The Palawan NGO Network Inc. (PNNI) has claimed that a provincial government road project in Aborlan has bulldozed an old growth forest and was being done without the required permits.
In a letter dated October 19 which the group posted on its Facebook page Wednesday, Oct. 25, the PNNI said the community Bantay Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) volunteers, during its para-enforcer training, spotted the road project on the east coast in Barangay Barake that would connect to Sitio Daan, Barangay Apurawan in the west coast.
“For how can such a brazen activity bulldoze its way through old growth forests?” PNNI Executive Director, Atty. Robert Chan, said in the letter.
Chan said the reportedly governor’s project had left “big trees buried at the cliff,” “disregarding” both the restricted and core zones of the town’s Environmentally Critical Areas Network (ECAN) map.
He added that the Bantay CADT volunteers claimed that the road project failed to secure the government-required free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), which allows the indigenous peoples to give or withhold consent to a project that may affect them or their ancestral territories.
“Perhaps, the more terrifying neglect is that it is situated above a tribal waterfalls area,” he said.
Chan, meanwhile, pointed out that it has no Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) clearance from the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSDS).
“The system of impunity has already cost our province hundreds of hectares of lost forests, not to mention reducing the SEP law to a build-now-get-a-permit-later scheme. All at the expense of our silence,” the environmental lawyer said, citing the same incident in Sitio De Cala, Barangay Caruray in San Vicente town, which they also reported in December 2015.
However, PCSD Staff (PCSDS) Spokesperson Jovic Fabello told Palawan News Thursday, Oct. 26, that this farm-to-market road had already been issued a SEP clearance on October 30, 2009. He said it is an unfinished project of former Governor Joel Reyes, and since it’s part of the provincial development master plan, the current administration opted to continue it.
“If it has been approved and given a SEP clearance, possibly the project does not fall under core zone,” Fabello said, adding that they will still check if it is really in the zones as claimed by PNNI.
Fabello said he had visited the area in the past and saw “sparsely distributed trees but not premium species.” “They were pioneer species or colonizer trees that sprouted and regenerated the once deforested area,” he added.
Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer Felizardo Cayatoc told Palawan News he has yet to confirm if the project has an ECC, pending the report from the assigned personnel in Aborlan whom he instructed to validate the complaint on the ground.
Provincial Information Officer, Atty. Gil Acosta Jr., has yet to comment on the matter on behalf of the provincial government.