Civil society group Save Palawan Movement (SPM) urged the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) to reconsider granting Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) clearances to controversial mining projects in the South.

The group also called for a review into the re-classification of environmentally critical area network (ECAN) zones by some local government units (LGUs), stating that these re-classifications were made to allow mining projects in otherwise restricted zones.

In a statement issued Friday, the organization expressed dismay over the PCSD’s decision made last week to reconsider the SEP clearance application of Ipilan Nickel Corporation (INC) in Brooke’s Point, and allowing the Citinickel Corporation in Narra to expand its mining operations. The statement added that the PCSD’s move blatantly disregarded the fact that the clearance allows the companies to expand their operations into core and restricted use zones.

“The areas covered by these SEP clearances are natural forest areas, and some areas are classified as core and restricted use zones under the SEP’s zonation strategy (called the Environmentally Critical Areas Network or ECAN). In the case of INC, part of the planned mining area is within the Mt. Mantalingahan Protected Landscape (MMPL),” the statement read.

The statement added that allowing these companies to operate in environmentally-critical areas runs opposite to the PCSD’s sustainable development goals.

“Palawan, through the PCSD, has formulated sustainable development goals that include protection of biodiversity and strengthening governance, among others. Sadly, the opening up of Palawan’s forests to mining will make it difficult for Palawan to achieve such goals. Deforestation caused by mining in Palawan’s natural forests will weaken the capacity of Palaweños to become climate resilient,” the group stated.

The group also pointed out that some LGUs in Palawan, with the support of the PCSD, have been converting their core and restricted use ECAN zones into controlled use and multiple use zones, essentially allowing the extraction of resources in those areas. They cited Sitio Longpoint, Barangay. Apurawan in Aborlan, the Dangla watershed in Quezon, Mt. Bulanjao Mountain Range in Bataraza, and in Brgy. Bato-Bato, Narra.

“We strongly urge the PCSD to reconsider the conversion of the ECAN zones and its issuance of SEP clearances to the aforementioned mining projects, by way of asserting its legal mandate to uphold the pertinent provisions of RA 7611 in safeguarding Palawan’s remaining natural forests,” they added.