I am a volunteer of Task Force Bugsuk, a consortium of greens, browns and other NGOs helping the Molbog and Pala'wan tribes of Palawan. These people are are slowly dying of hunger because Jewelmer International Corporation, maker of south sea pearls and owned by Marcos crony Danding Cojuangco, barred them from fishing in their traditional fishing grounds. This action of Jewelmer resulted to the loss of access by these indigenous peoples to their only source of livelihood.
Meanwhile, the local council of the Municipality of Balabac passed an ordinance that constituted its entire municipal waters as a protected marine eco-region, and parts of Coral Bay surrounding Bugsuk and Pandanan islands as a strict protection zone where all forms of fishing and gathering of marine resources (with the exception of products resulting from authorized pearl culture) are prohibited. The area designated as strict protection zone is the location of the pearl farm project of Jewelmer, which is within the ancestral domain of Pala’wan and Molbog tribes.
This ordinance is now the focus of protest actions by TF Bugsuk and its partners. On December 9, hundreds of people will stage a 'Jericho March' around the provincial capitol of Palawan to ask Governor Joel Reyes to use his oversight powers and urge the Balabac mayor to suspend the implementation of the Balabac Ordinance 1-2005; compel the Sangguniang Panlalawigan to withdraw its approval from the ordinance; and for the NCIP to implement the much-delayed validation survey for its ancestral domain title. The Concerned Artists for the Environment is also holding a Protest Art Exhibition at the Palawan Museum. The exhibit will move to Metro Manila in January 2006.
I urge you to help us by spreading the word that Jewelmer and its cohorts in the municipality of Balabac are 'killing' the people in the southern part of the Philippines. Don't buy their pearls. If your friends, girlfriends, bosses are fond of pearls make sure that they are not from Jewelmer. Below is a situationer prepared by TF Bugsuk.
In 1974, at the height of martial rule, Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, foremost crony of Dictator Ferdinand Marcos, with the government’s military, forced around 500 families in Bugsuk and Pandanan islands in Southern Palawan, to leave their lands and farms, under an unjust land swap agreement. The people were made to sign blank pieces of paper, threatened to accept payments for their standing crops and were made to realize that whether or not they accepted the payments they would still be forced to leave the islands. These families belonged mainly with the Palaw’an and Molbog tribes as well as some long-time Christian settlers.
In the name of various corporations, the Cojuangcos set up a seedling nursery for hybrid coconut trees. Entry in the islands was very much restricted for they were heavily-guarded by military men. Five years later, in 1979, the Cojuangcos partnered with a Frenchman, Jacques Branellec, and set up the Jewelmer International Corporation, which then established a pearl farm on the waters between these islands. Jewelmer soon became one of the world’s largest south sea pearl producers.
However, in its effort to protect its business, Jewelmer deprived the surrounding communities of their rights. The traditional fishing grounds of indigenous and non-indigenous fisherfolk, as well as the usual navigational route to the town proper of Balabac, became prohibited areas; the areas were closely guarded by the military, and later on, by SCAA personnel under supervision of the government’s armed forces. Without fertile farms and fishing grounds, poverty in the surrounding communities worsened, forcing many families to stop sending their children from school.
Emboldened by the enactment of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) and the Fisheries Code, the Palaw’an and Molbog tribes filed an application for a certificate of ancestral domain title (CADT) in February 2001. Together with long-time settlers and subsistence fisherfolk, they organized Sambilog (meaning “one circle”). They also sought the help of the government to hold a dialogue with Jewelmer and the Balabac government, so that they could be allowed to fish in their traditional fishing grounds. However, after the first dialogue in Malacañang Palace in July 2003, Jewelmer refused to sit down again. Instead, their guards became stricter, and harassed and intimidated a number of men who tried to fish in the area.
Later investigations revealed that Jewelmer does not have the required Environmental Compliance Certificate, that the closing of traditional navigational routes is a violation of existing laws, that the Balabac local government leased the marine municipal areas without the required ordinance for such lease, that the lease rental was grossly inappropriate at P15/hectare/year, and that it violated its own lease agreement by not complying with major provisions like delineation of the coastal marine area of Bugsuk and Pandanan, the delineation of boundaries of the pearl culture area and the marking of each corner with a mooring bouy.
The inconsiderate response of the Balabac government was Ordinance No. 1-2005, declaring the entire municipal waters of Balabac as a marine eco-region and specifying that Jewelmer’s concession area is a “strict protection zone” where absolutely no fishing is allowed. This ordinance in unjust and illegal because (i) it did not go through the procedural requirements, such as public consultations with the affected communities, prior to its enactment; (ii) the declaration of the strict protection zone does not conform to existing laws, particularly the SEP Law, the Fisheries Code and the NIPAS law ; (iii) ) it deprives the Pala’wan and Molbog tribes of their right to manage and conserve natural resources within their ancestral domain, and of their right to preserve their culture, traditions and institutions; (iv) it is partial or discriminatory; heavily in favor of big business and marginalizing small fishers; and (v) it violates the principle of sustainable development as it will lead to the destruction of livelihoods of fishing communities and the people’s eventual displacement.
The ordinance first came into attention when the Balabac government passed it to the Sangguniang Panlalawigan for review. Sambilog leaders made representations in the province, as well as delivered a petition paper to the Balabac mayor signed by hundreds of Balabac residents. The advocacy was a success at first as the Provincial Board declared that the ordinance was “faulty in form and substance”. Yet, after some superficial amendments were made by Balabac, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan approved the ordinance.
Knowing that the ordinance meant hunger and slow death to the six fishing villages surrounding the pearl farm, and determined to show their resolve to reclaim their ancestral lands and water, Sambilog staged a weeklong 250-km solidarity march-caravan from Sitio Marihangin of Barangay Bugsuk to Puerto Princesa last October 12-17. Many groups, including local churches, non-government organizations, artists and indigenous groups sympathized with the plight of Sambilog. Hundreds of Palawenos signed the petition to support Sambilog’s cause. Local media fully covered the event.
The Provincial Government is yet to heed the demands two months after the solidarity march and the camp-out at the Provincial Capitol. No concrete response has been given; no definite timeframe defined. Meanwhile, those camping out at the Provincial Capitol have been threatened to be forcibly evicted.
For three decades now, the injustice committed to the Pala’wan and Molbog tribes when they were forced out of their ancestral lands and seas have not been corrected. Jewelmer has secured an exclusive exploitation of the seas in the name of marine conservation, raising an invisible wall that is depriving indigenous peoples and subsistence fisherfolk of access to their traditional fishing grounds and source of livelihood. Such “greenwashing” cannot be tolerated. Sustainable environment protection can never be achieved without protecting the rights of the people.