The Palawan NGO Network Incorporated (PNNI), a network of 34 non-government (NGO) and people’s organizations (PO) in Palawan, has withdrawn their support to the confirmation of Regina Paz Lopez as full-pledged Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), this according to Atty. Robert Chan, PNNI Executive Director.
Per Chan, they have decided to refuse endorsing support to Lopez after the latter’s decision to enter into a Memorandum of Agreement with the provincial government to co-manage certain areas in Palawan. The co-management agreement, which covers around 731,710 hectares of forest lands, protected areas, mangrove forest and coastal areas, and around 9,800 square-kilometers of coral reefs, has been criticized by PNNI and other NGOs in the province as lacking scientific basis and public consultation. Non-profit groups also claimed the agreement deprived civil society organizations of proper representation in its Technical Working Group.
“Yung mga kaalyado ni Sec Gina ay kumuha ng endorsement ng Palawan NGO Network Inc. Ang hinihingi nilang suporta para sa kumpirmasyon ni Secretary Gina Lopez ay hindi namin maibigay dahil sa MOA na ito. Napakalaki ng kanyang isinugal sa MOA na ito,” Chan lamented. (“Sec. Gina’s allies have asked for our signature as endorsement of support for her confirmation [as DENR Secretary]. We cannot give her the endorsement they’re asking for because of this MOA. She gambled a lot in this MOA”).
Chain said their organization has sent a letter to Lopez last February 27 urging her to revoke her decision on the MOA. Majority of the group’s member have agreed to withdraw their support to Lopez in a recently-held Board and General Assembly meeting.
“Hangga’t hindi nya nakikita ang kahalagahan ng kanyang pagkapirma, mananatili kaming matigas na hindi dapat magbigay ng suporta sa isang tao ipinagkanulo niya ang halos kalahati ng kalupaan ng Palawan sa isang tao na ang utak ay gamitin ang likas-yaman at hindi ‘yung protektahin,” Chan pointed out.
PNNI’s exec also expressed disappointment on how people only see Lopez as an anti-mining crusader, when in fact the latter is only among the many tasks of a DENR chief. According to Chan, there are other sectors of the environment to be considered, such forestry and fishery, as well as the issue on climate change.
“Kung ang nakikita natin magaling siya mag-handle ng issue sa mining, ang DENR, hindi naman ‘yan Department of Mining lang,” Chan underscored. (“What we see is she’s good in handling mining issues, but DENR, it’s not just a Department of Mining.”)
Chan then went to challenge Palaweños if they see any major accomplishment of Lopez for the forestry and fishery sectors of the province.
“Kung wala kang madidinig, puro mining lang. Kailangang pag-aralan mo ano ba ang basehan ng pagiging magaling niya sa larangan ng DENR kung ang larangan na natutukan niya ay ‘yun lang sa mining?” Chan asked. (“If you did not hear anything, and just mining, maybe it’s time to assess what’s the basis of her being excellent in DENR if she only focuses on mining?”)
Meanwhile, the DENR, along with the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) and Brooke’s Point’s local government, recently conducted a planning workshop on how to implement the said co-management agreement, with Amas, Brooke’s Point as pilot site.
Relatedly, some 340 members of Indigenous Peoples in Brooke’s Point are opposing the project as it supposedly will cover areas within their ancestral domains. The group also alleged that some of the project’s targets areas include those within the Mount Mantalingan Protected Landscape. Critics also argue that the program’s proposal to plant bamboo and nepier grass as livestock feed will affect the area’s biodiversity.