Gov. Victorino Dennis Socrates and Palawan Bishop Proderick Pabillo affix their thumbmarks to a map of Palawan in support of the Declaration of Commitment forged by participants during the Provincial Stakeholders' Congress on Mining and the Environment that ended Friday, April 26.

Delegates and participants of the Provincial Stakeholders’ Congress on Mining and the Environment (PSCME) called for a moratorium on new mining projects in Palawan.

The declaration was forged at the conclusion of the activity held at the Best Western Ivy Wall Hotel on April 24-26.

The stakeholders called for a moratorium on the approval of applications for new mining exploration, new Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) and Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA), while Republic Act 7942, or Philippine Mining Act, is being reviewed and amended.

The event, organized by the provincial government of Palawan, gathered various sectors of society in the province to discuss issues and concerns regarding mining industry.

Governor Dennis Socrates said the he felt the necessity to hold the event amid rising new challenges that the province is facing regarding mining and environmental protection.

He said that the gathering will help shape future policies regulating mining in Palawan.

“After a reasoned discussion, hindi ito basta emosyon lang, pinag-usapan, may mga kontrang pananaw na ibinigay at inilahad ang mga dahilan kung bakit ganito o ganoon yung kanilang pananaw at ang lumabas nga ay yung ating deklarasyon,” he said.

Participants of the 3-day event tackled six major factors that directly affect the mining industry particularly the national policy framework on mining; sustainable development framework for Palawan; stewardship of creation; impacts of mining on socio-economic development; compliance, monitoring and enforcement; and the issue of sustainable mining.

At the end of the congress, participants also signed the Declaration of Commitment with their thumb marks.

Aside from the moratorium, the declaration also called for: increase in penalties to violations as per terms and conditions in the ECC and SDMP; increase in royalty shares of Indigenous Communities; and requiring mining companies to secure business permits from host municipalities; expand and consider rotation of Civil Society Organization representation in the Multipartite Monitoring Team; and additional membership from the religious sector in the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development among others.

Socrates, meanwhile, described the declaration as the mood or sentiment of the majority of Palaweños as it reflects their desire as agreed upon during the congress.

“Yung mga napagkasunduan, nakita naman natin (na) almost unanimous lahat, halos lahat tayo ay nagkasundo doon sa ating mga deklarasyon and I know it reflects the sentiment of the overwhelming majority of our fellow Palaweños,” he said in an interview with Palawan News.

“Kaya ako naman, sa aking bahagi ito precisely ay isang consultative assembly that we convoked para malaman natin yung kagustuhan ng ating mga kababayan ay sisikapin nating matupad yung ating pinagkasunduan. [And] on my part, I will do everything that I can in my capacity na sundin at tupdin ang ating deklarasyon,” he added.

Socrates however said that while the declaration is not legally binding, it will serve as guiding principles for policy makers of the province for future actions regarding mining applications.

He stated that policy making bodies such as the PCSD should bear in mind that there is an overwhelming majority that is calling for actions, particularly on the moratorium.

“For example yung PCSD, may mga SEP clearance yung mga gustong magmina, dadaan sa PCSD yan. Yung sinabi dito na gusto ng karamihan ng Palawenyo na magkaroon ng moratorium sa pagmimina o huwag muna magbigay ng bagong MPSA, that should weigh heavily on the minds of the council members. Lahat ng members of the PCSD will be aware of that. So pagdating sa kanila, they will have to decide based on their own consciences. Malaya pa rin sila pero alam (din) nila yung gusto ng karamihan sa constituents natin,” Socrates explained.

He added that the same goes to the Sangguniang Panlalawigan where mining companies need to secure endorsements for MPSA.

“Bago magkaroon ng SEP Clearance, kailangan ng endorsement ng local legislative bodies, malaya pa rin yung mga board members natin na bumoto according to their conscience pero alam nila ngayon na ito ang kagustuhan ng karamihan ng Palaweño,” he said.

He also stated that the moratorium was placed at the top of the list considering that it was the most important output because “ultimately yun ang issue and will greatly affect the around 84 pending applications for MPSA in the province.”

He added that while there are already nine existing mining operations in the province, it might just stay at that.

“Yung exisiting nine na yan, may mga karapatan na yan and unless may violation sila ay diyan lang sila. Pero yung mga bago, kung may moratorium tayo, dapat ang ating mga regulatory agencies are aware of that desire na huwag na muna,” he said.

Meanwhile, Brooke’s Point Vice-Mayor Mary Jean Feliciano said she is happy that the provincial government came up with the mining congress adding that there were lots of new things that came out in the event.

A staunch environmental protection advocate, Feliciano stated that while she acknowledges the benefits of mining, she remains committed to stand against it in the province.

“Pagdating sa mining sa lalawigan ng Palawan ay no talaga ako kasi naipakita naman kung gaano kakaiba ang Palawan at hindi lang yung ganda nya, yung universal value nya na hindi pwedeng maikumpara sa kahit na sino, kakaiba talaga yung pagpapala ng Diyos sa atin,” Feliciano said.

With regards to the decision making on the declaration, she said it is up to the provincia government, particularly the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, noting that only a handful of them were present.

“Sana nandito sila at yung iba pang mayors at yung mga itinalaga para magdesisyon. Kasi yung pagdedesisyon natin, hindi lamang dapat yung present ang ating kino-consider kundi dapat yung future – kung ito yung decision natin, ano yung magiging impact sa future, hindi tayo dapat maging makasarili at tingnan natin yung kabutihang panlahat,” she explained.

Moreover, shes said she is still hopeful that there will be changes in the policy direction.

“Kasi ako sinasabi ko naman, hindi ko sinasabi na huwag tayo magpapamina pero parang hindi sapat na ngayon na ba? Isusulong na ba natin? Hindi naman nabubulok yung mina e. Pwedeng ipagpaliban muna natin habang masiguro muna natin na mas mabawasan yung corruption sa ating gobyerno,” she elaborated.

She also said she is looking forward to another gathering where more representatives from the government agencies concerned will attend.

Socrates on the other hand said that while there are no plans yet, he also believes that participants will als call for another one.