Tribals to Gina Lopez: Keep off our landBy Gil C. Cabacungan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
A dedicated environmentalist and scion of the politically influential Lopez family is under fire for her alleged plans to put up a tourism resort in the middle of sacred tribal ground in Palawan province.
Bert Palaan, a leader of Brooke’s Point Federation of Tribal Councils (BPFTC), has accused Gina Lopez and her environment protection arm, ABS-CBN Foundation’s Bantay Kalikasan, of allegedly failing to practice what she was preaching when her construction crew forcibly took over their ancestral land at Sabsaban Falls, Barangay (village) Aribungos, in Brooke’s Point on March 25, reportedly with the aid of local police and military operatives.
Palaan said Lopez had proposed to put up offices and ecotourism facilities, such as hotel, restaurant and function areas, on the land. He said four lodging structures had been established for which the foundation was charging P25,000 for a day’s stay.
25 trees cut?
“We are not against progress. We just wanted her to follow the process, such as consultation and getting our prior consent before taking over our ancestors’ land where our people go to worship and heal themselves,” Palaan said in a phone interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
“We thought she was for the protection of the environment and upholding the rights of the indigenous people. But why did she cut down 25 trees in a watershed area inside our holy ground? Why did she not consult with us or inform us of her plans?”
Lopez, managing director of the ABS-CBN Foundation, claimed in previous statements that she wanted to save the area from the ravages of mining companies by converting it into a biodiversity school.
Lopez, who has initiated a signature campaign against mining, has not replied to an Inquirer request for comment.
Ifugao Representative Teddy Brawner-Baguilat, chairman of the House committee on national cultural communities and vice chair of the committee on natural resources, said Lopez should have been more consistent in her advocacy.
“There should be no double standard here,” he said.
No informed consent
While agreeing that Sabsaban Falls had a great tourism potential, Baguilat said ABS-CBN Foundation should have followed the rules.
“While ecotourism is preferred, any development work must and should be made to go through the same stringent Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) that the IPs (indigenous peoples) demanded of mining companies. Any project in an area considered sacred by IPs should be undertaken with consideration of not just the environment but also the rights of the IPs,” Baguilat said.
Palaan and 27 other BPFTC leaders have already written President Aquino, requesting him to intervene and stop the desecration of their land.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources has already ordered an inquiry into the cutting of trees and takeover of the ancestral lands without the approval of the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) and the ancestral land domain owners in violation of Republic Act No. 8371, or the Indigenous People’s Rights Act.
Palaan said his group wanted the government to stop the project until Lopez had obtained an FPIC from the indigenous people in the area and a certificate of precondition from the NCIP.