The Tagbanua indigenous peoples (IP) community in Coron and nearby islands reiterated their opposition to a planned 400-hectare Nickelodeon undersea park amidst fears of irreversible negative environmental and cultural impacts.
Amil Abella, representative of the Tagbanua Tribes of Coron Island Association (TTCIA), said in a Greenpeace Philippines-hosted press conference here that the project will only displace them from their ancestral domains, and will spoil their traditional fishing grounds.
“If there are investments that will build structures that will cause destruction to our ancestral domains, our agreement is we will not accept them,” Abella said.
The Calamianes is an area in the northern part of Palawan that includes Busuanga, Coron, and Culion island towns, and the islands of Calauit, Malcapuya, Banana, Pass and Calumbuyan, and several minor islets.
“The legendary heroes of Coron will unite and defend the last ecological frontier of the country, where we live with freedom and abundance,” he added.
Abella is among a group of Tagbanua elders who went to Manila to deliver to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) a petition letter against proponent Coral World Park (CWP), which claims to be “the largest Marine Reserve and Coral Reef Conservation program in Asia”.
The petition is signed by 15 tribal justices, the Tagbanua Council of Elders, and other IP residents.
“What and who will benefit in the construction of the artificial platforms, such as the proposed Nickelodeon undersea theme park, which will undoubtedly destroy Coron’s marine ecosystems? The legitimate owners of Coron, if the planned attraction is realized, will lose access to our land, our waters, and will negatively affect our culture and way of life. We do not need an underwater theme park in Coron,” the group’s letter stated.
The Tagbanua indigenous peoples’ rejection of the CWP’s proposal with Viacom Inc. (Viacom) was also joined by Greenpeace, Scubasurero, the Palawan NGO Network, Inc. (PNNI), and the Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC).
Lawyer Grizelda Mayo-Anda said ELAC is part of the alliance against Nickelodeon because it is against existing environment policies and laws in Palawan.
“Palawan has been repeatedly awarded as the Best Island in the World, why? Because aside from the physical characteristics it has, it also has a lot of special policies and laws that signify it really needs to be protected,” she said.
Anda said the nature and characteristics of the CWP-proposed undersea theme park are out of place, and are not suitable to constitute a project that is going to be a “tourism model.”
“It can’t be called a sustainable development project that will promote biodiversity protection since it is underwater. This is the reason why our call is Coron is not Bikini Bottom,” she said.
Anda said the area being proposed in Coron for the Nickelodeon project is Bintuan Island at Sitio Talolora, Barangay Bintuan, on the opposite side of Sangat Island.
The proponents, she added, are said to be also looking at Apo Island, also in the same barangay. It is reportedly a 2,146.95-hectare site in the vicinity of Unson, Batunan, and Sangat islands in Coron.
Meanwhile, Greenpeace Philippines assured the Tagbanua IPs and the opposing residents of their help in opposing the project.
Vince Cinches said in the press conference that currently, their signature campaign online has reached over 250,000 signatures against the undersea theme park from supporters all over the world.
The signature campaign forms part of their support targets to Coron, which also include writing letters to Viacom to inform its officials about the opposition of Palawan.
“We think Viacom is not aware about the unscrupulous activities of CWP and we are writing to inform its officials about these,” he said, adding their Greenpeace office in the United States will handle the delivery of the letter.
In an earlier interview, Mayor Jerry Barracoso of Coron said that the CWP has not gone back to his office to consult about its proposed project. The only communication he received, so far, was a letter of intent sent in January.