(This story was produced with the support of Internews Philippines.)

What happened before.

What is happening now.

For many environmental advocates, the fight for a better future starts within the community.

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“Naalala ko before, may mga komiks na pinapamahagi sa mga schools about our environment at kung paano natin ito pangangalagaan,” said Nico Magdayao, a 30-year-old fourth year law student who grew up in southern Palawan town of Brooke’s Point.

The burden of protecting and balancing development and environmental exploitation rests in the local government, Magdayao added.

“Kapabayaan ng mga nasa tungkulin sa pamahalaan at kawalan ng pagkalinga ng mga tao sa kalikasan. Very vocal ako na ayaw ko ng pagmimina sa bayan ng Brooke’s Point. We can grow kahit walang pagmimina sa Brooke’s Point at malaki ang potensyal nito sa pag-unlad,” Magdayao said citing that his town is the primary agricultural provider in province that made it earn its moniker as “Palawan’s food basket”.

Ipilan Nickel Corporation cuts down over 50,000 trees and allegedly encroached Brooke’s Point watershed that supplies over 20,000 residents in six barangays. (Photo taken in August 2017 courtesy of Mary Jean Feliciano)

The fight continues in Brooke’s Point
Town mayor-elect Cesareo Benedito Jr. spent his last remaining days as provincial board member sending a strong and stern warning against Ipilan Nickel Corporation (INC), seeking a legislative inquiry into its port construction which allegedly lacked requirements.

Days after the local elections, INC started the construction of its causeway in May 12 based on a permit issued by the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) on April 5.

Benedito said that the INC has started construction of the pier despite not having clearances from concerned agencies.

Benedito-Feliciano tandem during the proclamation as mayor and vice mayor of Brooke’s Point.

“Sa ngayon ay naumpisahan na ito kaya ako ay humihiling na maimbitahan yung mga concerned authorities tulad ng National Commission of Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), ‘yong kapitan ng Brgy. Maasin, mga executive ng Ipilan Nickel at ‘yong sa Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) na nag-i-issue ng strategic environmental clearance (SEP) clearance at pati ‘yong Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) para naman malaman natin kung wala ba silang requirements para doon sa construction ng pier,” Benedito said.

Having in mind the previous conviction that was handed over his running-mate and now town vice mayor-elect Mary Jean Feliciano, Benedito added that he will be extra cautious so as not to suffer the fate of Feliciano, who was suspended after the mining company filed several cases before the Ombudsman.

Feliciano, on the other hand, sees her new post as vice mayor as an opportunity to restart her campaign against attempts to amend local land use laws, which presently does not allow mining in any part of the municipality.

“Mahirap, mabigat at masalimuot pa rin ang laban natin sa pag-mimina subalit naniniwala ako na kung kaya ng Diyos na ipanalo ang team BF (Benedito-Feliciano) noong nakaraang halalan kahit walang sapat na resources, walang watchers, etc. kaya niya ring pagtagumpayin ang ating laban sa mga naninira ng kalikasan kung tayo ay patuloy na mananalangin, manampalataya sa kanya at kung makikiisa ang lahat nating kababayan,” Feliciano said.

A long-time environmental lawyer, Feliciano remained a force to reckon with in Brooke’s Point after a staggering landslide win for the vice mayoral seat.

Environmental advocates from different non-government sectors in Palawan gather for silent protest against coal-fired power plant (Photo taken in September 2019 / Palawan News file photo)

“Isa ito sa pinakamatamis na tagumpay na aking naranasan sapagkat alam natin na ginawa ng aming mga katunggali ang lahat ng kanilang pwedeng gawin, gaya ng pagbuhos ng salapi sa buong Brooke’s Point. Pero hindi kayo natinag sapagkat bukod sa mahal ninyo ako, alam kong ang dahilan kaya niyo ako pinili ay sapagkat mahal ninyo ang ating bayan,” Feliciano said as she thanked her supporters.

Cautious steps in Narra
Gerandy Danao ended yet another attempt of Demaala’s political clan to restore its rule in Narra. In 2019 local polls, he ended the 30-year hold of the Demaala family when he first defeated the Demaala matriarch, Lucena.
But “learning his lessons” from his first term as town mayor, Danao is more careful in taking executive decisions as a critic of mining and coal-fired power plant.

Still a vocal opposition, Danao said he would “let the people decide” on matters of “public interest”, citing that he would let the Municipal Council review the situation and provide necessary actions.

“[Kung ako lang] hindi ko tatanggapin [dahil] salot masyado sa bayan. Pera lang siguro umiiral jan. Hindi natin papahirapan ang Narra. Tuloy-tuloy ang construction pero wala pang permit ‘yan na mag-operate. Dapat idaan nila sa tao yan,” Danao said when asked about his stand on the controversial coal-fired power plant being constructed in Narra.

Gerandy Danao secured his second term as the town’s chief executive after garnering 20,591 votes, beating Board Member Clarito Demaala IV who got 16,659 votes. (Photo courtesy of Rachel Ganancial)

He said there are around 46,000 residents who signed the petition against its operation, but the construction is continuous after it acquired the necessary permits issued by the local officials who assumed office upon his 14-month suspension.

“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.

When Danao first assumed the mayoral office in 2019, he was a lone newcomer with no political allies in the municipal council.

This, he said, resulted to running the office on a limited budget which was reviewed, allocated, and approved by the Sangguniang Bayan.

“Pinahirapan nila ako. Hindi ako nagkaroon ng maayos na budget. Sila ang nagbigay sa akin ng aral, tinuruan nila ako kung paano ako matuto,” he added.

Danao will be working with some of the reelected municipal council members who also took part in the filing of the administrative cases against him, which resulted in his suspension in 2020.

The next three years
With Benedito-Feliciano taking point in Brooke’s Point’s local government, the anti-mining battle in this southern town would not rest for another three years.

But in Narra, with Danao being more cautious, the decision will be swayed by the public’s critical position in the fate of the mining and coal-fired power plant activities expected to operate in the following years.

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is a desk editor and senior reporter of Palawan News. He covers politics, environment, tourism, justice, and sports. In his free time, he enjoys long walks with his dog, Bayani.