Tribal groups in Sofronio Espanola have stepped up their campaign against a planned cement plant in their ancestral domain by holding a three-day vigil outside the offices of the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO).
The group is appealing to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to cancel the Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) and exploration permit the latter granted to Pyramid Hill Mining and Industrial Corporation.
“We want the DENR to cancel the permits that allow the company to mine cement inside our ancestral land,” Cornilio Lambana, a leader of the group, told Palawan News on Wednesday.
In 2001, the DENR’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) granted an MPSA to Pyramid Hill and two more mining companies to mine cement in the mountains of Domodoway, which sits in the boundary of Quezon, Sofronio Española and Quezon towns.
In 2016, the department gave the company a 2-year exploration permit.
According to PENRO Chief Felizardo Cayatoc, the issues and concerns raised by the indigenous group from Sofronio Española have been elevated to their regional office.
“We at the PENRO has no authority over the matter as the MGB has yet to be integrated in our office, but we forwarded a report to our higher office last Monday,” he told Palawan News.
On their last day of protest Wednesday, the group marched to the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) office to demand the revocation of the company’s Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) clearance.
PCSD Spokesman Jovic Fabello said the related permits secured by the company from other government agencies are valid and so was its SEP clearance.
“We cannot just revoke their permit because during application process they satisfied all of the requirements under the SEP law,” he said.
Fabello said the PCSD’s Tribal Affairs Committee during its meeting last week has recommended the company to undergo again the process of securing a free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), as required under Republic Act 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997 (IPRA).
FPIC is expressed through a memorandum of agreement signed between the involved companies and the concerned indigenous community. It allows the indigenous peoples to give or withhold consent to a project that may affect them or their ancestral territories.
However, the group claimed that the FPIC obtained by the company was defective, rendering the certificate precondition (CP) issued by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) invalid.
In a previous interview, Quiniola Abdula, a leader of the group of Panglimas (tribal leaders) in Sofronio Española town, said they don’t recognize the two individuals who signed the MOA in 2000.
“The other one was already dead, while the other one does not live in the impact area. How come the two signatures have been considered valid? There has to be a consensus among us,” he said.
Atty. Grizelda Mayo-Anda, executive director of the Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC), said the Section 30 of NCIP Administrative Order No.3-2012 states that the CP could get dormant if not used a year after it was issued.
“Since the CP was awarded 17 years ago, definitely it is inactive and can be considered invalid,” she previously told Palawan News. “Therefore that gives Pala’wan IPs a basis now to actually require the NCIP to investigate and issue a show cause order requiring the company to explain.”
Mayo-Anda said they assisted the indigenous group in filing a petition for temporary restraining order before the NCIP.