Four tribal chieftains from villages surrounding Mt. Bulanjao, namely (from L-R) Esrain Garnain and Angelo Lagrada of Brgy. Rio Tuba, Nonoy Siplan of Brgy. Taratak, and Dadong Corio (not in photo) of Brgy. Sumbiling speak to Palawan News to air their side on the expansion of the mining operation of RTNMC.

Four chieftains of tribal villages around Mt. Bulanjao are supporting the planned mining expansion of the Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation (RTNMC) into their area.

“Kumpiyansang-kumpiyansa kami sa pagmimina nila. Kasi nagagawa naman nila ‘yong sinaad ng mga batas. Lahat naman ng batas. Kasi kung hindi ‘yon nila na-comply ‘yong batas ng gobyerno ay hindi naman sila papayagan. Nandiyan naman ang gobyerno para sa bagay na ‘yan. Tiwalang-tiwala kami diyan. Kasi ako mismo, dyan ako pinanganak sa lugar na ‘yan, hanggang ngayon. ‘Yong area naming doon pa ‘yong mining na ‘yan, doon ang planta, pero kumpiyansa ako dyan,” Angelo Lagrada, chieftain of Brgy. Riotuba, told Palawan News on Monday.

Nonoy Siplan, chieftain of Barangay Taratak in Bataraza town, said in 2006 they already signed a document endorsing the expansion which was backed by their respective communities.

He added the RTNMC also provides scholarships to their children, medical assistance, and livelihood projects for communities.

“Meron na pong dokumento ‘yan. Inendorse po ‘yan dahil doon na rin sa kagustuhan na rin ng komunidad. Nabasehan din po naming ang una nilang [pagmimina] dito sa baba, ay maganda naman po ‘yong naibibigay na tulong sa mga katutubo,” Siplan said.

They said mineral exploration for expansion is “fine” with them because out of the current area being explored, only a portion of it or at least 20 percent have mineral deposits, he also said.

Siplan said they cannot identify yet whether those in opposition are from which chieftain’s people.

He said he lives at the foot of Mt. Bulanjao and is not suffering from any negative effects of mining.

“Wala na kaming naalala na tao naming na hindi nabibigyan ng pansin. Ang tao talaga ganiyan talaga ‘yan, kapag mag naga-sulsol, may negative na magsasalita talaga… wala pa rin kaming nakikitang epekto [ng mina], ang mga tao diyan malulusog pa rin. Siguro para sa akin tingnan muna ‘yong aktwal, huwag munang pangunahan ‘yong kung ano ang mangyayari. Parang hula lang ‘yan pero hindi tayo perpektong tao na makikita natin kung ano ‘yong mangyayari,” Siplan pointed out.

Angelo Lagrada, Brgy. Rio Tuba chieftain, on the other hand, said they will call for a meeting of those opposing the plan.

He said they are also receiving royalty payments from RTNMC.

Lagrada also noted those residents and indigenous peoples who are in opposition are not being acknowledged by the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) because it is them, all the Bataraza tribal chieftains, have the voice and authority.

“Pero kami sa totoo lang, malaki ang pakinabang naming diyan sa kompanyang iyan, lahat kaming mga miyembro at hindi lang kaming mga tribal leaders. Halos buong Bataraza po, hindi lang buong Bataraza pati sa ibang lugar nakaka-avail sila ng tulong mula sa dalawang kompanya. Lahat naman: livelihood, education, infra, health, andiyan lahat naibibigay naman lahat. Iyong mga taong nag-a-aano (oppose) na ‘yan, ‘yon ay hindi ‘yon sila kinikilala halos ng NCIP. Ang kinikilala ng NCIP ay itong mga tribal chieftain. Pailan-ilan lang po ‘yan, halos mabilang mo lang,” Lagrada said.

Dadong Corio, tribal chieftain of Brgy. Sumbiling, said he was against mining before but when he saw how RTNMC helped his people and alleviate them from poverty, he agreed.

Corio said they became chieftains of their tribes because they belong to the ancestral line called “panglima” or those with royal blood.

He also denied allegations that chieftains are not giving the other tribal members a fair share from the royalty payments.

“Hindi ka puwedeng mag-panglima kung wala kang dugong panglima. Iyon ay ide-declare ng NCIP. Bawat binibigay ng mga kompanya may resibo ‘yan hindi natin makukuha ‘yong pera sa kompanya kung hindi ‘yan naka-project o naka-proposal. Bawat project na ibibigay ay mayroong resibo at ina-audit ‘yan ng MGB at tinitingnan ‘yan ng NCIP,” Corio said.

Esrain Garnain, chieftain another chieftain from Brgy. Rio Tuba said those who are opposing are merely being “dramatic.”

He said those anti-mining advocates easily change their minds “depending on the benefits they would receive from the company.”

“Alam mo ganito ‘yan sa mga anti at saka pro — ‘yong mga anti na ‘yan, parang drama lang ‘yan… ‘yong mga anti na ‘yan wala drama lang ‘yan. Tingnan na lang ninyo sa majority kung sino ang marami. Halimbawa marami ang pro, iyon ang totoo. Basehan niyo kung sino ang marami. Iyan sila ilan-ilan lang sila, tapos sila pa ang malakas makinabang. Iyong mga anti na ‘yan sila pa ang palahingi,” Garnain said.

Corio claimed that the anti-mining residents oppose only if they get budget from other funding agencies.

“Noon naghinto sila, nawalan sila ng budget, siguro walang funding agency. Matagal na panahon na naman, ilang taon na naman, ngayon diyan na naman sila. Wala silang permanenteng desisyon. Siguro kung may pera, saka sila magagalaw o kung ano na namang sasabihin,” he said.

About 80 protesters composed of Pala’wans and residents of Barangays Sumbiling and Taratak gathered at the town center during the first day of July to express their opposition against the proposed mineral exploration and planned expansion of the RTNMC.

They claimed that the move will affect the watershed in Mt. Bulanjao, which irrigates their farmlands.

In July 6, 2012, in a memorandum from the Executive Secretary in pursuant to executive order (EO) No. 79 to “desist from processing mining applications in Palawan”, the central office of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) issued RTNMC on October 17, 2018 the “Authority to Verify Minerals”.

The Mount Bulanjao Mountain Range is a watershed area, an important ecosystem located in a “restricted use zone” in Bataraza.

Under EO No. 79 also mandates the “enhancement of strict implementation and periodic review of the Strategic Environmental Plan for Palawan with the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD)”.

Earlier, Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC) executive director Atty. Grizelda Mayo-Anda said there were two scientific studies conducted by PCSD and the Palawan State University, which showed that the economic value of Mt. Bulanjao as a conserved area is over P94 billion for 18 years.

Once Mt. Bulanjao is destroyed, it will incur a societal loss of over P203 billion within the same period if a five percent discount rate is applied for 18 years, Anda said.

When ¬the mountain range is subjected to sensitivity analysis, the government can lose more than P149 billion using one percent discount rate and when using eight percent, over P88 billion, she said.

Anda also said PCSD must revoke the Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) clearance is issued to the RTNMC’s mining project on December 11, 2014.

In May this year when ELAC also threatened to sue PCSD and DENR if they fail to stop RTNMC’s infrastructure development and mining exploration on Mt. Bulanjao.

Any change in the Environmentally Critical Areas Network (ECAN) zoning of the 676-hectare Mt. Bulanjao, an important forest ecosystem located in a “restricted use zone” in Bataraza, will push them to file a court case, she said.

The issuance of the authority to verify minerals contravenes Republic Act No. 11038 or the “Act Declaring Protected Areas and Providing for their Management” amending therefore for this purpose the Republic Act No. (RA) 7586 or the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) declares that “all areas or islands in the Philippines proclaimed, designated or set aside pursuant to a law, presidential decree, presidential proclamation or executive order as national park, game refuge, bird and wildlife sanctuary, natural and historical landmark, protected and managed landscape/seascape as wee as old-growth forests identified before the effectivity of this act or still to be identified are hereby designated as initial components of the system.”