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25 Sep 2023

Keith Anthony S. Fabro, Mongabay

Philippines: Supreme Court issues environmental legal measure in favour of Indigenous communities challenging nickel mine

Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (Friends of the Earth – Philippines)

"Indigenous community fighting a mine in Palawan win a milestone legal verdict", 25 Sept 2023

In a move celebrated as a victory by an Indigenous community that since 2005 has been fighting plans to mine nickel in a protected area, the Philippine Supreme Court issued a verdict mandating the company and government agencies involved in the project to address Indigenous concerns about forest destruction.

On August 16, 2023, the Supreme Court announced it had issued a writ of kalikasan against the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)... Also named were Ipilan Nickel Corporation and Celestial Mining, companies operating in Palawan’s Mount Mantalingahan Protected Landscape (MMPL). The writ, a unique measure in Philippine law, aims to protect Filipinos’ constitutional right to a balanced and healthy environment.

The writ was issued based on a petition from members of the Pala’wan Indigenous cultural communities (ICCs) in the town of Brooke’s Point in southern Palawan. They allege that the 25-year mineral agreement granted to Celestial Nickel Mining and Exploration Corporation, with Ipilan Nickel Corporation as its designated operator, is legally invalid because it falls within the MMPL, which is part of the Philippines’ National Integrated Protected Areas System and is therefore closed to mining...

“The mining operations by INC and Celestial Mining may cause irreparable environmental damage to the Mt. Mantalingahan protected area and the ICCs’ ancestral domain,” the Supreme Court said in granting the writ...

The issuance of the writ, however, is just the first phase in a court process that activists say they hope will eventually lead to the cancellation of the mining project... As of publication time, the court had not issued the temporary environmental protection order (TEPO) requested by the petitioners, and no date has been confirmed for the next hearing...

On Aug. 16, the same day as the Supreme Court announcement, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples issued a cease-and-desist order to the mining companies, which will remain in effect until they provide proof they have secured Indigenous consent...

The company says the project predates certification requirements put in place with the 1997 Indigenous People’s Rights Act, and that the policy designating Mantalingahan as a protected area respects preexisting mining contracts...