Supreme Court Stands with Indigenous Communities in Palawan: Mining Companies in Mt. Mantalingahan Face Accountability for Environmental Protection

Supreme Court Mt. Mantalingahan
‌A new Supreme Court Order is protecting biodiversity-rich Mt. Mantalingahan against mining, a win for indigenous groups. Narra Tourism Office photo credit to Sherwin Corpuz via PNA.

‌In a win for the environment and for indigenous peoples, mining companies in Mt. Mantalingahan, Palawan are being held accountable by the Supreme Court for potential environmental degradation.

Through a newly-issued Writ of Kalikasan, the Supreme Court (SC) stated that Ipilan Nickel Corporation (INC) and Celestial Nickel Mining and Exploration Corporation (Celestial Mining) potentially committed “serious and irreversible harm on the environment and the inhabitants of Brooke’s Point located in the Mt. Mantalingahan mountain range”.

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The writ was granted on August 15, 2023, in favor of the indigenous cultural communities (ICC) in the Barong-Barong, Ipilan, Calasaguen, Aribungos, Mambalot, Maasin (BICAMM) Ancestral Domain of Brooke’s Point, Palawan. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) are also implicated in the writ as the SC noted that their “inaction over the strong pleas of the residents of Brooke’s Point shows their indifference to the rights of the ICCs to a balanced and healthful ecology”.

INC, Celestial Mining, DENR, and MGB are required by law to respond to the writ within a 10-day period and submit proof that no environmental damage was committed on their end.

A Writ of Kalikasan is a special remedy available to individuals or groups whose constitutional right to a livable environment is endangered by public officials or private citizens/entities. According to the official rules of procedure for environmental cases, these involve “environmental damage of such magnitude as to prejudice the life, health or property of inhabitants in two or more cities or provinces”.


Indigenous groups have lived in the Mt. Mantalingahan mountain range for numerous generations. The area is crucial to their livelihoods, as its forests provide a total of USD 5.5 billion in ecosystem services.

The mountain range is an important aspect of the Philippine environment because of its deep biodiversity; the area is home to endangered birds, newly-discovered species of plants, and rare bats. In fact, several of the flora and fauna found in the Mt. Mantalingahan area are exclusive to the site.

The Philippine government previously endowed Celestial Mining with the exclusive rights to mine 2,835 hectares of land in Brooke’s Point, Palawan. This was done under the banner of the 1993 Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA), which set INC as the site’s official mining operator. However, native communities have contested that these mining lands encroach on the Mt. Mantalingahan mountain range, an indigenous ancestral domain under the National Integrated Protected Areas System.

By 2018, the MPSA had expired; INC and Celestial Mining’s Environmental Compliance Certificate similarly lapsed in 2015. INC notably applied for a Certificate Precondition from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples to renew the MPSA in 2018 but was rejected. Despite the cessation of the agreement, the indigenous communities claim that the companies persisted with their mining and logging projects in Mt. Mantalingahan, causing massive deforestation.

In the absence of an official renewal, former DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu breathed life into the MPSA in 2020 when he extended the agreement until 2025. In the department order, he cited the amendment of the law in 2000 as the basis for this new effectivity date.‌

When DENR found that INC had failed to secure a Miscellaneous Lease Agreement for its port construction in Barangay Maasin, it issued a cease-and-desist order to the company in 2022; this was the impetus for Sangguniang Bayan of Brooke’s Point to later “request the MGB to investigate the mining areas claimed by INC and recall issued permits pending investigation”, the Supreme Court Public Information Office (SCPIO) narrated in its official press release. “However, no action was taken by the MGB on the request,” SCPIO continued.‌

As a result, the Sangguniang Bayan published two resolutions against INC’s activities: one addressed to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and another to the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development. The former, which was coursed through the current DENR Secretary, requested that the executive conduct an inquiry on INC’s activities lacking proper government authorization. Specifically, it pointed out how INC did not have the Protected Area Management Boards’ approval and the Certificate of Precondition from NCIP; it also condemned the continuation of the MPSA without the backing of Brooke’s Point’s local government units.

Similarly, the latter resolution asked the Palawan Council to dismiss INC’s Strategic Environmental Plan Clearance System due to the company’s actions that “adversely affect the life and health of Brooke’s Point’s residents”. The Sangguniang Bayan brought up grievances related to illegal tree-cutting, the lack of participatory dialogue on the project, and mineral excavation, among others.

In the months leading up to the Supreme Court victory, the NCIP issued a directive on June 20, 2023, to suspend and defer the “free and prior informed consent process of INC and Celestial Mining due to complaints from the ICCs and reports of bribery by INC to elicit support from IPs”, recounted SCPIO.


With these factors in mind, the indigenous cultural communities of Brooke’s Point filed for a Writ of Kalikasan due to the following violations:

  • MPSA contract area overlaps a protected area not open to mining operations;
  • MPSA was illegally extended to 2025;
  • INC and Celestial Mining are guilty of illegal cutting of trees without a permit and even with the expiration of its ECC;
  • INC and Celestial Mining engaged in illegal mining operations without Certificate Precondition from NCIP; and
  • Environmental destruction was caused by the inaction and omission of the DENR and the mining activities of INC and Celestial Mining.

In its official resolution, the SC found that:‌

  • “The mining operations by INC and Celestial Mining may cause irreparable environmental damage to the Mt. Mantalingahan protected area and the ICCs’ ancestral domain;
  • The mining operations of INC and Celestial Mining, as exacerbated by the lack of action by the DENR and MGB, place the residents of Brooke’s Point in peril; and
  • The Mt. Mantalingahan Mountain range covers several municipalities of Batarza, Brooke’s Point, Sofronio Española, Quezon, and Rizal, and the continued mining operations and excavation of nickel minerals lead to environmental damage in the said mountain ranges, as exhibited by extreme flooding and contamination of fishing areas, which continually prejudice the life, health, and property of the residents.”

‌The SC added that the 2021 case of PTK2 H20 Corp. v. Court of Appeals ruled that project managers must present evidence that their plans will not harm the environment.‌

The victorious indigenous communities of BICAMM celebrated the writ. “The law is strongly on our side, and that these mining companies and the DENR would finally accede to these authorities and to what the law says,” it said in an official statement.

Efforts to maintain Palawan’s biodiversity include returning animals rescued from poachers.

The Supreme Court of the Philippines has also been hailed for issuing the Writ of Kalikasan and the Writ of Continuing Mandamus to compel the government to implement the Solid Waste Management Act to curb plastic pollution.

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Summer is a political science student with a twin passion for journalism. Her hobbies include watching geography documentaries, searching the metro for plant-based food, and free-falling through Wikipedia rabbit holes. Her works have previously been featured in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.