ALDAW is an advocacy-campaign network of Indigenous Peoples
jointly constituted by NATRIPAL (United Tribes of Palawan) and
BANGSA PALAWAN PHILIPPINES (Indigenous Alliance for Equity and Wellbeing)
Our Activities in 2009
Between July and September 2009, a mission organized by the Philippines-based Ancestral Land/Domain Watch (ALDAW) and the Centre for Biocultural Diversity (CBCD) at the University of Kent, with the support of the Christensen Fund (TCF), traveled to Southern Palawan. Palawan is part of the “Man and Biosphere Reserve” program of UNESCO and hosts 49 animals and 56 botanical species found in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The mission’s actual ‘matching’ of collected GPS data to photographs shows that the Mineral Production Sharing Agreements (MPSA) of two mining firms [MacroAsia and Celestial Nickel Mining and Exploration Corporation (CNMEC) now operated by Ipilan Nickel Corporation (INC)] in the Mt. Gantong (a remarkable biodiversity hotspot) overlap with precious watersheds endowed with creeks and springs providing potable water to the local indigenous communities and lowland farmers. More importantly, under the ECAN Guidelines of the Strategic Environmental Plan for Palawan (Republic Act 7611), such areas are part of the so called “core zones” of maximum protection where industrial extractive activities are not allowed. At an altitude of about 500m ASL the mission reached indigenous settlements inhabited by very traditional Palawan having limited contacts with the outside. Their sustenance totally depends on the available forest resources, and it consists of a heterogeneous economy where sustainable swidden cultivation is integrated with foraging and the collection of non-timber forest products (NTFPs). Overall, the mission moved from an elevation of a few meters ASL to an altitude of about 670m ASL, where one of the furthermost Palawan settlements is located. The geo-tagged images were then loaded into ‘Photo GPS Editor’ and displayed on satellite Google map.
All upland Palawan interviewed during the ALDAW/CBCD mission have declared that they have never been consulted about the entrance of mining companies in their traditional territories. According to indigenous representatives, the Palawan branch of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) – the government body mandated to ‘protect and promote the interest and well-being of cultural communities’ – is now siding with the mining companies.
On August 2009, the mission proceeded further south to the Bulanjao range, in the Municipality of Bataraza. Geo-referenced visual documentation was carried out in this ecologically diverse mountainous area whose vegetation consists of a unique type of forest growing on ultramafic/heavy-metal rich soils. The area is home to at least four plant species that are classified as vulnerable and two of them have already been included in the IUCN Red List. In spite of its unique ecological features, the Bulanjao range has been subjected to mineral exploration and development by the Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation (RTNMC). RTNMC is a Filipino-Japanese partnership holding a mining concession area of about 5,265 hectares. RTNMC and its partner, Coral Bay Nickel Corporation (CBNC) need to mine nickel ores as part of the expansion of their new Hydrometallurgical Processing Plant (HPP) project. However, one the conditions specified in the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) issued to them in 2002, is that “core zones” should not be included in the areas of mining operations and, this, of course includes the Bulanjao range.
Starting at an elevation of about 40m ASL, the ALDAW/CBCD mission followed the mining road to reach the highest portions of the Bulanjao range. Geo-tagging evidence indicates that erosion on the mining road, criss-crossing the mountain range, is occurring also at low elevations. During the rainy season the water creates deep clefts on the roadsides, hence penetrating the soil and fostering road collapse. No mitigating measures have been put into place to reduce erosion. A huge crater-like excavation has been found at 566m ASL. and land slides, induced by road construction, have been documented around the sources of the Sumbiling river, at almost 900m ASL. The latter is the most important water source for both lowland farmers and indigenous communities. Marylin Samparan, a local IP living in the area told the mission: “time will come when our children will no longer recognize the names of trees, the footprints of animals, the birds’ songs. This will be the time when the forest will be gone, the mining companies will be gone, the rivers will no longer flow…and us? We will still be here”. On 15 August 2009, the mining road had already reached an altitude of 859m ASL – and its location was determined through the following GPS coordinates (+ 8.59322548 N Latitude and + 117.36516571 E Longitude).
Amongst its advocacy activities carried out in 2009, ALDAW, in collaboration with the Centre for Biocultural Diversity (UK), has facilitated the establishment of solidarity links between the indigenous communities of Palawan and those of Madre de Dios (Peru) who have resisted and are resisting mining for more than two decades. The establishment of this linkage took place right at the time when indigenous peoples of the Amazonian Peru had began various forms of open resistance against hydrocarbon extraction in their traditional territories. The solidarity link between the IPs of Peru and Palawan was initiated through the visit of the IP Peruvian Julio Cusurichi Palacios who also joined the Geotagged Mission in Gantong. The ongoing exchanges between the indigenous peoples of Palawan and those of the Amazonian regions of Peru promote the sharing of experiences as a way of 1) fostering reflection and joint actions through the establishment of strategic alliances; and 2) addressing common problems regarding indigenous links, rights and claims over ancestral homelands and cultural landscapes. The envisaged goal is to enable the production of jointly produced video materials that could be used to exert pressure at a national and international policy level. Julio Cusurichi, representing the indigenous organization COINBAMAD (Consejo Indigena de la Cuenca Baja de Madre De Dios) and winner of the well-known award, the Goldman Prize (see http://www.goldmanprize.org) - arrived in the Philippines on July 2009, leaving the country after 21 days. During his stay, Julio traveled with ALDAW representatives to Southern Palawan meeting indigenous leaders and communities’ members and sharing his experience and lessons regarding the impacts of mining and other forms of commercial extractivism upon cultural landscapes and ancestral homelands. Participatory videos showing the impact of mining and oil extraction in Madre de Dios (Peru) have been shown also to the most isolated Palawan communities. Through Julio’s visit, a process of direct exchange between grassroots indigenous mobilization in Madre de Dios, Peru and local indigenous anti-mining movements in Palawan has been initiated and will be continued in 2010. Before Julio’s departure, this collaboration has been formalized in a Memorandum of Understanding signed between COINBAMAD and ALDAW. Video shootings made by Julio Cusurichi in Palawan with reference to the impact of mining have been taken back to Peru and will be shown to the Amazonian indigenous communities. In addition to this, ALDAW had been supporting and facilitating the International Campaign for Palawan initiated by Survival International (SI) on May 2009. The letter campaign launched by SI has been very effective. Organizations, as well as individuals, from all of the world have sent letters of concern to politicians in Palawan and at the national level, requesting the immediate stop of mining activities on Palawan indigenous land. ALDAW made sure that copies of campaign letters were deposited with the concerned government agencies, and we received protocol numbers for each letter. We also compiled all letters in a file, and we share them with indigenous leaders and representatives at the community level. In short, we made sure that campaign actions abroad were linked with our grass-root advocacy struggle, in Palawan. No doubts, the government was quite concerned about all the letters received, and they tried to formulate their own arguments and replies, which from our perspective, were totally unsatisfactory. The second phase of the International Campaign for Palawan has already started and will continue through 2010. To sign our online petition for Palawan see http://www.petitiononline.com/PA2010/petition.html