SC issues kalikasan writ vs Palawan mining
MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court has issued a writ of kalikasan (nature) against government agencies and private firms involved in mining operations on Mt. Mantalingahan in Palawan province, stressing that these pose “serious and irreversible” damage to the environment and communities.
A writ of kalikasan refers to a legal remedy for the protection of one’s right to “a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature” under Section 16, Article II of the 1987 Constitution.
In a statement, the high court said that its justices, sitting in full court on Aug. 15, issued a writ of kalikasan against the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), Ipilan Nickel Corp. (INC) and Celestial Nickel Mining and Exploration Corp. (Celestial Mining).
The court also required the agencies and mining firms to file a verified return of the writ within a non-extendible period of 10 days from receipt of the order.
The case stemmed from the petition filed by the Indigenous Cultural Communities (ICCs) of Bicamm Ancestral Domain in Brooke’s Point.
The high court said it found the mining operations by INC and Celestial Mining “may cause irreparable environmental damage” to the Mt. Mantalingahan protected area and the ancestral domain of Palawan communities.
The government declared Mt. Mantalingahan a protected area in 2009 and it has been on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s tentative list of World Heritage Sites since 2015.
The Mt. Mantalingahan protected zone covers sections of the towns of Brooke’s Point, Quezon, Rizal, Sofronio Española and Bataraza.
“[T]he continued mining operations and excavation of nickel minerals lead to environmental damage in the mountain ranges, as exhibited by extreme flooding and contamination of fishing areas, which continually prejudice the life, health and property of the residents,” the high court said.
InactionDue to this, it required the two mining firms to provide evidence to dispel concerns regarding the potentially harmful impact of the project on the environment.
“The same applies to the DENR and MGB, whose inaction over the strong pleas of the residents of Brooke’s Point shows their indifference to the rights of the ICCs to a balanced and healthful ecology,” the court added.
According to the high court, in 1993, the government and Celestial Mining entered into a mineral production and sharing agreement (MPSA) covering 2,835.06 hectares of land located in Brooke’s Point, with INC as the designated mining operator.
The MPSA, which originally had a term of 25 years, covered areas within the National Integrated Protected Areas System, specifically the area within the Mt. Mantalingahan mountain range.
In their petition, the ICCs said the MPSA contract area overlaps a protected area not open to mining operations and that the agreement was illegally extended to 2025.
The Supreme Court said that the two mining firms continued with their operations despite being notified by the DENR that their environmental compliance certificate (ECC) had expired in October 2015.
In 2018, the court said INC also failed to secure a certificate of a precondition from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) for the renewal of the MPSA.
The DENR Community Environment and Natural Resources Office in 2022 issued a cease-and-desist order against the firm.
The Sangguniang Bayan of Brooke’s Point also issued a resolution requesting the MGB to investigate the mining areas. The high court said the MGB did not act on the request.
This prompted the Sangguniang Bayan (municipal council) to issue another resolution urging President Marcos, through the environment secretary, to investigate INC’s operations despite the absence of the necessary government permits.
In September last year, the Brooke’s Point council, in a resolution, urged the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development to recall INC’s Strategic Environmental Plan Clearance System due to several violations, such as illegal cutting of trees, absence of public consultation, and excavation and hauling of minerals, among others.
In June, the NCIP ordered the suspension and deferral of the free and prior informed consent process of INC and Celestial Mining due to complaints from the ICCs and reports of alleged bribery by INC to elicit support from indigenous peoples, the high court noted.