Brooke's Point (Agenzia Fides) - It is necessary to protect the island of Palawan, a "paradise of biodiversity", a national natural heritage, which risks being irreparably ruined by mining operations: for this reason, the Catholic Bishops of the island of Palawan, in the west-central Philippines, made a heartfelt appeal to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr to immediately stop mining on the island.
The text signed by Msgr. Socrates Mesiona, Bishop of the Apostolic Vicariate of Puerto Princesa, and by Msgr. Broderick Pabillo, Bishop of the Apostolic Vicariate of Taytay - which encompass the territory of Palawan - calls on the President to 'permanently stop' the mining activity licensed to the Ipilan Nickel Corporation (INC), which operates in watersheds and protected forest areas, citing Pope Francis' encyclical letter "Laudato Sì" as a source of inspiration for the "care of our common home".
The Bishops' appeal is contained in a joint pastoral statement, issued following the public protests organised in recent months by the local population: the last demonstration, on 14 April, saw the intervention of police forces who dispersed the demonstrators, arresting some of them. The violence on peaceful demonstrators, the Bishops denounce, was perpetrated by INC security guards, "supported by a contingent of police officers who silently observed and encouraged them".
The protesters were farmers, fishermen and Palawan natives who, since last February, have built and manned a barricade to prevent the mining company's trucks from transporting nickel and other materials.
"Civilians have endured hunger, heat, rain and serious threats to their lives and safety to raise awareness among the population, in order to preserve and protect our beautiful island of Palawan", the Bishops remarked.
Among other things, the mining permit given to INC expired on 10 February 2023, and the local civil administration of the municipality of Brooke's Point - where the activity is taking place - had issued an order for the immediate cessation of operations. However, in violation of the rule of law, the Bishops' letter remarks, "the Ipilan Nickel Corporation has acted in blatant defiance of the law by continuing to operate its mine, trades and businesses". More seriously, "the company also illegally deployed its private security forces to violently disperse the peaceful protesters", they add.
The matter should therefore be referred to the courts, in the hands of provincial prosecutors, so that they can stop any operations carried out illegally. The letter also calls for the "unfounded accusations" against peaceful demonstrators to be revoked, and for those responsible for "illegal arrests of demonstrators" to be punished.
Palawan residents oppose INC's operations because nickel mining endangers the forests, on which indigenous peoples' food and livelihood depend. INC's project area includes part of the Mount Mantalingahan-Pulot mountain range, which was granted "protected area" status in 2009. It is an area with a high floral and faunal diversity, considered sacred by Palawan's indigenous communities.
According to the 'Save Palawan' Movement, the INC's mining operations "are characterized by irregularities, lack of adequate government permits, such as the one to operate within centuries-old forests, a protected area". The movement complains, in particular, about the lack of consultation not only with the indigenous people of Palawan, but also with the local administration of Brooke's Point itself, in whose territory the mining activity is taking place. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 19/4/2023)