Members of Save Palawan Movement hold up copies of the Save Palawan's Forests campaign during its launch in a press conference.

Save Palawan Movement (SPM) recently launched a signature drive aimed at protecting the province’s remaining natural forest cover, citing threats from mining projects, mono-crop plantations, and what it termed “ill-planned infrastructure that has continuously destroyed Palawan’s ecosystem and affected rural communities.”

In a press conference held during the launching of the Save Palawan’s Forests campaign last Monday, the movement, which is composed of several civil society groups, and grassroots organizations that advocate environmental protection and conservation, also called on government officials to impose a “ban on the projects’ extension, expansion, and irregular operations.”

The campaign especially asked the government to make and enforce stronger laws to protect the province’s natural forest covers and to stop giving out clearing and tree-cutting permits, agreements, Environmental Compliance Certificates, certificates of precondition, and other legal documents “that lead to further destruction of forests.”

It also noted the continuous mining explorations in the towns of Narra, Sofronio Española, Brooke’s Point, Bataraza, Quezon, and Rizal and has expanded to Aborlan, presenting data that covers around 10,000 hectares of natural old-growth and secondary forest covers being applied for, and more than 8,000 hectares of mono-crop plantations that were granted a joint venture agreement for another 3,500 hectares of expansion despite the absence of a cost-benefit analysis and endangering wildlife in the area.

SPM convenor and Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC) Executive Director Atty. Grizelda Mayo-Anda stated that it is the primary duty of the government to uphold the laws that were imposed to protect the environment, yet it is also the government that is the primary violator of the laws, hence they are launching the campaign. She also said it is an offshoot of another signature drive, the “No to Mining in Palawan” campaign, which they also launched last 2011, and was able to gather around 15 million signatures online.

Mayo-Anda said the primordial duty of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), which it needs to perform, is to protect the environment based on Executive Order No. 192 and Republic Act 11028, or the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System (E-NIPAS) Act.

“So sino ba talaga ang dapat managot? With all due respect, sino ba ang duty bearers? Gobyerno talaga, kahit papaano mo baliktarin. Ultimately, ang nagbibigay ng pahintulot ay ang pamahalaan. So ang DENR, mula sa kalihim, director, kailangan kaming maningil. Binanggit nila si Presidente Marcos, pero directly, ang alter ego niya kasi ay ang kalihim,” Mayo-Anda stated.

“Unang-una, sa EO 192, mandato nila na pangalagaan ang kagubatan. Sa RA 11028, (E-NIPAS law), lahat ng pinapangalagaang lugar ay dapat core zone at pinagbabawal ang pagmimina doon? Pero bakit nasa loob ng MMPL ang MacroAsia at Ipilan at bakit pinapayagan yun? Yun yung tanong natin sa DENR—ang Biodiversity Management Bureau, MGB, at EMB. Sa EMB, nakasalalay dyan yung environmental impact assessment,” she added.

She also encouraged government agencies to bank on the scientific studies which put weight more on the value of the entire forests rather than only on the mineral deposits inside it.

“Sa 2009 data, ang halaga ng Mount Mantalingahan sa kanilang forest and biodiversity ay P266 billion vs. P15 billion ng minerals. Kaya nananawagan kami na pag-aralan yun. Kahit sabihin mo na may scholarships ka in the last 40 years, yung halaga ng gubat na nasira, yung samu’t-saring buhay doon, malinis na tubig, malinis na hangin, pharmacy nila, mga halamang gamot nila. Yung mga magsasaka – tubig, lahat yun ay mahalaga,” she explained.

Furthermore, Mayo-Anda said she is banking on Governor Victorino Dennis M. Socrates’ statements when he delivered his State of the Province Address

“Sa provincial government, sabi ni Gov. Socrates: transparency, accountability, participation, rule of law—magagandang basic tenets yun. So ang aming pakiusap ay bigyan natin ng buhay yung mga ganoong prinsipyo na sana, tugunan yung committee on environment na mungkahi naming noong Usapang Palawan Summit, na magpasa ng ordinance para sa moratorium on natural forest conversion,” she said.

Follow the law that created you
On the other hand, Brooke’s Point Vice Mayor Mary Jean D. Feliciano also said that the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) seems to have a double standard in implementing Republic Act 7611, or the Strategic Environmental Plan for Palawan (SEP Law), when dealing with big mining companies.

Feliciano called on the members of PCSD to act accordingly and follow the law that actually created the council and the law it is implementing.

“Sumunod kayo sa batas na inyong pinapatupad – yung SEP law na nagpo-protekta sa ating kalikasan. Simple lang naman ang nakalagay doon na kapag natural forest, core zone sya. Sa Brooke’s Point, hindi lamang kabundukan ang sinisira sa kasalukuyan. Sabi ninyo, dapat ECAN Board muna bago SEP clearance. Pero napansin naming na kapag minahan, SEP clearance muna bago ECAN clearance mula sa munisipyo. Paano nyo kami mapapasunod sa batas kung kayo mismo ay mukhang nakalimutan yung pagpapatupad ng batas,” Feliciano noted.

Feliciano also asked the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP), the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and the Department of Agriculture (DA) to do what they are supposed to do.

Call to action
SPM also released a statement denouncing “weak governance in the past years, [that] has allowed the expansion of mining and other projects without a due consultative process with affected communities.”

The statement also said that the government has been too lenient because it has changed the boundaries of core and restricted use zones, such as watershed areas, to make room for extractive industries and mono-crop plantations. This, the statement said, is a complete violation of the SEP law, especially Section 9, which says that all natural forests, whether they are old-growth or residual forests, should be protected as much as possible.

Citing the following concerns, the SPM then called on the government to conduct judicious consultations, dialogues, and assessments that will take into consideration the biodiversity assessments and total economic valuations; ensure that free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) is properly conducted, which should not result in division among Indigenous Peoples communities; and implement a moratorium on the conversion of Palawan’s natural growth forests as provided by law.

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