To begin with
The beehive is stirred up once again when people from Provincial Government of Occidental Mindoro publicly announced just recently that Pitkin Petroleum Inc. is bound to start exploration drilling on the fourth quarter of this year.
In August 7, 2014, Gov. Mario Gene J. Mendiola sent his provincial legal officer Atty. Dan Restor and PGO-SAMARICA OIC Jun Norella to witness a tripartite meeting among the Petroleum (Phils.) or Pitkin, the Department of Energy (DOE), and the National Commission for the Indigenous People (NCIP). Apparently, what they have discussed is the conduct of Field-Based Investigation which is actually a pre-requisite to the Free Prior and Informed Consent or FPIC. I have a lot of friends who support the oil exploration project who are allied with the “Dream Team”, the political faction of Cong. Josephine Ramirez-Sato and Gov. Mendiola, and I hope we will remain friends respecting each other’s opinion despite of our opposing stand on Service Contract (SC) 53 in particular and its impact on the lives and culture of the Mangyans in the aspect of the indigenous peoples’ (IPs) right to self-determination, among others, stipulated in the Indigenous People’s Rights Act or IPRA, also known as RA 8371.
But this writer restricts himself to some point in presenting this issue. All he intends to do for now is to give verifiable information by way of retrospect, to the best of his knowledge with the goal of educating our people about it that for sure would have impact in our lives as citizens of our province, especially the Mangyans. Further, it is not his intention to expound his own opinion on the matter.
SC 53 and Pitkin in a nutshell
Based on its Project Description released on October 2013, a total of 224,000 hectares of land and sea areas in selected southern municipalities of Oriental and Occidental Mindoro, particularly in Bulalacao, Magsaysay, San Jose, Rizal, Calintaan and Sablayan. It is a non-commercial fossil mining project. The exploration is consists of core drilling/sampling, exploration (drilling/testing); feasibility studies; geo-scientific, physical survey, gravity survey, and similar activities; seismic survey; and similar activities that according to the company, “with no significant earth moving activities, etc…”
Pitkin is registered in Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) since March 19 2008 as “Pitkin Petroleum (Philippines) Ltd”. The change of its corporate name was approved on November 9, 2009 and the Department of Energy awarded the Service Contract (SC 53) to Pitkin on June 11, 2008 by the virtue of the Deed of Assignment from the Laxmi Organic Industries, Ltd. Regional Office No. IV-B of the Department of Natural Resources or DENR already issued a Certificate of Non-Coverage (CNC) for the activities under SC 53. Their office address: Suite 2101, Equitable Bank Tower, Paseo de Roxas Avenue, Makati City, Philippines. Pitkin Petroleum Inc. PLC is a United Kingdom-based oil and gas exploration company.
And since it is a foreign company, under Presidential Decree (PD) 87 or the “Oil Exploration and Development Act of 1972” also known as the “Service Contract Law”, among other perks and incentives, the service contractors are exempted from paying tariff duties on all machinery and materials imported for their oil operations and they do not pay taxes whatsoever. They are exempted from all taxes except income tax but the latter is in fact shouldered by the government. Are the authorities have already weighted its pros and cons with regards to cultural, social and economic impacts to our brothers and sisters in upland communities and not just the lowlanders? Just asking.
Oil exploration and Occidental Mindoro’s long-lingering power crisis
Gov. Mendiola and Cong. Sato, indeed, have been pushing no doubt for a geothermal project as part of the solution to the almost a two-decade long power crisis in the province. The debacle is mainly due to the one-sided Energy Conversion Agreement (ECA) between our electric cooperative and the Island Power Corporation (IPC), a independent power producer believed to be owned by former congressman/governor Jose T. Villarosa. With this, the National Power Corporation (NPC) and other power industry players are expected to join the fray in the coming years for the power generation prospects. The provincial LGU is expecting that in 10-15 years time the power crises will be over for, with the help of the oil exploration project, a power plant, though no specific details have been given, using natural gas would be utilized in consonance with RA 9513 or the Renewable Energy Act of 2008. The exploration project is expected to augment the Naujan geothermal plant by the Emerging Power Inc. or EPI. EPI is a Mindoro-based power company which is about to operate a 45 megawatt geo-thermal power plant in said town of Oriental Mindoro. Is EPI in reality owned by a consortium of political personalities in the island? That I do not know.
The Power Supply Agreement (PSA) between Occidental Mindoro Electric Cooperative (OMECO) and EPI was signed last February 28, 2014 in San Jose. Aside from Cong. Sato and the top officials of OMECO led by GM Alfred A. Dantis and board president Melito C. Pasol, EPI’s executive president Alfredo C. Guanzon and Cong. Rey Umali of the second district of Oriental Mindoro who chairs the House committee on energy were present on the signing of the OMECO-EPI PSA.
In retrospect, it was March 6, 2010 when Mr. Froilan A. Tampico, president and chief executive officer of the National Power Corporation (NPC) wrote to the late and then energy secretary Angelo T. Reyes revealed that Pitkin Petroleum discovered natural gas instead of oil in their previous exploration in the southern part of Occidental Mindoro. Specifically, in a Pitkin report that year, they revealed that they have drilled natural gas which they call Progreso A1X. The oil company even proposed the NPC to lease in due time natural gas generators to replace the leased diesel generators and use the natural gas from the Progreso discovery as fuel. El Progreso, where apparently they initially discovered natural gas, is a sitio of Brgy. San Isidro (Canwaling) in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro. They presented it to then Gov. Sato and then Vice Gov. Mendiola and apparently Pitkin got the two political leaders’ approval then, at least in principle, of the oil exploration project.
Pitkin Petroleum PLC believes that there is less 50% carbon emissions from natural gas compared to diesel. Also it claimed that natural gas is indigenous to Mindoro eliminating the need to buy and import diesel from other countries. It would also be much cheaper for NPC to use natural gas compared to diesel thereby reducing generation costs, they say.
Perhaps, with all of these justifications falling into place, the Provincial Government of Occidental Mindoro began to think of discussing the merits of converting an indigenous resource of natural gas to electrical power for the benefit of our residents. Armed with the noble intention and will to give the DOE and Pitkin an all out nod and go-signal to the oil exploration project which is not bad after all at hindsight, the provincial government is now with Pitkin on SC 53 mandated exploration. In fact, there were Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC )hearings in Naujan and San Jose held last week where parties are hopeful to submit pertinent documents soon.
With this damning power crisis, who in his right mind would oppose such efforts toward affordable and sustainable electric power in this part of Tamarawlandia? Anyone, IP or non-IP, who would oppose this would be forever doomed in Hades!
The civil and church leaders’ unified response in support of the Mangyans
Prior to the discovery of the so-called Progreso A1X, then Gov Sato was also critical of certain Pitkin’s action. That was the time when the Apostolic Vicariate of San Jose (AVSJ) called for the thorough examination of the project. The Social Services Commission (SSC) of AVSJ utilizing her mouth piece radio DZVT was all out in its information and education campaign aimed at Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) from Magsaysay to Sablayan. Nuns, priests, Mangyan tribal elders and leaders and BEC members in Vicariate Forane 1 and 2 (from Good Shepherd Parish in Magsaysay to San Lorenzo Ruiz Parish in Sablayan) were mobilized. The Taubuid leaders in Poypoy, Calintaan, even barricaded when drilling equipment were brought up to the mountains by Pitkin where a commotion between them happened. The Mangyans apparently sought the assistance of Gov. Sato to end further harm both on the side of the Tau-Buid Mangyan leaders and Pitkin workers. This prompted Gov. Sato to issue two letters dated March 23, 2010 addressed to energy secretary Angelo Reyes and Pitkin Petroleum PLC through its representative, Ms. Tessa Agravante. And I am posting it here in verbatim:
"Anent to my telephone conversation with Ms. Tessa Agravante, we reiterate our concern and dismay in the conduct of your oil/natural gas exploration in Sablayan. Reports have reached us that some of our Mangyans were hurt in the violent confrontation between opposing groups. We are likewise informed that you have not been granted any clearance/certification by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) that the Mangyans concerned have given their consent to your activities in the area.
At the onset of your activities, we made it clear that the interests of our Mangyans should be primordial concern and their rights are respected by you at all times.
In view thereof, you are hereby enjoined to suspend your/exploration in the area until all the issues are settled and the requisite clearances/permit are secured.”
On the part of AVSJ, after the Chrism Mass in 2010 where almost all of the priests of the AVSJ gathered, Bishop Antonio P. Palang, SVD,DD read his Circular No. 3 Series of 2010 re : Our Anti Mining Advocacy. Bishop Palang responded to Gov. Sato's request to Pitkin: "This will give us temporary lull. The ways of mining companies are deceiving which therefore demand that we continuously keep watch. I encourage our Basic Ecclesial Communities, alongside our tribal communities, to still be continuously vigilant despite this break." Those were the days when the hierarchy of our local church still has its grasp of her pastoral program, particularly the social action ministry. Those were the halcyon years when pro-environment activists-priest still around, specially the diocesan clergy. In this instance, both church and political leaders of the province considered the welfare of the Mangyans in confronting Pitkin’s oil exploration.
All we can do is to hope against hope that they still are.
Tau-Buid Mangyan’s “un-readiness “
The Tau-Buid Mangyans claimed that there was no legitimate FPIC process conducted in past. They lobbed a protest to the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and series of hearings were held in Manila.
The NCIP set a meeting between the Tau-Buid leaders and representative of Pitkin by virtue of a memorandum issued by NCIP commissioner Dionesia O. Banua and was followed by Hon. Kissack B. Gabaen, Presiding Regional Hearing Officer of NCIP Region IV. In September 19, 2013 at Bahay Alumni inside the University of the Philippines’ (UP) campus, it was agreed by both parties, the Fakasadian Mangagoyang Tau-Buid Daga, Inc. or FAMATODI and Pitkin that the project should undergo a truthful FPIC process.
Massive community consultations were conducted by the Tau-Buid Mangyans through hopping from one sitio to another in Calintaan and Sablayan regarding SC 53 in the whole month of December 2013 and finally on April 8, 2014, FAMATODI came up with official statement on the issue. In their Position Paper it is stated, “ang aming tribo ay wala pang kahandaan na tanggapin ang panukalang eksplorasyon ng Pitkin dahil hindi tinanggap ng mas nakararaming pamayanan o wala pang kahandaan at sa pahayag din ng mga hindi pa sibilisadong pamayanan ng aming tribo na ‘di nila tanggap ang panukalang proyekto ng Pitkin..” Peping Poyngon, its chair and the whole leadership of FAMATODI told this writer that they will firmly stand in what they believe in. They will oppose any attempt with regards to the impending operation of oil exploration inside their ancestral domain.
So, the Tau-Buid ethno-linguistic group of Mangyans not yet ready. What would the provincial government, the DOE and Pitkin would do? Would the Provincial Government aggressively assert it? Does it need to be a tussle of the IPs rights over their ancestral domain against the majority of the people’s right to basic social service specifically electricity? How would the people from a certain office of the provincial government helping the Mangyans consider this stand of our IPs?
Municipality of Sablayan on oil exploration
In March 18, 2010, the Sangguniang Bayan of Sablayan headed by its presiding officer, then Vice-Mayor Eduardo B. Gadiano, through a committee meeting recommended to Pitkin that it should first secure Certificate of Pre-condition from the NCIP before they could resume their operations within the ancestral domain of the Tau-Buid Mangyans in their municipality.
But the Pitkin representatives who were invited in the meeting insisted that the MOA between DOE-Pitkin and the newly-organized groups of Tau-Buid Mangyans called AFTI, with the latter’s “Pahintulot” (“Permit to Operate’) is sufficient for them to resume their operation. FAMATODI, on the other hand alleged that AFTI was a group formed by Pitkin itself for the purpose and reportedly received an almost half a million peso worth of community projects from the petroleum company.
Earlier in February 12, 2010, in a letter signed by Masli Quilaman, Executive Director of NCIP said that there was no Certificate of Pre-condition issued by his office to Pitkin. While the Local Government of Sablayan under the current administration of Mayor Eduardo B. Gadiano, the multi-awarded municipality, has an existing General Ordinance No. 2007-GO03B, an ordinance for a 25-year mining moratorium there is also a parallel legislation, the Sablayan Environmental Code known as Municipal Ordinance No. 2008-003, where extractive activities including non-metallic resources are not included. Said ordinance was placed into effect since the tenure of then Mayor Godofredo B. Mintu, a political ally of Rep. Sato.
The present Gadiano administration respect the position of the Tao-Buid Mangyans, specifically FAMATODI stating that their sub-tribe is still unready to face the challenges of said exploration pushed by our incumbent political leaders.
The Mangyans, the poorest of the poor among us, the most marginalized of our people, must enjoy the rights enshrined in the IPRA and the concerned government agencies must assure that the FPIC process would be followed.
There must not be an “all out yes” to any extractive industry coming to our fragile island, specially within the indigenous cultural communities, whether it is (mineral) mining or oil/gas exploration, whether it is under DENR or DOE. Government units and departments, especially NCIP should realize that the welfare of the people, especially the downtrodden, and our ecosystems will not be sacrificed in the altar of so-called progress or development. Without it, we will be swarmed by bees and suffer from their bites, so to speak. The police and the military, unless the actions of the Mangyans turned to violence and lawlessness is employed, armed agents of the state should keep themselves at a distance. To our people, especially those lowlanders, we have to scrutinize the project before we lob our “all out yes” to it without us understanding it thoroughly. Without considering our Mangyans, the first inhabitants of this island.
Let us scrutinize it as meticulously as how the Mangyans harvest the sweetest honey from the beehive…
(Next : The Service Contract Law and its Marcosian Roots and Common impacts of exploratory oil drilling)