Bishop Socrates Mesiona, Apostolic Vicariate of Puerto Princesa, and Bishop Broderick Pabillo, Apostolic Vicariate of Taytay, have issued a joint pastoral statement denouncing the dispersal and arrest of anti-mining protesters in Palawan, a province more than 700 kilometers southwest of Manila.
"We are deeply saddened and strongly condemn the violent dispersal and unlawful arrests conducted last Friday, April 14, against peaceful rallyists by close to a hundred private security guards of Ipilan Nickel Corporation in Brooke's Point, backed by a contingent of 30 PNP [Philippine National Police] forces who silently watched and abetted them," the bishops said in the joint statement.
According to the bishops, the protesters have "consistently" secured "valid permits" from authorities for staging rallies to make their concerns public. The protesters have called on the mining firm to "immediately stop" its operations following the expiration of its mayor's permit to operate on February 1, 2023.
The mayor's office has also issued a cease and desist order to the mining firm, as Mesiona and Pabillo noted in their joint statement.
But instead of complying with the authorities, the prelates said, the mining firm "acted in blatant defiance of the law" with its continuous operations.
"The company took the law into its own hands by deploying its large private security force in violently dispersing the peaceful rallyists. Some were beaten up, injured, and unlawfully arrested in plain sight. With the silent support of the PNP law officers ironically sworn to uphold the law and maintain peace and order, without fear and favor."
The protesters, including indigenous peoples, farmers, fisherfolk, and ordinary citizens, have staged rallies in the past three months to protect the environment.
Palawan is one of the premier tourist destinations in the Philippines. El Nido, a coastal town in Palawan, draws local and international tourists to its white-sand beaches and coral reefs. Coron, another town in Palawan, is known for world-class World War II-era wreck diving. Local and international tourists also retrace it for its landscapes, beaches, freshwater lakes, and coral reefs.
"They have been peacefully protesting against the destructive mining in Brooke's Point, encroaching on the Mount Mantalingahan Protected Landscape for the benefit of a few rich and powerful vested interests, not even from Palawan."
The rallyists, according to the bishops, have been "peacefully" protesting the destruction of forests, watersheds, indigenous lands, farms, and water sources. The destruction has extensively damaged livelihoods and caused flooding in Brooke's Point.
Brooke's Point is a coastal and first-class town in Palawan, named after Sir James Brooke, an Englishman and the first white Rajah of Sarawak. Brooke's Point is known for its Kaniyog'n Festival, waterfalls, and cultural heritage.
In support of the protesters, the bishops have appealed to the provincial prosecutors to drop all the "trumped up charges" against the rallyists and make the private security force of the mining firm and the PNP officers account for the violent dispersal and unlawful arrests.
The prelates have also called on the President, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development to "permanently stop" the mining operations of Ipilan Nickel Corp. and other mining companies operating in watersheds and protected areas.
They have also demanded the PNP and courts "respect and protect the protesters' constitutional right.
In its previous statement, the Ipilan Nickel Corp. has insisted that only the national government of the Philippines could cancel its permit to operate.
Mesiona and Pabillo have called on Filipinos and the people of Palawan to "manifest support and strong solidarity" with anti-mining protesters with their presence, resources, and prayers.
The Alyansa Tigil Mina, a coalition of anti-mining groups, said at least six protesters had been arrested.
The Palawan Provincial Information Office reported in February of this year a 964 percent surge in tourist arrivals in the province in 2022 after the government loosened Covid19 restrictions. In 2021, the tourist arrival rate in the province was -79.60 percent.
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