Puerto Galera landfill project splits tribe
A P76-million sanitary landfill project in the tourist town of Puerto Galera in Oriental Mindoro province is placing the Iraya Mangyan community at the center of a brewing conflict with the municipal government.
Terio Tarnate, a community leader, says the proposed dump in upland Sitio Lapantay, Barangay (village) Villaflor, in Puerto Galera, encroaches on their ancestral land and will force the eviction of his people. “We have proofs (of land ownership) like the burial sites and caves,” he says.
But Mayor Hubbert Christopher Dolor will not be swayed, saying the municipal government bought the 10.46-hectare piece of land to be developed as landfill site from a private individual with a title to it. He points out that the plan to relocate the Mangyan families should not be considered an “eviction.”
Almost half of the 47 families have agreed to relocate, but the rest have sought the help of the Catholic Church to stop their transfer and to insist on their right over the land. The sanitary landfill is expected to be operational by the first quarter of 2016.
Records obtained by the Inquirer showed that the municipal government was issued an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) for the project by the Environmental Management Bureau of Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan) on May 7, 2012.
According to the ECC, the landfill will occupy 50,000 square meters and will have a holding capacity of 29,200 metric tons of garbage over a period of 10 years. Puerto Galera, a first-class municipality (annual income: over P400 million of over 33,000 as of 2010), produces an average volume of 2,920 tons of garbage per year or, according to its officials, 0.9 kilograms per tourist every day.
“The foundation of this project is the Solid Waste Management Act. We have not violated any regulation and we are in fact complying with the law,” Dolor had said in an earlier interview. He was referring to the law in 2000 that phases out all open-pit dumps.
At present, Puerto Galera operates a dump on a property in Barangay Balatero, paying P32,000 a month for rental. The lease contract ends this year.
Dolor says putting up the landfill had long been overdue. In 2009, the municipal government bought the property for P5 million from a certain Matilde Lumpas. Its council issued in 2011 a resolution authorizing a P70-million loan (P50 million for the landfill facility and P20 million for the 3.6 km access road) from the Department of Finance’s Municipal Development Fund.
Puerto Galera has a maximum borrowing capacity of P100 million.
The project is now on its second phase of completion. Culverts are already in place, while about 800 meters of the access road have been cemented.
While the rest of the town hopes to benefit from the project, the upland Mangyan families seem to be at the losing end.
“We haven’t seen a landfill, but we trust that the government will look after us,” says the tribe’s chieftain, Raymundo Sulongkawayan. According to him, almost half of the 47 households in his community, including himself, are willing to move out on condition that the government would relocate them to a permanent site.
“They said they will also move our basketball court and the school” to the site, just a few hundred meters from the current settlement, Sulongkawayan says.
Tarnate and the other families have turned down the government’s offer for housing materials and the payment of P100 for every coconut tree cut to clear the way for the landfill, fearing the risks to health once truckloads of garbage are brought up to their community.
“It will also take us years to grow back those coconut trees,” their primary source of livelihood, Tarnate says.
Generations of their families have been living on the land, he says, citing as proof the Mangyan burial sites. “They could exhume our dead if only to prove how long we’ve been here,” he says in Filipino.
“We feel for the Mangyan people because they have lived there for many years, but we are also bound by the law,” says Karen Ignacio, provincial officer of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP). She says the agency has adopted a resolution requesting the local government to “ensure” the tribe’s welfare, such as providing “proper relocation, healthcare and payment for their plants.”
Ignacio confirms that the indigenous community was awarded a certificate of ancestral domain title in early 2000 for more than 5,700 hectares of land in Sitio Lapantay. But it was not yet registered with the Land Registration Authority, she says.
Long before Ipra
According to Dolor, the property is covered by a title when the municipality bought it in 1964, or long before the passage of the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (Ipra) in 1997. This means that property rights have to be respected even within an ancestral domain, he says.
Even the NCIP agrees with the mayor’s assertion. Ignacio said her office is mandated to help the Mangyan people should they take the case to court and argue on “why their land was privately titled.”
Tarnate says all the tribespeople want is to be left on their own. “We are not asking them for anything except that they leave us be,” he says.
During a multisectoral Provincial Care Forum conducted by Oriental Mindoro Bishop Warlito Cajandig on April 10, Tarnate’s group asserted that the Ipra gave safeguards to the ownership of their ancestral land.
The group walked out from a meeting with NCIP officials on April 11 after they “perceived that the NCIP does not side with them,” said Fr. Gabby Oybad, who belongs to the Hanunuo Mangyan tribe.
Romeo Roxas, president of a private tourism group, also raised concern over the project for another reason.
The landfill site is in an uphill area and may pollute the Tamaraw Falls, a major tourist draw in the town, once garbage seeps into the tributaries. The site has an elevation of 1,103 feet while the Tamarraw Falls has only 324 feet.
Roxas called the project a “ticking time bomb,” fearing that environmental problems could arise a decade from now.
Alfonso Javier, head of the provincial environment management unit, said the municipal government still had to secure permits from the environment office before the actual operation of the landfill.
The landfill should include a wastewater treatment facility and operate under regular monitoring by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.