MANILA, Philippines — Groups of indigenous peoples and environmental advocates called on the Office of the Ombudsman to reverse its “unjustified” order suspending the anti-mining mayor of Brooke’s Point in Palawan.
The Ombudsman found Mayor Mary Jean Feliciano guilty of “oppression or grave abuse of authority” over her orders to demolish mining-related structures of the Ipilan Nickel Corporation (INC) in 2017. She was ordered suspended for one year without pay for taking “undue advantage of her official position.”
But Palawan-based groups, who launched a petition seeking to reverse the decision, said Feliciano’s move to protect the environment from large-scale and destructive mining operations is not wrong.
“We are one with the advocacy of our good mayor in protecting the environment because our lands will be the impact area of the mining operations. We will suffer from the bad consequences brought by mining in our town,” Rowena Combang, spokesperson of women’s group Mga Kalebonan et Barong-Barong, Ipilan, Calasaguen, Aribungos, Mambalot, Maasin (MKE-BICAMM), told Philstar.com in Filipino.
In a separate statement, indigenous groups Pineuntungan Et KePelewanan (PEKP) BICAMM and Kabatangan Ancestral Domain ng Sampung Barangay (KAD10) said that “if she (Feliciano) gets suspended, it is as if their right to give their sacred votes for her in the past three terms is ignored.”
Threat to communities, watershed
If the mining operations of INC continue, the access of residents to “clean water and air” will be affected, Combang said. Mining activities will also pose a threat to wildlife and to the livelihood of communities dependent on agriculture.
“All of the bountiful gifts of the environment, from God will be destroyed by large-scale mining such as Ipilan Nickel,” she said.
According to Green Livelihoods Alliance, large-scale mining in Brooke’s Point, a municipality near the southern tip of Palawan, continues to threaten the watersheds in the area, and the indigenous and local communities within the Mt. Mantalingahan Protected Landscape.
In 2017, around 25,000 trees were cut by the mining firm as part of its clearing operations.
That same year, the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development canceled the Strategic Environmental Program Clearance granted to INC, and a Palawan court issued a Temporary Environmental Protection Order calling on the company to cease mining activities and rehabilitate the forest it had destroyed.
In 2018, the firm’s Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) with the government expired. An MPSA gives contractors the right to mine within a contract area.
The environment department withdrew the cancellation of INC’s MPSA last year, which extended the agreement until 2025 and restored the firm’s Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC), the Green Livelihoods Alliance said.
The Ombudsman cited in its decision the resolution of the DENR reconsidering the cancellation of the ECC.
The decision dated Feb. 19, 2021 comes after President Rodrigo Duterte lifted in April a nine-year moratorium on new mining agreements to allow investments and boost government revenues.
Environmental activist group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment said the suspension order undermines the authority of local governments to push back against destructive mining projects.
“This alarming Ombudsman decision gives further precedent for illegal mining operations by big business to run roughshod over our environment and operate with impunity,” said Leon Dulce, Kalikasan PNE national coordinator.
Environmental lawyer Grizelda Mayo-Anda described the order as “troubling and can have a chilling effect on environmental defenders.”
“If a local official can be suspended for representing the voice of her/his constituents in the fight against a destructive and extractive project, ordinary folks who are fighting mining can be harassed,” she said.
The Philippines was the second most dangerous nation for environmental and land activists in 2019, according to watchdog Global Witness. More than half of the reported deaths in the country were related to agribusiness, while 16 were linked to mining. — with report from BusinessWorld/Revin Mikhael Ochave
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