Gina Lopez claims to be standing up for the environment as she shuts down mining operations apparently in order to protect Indigenous People’s (IP’s) natural environment and water catchments, however, did she or anyone at the DENR actually obtain the required Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) of the IP’s before doing so and did she take into account that the IP’s freely entered into Mineral Production Sharing Agreements (MPSA) because, presumably, they concluded that the social and economic
benefits of the mines outweighed any environmental concerns?

It would seem odd that whilst a mining company must go through the process of seeking the permission of the IP’s before a change of land use, Ms Lopez allegedly does not need the same permission to impose a transformation to ecotourism, according to Bert Palaan, a leader of Brooke’s Point Federation of Tribal Councils (BPFTC).

He has accused Gina Lopez and the ABS-CBN Foundation’s Bantay Kalisasan of riding roughshod over the wishes of locals by forcibly taking over ancestral land at Sabsaban Falls, Brangay Aribungos in order to establish ecotourism buildings there.

“We are not against progress. We just wanted her to follow the process, such as consultation and getting our prior consent before taking over our ancestors’ land where our people go to worship and heal themselves,” Palaan said.

“We thought she was for the protection of the environment and upholding the rights of the indigenous people. But why did she cut down 25 trees in a watershed area inside our holy ground? Why did she not consult with us or inform us of her plans?” He continued.

Whilst all parties agreed that tourism would be good for the Sabsaban Falls area, it’s the way in which it was apparently imposed from above by the ABS-CBN Foundation that irks the locals and smacks of double standards.
Regardless of how good an idea is, if you are simply told from ‘on high’ that wiser head than yours know what’s best for you, traditional head dress feathers are going to be ruffled.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources has already ordered an inquiry into the cutting of trees and takeover of the ancestral lands without the approval of the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) and the ancestral land domain owners in violation of Republic Act No. 8371, or the Indigenous People’s Rights Act but surely no such inquiry would have been needed had the proper procedure been followed in the first place.

Ifugao Representative Teddy Brawner-Baguilat, Chairman of the House Committee on National Cultural Communities and Vice Chair of the Committee on Natural Resources, summed it up when he said “While ecotourism is preferred, any development work must and should be made to go through the same stringent FPIC that the IPs demanded of mining companies. Any project in an area considered sacred by IPs should be
undertaken with consideration of not just the environment but also the rights of the IPs,”

If Ms Lopez intends on rolling out enforced ecotourism across the country, she must at least abide by the same rules as the mining companies and ask what the IP’s want from their land before beginning her green crusade.

Photo by Jonny Caspari on Unsplash