(UPDATED) Brooke’s Point mayor Mary Jean Feliciano finally received her suspension order from the Department of Interior on Local Government (DILG) on Monday, July 27, in connection with her actions against the mining firm Ipilan Nickel Corporation (INC).
Barring a successful appeal, Feliciano will be out of office for one year or effectively for the remainder of her current term as local chief executive. However, she vowed this week to continue opposing INC’s plan to operate in the town.
The Ombudsman ruling was a victory for INC, which had been struggling in the last decade to get its project off the ground. The Ombudsman echoed the company’s allegation that Feliciano overstepped her authority when she tried to evict the company from its concession site after the expiration of its environmental compliance certificate, and after getting sued by the municipality for illegal cutting of timber.
Feliciano said she remains “unshaken despite the odds” and will continue to fight for the rights of the farmers and agriculture workers because it is “what is right and good for all”.
“Hindi dito nagtatapos ang ating laban sa mga minahan na walang ibang layunin kundi wasakin ang ating kabundukan, hakutin ang ating likas yaman at sirain ang kinabukasan ng ating mga salin lahi,” Feliciano said.
Vice Mayor Georjalyn Joy O. Quiachon, took her oath on Tuesday afternoon to assume as acting mayor, calling for cooperation among the locals as she assumed the post.
“Sa pinagdadaanan ng ating bayan sa ngayon, hinihiling ko ang kooperasyon at kahinahunan ng bawat isa upang magampanan ko ng maayos at mahusay ang mga reponsibilidad na atang ng tungkuling ito,” Quiachon said.
Lawyer Grizelda Mayo-Anda, executive director of the Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC) and a member of Feliciano’s legal defense team, said the civil society groups will keep an eye on the developing situation in Brooke’s Point to make sure that it will not railroad the expansion of its mining zones.
“As early as 2002, there were several moves to expand the [mining] zones. Mahaba at malayo pa ang tatakbuhin ng usaping ito, at kitang kita naman kung gaano kalawak ang suporta ng mga taga-Brooke’s Point dahil ayaw nila sa mining,” Anda said.
Indigenous Peoples’ Mandatory Representative (IPMR) Victoriano Colili urged other indigenous groups to carefully evaluate their stance on mining in their respective towns, pointing out that indigenous communities will not experience an improvement in the quality of their life if they allow mining companies to use their ancestral lands, despite promises of employment and the payment of mandatory royalties.
“Nasa kanila na ‘yon. Desisyon nila ‘yan. Pero nananawagan ako na dapat suriing mabuti kung ano ba talaga ang naidulot sa kanila ng mining. Sa isang [mining] kumpanya, mabibilang mo sa daliri mo ang mga katutubo na nagtatrabaho doon. Ang mga yumaman, mga chieftain lang. Kaya dapat pag-isipan nilang mabuti,” he said.
Brooke’s Point, considered as the food basket of Palawan, supplies the majority of rice and vegetables to all neighboring southern Palawan towns, including the province’s capital in Puerto Princesa City.
INC, in an email to Palawan News, maintained that Feliciano’ “Machiavellian attitude” that the end justifies the means has “no place in government service”, which it said thrives on the rule of law, consistency and stability, citing the Ombudsman decision.
“We have always conducted our operations under applicable rules and regulations and remain firmly committed to responsible mining. We hope this decision will allow us to move towards community development and sustainable growth in Brooke’s Point and nearby communities,” said Engr. Carlo Matilac, project operations head of INC.