San Miguel Corporation (SMC), one of the country’s biggest business and industrial conglomerates, has denied any involvement in a brewing land conflict on Maria Hangin Island, an island settlement in Barangay Bugsuk, Balabac, southern Palawan, that its indigenous inhabitants claim the company is eyeing to acquire and develop into a high-end tourist resort.

The company issued a statement on Monday in response to an incident over the weekend, in which masked men, claiming to be part of its security personnel from the nearby island of Bugsuk—where SMC holds extensive landholdings—fired shots in the vicinity of an agitated group of local residents.

“San Miguel Corporation (SMC) strongly denies any involvement in the recent incident on Maria Hangin (Marihangin) Island, where it was alleged that unidentified armed men indiscriminately fired guns. SMC has no connection whatsoever with those involved in the incident, nor does it own any property on the island for future development,” SMC stated.

SMC denied that its security personnel from Bugsuk Island were involved in the incident. “As a responsible corporate citizen, we uphold the highest standards of ethical conduct and community engagement in all our operations. Resorting to violence or coercion is completely against our policies and values,” its statement said.

Eviction
Local residents believe that the government is laying the basis to remove them from the island after the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) delisted it from the coverage of the land distribution program last year. They accused both the local and national governments of conspiring with the company, which they alleged has plans to convert it into a high-end resort.

The shooting incident happened after local residents prevented DAR personnel in holding a community consultation on the island to explain its decision. The shooting incident was recorded by some of the residents on video and had spread on social media platforms. No one was reported to have been hurt during the incident.

“Halata po masyado na panig sila (DAR) sa San Miguel (Corporation). Dahil lamang sa pera marami silang ipinahamak na katutubo na naninirahan lamang ng tahimik sa isla,” a local resident told Palawan News.

When a team of DAR personnel arrived on boats in the island over the weekend, an angry group of local residents blocked them from disembarking and turned them back.

Burial ground in Maria Hangin Island, Bugsuk, Balabac.

The DAR also issued a statement Monday responding to the incident, claiming that their visit to Maria Hangin was prompted by a request from the municipal government of Balabac to explain the department’s recent decision to exclude the island from agrarian reform coverage.

“The DAR Mimaropa has NOT conspired, colluded, in partnership, or in cahoots with a known entity/corporation having established ownership or economic interest on the islet. The presence of DAR personnel was on official purpose and merely answering to the call of the MLGU of Balabac chief executive to explain fully the import of non-CARP coverage to the dwellers, albeit, sadly failed to perform fully their purpose at Mariahangin,” the DAR statement said.

Ecotourism development
While SMC had stated it has no property holdings in Maria Hangin, DAR pointed out in its statement that the municipal government previously conducted a public consultation involving the introduction of an “ecotourism” project in the island.

“Information subsequently gathered that such issues (eviction of inhabitants) were raised by the dwellers of Maria Hangin during a public consultation-hearing conducted by the MLGU of Balabac on the proposed Eco Tourism Project in the area, which was perceived potentially by the dwellers to have a negative impact on their occupancy and their livelihood,” the DAR statement said.

The provincial government of Palawan has been pushing for Balabac’s development as a tourism enclave. It’s potential is boosted by Balabac’s ongoing development as a basing site under the government’s current security arrangements with the United States.

Palawan News has asked SMC to confirm or deny its alleged interest in developing Maria Hangin for tourism but has yet to receive a response.

A piece of paradise
The 37-hectare island of Maria Hangin boasts of pristine beaches and undisturbed marine environment, thanks in part to the presence of a heavily-guarded pearl farm in the adjacent Bugsuk Island that had discouraged illegal fishing practices around the area. It has a population of around a hundred families dependent mainly on fishing.

Inhabitants of the land have been awaiting approval of their free patent application according to the government’s land reform program but were disappointed when the DAR in May this year reversed its status and ruled that it is no longer covered under the program.

Fearing eviction, local residents said they reached out for help to the Commission on Human Rights, which conducted a consultation early this year in Puerto Princesa City. A CHR source said they had invited SMC to participate in the consultation but the company had ignored its invitation.

In response to Palawan News’ inquiry, the Commission on Human Rights said it is looking into the shooting incident and coordination with the Philippine National Police (PNP) on its investigation to identify the perpetrators.

Contrary to SMC’s earlier claim it had no involvement in the Maria Hangin incident, the CHR said unidentified company guards may be involved.

“Currently, we have ongoing communication with the residents of Mariahangin, and according to them, the situation on the island has become calm. However, we are still exploring ways to engage with representatives of the company for the potential withdrawal of their personnel from the area, as their presence poses a danger and threat to the communities,” the CHR stated.

Meanwhile, Palawan Bishop Socrates Mesiona issued a statement of concern about the shooting incident and urged the government to “resolve and mediate” the situation ni Maria Hangin to prevent potential harm on the island residents. (with reports from Celeste Anna Formoso, Helen Mae Padrones, and Gerald Ticke)

*** BASAHIN SA WIKANG FILIPINO ***

SMC itinanggi ang kaugnayan sa alitan sa lupa sa Maria Hangin, Balabac

Itinanggi ng San Miguel Corporation (SMC), isa sa pinakamalaking kumpanya sa bansa, ang anumang kaugnayan sa alitan sa lupa sa isla ng Maria Hangin, sa Barangay Bugsuk, Balabac, southern Palawan,

Ang kontrobersyal na Maria Hangin ay inaangkin ng mga katutubong naninirahan doon na pinaplano din umano ng kumpanya na bilhin idebelop bilang high-end tourist resort.

Nitong Lunes, naglabas ng pahayag ang SMC matapos ang insidente noong weekend kung saan nagpaputok umano ng baril ang mga nakamaskarang indibidwal. Nagpakilala umanong mga security personnel ng property ng SMC sa Bugsuk ang mga ito sa isang grupo ng mga lokal na residente.

“San Miguel Corporation (SMC) strongly denies any involvement in the recent incident on Maria Hangin (Marihangin) Island, where it was alleged that unidentified armed men indiscriminately fired guns. SMC has no connection whatsoever with those involved in the incident, nor does it own any property on the island for future development,” ayon sa pahayag ng SMC.

Itinanggi rin ng SMC na sangkot ang kanilang mga tauhan mula sa Bugsuk Island sa nasabing insidente. “As a responsible corporate citizen, we uphold the highest standards of ethical conduct and community engagement in all our operations. Resorting to violence or coercion is completely against our policies and values,” dagdag pa nilang pahayag.

Pagpapaalis
Naniniwala ang mga lokal na residente na ang gobyerno ay nagtatag ng basehan upang paalisin sila sa isla matapos tanggalin ito ng Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) mula sa saklaw Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) noong nakaraang taon. Sinisi rin nila ang lokal at pambansang pamahalaan sa pakikipagsabwatan sa kumpanya, na inakusahan nilang may balak na gawing high-end resort ang lugar.

Naganap ang insidente nang pamamaril matapos pigilan ng mga lokal na residente ang mga tauhan ng DAR na magsagawa ng community consultation sa isla upang ipaliwanag ang kanilang desisyon. Nakunan ng video ng ilang residente ang nasabing insidente na kumalat sa mga social media platform. Wala namang naiulat na nasaktan sa nasabing insidente.

“Halata po masyado na panig sila (DAR) sa San Miguel (Corporation). Dahil lamang sa pera marami silang ipinahamak na katutubo na naninirahan lamang ng tahimik sa isla,” sabi ng isang lokal na residente sa Palawan News.

Nang dumating ang isang team ng mga tauhan ng DAR sa isla noong weekend, pinigilan sila ng galit na grupo ng mga lokal na residente at pinauwi.

Naglabas din ng pahayag nitong Lunes ang DAR bilang tugon sa insidente, sinasabing ang kanilang pagbisita sa Maria Hangin ay dulot ng hiling ng pamahalaang munisipal ng Balabac upang ipaliwanag ang kanilang desisyon na alisin ang isla sa saklaw ng repormang agraryo.

“The DAR Mimaropa has NOT conspired, colluded, in partnership or in cahoots with a known entity/corporation having established ownership or economic interest on the islet. The presence of DAR personnel was on official purpose and merely answering to the call of the MLGU of Balabac chief executive to explain fully the import of non-CARP coverage to the dwellers, albeit, sadly failed to perform fully their purpose at Mariahangin,” sabi ng pahayag ng DAR.

Pagpapaunlad ng ecotourism
Bagama’t sinabi ng SMC na wala silang pagmamay-ari sa Maria Hangin, ipinunto ng DAR sa kanilang pahayag na nagdaos ang pamahalaang munisipal ng dati nang konsultasyong pampubliko na naglalaman ng paglulunsad ng proyektong “ecotourism” sa isla.

“Information subsequently gathered that such issues (eviction of inhabitants) were raised by the dwellers of Maria Hangin during a public consultation-hearing conducted by the MLGU of Balabac on the proposed Eco Tourism Project in the area, which was perceived potentially by the dwellers to have a negative impact on their occupancy and their livelihood,” sabi ng pahayag ng DAR.

Ipinagtataguyod ng pamahalaang panlalawigan ng Palawan ang pagpapaunlad ng Balabac bilang isang enclave ng turismo. Ang potensyal nito ay pinaigting pa ng patuloy na pag-unlad ng Balabac bilang isang site ng basehan sa ilalim ng kasalukuyang mga security arrangements ng gobyerno kasama ang Estados Unidos.

Humiling ang Palawan News sa SMC na kumpirmahin o itanggi ang kanilang alegadong interes sa pagpapaunlad ng Maria Hangin para sa turismo ngunit hindi pa nakakatanggap ng tugon.

Isang piraso ng paraiso
Ang 37-hektaryang isla ng Maria Hangin ay pinagmamalaki ang malinis na mga dalampasigan at hindi inaabusong marino, salamat sa bahagi sa pagkakaroon ng isang mabigat na bantayang perlasan sa kalapit na Bugsuk Island na nagpigil sa mga ilegal na pangingisda sa lugar. May populasyon ito ng mga halos 100 pamilya na umaasa sa pangunahing pangingisda.

Ang mga naninirahan sa lupain ay naghihintay ng pahintulot para sa kanilang free patent application ayon sa CARP ng gobyerno ngunit nabigo nang baligtarin ng DAR ang kanilang status noong Mayo at sabihan na hindi na it saklaw.

Sobrang takot diumano ang nararamdaman ng mga lokal na residente kaya humingi na sila ng tulong sa Commission on Human Rights (CHR). Ang komisyon ay nagdaos ng isang konsultasyon noong unang bahagi ng taon sa Puerto Princesa City.

Ayon sa isang source mula sa CHR, inimbitahan nila ang SMC na lumahok sa konsultasyon ngunit hindi dumalo ang kumpanya.

Bilang tugon sa katanungan ng Palawan News, sinabi ng CHR na tinitingnan nila ang insidenteng pamamaril at nagkoordina na sila sa Philippine National Police (PNP) sa kanilang imbestigasyon upang matukoy ang mga salarin.

Sa kabila ng naunang alegasyon ng SMC na wala silang kinalaman sa insidente sa Maria Hangin, sinabi ng CHR na maaaring sangkot ang hindi kilalang mga tauhan ng kumpanya.

“Currently, we have ongoing communication with the residents of Mariahangin, and according to them, the situation on the island has become calm. However, we are still exploring ways to engage with representatives of the company for the potential withdrawal of their personnel from the area, as their presence poses a danger and threat to the communities,” ayon sa CHR. Narito ang bersyon sa Tagalog:

Samantala, naglabas ng pahayag ng pag-aalala si Bishop Socrates Mesiona ng Palawan hinggil sa insidente ng pamamaril at hinimok ang gobyerno na “resolbahin at pagtulungan” ang sitwasyon upang maiwasan ang posibleng pinsala sa mga residente ng isla.