Several members of the Palaw'an tribe holding placards of protest against the joint venture agreement between the DENR and Lionheart Agrotech.

Rizal, Palawan – Over a hundred leaders and members of the Palaw’an indigenous peoples (IPs) in southern Palawan sought help from President Rodrigo Duterte in canceling the joint venture agreement (JVA) between the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Lionheart Agrotech, a multimillion-peso coconut plantation and processing company.

This project known as “Massive Plantation of Coconut and other Agricultural Crops” will be hosted in a 10,000-hectare prime land bordering some valuable territories and areas conserved by indigenous peoples and local communities, such as the Singnapan Valley being managed by the Tau’t Batu, a sub-group of the Palaw’an.

“We are calling on the president to hear us. They are removing our rights with this joint venture agreement between Lionheart and the DENR. The joint venture agreement did not undergo public consultation,” said Dina Pascual, leader of Kababaihang Katutubo in Barangay Ransang, Rizal town.

On SEP clearance

In early 2016, Lionheart began the clearing of parcels of land in Rizal municipality based on the Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) clearance issued by the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD).

The affected areas are allegedly part of the Palaw’ans ancestral domain were converted into coconut plantations.

In a letter dated September 11, 2017, the Samahan Supton Adat it Kaguranggurangan Tagna it Palawan (SAKTIP) demanded PCSD to retract the SEP clearance issued to the foreign-owned company Lionheart, claiming that it had committed violations in clearing their ancestral forests.

The members of the Kababaihang Katutubo in Barangay Ransang, Rizal municipality.

On its 236th regular meeting, PCSD reaffirmed its issued clearance stating that the project site is considered timberland falling under the multiple-use zone of the Environmentally Critical Areas Network (ECAN), the SEP’s graded system of protection and development control for Palawan.

During the deliberation, SAKTIP filed an opposition, but the final judgment of the majority of the Council members had the Lionheart’s SEP clearance application approved since they “have complied with the requirements – ecological viability, integrated approach, and social acceptability”.

On FPIC provision

In early 2018, the IPs claimed that Lionheart started operation without the Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) procedures from the NCIP.

On the NCIP’s en banc resolution (CEB Resolution No. 07-124.2018 Series of 2018) dated September 28, 2018, Lionheart’s operation was suspended until it complies with the FPIC guidelines.

Two months later, Lionheart, the Rizal municipal government, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) entered into a joint venture agreement (JVA) that entitled the coconut plantation its right to operate again.

The IPs countered its legitimacy claiming that the JVA pushed through without proper public consultation as the resolution states that Lionheart should “submit the Environmental and Socio-Cultural Impact Statement pursuant to the FPIC guideline”.

“Do not let yourself be misled by the characterization of the joint venture agreement. It is not an agreement that has any purpose other than to facilitate for Lionheart to have an ECC (environmental compliance certificate),” said Christian Eyde Møller, managing partner of Lionheart Agrotech.

“It is under the discretion of DENR which permit to give and they have decided that the right permit is under the Upland Agroforestry program,” he said.

Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC) executive director Atty. Grizelda Mayo-Anda said that the JVA does not automatically clear Lionheart of its violations.

“On the position we brought to the DENR, pursuant to the FPIC guideline, the JVA is not in accordance with the provisions. Kaya nakakatakot i-legitimize ‘yong operation,” Anda said.

The Lionheart continues to operate pending NCIP’s new resolution.

Odi: The natives are lying

Mayor Otol Odi of Rizal town sided with the Lionheart GPPAC Farms Corporation (LGFC) despite claims of irregularities in its operation.

Odi, the Palaw’an IP leader-turned-mayor, said that the natives’ claims are unjust and baseless.

“Ang gusto lang nila i-close ang Lionheart. Di ako pumayag kasi complete naman permit nila. Sabi ko hindi naman makatarungan (yun kasi) sobra 100 tao ang mawawalan ng trabaho. Nagsisinungaling ang mga nitibo,” Odi said in a phone interview with Palawan News, Thursday.