Revisiting the Palawan Cement Controversy

It only recently became public knowledge that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in June 2016 granted three local mining companies a 2-year exploration permit over three separate mining concessions in Sofronio Española town.

According to records of the Mines Geosciences Bureau, the mining claims belong to Central Palawan Mining and Industrial Corp., Palawan Star Mining Ventures, Inc. and Pyramid Hill Mining and Industrial Corp.

These were the same companies behind the defunct Palawan Cement Project that had been denied an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) in 1997 by then Secretary Victor Ramos.

It appears that the granting of an exploration permit to the company was a midnight decision of then outgoing DENR Secretary Ramon Paje, as it came just days before anti-mining activist Gina Lopez was appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte to take over the department.

It will be purely speculation to figure out what could have been the reason for the DENR action. Suffice it to say – such permit would not have passed through Lopez had it reached her desk.

The Palawan Cement Project had been a controversial project before it became inactive after the DENR denied its ECC application. The Pala’wan tribes who live on Mt. Domadoway in the hinterlands of Sofronio Espanola that fought tooth and nail to oppose that project went back to their normal peaceful lives unmindful of its resurrection 20 years later.

One of its most controversial element was the involvement of a Canadian company which tried to raise funds for the project in the highly speculative Canadian stock markets of Vancouver. On several occasions, the company, called Fenway Resources Inc., was delisted by Canadian government regulators due to false declarations it made about the project which duped its investors.

Without capital support at that time and with the denial of its ECC, the Palawan Cement Project died a natural death, only to rise back up again at the twilight of the Aquino administration.

The local companies that have figured in the controversial project have begun a groundwork in the local communities to seek support to the project. Tito Mata, the feisty Panglima who led the opposition to it decades ago, is back in the frontline trying to rally his people anew.

In recent media interviews, Tito Mata raised the same reasons they had opposed the project before – Mt. Domodoway is part of their ancestral domain and their only source of livelihood. “If they really want to push through with that project, they can just gather us in one place and drop a bomb upon us. We’re dead anyway if we allow that cement plant,” Tito Mata said in the vernacular.

The Duterte administration and the local government need to take a close look at this particular project and hear out Tito Mata and his people, their anxieties and their simple wishes to be left alone in peace. It is a matter of social and environmental justice and we need to draw the line between crass exploitation and the rights of the marginalized.

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