Palawan is a long narrow island claimed to be the last frontier due to its remaining forest diversity with abundant different endemic species of flora and fauna in which some of these are still not known to science as of the moment. It has the country’s largest remaining area of tropical forests, consisting of lowland & montane rainforests, monsoon forests and mangroves. The island has been celebrated for its biological diversity and is dubbed as the Philippines’ “Last Ecological Frontier”. Hence, UNESCO has declared Palawan as a whole, a “Man and Biosphere Reserve”. In 1991, the Philippine Congress recognized Palawan’s environment as very critical and, therefore, passed a special law known as the Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) for Palawan, which became the fundamental law governing the island’s natural resources and its framework for development direction. These mountains profiles is remarkable in terms of abundance and diversity, most were used by tribal healers as medical ingredients for curing illness in the village. These mountains are very significant to the indigenous people because it is their market because they get food from the forest, it is their pharmacy when someone gets ill in the village and it is also their hardware because they get housing materials. Owners of these mountains are indigenous people who are now actively participating in government wide endeavors of protecting the environment and save the remaining forest residue.
The forests and mountains are the home of three indigenous groups: the Tagbanua, Batak and Pala’wan and they are spread all over the province. The Tagbanuas were historically coastal and riverine dwellers but have retreated to the inland as a reaction to the successive waves of migration by other settlers but have been the most widely distributed indigenous group in the island. The Batak are forest-foraging people inhabiting communities in the central eastern part of island. The Palaw’an communities, concentrated in the central and southern part, have favored the mountainous interior over the fertile alluvial plains in order to protect the respected spirits of their areas. These three tribes depend on their customary land and its forest resources as the main source of subsistence and livelihood such as swidden farming, hunting and gathering of non-timber forest products such as rattan, honey and almaciga resin. Embedded in the very life of these lands is the extension of their cultural identity and integrity which have been nurtured and enriched throughout generations. Moreover, most of these forest are ancestral domains within biodiversity hotspots of Palawan.
However, it is a general condition among tribal groups in the Philippines, where an increasing number have been displaced from their ancestral domains due mainly to intrusion of plantation expansion and extractive industries. During the past few years, these threats to the forest-dependent communities have dramatically gained in strength. Thus, while it is true that the island of Palawan is blessed with luxuriant forest and its inhabitants pride themselves – until today – living in a relatively unspoiled and healthy environment, the same island is also cursed with an abundance of minerals under its soil. As a consequence, Palawan has truly become a mining hotspot. Oddly enough, those minerals are mostly found beneath forested tribal areas. Collectively, around 651,533 hectares of forested area or nearly half of the entire island is under the imminent threat of being plundered by a total of 322 mining applications. Meanwhile, it may not come as a surprise that also plantation interests such as oil palm and sugarcane are vying for expansion in tribal areas, as that is where most of the remaining intact forests are located and due to the fact that the current fad for “green” biodiesel fuels up the demand for palm oil and ethanol.
These are the sentiments of the indigenous people of Palawan, although these people want to save the remaining forest diversity but the government is tolerating the destruction of these forest despite of the existence of Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) and the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development.