Keep plantations out of Palawan Forest!

Women planting upland rice Indigenous people grow vegetables and rice on small plots within the forest. They stand to lose their livelihoods if the forest were to be cleared. (© CALG)

The island of Palawan is a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve – a certified ecological and cultural treasure. But now the provincial government wants to open up areas of rich biodiversity and indigenous land to industrial plantations. Please sign our petition and help preserve one of the last true slices of paradise in the Philippines!

Call to action

To: H.E. Rodrigo Roa Duterte, President of the Republic of the Philippines; Hon. Roy A. Cimatu, Secretary, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Hon. Jose Alvarez, Governor of Palawan and others.

“Stop the plundering of rainforest and tribal land in southern Palawan. NO to monocrop plantations!”

Read letter

Palawan is the home of numerous endemic species – some of them, like the Hornbill, Treeshrew and Philippine Pangolin, are on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The entire island is a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve and its southern regions the ancestral domains of the Pala’wan indigenous people. Those living in the remote uplands, such as the Tau’t Batu, have limited contacts with the outside and possess a rich oral tradition and profound environmental knowledge.

In spite of these ecological and cultural values, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has entered into a joint venture with Lionheart Agrotech, an industrial grower of hybrid coconuts. If realized, more irreplaceable lowland rainforest and indigenous peoples’ farmland would be turned into plantations.

According to the Coalition against Land Grabbing (CALG), Lionheart has already destroyed indigenous peoples' sacred sites and burial grounds without compensating the impacted communities. Some tribal leaders who have stood up in opposition have reportedly received death threats.

It appears that the company has also encroached on the Mount Mantalingahan Protected Landscape, one of only ten sites of the global Alliance for Zero Extinction in the Philippines and one of the 11 key bird areas in Palawan. 

Furthermore, the provincial government recently passed a resolution supporting the opening of indigenous ancestral domains and valuable ecosystems for agricultural, industrial and other purposes.

All of this is being pushed through in total disrespect of environmental laws and in blatant violation of the indigenous peoples' rights.

Please support the indigenous peoples' resistance with your signature – we need to bring international pressure to bear before these ecological and cultural treasures disappear forever!

Back­ground

Since 2007, Palawan ecology has been badly hit by oil palm operations.

The Coalition against Land Grabbing (CALG) describes the development as follows, referring to investigations on the ground and interviews with indigenous people: In early 2016, Lionheart Agrotech has began the clearing of parcels of land found within the ancestral domain of the Pala’wan tribes of Barangay Ransang (Municipality of Rizal), without following due Free and Prior Consent (FPIC) procedures. Forest conversion was first implemented around the company’s nursery site and later expanded to the location of Malutok. During clearing operations, forest trees, as well as indigenous peoples’ fruit-tree orchards, were destroyed. Roads were built using heavy equipment, and hybrid coconut seedlings were planted on a massive scale. In the process, an indigenous sacred burial ground was bulldozed and the bones of the tribes’ ancestors were scattered on the ground. The ‘Simontili’ area, a sacred landmark and watershed of the Pala’wan, was obviously not spared: portions of its pristine forest were cleared and planted. Lionheart also seems the have entered purok Pinatubo, which is part of the Mt. Mantalingahan Protected Landscape. Allegedly, another indigenous location in sitio Pinagkubuwan was rented through illicit practices by non-indigenous migrants to Lionheart, and cleared of its forest cover and community’s fruit trees.

It is important to point out that neighboring areas to Lionheart’s plantation include ecologically valuable sites that have been conserved by indigenous people since time immemorial. One of them is the Signapan valley, being managed by the Tau’t Batu (a sub-group of the Pala’wan). This area was also declared a reservation for anthropological and archaeological research.

At last, after three years of petitioning, collecting evidence and documentation, the indigenous peoples’ struggle began to yield some positive outcomes. In fact, the NCIP (National Commission on Indigenous Peoples) finally confirmed that the Memorandum of Understanding (MOA), previously entered between the two companies and the local communities, was based on an improper application of FPIC guidelines. Hence, NCIP decided to suspend Lionheart’s Certificate of Precondition (CP), which had been issued to allow the company to carry out their operations on indigenous land.

As a result, Lionheart filed a motion of reconsideration as of June 1 and 16, 2017, requesting NCIP to lift the order of suspension and allowing the company to resolve the issue by paying the required bond, whose amount had to be decided by the affected tribes, pursuant to section 23 of the 2012 FPIC guidelines.

The final response from NCIP Region IV Office - contained in the CEB Resolution no. 07-124.2018, Series of 2018 and being transmitted to NCIP Palawan Provincial Office on October 1, does confirm that Lionheart should, indeed, pay the bond as required by the law. But this, by itself, will not allow it to resume its operations. In fact, Lionheart has been requested to submit the Environmental and Socio-Cultural Impact Statement, followed by a comprehensive work plan which shall include, amongst others, the project’s profile and plan of operations, the identification of the targeted area, etc. More importantly, the company should strictly comply with all procedures related to section 19-23 of the 2012 FPIC guideline.

According to CALG, when the above-mentioned order of suspension was issued, Lionheart stopped its operations for a month or two, but later resumed them while clearing new forest areas, including a Pala’wan sacred site in Dalingding. Lionheart Agrotech claims that it wants to become a leading industrial-scale supplier of sustainable sugars to meet the rapidly evolving and increasing needs in the food and energy markets. This might be the reason why the company is expanding their hybrid coconut plantations at an alarming speed.

Meanwhile, the new FPIC process being carried out by NCIP and Lionheart, is presently being questioned by the Pala’wan tribes. The latter claim that such a process has reinforced divisions rather than building unity amongst them. Furthermore the attorney who is legally assisting tribal members on this case, has pointed out that NCIP did not involve tribal leaders in any preparatory meeting prior to the FPIC process. Not surprisingly, as of now, the exact procedures under which the FPIC process has been carried out remain unknown and no minutes of the proceedings are available.

On October 29, 2018, Lionheart (headed by Carl Christian Moeller, a Danish entrepreneur) has entered into a Joint Venture Agreement (JVA) with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for the development of a major agroforestry development plan and tree plantation over an area of 3,500 hectares covering Barangays Ransang, Candawaga and Culasian. This is a 25-year agreement, which is renewable for another 25 years. According to the Indigenous People’s attorney, the JVA has completely bypassed FPIC procedures and thus, its legal standing remains questionable. In fact, it is the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) that according to the law should have jurisdiction over ancestral domain, rather than the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), which is the counter-signatory of the joint venture agreement (JVC). In the JVA, it is also specified that the indigenous people would be paid for the rent of their land, but no exact technical descriptions are provided on the boundaries of the parcel of land being stipulated in the agreement.

It appears that Lionheart never ceased its operations except for a one to two month period since the suspension order was first issued. Therefore, the company seems to have completely ignored the NCIP Commission en Banc resolution that, in principles, should have halted their operations. Referring to indigenous people, CALG claims that, as of now, Lionheart operations have removed previously existing forest and natural vegetation, which did play an important livelihood role for the local communities.

On July 29, 2019, a joint petition of tribal representatives was submitted to DENR requesting for the cancellation and/or revocation of the joint venture agreement. Since then, no official replies were ever received by DENR. Hence, on January 16, 2020, an additional motion was submitted by the indigenous petitioners requesting DENR to finally respond to their previous complaints against the issuance of the JVA.

To complicate matters even further, the Governor of Palawan has recently signed and approved Resolution no. 14509  supporting the passage into law of House Bill no. 675. The former declares certain parcels of land of the public domain located in Barangays Bunog, Iraan, Punta Baja, Campong Ulay, Ransang (Municipality of Rizal) as alienable and disposable land, thus opens to distribution for agricultural, commercial, residential, industrial and other productive purposes. The resolution was passed on September 10, 2019, and it represents a major blow to ecological sustainability and to the integrity of the ancestral domains of hundreds of indigenous communities, which have sustainably used these areas, since time immemorial.

Meanwhile, the Coalition against Land Grabbing (CALG), which - since the beginning - has vigorously supported the IPs communities’ fight against Lionheart, continues to assist the Pala’wan of Ransang, Candawaga and Culasian to apply for their Certificates of Ancestral Land Titles (CADTs). This process should ultimately lead to the legal recognition and demarcation of the Pala’wan ancestral domain in Rizal, thus providing indigenous people with the strongest legal tool for defending their land and resources.

Further information:

Rainforest Rescue petition: We need our land, not oil palms!

Mongabay: On a Philippine island, indigenous groups take the fight to big palm oil

Earthsight: Oil palm expansion in the Philippines leading to illegal deforestation and rights abuses

Letter

To: H.E. Rodrigo Roa Duterte, President of the Republic of the Philippines; Hon. Roy A. Cimatu, Secretary, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Hon. Jose Alvarez, Governor of Palawan and others.

Gentlemen,

I am writing to express my support for the Pala’wan indigenous peoples of Ransang, Candawaga and Culasian.

Please:
• cancel/revoke the Joint Venture Agreement entered between Lionheart and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources without the adequate Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of local indigenous communities;

• cease and desist activities of Lionheart agribusiness firm within the ancestral domain of the Pala’wan indigenous peoples, including the operation of the coconut processing facility;

• conduct a thorough investigation on the alleged violations in the current conduct of the FPIC process by Lionheart and hold those responsible accountable;

• identify suitable forms of compensation for the environmental damages and adverse social impact allegedly caused by Lionheart to the Pala’wan of barangays Ransang, Candawaga, and Culasian;

• scrap and revoke House Bill no. 675, which represents a serious threat to Palawan ecological balance and cultural integrity of the indigenous peoples of Barangays Bunog, Iraan, Punta Baja, Campung Ulay, Ransan, in the Municipality of Rizal.

Yours faithfully

Topic

The issue – rainforest on our dinner tables and in our fuel tanks

At 66 million tons annually, palm oil is the most commonly produced vegetable oil. Its low world market price and properties that lend themselves to processed foods have led the food industry to use it in half of all supermarket products. Palm oil can be found in frozen pizzas, biscuits and margarine, as well as body creams, soaps, makeup, candles and detergents.

Few people realize that almost half of the palm oil imported into the EU is used as biofuel. Since 2009, the mandatory blending of biofuels into motor vehicle fuels has been a major cause of deforestation.

Oil palm plantations currently cover more than 27 million hectares of the Earth’s surface. Forests and human settlements have been destroyed and replaced by “green deserts” containing virtually no biodiversity on an area the size of New Zealand.

The impact – suffering and death in producer countries, climate havoc

The warm, humid climate of the tropics offers perfect growth conditions for oil palms. Day after day, huge tracts of rainforest in Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa are being bulldozed or torched to make room for more plantations, releasing vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. As a consequence, Indonesia – the world’s largest producer of palm oil – temporarily surpassed the United States in terms of greenhouse gas emissions in 2015. With their CO2 and methane emissions, palm oil-based biofuels actually have three times the climate impact of traditional fossil fuels.

Palm oil is not only bad for the climate: As their forest habitat is cleared, endangered species such as the orangutan, Borneo elephant and Sumatran tiger are being pushed closer to extinction. Smallholders and indigenous people who have inhabited and protected the forest for generations are often brutally driven from their land. In Indonesia, more than 700 land conflicts are related to the palm oil industry. Human rights violations are everyday occurrences, even on supposedly “sustainable” and “organic” plantations.

As consumers, we are largely unaware of these broader issues, yet our daily palm oil consumption also impacts our health: refined palm oil contains large amounts of harmful fatty acid esters that are known to damage DNA and cause cancer.

The solution – a revolution on our dinner tables and in our fuel tanks

Only 70,000 orangutans still roam the forests of Southeast Asia, yet the EU’s biofuels policy is pushing them to the brink of extinction. Every new plantation on Borneo is destroying a further piece of their habitat. Stepping up the pressure on policymakers is a must if we want to save our tree-dwelling kin. Apart from that, however, there is still a lot we can do in day-to-day life.

Follow these simple tips to recognize, avoid and combat palm oil:

  1. Enjoy a home-cooked meal: Use your imagination: why not try almond-coconut-pear biscuits? Or pizza with potato and rosemary? A meal cooked from fresh ingredients beats processed foods containing palm oil every time. Oils such as sunflower, olive, rapeseed or flaxseed are ideal for cooking and baking.
  2. Read labels: As of December 2014, labeling regulations in the EU require food products to clearly indicate that they contain palm oil. However, in the case of non-food items such as cosmetics and cleaning products, a wide range of chemical names may still be used to hide the use of palm oil. A quick check of your favorite search engine will turn up palm oil-free alternatives, however.
  3. Remember that the customer is king: Ask your retailers for palm oil-free products. Write product manufacturers and ask them why they aren’t using domestic oils. Companies can be quite sensitive to issues that give their products a bad name, so inquiring with sales staff and contacting manufacturers can make a real difference. Public pressure and increased awareness of the problem have already prompted some producers to stop using palm oil.
  4. Sign petitions and write your elected representatives: Online campaigns put pressure on policymakers responsible for biofuels and palm oil imports. Have you already signed all of Rainforest Rescue’s petitions?
  5. Speak out: Protest marches and creative action on the street raise public and media awareness of the issue, which in turn steps up the pressure on policymakers.
  6. Leave your car at home: Whenever you can, walk, ride a bicycle or use public transport.
  7. Be informed and inform others: Big Business and governments would like us to believe that biofuels are good for the climate and that oil palm plantations are sustainable. Spread the word – share this information with your family and friends and encourage them to rethink their consumption habits. It’s in our hands!

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