MANILA, Philippines – Environment advocate Gina Lopez, the managing director of ABS-CBN Foundation Inc. (AFI), defended a tourism project in Palawan after it was accused of “forcibly” taking over an ancestral land using police and military forces.
In a statement released Thursday, Lopez said AFI had signed a memorandum of agreement with local officials before initiating the project in Sabsaban Falls, Barangay Aribungos, Brooke’s Point.
“The ABS-CBN Foundation signed a MOA with the mayor and the Sanggunihan Bayan. Before we ventured into the project I asked the mayor if he wanted my help,” Lopez said.
She added that the project is a “joint venture of the municipality and the ABS-CBN Foundation for the benefit of the people.”
According to an article published on the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI), the head of Brooke’s Point Federation of Tribal Councils (BPFTC) Bert Palaan accused Lopez of pushing through with the project without consulting the indigenous people inhabiting the land.
“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?” Palaan told PDI.
Palaan also said Lopez had proposed to construct hotels and restaurants on the land.
Lopez, however, denied that the foundation was involved in tree-cutting activities, saying that only “dead and dying” trees were removed from the area.
“AFI did not cut any trees. The dead and dying trees that were cut were identified by the CENRO (Community Environment and Natural Resources Office). The local government unit themselves cut the trees with the coordination of the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) official there,” she said.
Lopez also said that a resolution was signed by 183 indigenous people to express their support for the project.
“The two barangay captains involved are fully supportive of the project,” she added.
Lopez earlier said the project is aimed to convert the area into a biodiversity school before it is destroyed by the effects of mining.
“I question the motives of the ‘indigenous group’ that wants to stop a project that is right now benefitting 100 families. I question the motives of a group that did not do anything when there were garbage and broken bottles, and drinking in the area and now that the place is clean and indigenous culture is being explained to all, we are violating the sacredness?” she said.
Lopez is also the convenor of the Save Palawan Movement.