(File photo)

Brooke’s Point is no longer entertaining any project proposal for mining and oil palm plantation.

Cecilia Castelar, the town’s municipal disaster risk reduction and management officer II, said this on May 23 in a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Protect Wildlife Project-led media tour in southern Palawan.

She said Mayor Mary Jean Feliciano made sure that Brooke’s Point’s FLUP will no longer allocate any forestlands for mining and oil palm plantation projects.

FILE PHOTO: Anti-mining protesters conduct a rally in front of the Ipilan Nickel Corporation campsite in 2018 to block the operation of the company. (Photo credit to Ton Abengoza, Palawan News photojournalist)

“Actually, noong nagpre-prepare kami ng aming FLUP, isa talaga ‘yan sa tinutukan ni mayor [Mary Jean Feliciano] na ‘no mining in Brooke’s Point, ‘yon talaga ang number one instruction mula kay mayor [na] ‘hindi papayagan ang pagmi-mina sa Brooke’s Point’ [dahil] majority ayaw sa pagmi-mina. Kumbaga na-realize namin na ‘yong dulot niya (ng mina) may employment, may kita, pero ‘yong damage niya [at] environmental devastation [ay] mas matindi,” said Castelar.

She added that although Brooke’s Point has two oil palm plantations that they can no longer “remove”, their FLUP will no longer allow them to expand.

Catelar said while it provides employment opportunities, oil palm investors have been known for developing lands without consulting the locals and the indigenous peoples (IPs) residing on the lands which often result in conflicts.

“Ang palm oil, nakasama din ‘yan sa plan namin na no more expansion. No more expansion. Nandyan siya ngayon, hindi na namin siya basta-bastang maaalis. May mga nasama talagang nasa forest land, public land siya, na nataniman [ng palm oil trees], pero no more expansion,” she pointed out.

Oil palm

Castelar said Brooke’s Point’s FLUP was started in March 2017 with the assistance of the USAID Protect Wildlife Project team.

She said they are looking forward to integrating the land use plan for their Comprehensive Land Use Plan to make it broad and all-inclusive.

“[Ito ay] sa tulong ng Protect Wildlife, sila talaga ‘yong nag-bigay ng assistance sa amin. Of course, ‘yong expertise nila hindi matatawaran. Kung kami-kami lang, hindi kakayanin. ‘Yong sa CLUP kasi namin, parang ginawa siya [nang] 10 years, from 2005 amat-amat lang siyang ginagawa, umabot siya nang 2015,” said Castelar.

Brooke’s Point has 18 barangays and two — Calasaguen and Maasin — have oil palm plantations, including a processing plant.

She said the plantations started operating in 2005, occupying a mixture of public and private lands with promises of providing livelihood opportunities for the people.

However, the oil palm fruits produced by the trees were not of good quality, Castelar said, causing farmers to lose income.

“Actually, ang nabanggit noong nakaraan ay hindi siya suitable sa Brooke’s Point kasi hindi maganda ‘yong bunga, so wala ring kinita ‘yong mga farmers,” she said.

Castelar reiterated that the move to ban the expansion is to protect the forest cover of the municipality. However, private land-owners may still venture into palm oil plantation.

Mining’s continuing challenge

Conchita Dullano, acting municipal administrator, on the other hand, said mining still remains to be the biggest challenge Brooke’s Point is facing in its pursuit of environmental conservation.

Dullano said she was elected as a municipal councilor three times in the past and had served five mayors in a row, including Feliciano. But among all, it is only Feliciano that showed “concern for the environment.”

“Dito talaga sa present mayor na nakita ko talaga na [may pinaka-concern sa environment] si Mayor Feliciano lang. Hindi lang din siya tumutok doon, lahat po ng projects na nakikita natin ngayon, hindi po ‘yan nagawa ng mga nauna, sa kanya [may] patubig, pailaw, tapos ‘yong mga road concreting, sa administration niya lang ‘yon,” said Dullano.

In February 2018, Feliciano did what no mayor in Brooke’s Point has ever done — led over 300 residents to demolish the structures of the Ipilan Nickel Corporation (INC) in Maasin and drive them away from the area.

The INC earned Feliciano’s ire for indiscriminately cutting down an estimated 15,000 trees, most are first growths and endemic, from the mountain in Maasin that also home to Brooke’s Point’s watershed.

Brooke’s Point is one of the five municipalities in southern Palawan that is encompassed by the Mt. Mantalingahan Protected Landscape (MMPL).

USAID’s Protect Wildlife Project in the Philippines has allotted the highest budget for its conservation among the other sites it supports in the country.

Protect Wildlife Project resolves to carry out its mission by collaborating and partnering with the local government units (LGUs) and private agencies. This project, which started in 2016, is expected to end by 2020.

Lawrence San Diego, communications manager of the USAID-backed Protect Wildlife, said they are committed to helping Brooke’s Point accomplish its FLUP to effectively protect its environmental assets from the potential dangers that can be brought by inappropriate ventures.

“Ito pa lang ‘yong first time na may FLUP ‘yong Brooke’s Point. For the longest time it is always the Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP), which is good kasi we are advocating under the project na ang Forest Land Use Plan (FLUP) for it to be more sustainable and long-running, it should be embedded and part and parcel ng Comprehensive Land Use Plan,” said San Diego.

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