While President Rodrigo Duterte was delivering his second State of the Nation Address (SONA), different civil society organizations (CSOs) convened Monday, July 24, to discuss social and environmental issues affecting Palawan.
Members of the Makabayang Koalisyon ng Mamamayan (MAKABAYAN-Palawan), Palawan NGO Network Incorporated (PNNI), Palawan Alliance for Clean Energy (PACE), Apostolic Vicariate of Puerto Princesa Social Action Center (AVPP-SAC), National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP), and other concerned citizens gathered in “Bigkisan para sa Kalikasan, Katarungan at Kalayaan” at the Immaculate Conception Parish Hall in Puerto Princesa City.
The event served as a platform for these groups to drum up their concerns on various issues confronting Palawan, such as the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System (ENIPAS) bill and other threats to the province’s natural resources, the safety and security of the communities affected by mercury contamination in barangays of Sta. Lourdes and Tagburos, the energy crisis allegedly caused by the Palawan Electric Cooperative (Paleco), among others.
“We brought up the event in time with the SONA, so there would be a comparison with the statements made by the president on a national scale and the results of the environment on a local scale,” said PNNI Executive Director Robert Chan.
With all the recurring environmental problems in the province, Chan criticized the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development, a multisectoral and intergovernmental body in-charge of implementing crucial environmental laws, for “doing poorly”, even as he lauded the efforts of the local DENR offices.
In their speeches, PENRO Zaldy Cayatoc and CENRO Emer Garraez assured the CSOs of their commitment to stand for environmental justice and uphold the integrity of their department.
The CSOs demanded the re-inclusion of the five protected areas in the recent version of the ENIPAS bill. They also called on concerned government agencies to strictly implement environmental laws, particularly Chainsaw and Forestry Acts, among others, by penalizing the violators.
Moreover, the groups also reiterated their demand to hold the defunct Palawan Quicksilver Mines Incorporated accountable for the mercury poisoning in the two barangays and to provide the long-sought separation pay for its miners. They further asked for the immediate medication of the affected residents and compensation for the residents who will be relocated.
Addressing power situation in the province, the CSOs demanded that Paleco terminate its contract with DMCI Power Corp. which has since failed to deliver its contracted supply of 25 megawatts. They also called for the utilization of the rich hydro energy sources as embodied in the Palawan energy master plan crafted two years ago. The CSOs further urged the public to continue resisting the coal-fired power plant project in the country’s last ecological frontier.
The event ended with a candle-lighting ceremony.