The Batak tribes of Roxas are appealing to the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) to renew their almaciga concession permits, which are their main source of livelihood.
Jelbert Orale, leader of the Batak tribe’s almaciga gatherers in Sitio Nanabo, Caramay, Roxas, said the PCSD has been sitting on their application for renewal after declaring their concession claims to be part of a protected core zone and outside of their ancestral domain claim.
They pointed out that PCSD had previously renewed their concession. But when they applied for another renewal, it ruled that the area was within the core zone where economic activities are prohibited under the SEP law for Palawan.
“Dati, sabi nila, nagkamali daw yong kanilang geographic information system (GIS)—yong pag overlay ng mapa, kaya naisyuhan sila ng clearance,” Jojo Soriano, a development worker from Palawan Center for Appropriate Rural Technology (PCART), said.
“Parang ayaw na nila kaming mabuhay kasi hanggang ngayon ayaw kaming bigyan ng permit,” Orale told Palawan News.
The concession area covers some 5,200 hectares and is a primary livelihood source for some 54 Batak families in Nanabo that rely on the resin of the almaciga trees.
An evaluation team of the PCSD staff has determined it to be a core zone after the conduct of an Environmentally Critical Areas Network (ECAN) zoning, a process to determine environmentally critical areas.
PCART executive director Laurence Padilla claimed that while the indigenous peoples (IPs) are having difficulty securing the renewal of their permits from the PCSD, the Council has allowed mining companies to operate inside natural forests.
“Ano po ang nangyari? Baka kailangan balikan, upuan, at siguro tingnan yong partisipasyon kasi mukhang ang nangyayari sa atin ay kapag may investor pinapayagan nila, kapag walang investment, katulad ng katutubo, hindi nabibigyan,” he said.
Orale said their request is to work gathering almaciga resins so they could put food on the table for their families.
“Ang hiling lang namin makapaghanap-buhay kami para sa pamilya namin kasi ito lang naman ang pag-a-almaciga ang pinaka pinagkakakitaan namin,” Orale added.
Soriano said they were surprised to learn that what used to be the Batak tribe’s concession area is now a core zone.
“Dati, sabi nila, nagkamali daw yong kanilang geographic information system (GIS) — yong pag overlay ng mapa, kaya naisyuhan sila ng clearance,” Soriano said.
“Ang ipinagtataka namin, bakit nangyari ang ganoon? Ibig sabihin yong pagkakamali ng nag-overlay ng map ay nadeklara nilang core zone yong area, puwede ba nilang bibiglain na lang ng ganoon?” he added.
“Alam niyo naman ang mga katutubo, non-timber gatherers lang naman talaga sila,” Soriano said, explaining PCART has been trying to convert them to become abaca and other survival crop farmers but they’d always go back to almaciga resin harvesting.
He said their last follow-up with the PCSD was on June 3 because it was part of the agenda. But it was removed because the Council asserted that it is part of the core zone.
Soriano said that the Batak community was given a solution, which was to ask for their traditional home area to be recognized as a “tribal ancestral zone.”
“Hindi namin alam kong anyare na,” he said.
PCSD Staff response
In response, PCSD staff executive director Atty. Teodoro Jose Matta said the Council will not really issue permits for almaciga resin gathering to anyone, not only the Bataks, if the area where the activity will be done is identified as a core zone.
“Wala namang binibigay na SEP clearance talaga sa nasa core zone. That’s one thing. It’s not apples to apples,” he said.
Matta stated that if there was indeed an error with the GIS map overlay, they would need to evaluate it. “We have to do our checks sa mga claims nila.”
He explained that he respects the traditional method of collecting almaciga, so he will review the policy to determine if the GIS has errors in the alleged inclusion of the ancestral lands of the Bataks in the core areas.
“Yan ang ginto ng katutubo kaya dapat ibigay talaga sa kanila yan, but we have to verify and check,” he added.