The City Environment and Natural Resources Office (City ENRO) in Puerto Princesa clarified that the earthmoving activity in Barangay Simpocan is part of the river restoration project, not a gravel and sand quarry, as some disgruntled indigenous peoples (IPs) in the area had claimed.
In an interview with Palawan News, City ENRO chief Atty. Carlo Gomez stated that most of the rivers in Puerto Princesa were either clogged or washed out as a result of Typhoon Odette, causing floods in community areas.
“It is not a quarry actually, it is a river restoration rehabilitation project. Kung nakita niyo ang mga ilog natin [after Odette] ang naging kasunod na trabaho natin ay to clear all rivers, we restored the river channels,” Gomez said.
“Napakasimple lang naman ng logic para hindi bumaha doon sa river banks or adjacent areas, kapag ang kanal ay barado syempre ang river ay mag wa-wash out yan, mag spill over yan sa community like what happened in Langogan na nasira ang mga farm lots kasi hindi na nakayanan ‘yong dami ng tubig,” he added said.
A remote barangay on the city’s west coast, Simpocan is tucked away behind the Mt. Beaufort Geological Mountain Range and wedged between Mt. Herschel and the West Philippine Sea, about 50 kilometers from downtown.
Gomez also explained that the Simpocan village council requested dredging, but after an assessment, the City ENRO staff determined that the area needed restoration and rehabilitation.
In order to prevent them from washing back into the river during the next time it rains heavily, waste and other debris had to be cleared away from the river.
“Yong Simpocan, after nagrequest ang barangay council for a dredging activity—dahil iniisip nga nila na rainy season na [nag assess kami,] at nakita namin na there is a need to restore ang river at ang channel nya ay maclear ang mga debris, and it so happened na mayroong mga nakita na waste materials na kailangang tanggalin sa area, kaya we need to remove that kasi kung ilalagay lang yan sa gilid ay babalik lang yan,” Gomez explained.
Gomez stated that in order to pursue the project, the barangay council sought assistance from a contractor who will conduct the rehabilitation project for free while also paying the city government for the “waste materials” that they have collected.
The contractor tasked with assisting in the river’s rehabilitation was recommended by the barangay Simpocan council, according to Gomez, who added that the IPs should not doubt what is being done since it is for the good of their place.
“Isa sa naging recommendation ni barangay dahil wala namang kakayahan si city to restore and rehabilitate ang river kaya nag recommend sila ng contractor. Naging discreet naman tayo sa pagpili ng contractor. Hindi natin binabayaran si contractor bagkus binabayaran pa nya ang waste materials na inassess namin na pwede nyang gamitin at nagkataon na ang contractor na yon ay may project din malapit doon sa area, road cementing project. Kaya parang ang nangyari, we are shooting two birds with one stone. Nare-restore ang river at the same time ay ang sa infrastructure. Kaya lang minasama naman ng nasa community ng mga IPs. Actually, nag usap usap naman yan sila sa barangay,” he said.
“In fact, it is a sacrifice on the part of the contractor. Kasi hindi natin sila binayaran para magconduct ng rehabilitation. Iyong waste material lang kumbaga talaga kailangan tanggalin. Ang waste material na yan ay binabayaran yan sa siyudad at ang binayad na yan bumabalik ang 60 percent sa barangay. Nag benefit sila” Gomez explained further.
Gomez said he believes that the barangay council has sought Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) from the affected IP community, but internal dynamics from them who have resorted to raising their concerns to the City Council’s IP mandatory representative (IPMR) are causing a commotion on the community project.
“Actually, hindi nagfail ang pagkuha ng FPIC. Sa nalaman namin ay nagkakaroon kasi most of the time ng intramurals within the IP community. Ang nangyayari, nakakausap ang isang IP community na direct na naaapektuhan and yet kapag may mga disgruntled na mga members ay umaalis sila at bumubuo ng bagong grupo at tatakbo sa IPMR. Ang masakit dito, ang approach ay parang inaaway si barangay, ang city at ang contractor. Samantalang pwede naman pag usapan. Pero based doon, kung tutuusin, sa report sa amin ay nagkaroon na ng agreement yan,” Gomez said.
Gomez called on IPMR John Mart Salunday to resolve the issue through a dialogue among the concerned parties.
“Ang advice ko siguro lalo na kay IPMR Salunday ay mas maganda na resolve it peacefully. Kasi tatanungin din naman natin sila bilang miyembro ng community kung ano ang kanilang pwedeng maitulong. Kasi ang project na yan actually ay para tulungan ang community, ayusin ang river system and at the same time ay tinatapos ang infrastructure. Kung hindi sila makikipagtulungan ay magiging mabagal ang development. Forever ganyan ang sitwasyon nila,” Gomez added.