During the dispersal of the picket on April 14 in Brgy. Ipilan, Brooke's Point, an Ipilan Nickel Corporation security guard is seen in a video holding a female protester he is detaining. | Screenshot from S De Cruz video

The Catholic church in Palawan on Monday accused Ipilan Mining Corporation (INC), which operates in Brooke’s Point, of instigating violence against a group of local protesters camped out outside its premises, and called on the national government to “permanently close” the company’s operations.

In a joint statement released Monday, Bishop Socrates Mesiona of the Apostolic Vicariate of Puerto Princesa (AVPP) and Bishop Broderick Pabillo of the Apostolic Vicariate of Taytay (AVT) accused the mining company of violently dispersing the rallyists gathered outside its compound on Friday, April 14, and making an illegal arrest of six of the protesters.

The church leaders also blasted the local Philippine National Police (PNP) for not intervening to pacify the situation as its uniformed officers allegedly simply watched while company security guards and employees stormed the protesters.

“We are deeply saddened and strongly condemn the violent dispersal and unlawful arrests conducted last Friday, April 14, against peaceful rallyists by close to a hundred private security guards of Ipilan Nickel Corporation in Brooke’s Point, backed up by a contingent of 30 PNP police force who silently watched and abetted them,” Bishops Mesiona and Pabillo stated.

Bishop Socrates Mesiona (left) of the Apostolic Vicariate of Puerto Princesa and Bishop Broderick Pabillo (right) of the Apostolic Vicariate of Taytay. | Photo from AVPP

Six of the protesters were randomly arrested by the group and hauled to the police station for the filing of charges. Rally organizer Job Lagrada told Palawan News that the complaint was summarily dismissed by the prosecution office in Puerto Princesa City for lacking evidence.

In their statement, Mesiona and Pabillo called on the national government to “permanently close” Ipilan Nickel operations in Brooke’s Point, citing the company’s lack of a mayor’s permit to operate and its action against the rallyists.

“The peaceful rallyists have consistently obtained valid permits to rally in the exercise of their constitutional rights to publicly assemble. During the rallies, they have expressed their legitimate demand for Ipilan Nickel Corporation to immediately stop its mining operations after its Mayor’s Permit to Operate had expired since February 1, 2023 and the Office of the Mayor had issued a Cease and Desist Order against it,” they stated.

“Rather than fully complying with the rule of law, Ipilan Nickel Corporation acted in blatant defiance of the law by continuously operating its mine. Worse, the company took the law into its own hands by deploying its large private security force in violently dispersing the peaceful rallyists. Some were beaten up, injured and unlawfully arrested in plain sight and with silent support of the PNP law officers ironically sworn to uphold the law and maintain peace and order, without fear or favor,” they added.

The protesters, consisting of local residents, have been picketing the company for over two months and have been camping out at a roadside outside the company gate with a permit issued by the local government unit of Brooke’s Point, which is also critical of its operations.

The church leaders accused the mining company of being responsible for environmental degradation in the area, causing livelihood losses and “massive flooding” in Brooke’s Point.

They called on the Provincial Prosecutors to “dismiss immediately all trumped-up charges against the peaceful rallyists” and hold accountable the company responsible for the violent incident. They also demanded legal action against “the PNP officers who conspired to conduct the violent dispersal and unlawful arrests.”

PNP statement in the incident
In a separate interview with Palawan News, PNP Brooke’s Point chief P/Maj. Raffy Esperida claimed that the rallyists were illegally gathered outside the area allowed by their permit from the mayor’s office. He said that while there was indeed a “confrontation” between the company’s security forces and the rallyists, the dispersal was “generally peaceful.”

“Nandoon po ang kapulisan. Sa tatlong beses na dialogue na naisagawa ko sa mga nagrarally bilang ground commander, nakumbinsi naman po natin sila na lisanin ang lugar na pinagsagawaan nila ng rally dahil hindi na ito sakop ng lugar na nakasaad sa kanilang permit to rally,” Espirida said

“Nagkaroon ng confrontation between security guards and rallyista, pero natigil naman yun kasunod ng dialogue at umalis na din sila ng tahimik. Pumasok ang truck sakay ang mga nagrarally, at humarang sa mga hauling ng truck. Kagandahan lang din naagapan natin, at nahinto ang gulo, di kalaunan umalis ang mga raliyista,” he added.

Rallyists belie PNP statement, question their inaction
The anti-mining groups belied the statement made by the police chief.

According to the protesters, the only chance that Esperida addressed them was when he announced through a megaphone that they were given 10 minutes to disperse.

“Wala pong dialogue na nangyari. Sa katunayan nasa malayo lang sila nanonood. Yung mga security sa kanila pa nga humihingi ng instruction,” one of the protesters said.

“Nakikita na nila sa harapan nila na may kinukuyog na mga tao. Mga matatanda. Mga babae tapos wala man lang silang ginawa,” Tamsi said.

No response from Ipilan Nickel
Palawan News has sought a statement on the incident from Ipilan Nickel Corporation but has yet to receive a reply.