The mines bureau has clarified that Ipilan Nickel Corporation’s “exclusive right” to conduct mining operations in its contract area in Brooke’s Point remains valid until April 2025.

Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) regional director Engr. Glen Marcelo Noble made the clarification on February 21 through a letter addressed to vice mayor Mary Jean Feliciano of Brooke’s Point.

It was in response to a resolution from the Sangguniang Bayan that seeks to investigate the mining company’s operations after allegations that MPSA No. 017-93-IV issued in 2018 lacks its endorsement and that Ipilan Nickel is operating without a Certificate Precondition (CP) from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and a Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) clearance.

Noble emphasized that the MPSA did not expire on August 5, 2018, because it was amended on April 10, 2000, to comply with Republic Act (RA) 7942, also known as the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.

To settle the question about when the MPSA will go into effect, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) issued an order on December 21, 2021, stating that the date of the identical sharing agreement will be calculated from the date that the revised copy is signed.

Moreover, he noted that Ipilan Nickel is not required to secure a CP, as this requirement only covers applications filed after the passage of RA 8371, or the 1997 Indigenous Peoples Rights Act. He cited a letter by the NCIP dated March 31, 2006, stating that the mining company is no longer covered as it was already awarded an MPSA four years prior August 5, 1993.

Noble also said that Ipilan Nickel has concluded the process of securing a CP in preparation for the renewal of its MPSA in 2025. During a series of community consultations last June 2022 to August 2022, under the guidance of the NCIP, an “overwhelming” number of indigenous peoples voted for its continued operations.

In total, 3,739 IPs from barangays Aribungos and Calasaguen voted in favor of Ipilan Nickel versus only 614 dissenters. In Calasaguen, 100 percent of the eligible voters were in favor of “responsible mining.” This led the IPs from the barangays of Barong-Barong, Ipilan, Mambalot, and Maasin to concede in favor of the mining company.

A PAMB approval is also unnecessary, according to Noble, given the MPSA predates the proposed final boundary of the Mount Mantalingahan Protected Landscape (MMPL). It is safeguarded by the relevant section of Presidential Proclamation No. 1815, which established the MMPL while recognizing prior or vested rights.

“We are awaiting the renewal of our mayor’s permit as we have already submitted the necessary documents and complied with all laws and regulations,” said Alex Arabis, resident mine manager of Ipilan Nickel Corporation.

Arabis said their company employs over 1,500 people, wherein 90% are residents of Brooke’s Point. The IPs are also well-represented as they make up 28% of the total workforce. To date, he said Ipilan Nickel has spent close to P53.3 million to fund various projects to improve the quality of life in Brooke’s Point and nearby areas.

Protesters level up action vs Ipilan Nickel
Anti-mining advocates in the town has leveled up their protest action against the company in Brgy. Maasin, asking the DENR to put a stop to its operations.

The group also got support from the municipal government after Mayor Cesareo R. Benedito, Jr. sent a letter to DENR Secretary Antonio Yulo-Loyzaga requesting for the cancellation of Ipilan Nickel’s MPSA covering 2,835 hectares, with 260 hectares already partially declared as a mining area.

In addition, they also called for DENR to issue a cease-and-desist order (CDO) due to lack of mayor’s permit and the CP.

Vice Mayor Mary Jean Feliciano also said that aside from the letter to DENR, they have also sent a letter to Sen. Riza Hontiveros for the conduct of an inquiry regarding the mining firm’s alleged violations.

A staunch environmental advocate, Feliciano said the only action that Sec. Loyzaga has to take that can prevent destruction of the environment is to cancel the mining company’s MPSA.

“Isa lamang ang aking kahilingan simula pa noon–irespeto natin kung ano ang nakasaad sa batas. Iginagalan namin yung mga batas na pinatutupad, polisiya ng DENR, NCIP, PCSD, pero kami as an LGU ng Brooke’s Point, hiling din namin na igalang din ninyo ang Local Government Code na nagbibigay sa amin ng mandato na suportahan at i-promote ang kabutihan ng lahat at ang una kong kahilingan sa DENR ay huwag nyo sanang bigyan ng permit yung mga lugar na hindi porke mayroong mineral ay dapat nang i-operate at minahin,” Feliciano said.

“Definitely the preservation of our natural forests and the protection of our watersheds cannot be compromised,” she added.

The group has also demanded that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. investigate the predicament of the locals, the majority of whom are farm workers, and give agriculture a higher priority than mining.

The group has since camped outside the Ipilan Nickel operation site and barricaded its access roads for a week now.

Pastor Job Lagrada, one of the leaders of the anti-mining group, said the DENR has to take necessary and immediate action on the alleged violations of the company and hold it accountable.

“Hindi kami titigil hangga’t hindi kami pinapakinggan ng national government at hindi inaaksyunan ang aming kahilingan. Ang pwede lang magpatigil sa amin ay kung kami ay bu-bulldozin nila sapagkat ang aming barikada ay ang mga tao mismo,” Lagrada said.

“At hangga’t binibigyan kami ng permit ng pamahalaang lokal ay nandyan kami,” he added.

Benedito, on the other hand, said Ipilan Nickel has been “blatantly disrespecting the law by ignoring the order of the Office of the Mayor to stop operations” after its business permit lapsed last December 2022.

IP leader Nelson Sombra also said the mining firm is disregarding Republic Act 8371 or the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA law) as it has not at all secured a CP from the NCIP.

The company has been operating despite not having the required consent of the IPs and has not given consideration to our sentiments, Sombra said.

NGO support
Atty. Asia Wy of the Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC) also said they are “prepared to take other legal actions against Ipilan Nickel should it insist and continue to operate, violating the law and harming the environment.”

Aside from ELAC, the group also got another backing from Alyansa Tigil Mina national coordinator Jaybee Garganera, who said they are fully supporting the “legitimate and just demand of the people of Brooke’s Point not to allow destructive mining in their area.”

“DENR should likewise heed the people’s demands and act accordingly. A Cease-and-Desist order is the immediate action for the DENR to take,” he said.

As of February 21, Benedito has extended the permit to rally of the protesters until the end of the month.