NCIP TRO on P10-B Palawan project drives investor away

Delon Porcalla (The Philippine Star) - April 7, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - An affiliate company of the Manila Ocean Park at Rizal Park has backed out from its plan to put up a P10-billion resort hotel in Coron, Palawan after the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) issued a temporary restraining order when construction had already started.

“This action of NCIP is detrimental to tourism development,” Lim Chee Yong, one of the directors of Correos Internacionale Inc. lamented, adding “many prospective investors have backed out because of the problem with the NCIP.”

NCIP is an agency under the Office of the President.

In a separate but related case, where businessman Orlando Sacay accused the NCIP of what he termed as “legalized extortion,” NCIP regional director Roberto Almonte denied such allegations.

“NCIP denies any abuses on foreign investors,” he said.

“The commission is committed to carry out its mandate as the primary government agency responsible for the formulation and implementation of policies, plans, programs to promote and protect the rights and well-being of the IPs (indigenous peoples),” the NCIP official said.

“The commission does nothing but to uphold the rights of the IPs as enshrined in the 1987 constitution and Republic Act 8371 or the IPRA (Indigenous Peoples Rights Act) law,” Almonte stressed. 

Lim and Sacay said such NCIP machinations have turned much-needed foreign investors away, amid government’s renewed efforts to promote tourism – moves they feared not even Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez knows about.

Lim recounted that NCIP wanted them sometime in 2012 to forge a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the IPs “so that they will not object to your development” even if Correos already bought the 50-hectare land from the locals and complied with all the needed requirements.

“When we brought all the equipment and we started to move for the construction of the hotel, that was when they started to come,” Lim told The STAR, adding that they had to stop to “cut losses” already amounting to some P60 million.

“They filed two cases against us, one from the NCIP and the other was from DENR,” he related, as he also revealed that government lawyers have repeatedly failed to show up every time a hearing was set for the cases before the Palawan courts.

“These are all mafia. So I refused to negotiate,” Lim added. “We’re losing the foreign investment. They really missed one big opportunity,” he said, owing to the fact that it was supposed to be a 2,000-room hotel in Coron.

“They file a case and they don’t appear. So you’re stuck,” he said. The indigenous peoples purportedly claimed that the land being developed by Correos is ancestral land and that the hotel project has encroached on their land.

“They demanded payment of P2 million in actual damages, P5 million in exemplary damages and P5 million more moral damages. The TRO issued by NCIP is based on this claim,” Lim disclosed.

For his part, Sacay revealed that sometime in 2013, locals (Tagbanuas) were demanding P10 million for the issuance of the requisite free and prior informed consent (FPIC) – which is essentially a permit (lease rental) for a local investor to develop his property.

This, despite the fact that the IPs have not obtained yet a certificate of ancestral domain title (CADT), where their claims are sufficiently and clearly established. Once this is issued, then there will be no more question that the property is indeed theirs.

“They are a republic by themselves,” Sacay - who helped develop Boracay to what it is now but who later transferred his investments to Coron in Palawan – said, noting that NCIP has been using uneducated indigenous peoples for alleged extortion.

“I bought my property from the Tagbanuas for millions,” he pointed out, noting that what really perplexed him was that they wanted a “direct payment” in front of an NCIP official when he was willing to deposit the funds to their cooperative.


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