Agrofuels in Palawan, as elsewhere in the Philippines, have been portrayed as a key solution to lower greenhouse gas emission, achieve energy independence, as well as a tool for poverty eradication. With these objects in mind, the Provincial Government of Palawan is strongly promoting agrofuels development, without taking into account the socio-ecological impact of such mono-crop plantations. As a result, thousands of hectares of lands in the province have been set aside for jatropha feedstock and oil palm. ALDAW in collaboration with other local organizations and Palawan NGOs is in the process of making a call for the implementation of more restrictive regulations on oil palm expansion to halt deforestation, habitat destruction, food scarcity, and violation of indigenous peoples’ rights. The municipality of Española has the highest percentage of oil palms, and plantations are now expanding at an alarming rate also to other municipalities such as Brooke’s Point, Bataraza, Rizal, Quezon, etc. In some municipalities, oil palms are already competing and taking over cultivated areas (e.g. rice fields) which are sustaining local self-sufficiency.
In the community of Iraray II (Municipality of Española) indigenous people complain that a ‘new’ pest has spread from the neighboring oil palm plantations to their cultivated fields devouring hundreds of coconut palms by boring large networks of tiny tunnels into the palms’ trunks. Local indigenous people showed specimens of this pest to ALDAW mission members, and the insect was later identified as the Red Palm Weevil (Rhynchophorus ferrugineus Oliv.). The red weevil is reported to be a native of south Asia, however, the Palawan of Iraray II claims that they only began to experience massive pest attacks on their coconut groves, after oil palms were introduced into the area.
ALDAW/CBCD preliminary mission findings indicate there is a scarcity of public records showing the processes and procedures leading to the issuance of land conversion permits and environmental clearances to oil palm companies, as well as to the local cooperatives created in the various barangays.
On the contrary, evidence indicates that – in most cases - members of indigenous communities, who have ‘rented’ portions of their land to the oil company, have no clear understanding of the nature of such ‘agreements’ nor they possess written contracts countersigned by the company. There is a risk that members of local communities who have joined the so-called ‘cooperatives’ will soon become indebted with the oil company. In fact they provide very cheap labor and also barrow funds to purchase fertilizer, pesticides and equipment, while the company control every aspect of production.
Overall, it would appear that land conversion into oil palm plantations is happening with little or no monitoring on the part of those government agencies (e.g. Palawan Council for Sustainable Development) that are responsible for the sustainable management of the Province.
In order to assist communities to make informed decisions on the emerging impact of oil palm plantations, a set of videos on the consequences of oil palm in Malaysia was shown by ALDAW to Palawan indigenous communities and new audio-visual testimonials are being acquired. These videos are resulting in a cumulative and progressive summary of local voices, and are being presently utilized by both local communities and Palawan indigenous organizations for their anti-oil palms advocacy struggle.