamp, since di naman tumitigil ang operasyon, dapat talagang magbayad ng royalty at magbigay ng SDMP. Dapat sundin nila ang nasa MOA,” he emphasized.

He added that even the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) also advised Unichamp to pay.

“May meeting na gagawin with MGB, pero kahit MGB sinasabihan din ang Unichamp na magbayad,” insisted Parangue.

Rio Tuba Pala’wan IP livelihood projects affected

Dadong Corio, one of the chieftains, said Unichamp’s failure to pay royalty shares has affected their livelihood projects.

“Ang sa amin kasi apektado ang livelihood namin. Pambili sana namin ng kalabaw pangsaka ang royalty. Iyon sana ang inaasahan namin kaya lang hindi ibigay,” he stated.

Corio added they have projects they want to implement for their indigenous cultural communities (ICCs), but Unichamp’s non-compliance has delayed this.

A carabao they can use to farm their lands, he said, costs around P20,000-P25,000 each. They can till their farms to plant rice and they can raise them to sell too, to other farmers in neighboring towns.

Anido Acat, on the other hand, said they cannot even come up now with P30,000 to give scholarship grants to two IP children.

Other than the scholarship grants provided by RTNMC and Coral Bay Nickel Corporation (CBNC), the ICCs also send scholars, especially those going to senior high school.

“Yong P30,000 bale para sa scholarship ng dalawang high school na tag-P15,000 at yong sobra para sa cultural festival namin at iba pang livelihood,” he said.

Meanwhile, Benguet lawyer Alfonso Aroco, who is helping the Pala’wan chieftains, vowed to sue Unichamp if it continues to decline to settle its royalty obligation.

“The Supreme Court has a decision about filing cases that says if you want to sue companies like Unichamp, you have to file in the regular court. What we will file is about the violation of the rights of the IPs and then we will add cases which I will not disclose yet,” he said.

When asked to air its side on the tribal communities’ demands, a Unichamp representative declined to issue a statement.

Unichamp’s high-quality lime milk is being supplied under a 15-year agreement to the hydrometallurgical processing plant of Coral Bay Nickel Corporation (CBNC), a subsidiary of Sumitomo Metal Mining Co. It was designed to produce an estimated 135,000 tons of quicklime and 170,000 tons of lime milk per year from the Gotok quarry site.

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