The Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) said it would strive to “strike a balance” on decisions regarding mining concerns, and that it has also updated its land usage regulations to guarantee the protection of the Palawan biosphere.
In a forum with the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in MIMAROPA on September 17, PCSD Staff Executive Director Atty. Teodoro Jose Matta said that the new guidelines are part of the Council’s commitment to maintain the balance between the local mining industry and protecting Palawan’s biodiversity.
This comes after the mining moratorium was lifted by the national government, allowing mining companies to resume their operations all over the country.
“To be sure that our biosphere is prioritized, the Council sees to it that before we approve mining applications, we are aware of the recent issuances, rules, and ordinances by the provincial and the national governments in approving and denying SEP (Strategic Environmental Plan) clearances,” Matta said during the forum.
“We know that mining in Palawan has been an ongoing debate for a while now. We are made aware of their reservations about the impact of mining in our home. That is why we, PCSD, strive to strike a balance between preservation and utilization,” he added.
Matta added that the revised guidelines include land usage restrictions, especially in south Palawan, where most mining companies are based.
“Our rules now prescribe for land restrictions from 0 to 500 meters elevation. So that means that we can restrict and rehabilitate land at higher altitudes and that we can take lost ground from mining, agriculture, and kaingin (slash-and-burn farming),” he added.
Another measure the Council made, he said, is requiring local government units (LGUs) in the province to produce 2,000 hectares of restricted zones in their areas. These zones will be targeted for reforestation and rehabilitation.
The PCSD was recently criticized by Palawan-based environmental group Save Palawan Movement (SPM) over its decision to reconsider granting a SEP clearance to the Ipilan Nickel Corporation (INC), a mining company based in Brooke’s Point.
It was also criticized by suspended Narra mayor Gerandy Danao for allowing Citinickel Mines and Development Corporation (CMDC) to expand its operations in Narra.
Spearheaded by the MGB MIMAROPA Region, the two-day forum gathered key industry players, government agencies, local government units, civil society organizations, private sector, academe, and the media to tackle the pressing issues and concerns in mining.
This maiden stakeholders’ forum under the #MineResponsibility unified information, education, and communication campaign covered discussions by resource persons from the MGB MIMAROPA Region, mining companies, and partner agencies and institutions on topics concerning environmental protection and enhancement; combating illegal mining activities through Hotline 8888 and other mechanisms; protection and sustainable development of mineworkers, mining communities, and indigenous peoples; and communicating the benefits of the minerals industry.
In her speech, DENR Assistant Secretary for Finance, Information Systems and Mining Concerns Nonita Caguioa reiterated that effective communication is the key to spread the positive impacts of mining, citing how the industry has been adhering to environmental protection guidelines, occupational safety standards for its employees, and reaching out to some of the needs of its host and neighboring communities.
“I encourage mining companies to be more committed in mining responsibly and to be one with this campaign (#MineResponsibility) through sharing their good practices, efforts, and innovations, if any, in any stage of their corresponding mining operations,” Asec. Caguioa said.
“It is our utmost responsibility to mine responsibly,” she added.
Meanwhile, MGB Director Wilfredo Moncano recognized how the forum creates an opportunity for greater interaction between all stakeholders and the government.
“As always, this government will ensure that mining will take place with a strong focus on the environment and on the interest of all stakeholders,” Moncano assured forum participants.
For his part, MGB MIMAROPA Regional Director Glenn Marcelo Noble pointed out the need to recognize that more still needs to be done in raising awareness and encouraging public participation in conversations about mining and what this industry means for them.
“That when we open these conversations, we — regulators, key industry players — must remember where our stakeholders are coming from — what they need and have to know about the sector, what are their apprehensions, what has been done to address, if not, mitigate the impacts of the sins of the past that have been haunting us all these years,” RD Noble said.
National Commission on Indigenous Peoples MIMAROPA Regional Director Marie Grace Pascua emphasized that indigenous peoples are not just mere beneficiaries, but partners for development in the mining industry.
According to Pascua, “the challenge is how to make an inclusive business model wherein the rights of the indigenous peoples are respected, they are recognized, they are promoted and protected.”
To conclude the two-day forum, DENR MIMAROPA Regional Executive Director Maria Lourdes Ferrer stressed that amid the negative publicity, there is indeed a need to beef up efforts to convey the benefits of the industry and strengthen engagement with the communities, especially the indigenous peoples.
Launched in 2019, the #MineResponsibility campaign aims to spread awareness on the best practices of the mining industry towards attaining sustainable mineral development in the country through responsible mining.