Pro-environment group on September 1 lambasted the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) for “failing to fulfill its mandate” to protect the remaining biodiversity.
Last month, the council reinstated the Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) clearance of the Ipilan Nickel Corporation (INC) in Brooke’s Point town and awarded a clearance to Citinickel Corporation for the expansion of its mining operations in Narra town.
Under Republic Act No. 7611, SEP for Palawan was created in 1992 to guide the local government and concerned government agencies in the formulation and implementation of plans, programs affecting the environment and natural resources of Palawan.
The PCSD was created pursuant to RA 7611, with jurisdiction conferred under the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act or RA 9147 as its lead implementer.
Kalikasan PNE said the issuance of clearances “runs counter to the laws that protect” the areas covered by the operations of the mining firms.
“[INC’s] plan covers the Mount Mantalingahan Protected Landscape (MMPL), which was declared a protected area in 2009 via Presidential Proclamation 1815,” the group said.
In 2015, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) nominated MMPL as a World Heritage Site.
The protected landscape serves as a sanctuary to wildlife, “which many environmental groups have long defended and protected by law.”
“The MMPL has exceptional biodiversity and endemism, with numerous undiscovered, undescribed, and potentially unique species,” said Kalikasan PNE.
“It is home to five Philippine endemic bird species, including the critically endangered Cacatua haematuropygia. Other Palawan endemic species in the area include six frog species, three lizards, and two subspecies of birds,” the group added.
MMPL has a forest cover of about 100,000 hectares, which the group described as a “pristine site that acts as a valuable carbon sink because of its macro-climatic function.”
“It also holds 33 watersheds that service the lowland agricultural economy in the area,” the group said.
In 2017, Bishop Socrates Mesiona of Puerto Princesa led a campaign against the operation of INC, which led to the cutting of some 15,000 trees within a 2,835-hectare area.
In August, the Save Palawan Movement (SPM) urged the PCSD to reconsider its decision and uphold the provisions of RA 7611 in safeguarding Palawan’s remaining natural forests.
SPM also raised the alarm over the move of some local government units “to alter previously approved Environmentally Critical Areas Network or ECAN zones in complete disregard of the scientific guidelines and procedures provided under RA 7611.”
“The changing of zones – where restricted use and core zones are being converted into controlled use and multiple use zones – are highly suspect and need to be subjected to extensive consultations and high-conservation-value assessment studies,” the group said.
The group said the reclassification of the ECAN zones “will facilitate the entry of mining firms” in different areas in Palawan.
“The direct beneficiaries of these changes are extractive projects, as well as development projects that put at risk the biodiversity, forest, and overall environment of the province of Palawan,” said SPM.
The group said the opening up of the island’s forests to mining “will make it difficult” for Palawan to achieve its development, environmental, and climate goals.
“Deforestation caused by mining in Palawan’s natural forests will weaken the capacity of Palaweños to become climate-resilient,” the group said.