This miner holds a tarpaulin banner to express their complete backing for Ipilan.

Over 1,500 workers participated in a motorcade on Thursday aimed at promoting hope and unity, showing their backing for the Ipilan Nickel Corporation amidst obstacles that have emerged in its mining operation in Brooke’s Point.

These challenges stemmed from the recent issuance of a cease-and-desist order by the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples and a writ of kalikasan by the Supreme Court.

The motorcade, commencing in Barangay Calasaguen and concluding in Brgy. Ipilan, where the mining company’s operation is located, sought to demonstrate support for the company.

It was an event held by the employees against the CDO issued by the NCIP on August 16. The directive mandated the mining firm to stop its operations due to the alleged absence of a Certification Precondition (CP), a requirement for certain activities, projects, or programs that may potentially affect indigenous communities and their ancestral domains.

It is part of the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) process mandated by the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997.

Arnel Abela, an employee of the mining company and a member of the Pala’wan indigenous community, voiced his disappointment concerning the issuance of the CDO. He claimed that the assistance from Ipilan has significantly aided his family’s welfare, particularly in providing for their daily needs.

“Naniniwala akong responsable ang kompanya ng INC. Mahirap talaga maghanap ng trabaho sa katulad naming hindi nakapag-aral, malaki ang tulong ng INC sa katulad namin at malaki ang nabago sa buhay namin, sa pamilya ko ng makapag trabaho ako sa INC,” said Abela.

“Sana tuloy-tuloy ang operasyon ng INC, malaking tulong sa aming mga manggagawa, maraming mga katutubong trabahante ang mawawalan ng trabaho,” he added.

Alex Arabis, the resident mine manager of Ipilan, expressed gratitude to all workers who showed support for the company during the motorcade.

He extended appreciation to the volunteers from various barangays, as well as the GenCons of INC-Anseca and CKDI, along with their subcontractors and truckers, many of whom are from Brooke’s Point.

“Maraming salamat sa mga lumahok lalo at sa mga bulontaryong pumunta galing sa mga iba’t ibang barangay,” he said.

Ipilan was granted a period of five days by the NCIP to stop all activities and establish safety precautions to ensure community well-being. Although the resolution was released on August 11, the NCIP’s office in Palawan officially issued it on August 16.

Subsequent to receiving the CDO, the mining company and Celestial Nickel Mining Exploration Corporation filed an appeal with the NCIP on August 18 through a motion for reconsideration. The motion emphasized the company’s request for the NCIP to reconsider its decision and reject a resolution from specific indigenous groups in Brooke’s Point.

Ipilan and Celestial Mining cited that NCIP Mimaropa has no jurisdiction to issue the CDO as it is the primary regulation responsibility of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) over mining companies whose operations are under a government-mandated mineral production sharing agreement (MPSA).

They all cited that it was the NCIP Mimaropa that facilitated and conducted the FPIC pursuant to Administrative Order No. 3, Series of 2012. The issuance of the CDO to order the stoppage of Ipilan’s mining operation, as the motion stated, lacks basis.

Ipilan’s motion also pointed out that, referring to the legal precedent in the 2015 Urduran v. Aberasturi case, the highest court elucidated that the scope of the NCIP’s authority according to Section 66 of the IPRA is restricted to instances where both involved parties are indigenous cultural communities/indigenous peoples (ICCs/IPs).

“Therefore, pursuant to Section 66 of the IPRA, the NCIP shall have jurisdiction over claims and disputes involving the rights of ICCs/IPs only when they arise between or among parties belonging to the same ICC/IP. When such claims and disputes arise between or among parties who do not belong to the same ICC/IP, i.e., parties belonging to different ICC/IPs or where one of the parties is a non-ICC/IP, the case shall fall under the jurisdiction of the proper Courts of Justice, instead of the NCIP,” the mining company’s motion said.

The Supreme Court has also ruled that certain parts of the IPRA Implementing Rules and Regulations and the 2003 NCIP Rules of Procedure, which gave the NCIP the power to handle cases where the parties are not from the same ICCs/IPs, have been declared invalid and have no legal impact.

Any conflicts pertaining to ancestral domains and lands, especially those involving ICCs/IPs, such as conflicting claims or boundary disputes, shall be resolved by the involved parties using the customary laws applicable in the specific area where the contested ancestral domain or land is situated.

In cases where the conflicts concern ancestral domains or lands and one of the parties isn’t an ICC/IP or when resolution through customary law is not feasible, the matters will be addressed and settled according to the forthcoming Rules on Pleadings, Practice, and Procedures established by the NCIP.

The motion of the mining firm further cited that in the 2017 Unduran v. Aberasturi case, the SC restated that the NCIP’s authority under Section 66 is restricted solely to situations where both parties are ICCs/IPs.

Upon thorough examination of applicable laws and legal precedents, the Court affirms that the NCIP’s jurisdiction under Section 66 of the PRA is confined to addressing claims and conflicts related to the rights of IPs/ICCs, provided that all parties involved are members of the same ICC/IP group. If such claims and disputes emerge among parties not belonging to the same ICC/IP group, regular courts with appropriate jurisdiction will handle the matter.