SELDOM do we write about the Supreme Court, the highest legal authority in the land, for from our perspective here in rural Calumpang, from our perch here in the hills of Quezon, we very rarely hear or be informed about the daily occurrences in the highest tribunal.
Thus we are happy to hear that the Supreme Court has issued a writ of kalikasan against the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and mining operators in Mount Mantalingahan, Palawan.
The high court is worried that mining projects in the area are causing serious and irreversible harm to the environment and the inhabitants of Brooke's Point in Mount Mantalingahan.
Last August 15, the Supreme Court en banc resolved to grant the petition for writ of kalikasan, under the rules of procedure for environmental cases, filed by the Indigenous Cultural Communities (ICCs) of Bicamm Ancestral Domain in Brooke's Point, Palawan, against the DENR, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), Ipilan Nickel Corp. (INC), and Celestial Nickel Mining and Exploration Corp. (Celestial Mining).
The Supreme Court ordered them to file a verified return of the writ within a non-extendible period of 10 days from receipt of the order.
The DENR and Celestial Mining entered into a mineral production sharing agreement (MPSA) covering 2,835.06 hectares of land located in Brooke's Point, Palawan, with INC as the designated mining operator. The original MPSA had a term of 25 years.
There are Indigenous peoples (IPs) with ancestral domains in the areas of Barangay Barongbarong, Uoulan, Calasaguen, Aribungos, Mambalot and Maasin in Brooke's Point. The MPSA covered areas within the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS).
If these areas are covered by NIPAS, how come that the government has mining concessions granted to corporate miners in Mt. Mantalingahan? Perhaps the Supreme Court would want to know.
To her credit and to the credit of her memory, the late former DENR secretary Regina Paz Lopez notified that the firms’ environmental compliance certificate (ECC) expired in October 2015. Celestial and INC nevertheless continued with their tree-cutting activities, which the ICCs claim have caused the deforestation of the mountain range.
Similarly, in 2018, after INC failed to secure a certificate precondition from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) for the renewal of the MPSA, INC still continued with its mining operations.
On Dec. 21, 2020, then environment secretary Roy Cimatu issued an order reckoning the effectivity date of the MPSA to the year it was amended in 2000 and not the year it was originally executed in 1993.
The Supreme Court found that all of the requisites were present for the granting of a writ of kalikasan.
The High Tribunal also applied the precautionary principle, which states that a project proponent is required to provide evidence to dispel concerns regarding the potential harmful impact of a project on the environment, shifting the burden of evidence of harm away from those likely to suffer harm and onto those desiring to change the status quo.
The current DENR secretary, Antonia Loyzaga, should also follow through with the efforts of the Supreme Court to defend and preserve the environment, not just in Manila Bay but also in other parts of the country, especially those with remaining forest cover like in Palawan.
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