Indigenous communities and residents of Barangay Ipilan, Brooke’s Point have asked the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to stop a mining company’s plan to resume nickel ore exploration inside an ancestral domain, claiming it has no endorsement from the community and the local barangay as required by the Mining Code.
In a petition dated March 3 and addressed to DENR acting secretary Jim Sampulna, the residents said that the company, Lebach Mining Corporation, one of several mining projects suspended by former environment secretary Gina Lopez, recently informed barangay officials of its plans to resume drilling operations. The company has long been applying for a mineral production sharing agreement (MPSA) with the government.
“Hindi pumapayag ang mga opisyales ng barangay sa gustong gawin ng Lebach,” the petitioners said.
“Ang nasabing lupa na bubutasin ng Lebach ay nakapaloob sa aming lupaing ninuno at ang ibang lupa na sasakupin ay titulado,” the petition added.
Welito Palite, a barangay official and chair of its committee on environment, said a company representative attended their session on March 2 and informed them of their plans. He added that when asked if they had secured a mayor’s permit and a barangay endorsement, they were not shown any documents and were told they were “confidential.”
“Hiningian ang Lebach ng dokumento kaugnay sa gagawin nilang drilling ng mga opisyales ng barangay, ngunit ayon sa kanila ay hindi sila puwedeng magbigay ng kanilang dokumento dahil confidential daw ito at bawal ibigay. At ayon sa minahan ay magdi-drilling pa rin sila kahit walang pahintulot mula sa barangay,” it added.
Lebach Mining Corporation has been applying for the mineral production sharing agreement with the DENR over portions of Barangay Ipilan. Its operation, however, was suspended following an audit conducted by the DENR during Secretary Lopez’s term.
In 2012, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) initiated dialogues between the company and the IPs of Ipilan to obtain their free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC), but this was cancelled due to a lack of implementing rules and regulations on mining companies at the time.
Palite said the company’s permit had previously been canceled by the Sangguniang Bayan of Brooke’s Point.
“Noong time na kapitan pa si konsehal [Jonathan] Lagrada, napa-cancel ‘yong kanilang permit, na-revoke ‘yon ng Sangguniang Bayan. Actually, bago lang ‘yan sila bumalik. Noong una, nakapag-drilling na sila, nai-stop nga ang operations nila dahil sa cancellation,” Palite said in an interview on Monday.
“Sinabi nila nagpapaalam sila sa barangay, dahil sa naudlot nilang operation, na ipapatuloy daw nila,” he added.
When asked if Lebach could produce a mayor’s permit, strategic environmental plan (SEP) clearance, or a new ECC to conduct the drilling, Palite said company officials refused to give copies to the barangay, saying that these were confidential.
“Bilang [head ng] committee on environment, tinanong ko sila kung meron ba silang kinauukulang mga dokumento. Ang nangyari, pinakitaan kami ng dokumento na panahon pa ng dating administrasyon ng Barangay Ipilan, na sila ay nag-endorse. Sabi ko, ‘yan ay kinancel. Pero hindi naniniwala sila sa akin,” Palite said.
Palite also claimed that company officials warned them during the session of the Ipilan SB that they may also face administrative cases if they seek to block their operations, citing the case of mayor Mary Jean Feliciano, who was suspended for refusing to issue a mining permit to another company, Ipilan Nickel Mining Company.
“Nakapagsabi din ‘yong kinatawan ng Lebach na kung masobrahan daw namin, baka matulad din kami ni Mayor Feliciano. Yon ang exact statement. Narinig yon ng lahat, actually naka-minutes [of the meeting],” he added.
Feliciano is currently suspended from office for the rest of her term after the Ipilan Nickel Corporation complained to the Office of the Ombudsman for blocking their mayor’s permit application. However, Georjalyn Quiachon, who was acting mayor at the time, gave the company a permit in September last year.
Palawan News tried to locate the office of Lebach Mining Corporation for its response to the petition, but it has no known physical office in Palawan or a website to reach its officials.