The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) has issued a cease and desist order against the Ayala Corporation’s Ten Knots Philippines, Inc. (TKPI) operating a major tourism hub in El Nido, for allegedly violating the rights of an indigenous community claiming ownership over its occupied property.

The order, issued March 7, 2022, called out TKPI for reportedly failing to secure free prior and informed consent ((FPIC) from the Tagbanua tribes, claiming to have ancestral rights over some 200 hectares of property currently occupied by TKPI, which includes a private airstrip and a sprawling tourism complex that hosts several high-end hotels and shops.

“Pursuant to NCIP Commission En Banc Resolution No. 08-017-2021, you are hereby directed to Cease and Desist, immediately upon receipt of this order, from operating with respect to the projects located at Villa Libertad and Pasadena, all in El Nido, Palawan,” the NCIP order stated.

A community of Tagbanua Tandulanen IPs is claiming to have ancestral ownership over the lands currently occupied by the TKPI businesses. While the order did not address the ownership dispute, the NCIP faulted the company for allegedly failing to adhere to the legally mandated consultation process with the IP community “despite the series of communications and notices” issued to them.

TKPI operates, among others, the El Nido Resorts, high-end island properties located in El Nido and Taytay, and the Lio Tourism Estate in Barangay Villa Libertad. The company also handles the Lio Airport, El Nido’s primary port of entry.

TKPI response
Sought for comment on the CDO issuance, TKPI’s legal counsel told Palawan News they did not violate the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA) law provisions cited by the NCIP in its order.

“There is no truth to this allegation. TKPI has always been fully compliant with the IPRA. To be clear, TKPI has titles to the lands on which the Lio Tourism Estate is located,” Atty. Christopher Louie Ocampo of ACCRALAW said in an email response to Palawan News.

“These land titles were issued prior to the passage of the IPRA. Under the IPRA, TKPI has vested rights to these titled lands, which must be recognized and respected,” Ocampo said.

He added that TKPI had been issued by the NCIP itself a Certificate of Non-Overlap (CNO) for the Lio Tourism Estate in 2013.

“These CNOs remain valid to date and have not been revoked or cancelled. Moreover, the Lio Tourism Estate as well as all the other projects of TKPI have been issued the required permits from the national and local authorities,” he said.

Compliance with the CDO
Ocampo said that TKPI is preparing to comply with the CDO, but pointed out that the closure of its Lio Airport and the hotels and establishments located in the Lio Tourism Estate will result in the loss of jobs and livelihood for many local residents.

The company said that more than 500 employees who are employed by the different establishments in TKPI’s projects are also facing potential loss of employment.

“These are the same employees and families severely affected by the downturn of the tourism industry due to the pandemic,” Ocampo said.

“The CDO will have widespread adverse repercussions and will result in unquantifiable damage to the businesses and enterprises reliant on the daily operations of the Lio Airport. The closure of the Lio Airport will affect an average of 600 passengers who fly in and out of El Nido daily,” Ocampo said.

“In any event, while TKPI’s request for the recall of the CDO is pending, TKPI has undertaken steps toward complying with the CDO. Due to operational and logistical considerations, it is not feasible to stop operations abruptly without a reasonable period to wind down,” he added.

“Arrangements have to be made to halt the operations of the airport, the seaport, and other infrastructure, transport outbound guests, cancel flights, and accommodations of inbound guests, empty perishable inventory in different retail and commercial establishments, and handle all concerns of all affected employees and staff,” he said.

Ocampo also pointed out that the immediate closure of their operations will also affect the operations of the Iloilo-Negros Air Express Company (“INAEC”) and the Joint Task Force Malampaya (JTF) that oversees security operations for the Malampaya Gas field.