(This story was produced with the support of Internews Philippines.)
Pro-environment activists won big when well-known “eco-warriors” were named the mayors of two of the most biodiverse towns in southern Palawan.
Longtime environmental lawyer and former mayor of Brooke’s Point Mary Jean Feliciano, was kicked out of office in July 2021 after the Ombudsman found her guilty of oppression or grave abuse of authority for stopping a mining company from operating in her town in 2018. However, she won the vice mayor’s seat and is now back in power.
Feliciano, who scored 21,681 votes to defeat Rogelio Badua’s 14,448 votes, continued to advocate for the environment, defending the concerns of underprivileged communities such as farmers, fishers, and indigenous people (IP).
Cesario Benedito Jr., the running mate of Feliciano, also won the mayoral election, defeating outgoing mayor Jaja Quiachon by a close margin of 516 votes, with 18,125 votes to her 17,609.
Benedito previously served as the town’s mayor and municipal councilor, with over 20 years of experience.
Quiachon, who succeeded Feliciano after she was dismissed from office, awarded a mayor’s permit to the Ipilan Nickel Corp. (INC) only a month later, reversing over a decade of struggle to keep mining businesses away from Brooke’s Point.
Feliciano was instrumental in suspending INC’s operations, despite the fact that the firm was able to extend its mineral production sharing agreement with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) until 2025.
Brooke’s Point, which is known as the “food basket” of Palawan, sends rice and vegetables to the towns around it, including Puerto Princesa City, the capital of the province.
Lawyer Grizelda Mayo-Anda, executive director of the Environmental Legal Assistance Center Inc. (ELAC), a non-government organization based in Puerto Princesa City, said that the victories gave the civic movement hope that there were opportunities for engaging local officials in pursuing an environmental justice agenda.
However, Anda stressed that local officials also need a vigilant citizenry that understands what environmental governance is all about and is “willing to engage the government in pursuit of environmental protection.”
In Narra town, controversial mayor Gerandy Danao has also won his re-election bid.
Danao, who was slapped with a 14-month suspension in 2020, secured his second term as town mayor after defeating yet another attempt by Demaala’s political clan to restore its rule in Narra.
With 20,591 votes, the Municipal Board of Canvassers (MBOC) proclaimed Danao as mayor, defeating Clarito “Prince” Demaala IV, who received 16,658 votes.
Demaala IV is the last member of his family left in Narra politics.
Lucena, the matriarch of the Demaala family, was defeated by Danao in 2019 to end the family’s 30-year dominance.
Danao will work with some of the council members who were re-elected and who were also involved in filing the administrative cases against him that led to his suspension in 2020.
During his first term, Danao was against mining in the town. However, he seemed to change his mind and said he would let the Municipal Council look into the situation and decide what to do.
Danao said he had learned from the first time he was suspended and would let the SB decide this time.
“Siguro, lahat ng ‘yon ay ibibigay ko muna sa Sanggunian Bayan para mabigyan nila ng magandang aral kung ano ba dapat aralin diyan sa minahan. Kung kailangan bigyan ng aksyon, bigyan ng aksyon. Ibibigay ko lahat sa kanila ‘yan dahil sila naman nag-apruba niyan hindi naman ako,” Danao said.
“Sila ang nagbigay sa akin ng aral, tinuruan nila ako kung paano ako matuto,” he added.