Its business as usual for Ipilan Nickel Corporation (INC) as it gathered on Friday around 2,000 of its employees, their families, and stakeholders during an “appreciation day” held in front of its campsite in Brgy. Maasin, Brooke’s Point.
It was a festive day for the company, as everyone enjoyed a band performance under tents adorned with bunting.
On the other side of the highway, the anti-mining groups were on their 6th day of protest, standing in vigil at the barricade they erected to stop the allegedly illegal operations of the mining company.
Alex Arabis, the manager of Ipilan Nickel’s mine, claimed the anti-mining demonstrators are a minority.
“Hamak na mas marami na taga-Brooke’s Point, lalo na mga residente ng 4 host and neighboring barangays ang may gusto at sumusuporta sa mining project ng national government kung saan ang Ipilan Nickel Corporation ay siyang contractor,” he told Palawan News.
“Ang kompanya ay patuloy na nagbibigay ng trabaho, sari-saring proyekto sa komunidad such as health, education, livelihood, infra/public utilities and support to socio-cultural values and beliefs, taxes to national, provincial, municipal and barangay local government units,” he pointed out.
These are despite assertions that the majority of its employees come from Platinum Group Metal Company, a sibling firm that also engages in nickel mining in Surigao del Norte.
Placards with pro-mining sentiments were also placed around their side of the area.
“Pagmimina ay suportahan para sa ating kaunlaran,” a placard read.
The pro-mining group also has support of some barangay officials.
“Nagpapasalamat nga ako, ganun pa man maraming mga taga Maasin at mga taga Brooke’s Point ang nabigyan ng trabaho, maging yong kanilang mga programa under SDMP (Social Development and Management Program) ay napakinabangan talaga ng tao. Hindi natin maiwasan talaga na may ayaw at gusto pero nakita ko rin kung anong mga programa ang naibigay ng Ipilan Nickel,” said Brgy. Maasin captain Domingo Bernas.
But the call of the anti-mining groups reverberated all over southern Palawan on Sunday, February 27, as their biggest supporter, the Vicar Apostolic of Puerto Princesa, issued a pastoral letter read during the day’s mass.
“Ang simbahan ay nakikiisa sa ganitong uri ng hakbangin at mga hangarin at alang-alang sa bayan at sa kapanan ng kalikasan,” Bishop Socrates Messiona wrote. “Marubdob ang panawagan ng simbahan sa kadahilanang ang nakikita natin sa rally ay yaong mga simpleng tao tulad ng mga katutubo at mga magsasaka – sila na walang inaasahan sa pamumuhay kundi ang likas-yaman ng lupa, bundok, gubat at dagat.”
The prelate reiterated the negative effects of mining on the environment and the division it has caused among the people, according to Mesiona.
As the anti-mining demonstration continues till February 28, he pleaded for sobriety, urging the protestors to refrain from negative speech and stick to the truth and facts.
“Napipinsala ang mga bahagi ng kalikasang ito dahil sa pagmimina. Ipinakikiusap natin na pakinggan naman ang boses at igalang ang hinaing at panawagan ng ating mga kababayan. Gayunpaman, idinudulog natin sa lahat na maging mahinahon. Iwasan nawa ang mapanirang mga salita na nakasasakit ng kalooban. Maging makatotohanan lamang sa talakayan. Tunguhin ang common good at pakaisipin palagi ang pangmatagalang epekto kesa pansamantala at kapakinabangan ng iilan. At kung mayroon mang magagawang pagkiling, walang ibang kikilingan kundi ang mga simpleng tao at ang mabubuting mamamayan ng Brooke’s Point,” he stated further.
Messiona previously stated that mining had “disturbed” the province and cited it as the source of recent flooding in the town.
Based on Memorandum Order No. 056, signed by Brooke’s Point mayor Cesareo Beneditor Jr., the anti-mining protesters have until the end of the month to conduct their rally in the area, after being extended for a week.
Ipilan Nickel also claimed that the rally has obstructed its operations.
The Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has also asked the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to assist Ipilan, citing the legality of its operations. .
Meanwhile, the anti-mining protesters said they will continue their protest until the national government intervenes on their favor, preventing Ipilan from operating in Brooke’s Point.
Group likens anti-mining protest to EDSA revolt
An anti-mining group, on the other hand, compared recent actions of residents to protest Ipilan Nickel’s operation to the EDSA People Power revolution.
Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) said as the country celebrated the 37th anniversary of EDSA, another event similar to the peaceful uprising that removed President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. from power 37 years ago is unfolding as residents of Brooke’s Point, Palawan are exhibiting yet another ‘people power’ as they gather to ask government to put a stop to the operation of Ipilan Nickel Corporation (INC) in Barangay Maasin, Brooke’s Point.
The group also vowed to commit support to the struggle of residents in their battle against the mining firm.
ATM also said the actions of the affected residents reflect the EDSA revolution as “people are going out of their homes to form human barricades against trucks transporting mineral ores.” During EDSA revolution, people also formed human barricades to block military trucks.
“As we commemorate the anniversary of the EDSA People Power, we commit anew to fight for the protection of the environment alongside the mining Sites of Struggles (SoS),” ATM said in a statement.
“They are spending their days and nights in the barricades demanding a stop to mining operations that damage their natural resources and disrupt their community life,” it added, further stating that the actions of the residents also show that the spirit of EDSA “persists in the local mining struggles.”
ATM national coordinator Jaybee Garganera meanwhile committed whole support to the residents in their protest action, stating that it is the last option for the farmers and indigenous people to assert their rights.
He also lauded the local government of Brooke’s Point’s support to the residents and promised to extend necessary assistance as local leaders assert their autonomy “to govern their municipalities in accordance with their development programs and the will of their citizens. Ordinances and resolutions against large-scale mining are issued to legally concretize and reflect people’s opposition to mining.”
“What the people are doing now in Brooke’s Point [and in Sibuyan] is a proof that democracy is very much alive in our fight for truth to ensure that we will have a better future,” Garganera said in a press conference last Friday.
“Makakaasa kayo na hindi naming pababayaan partikular ang tulong ng ating mga kaibigang abogado na expert sa local autonomy para maging katuwang ng ELAC at PNNI para madagdagan pa yung ating legal scientific at evidence-based na reklamo para yung lahat ng iligal na ginagawa ng INC ay mailantad natin,” he added.
Garganera also said he is hoping that a meeting would be arranged between officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Brooke’s Point LGU to finally thresh out solutions to the debacle. This was after Brooke’s Point Mayor Cesareo Benedito sent a letter to Secretary Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga seeking the cancellation of INC’s Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) and the issuance of a Cease-and-Desist Order for the operation of the company.
Furthermore, the group also said they will push for the Republic Act 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act to be repealed and “replace it with a new law that rationalizes the mining industry, preserves the environment, and respects the livelihoods and culture of communities.”