Thursday, November 4, 2004

Jewelmer justifies

In the interest of fairness, I am running in full the response of Jewelmer to my Oct. 21 column piece ``Fishers, pearls and Jewelmer.’’ The news peg there was Sambilog and Task Force Bugsuk’s attempt to fish in waters claimed by some members of indigenous peoples (IP) of Palawan to be part of their ancestral domain and to cross the Pandanan channel, both of which are off limits because of the presence of Jewelmer’s pearl farm. They were joined by Rep. Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel. A congressional inquiry is being planned.

Sambilog and Task Force Bugsuk will have their chance next week to demolish some of Jewelmer’s claims.

Here is Jewelmer:

``We are constrained to address the points contained in the aforementioned article for the purpose of presenting the side of Jewelmer International Corp. (Jewelmer) and, at the same time, rectifying the apparent distortion of facts and misrepresentations made by parties associated with the Samahan ng mga Katutubo sa Dulo ng Timog Palawan (Sambilog).

``1. Jewelmer has been operating a marine concession in the municipality since 1979. Since the commencement of its operations, the corporation has complied with the relevant laws and regulations required for the pursuit of such business endeavor. Moreover, Jewelmer has actively participated in the conservation and preservation of all marine life and natural resources within the concession area. A verification with the municipality of Balabac, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development will confirm that: (i) the corporation has submitted all the requirements imposed by such government entities for the operation of the marine concession, (ii) such operations do not require the issuance of the environmental compliance certificate and (iii) no violations have been attributable to Jewelmer at any point in time.

``2. To the best of the knowledge of Jewelmer, and based on the relevant records in the custody of government agencies (e.g., DENR, the Bureau of Lands and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources), the islands of Bugsuk and Pandanan, inclusive of the adjoining marine concession area leased by the municipality of Balabac to Jewelmer, have not been inhabited by indigenous people. Neither has there been a displacement of supposed ethnic and indigenous fishermen from such areas considering:

a. The previous inhabitants of such areas were transients and settlers who did not belong to any indigenous tribes of Palawan.

b. b. Such inhabitants were willingly, properly and legally relocated to adjoining areas of their choice and fully compensated for their property rights.

``Taking into account the foregoing, the claim asserted by Sambilog that the aforestated areas form part of their `ancestral domain’ is bereft of any factual or legal basis.

``3. Perhaps, the author of the article (that’s me—CPD) has not been apprised of the underlying reasons for the request for assistance made by Jewelmer to the Philippine National Police headed by Supt. Rey Lañada. Recently, the operations of Jewelmer have been subject of intermittent harassment by parties who claim to be members of Sambilog. On numerous occasions, such parties have entered the concession area and resorted to illegal means of fishing through the use of cyanide and dynamite. In addition, the corporation suffered loss and damage to its facilities and equipment due to the unauthorized entry of such parties to the concession area. The local authorities of the municipality of Balabac will confirm the nature and extent of the unlawful acts perpetuated by the said parties within the concession area.

``Owing to the aforementioned acts, Jewelmer, as the aggrieved party, had no other recourse but to request the assistance of the PNP to protect the interests of the corporation. Being the lawful operator of an ongoing business concern, such request for assistance was necessary in the light of contemplated and unauthorized entry of Sambilog in the concession area. The assistance extended by the PNP to Jewelmer was in consonance with their mandated duty to protect any person from imminent threat to their proprietary rights.

``4. Without the benefit of prior inquiry and verification, the author may have been, unwittingly, misled by the purported leaders of Sambilog. We would like to take this opportunity to call your attention to the following points.

``a. Jewelmer, through its representatives, together with the DENR and the officials of the municipality of Balabac, has participated in discussions with the representatives of Task Force Bugsuk in discussions with the representatives of Task Force Bugsuk and Sambilog. During such discussions, Sambilog agreed to make available and provide the parties with a complete listing of its members for the purpose of confirming whether such members fall within the purview of `indigenous people’ as defined under the provisions of the Ipra Act of 1997. To date Sambilog has not complied with such agreement.

``b. The majority of Sambilog are not (and never have been) constituents of the municipality of Balabac. Most of Sambilog's purported members are transients and residents of the municipality of Batarraza.

c. Certain members of Sambilog, namely Oscar Pelayo, have been reported to the local authorities of both municipalities as the parties responsible for dynamite and cyanide fishing.

``Such illegal acts have led to the wanton destruction of coral reefs and other forms of marine life in the marine areas adjacent to the municipality of Batarraza.’’

Angela Poblador
Jewelmer chief communications officer
Rm. 701 National Life Insurance Bldg.
6762 Ayala Ave., Makati City