Advisory Board orders BATA leaders to be audited on royalty share

By Celeste Anna R. Formoso

PENDING LIQUIDATION of around P10 million from the Berong Nickel Corporation (BNC) representing their 1% royalty share from mining, the leaders of the Berong Aramaywan Tagbanua Association (BATA) in Quezon town was inhibited to further withdraw from their bank accounts by the Advisory Board (AB) that was given an authoritative order to assist and guide them in the management of their fund.

The AB also ordered them to be audited by a team of auditors that will be provided by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP); restrained from spending more funds on new projects until they have completed their Ancestral Domain Sustainable Development and Protection Plan (ADSDPP); and advised to deposit their remaining money to a trust fund.

These recent developments happen following reports of an internal conflict among the leaders and members of the BATA due to complaints of alleged anomalous fund disbursements, illegal withdrawals, formation of their own mining corporation, discrimination against other Tagbanuas and failure to conduct consultation with the members regarding major decisions – grievances that have affected their credibility.

The association was given until July 31 to comply with the conditions. For this period, its leaders were consented to withdraw P100,000 that they can use as revolving fund.

The impositions on the leaders of the Tagbanua association, headed by Victorino Danglong, chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT), were issued on Monday, July 21, during an AB meeting held at the El Nido Function Room of the Legend Hotel.

Vice Governor David A. Ponce de Leon, representing the provincial government; and Helen Saulon, executive director of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), were present in the said meeting as co-chairmen of the AB.

Ponce de Leon started the meeting with an announcement that the BNC is ready to release the royalty share of the BATA for 2008 amounting to around P6 million. He cautioned however, that this will only be made available if the association has already accounted all the expenses it incurred from the 2007 release.

Memorandum of agreement

On imposing the conditions, Ponce de Leon reminded the leaders of the BATA that as per the memorandum of agreement (MOA) they signed, under Article VII-MOA Monitoring and Evaluation Schemes, it is stated that there will be “special and/or regular financial audits of all monies by the NCIP and submission of quarterly reports among others.” These stipulations were even strengthened by a supplemental MOA signed on March 25, 2008.

Since the credibility of the BATA leaders in handling the royalty share for their members is being questioned, the AB believes that the liquidation report they will submit will provide the answer.

“We will be very frank, very straightforward here. What is happening right now is not good and must be resolved,” Ponce de Leon said at the start of the meeting.

He informed Danglong, Efifanio Marcelo, Mike Marcelo, Samuel Pantod, and other BATA members who were also present that if the internal conflict is not resolved, the BNC will be obliged to seek legal means that would determine if the BATA is still credible to receive the royalty share.

In an earlier interview with George Bujtor, the chief executive officer of the BNC, he said that ultimately, their “desire is to fulfill their responsibility stated in the MOA, and hopes that the BATA would do the same through their leaders.”

Without the conflict being resolved, he said the BNC would have difficulty determining who has the right to receive the 2008 royalty share. “I sincerely hope for the BATA to resolve the conflict,” Bujtor said.

The Tagbanua association leaders are expected to liquidate P500,000 released two years ago by the BNC; P2 million turned over on December 13, 2007 and P1.5 million in February this year — equivalent to P4 million.

On February 29, 2008, in a regular meeting of the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD), the BNC again released P11.4 million to the BATA, received by Danglong, to complete P15.4 million or 1% royalty share from mining operations.

As per information from the BATA leaders, the amount of money they have at the Palawan Development Bank (PDB) is P3.6 million and P1.325 million deposited in a trust fund at the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP), or a total of P4.925 million.

The amount to be accounted for totals to P10.475 million, according to Ponce de Leon.

BATA leaders tell the truth

In a meeting of the AB on July 11, Ponce de Leon discussed a letter he has received from Balinsay with the following complaints: “the practice of nepotism, specifically citing the Marcelo family who have five members benefiting from the royalty fund; BATA projects arbitrarily chosen without consultations with the members; approval of the utilization of dwarf coconuts that was never consulted to the IP communities and the deduction of P100 from the share that each family received from the Pamaskong Handog (Christmas Gift) last December.”

These complaints were aside from the BATA leaders forming their own mining corporation and why; anomalous fund disbursements and illegal fund withdrawals.

In the July 21 meeting, Ponce de Leon wasn’t able to hide his disappointment on the fact that the BATA leaders didn’t tell the truth when he and Berong barangay chairman Rodrigo Hablado asked in the July 11 meeting about the Westcoast of Palawan Mining Corporation (WPMC).

During then, Danglong denied the rumor, saying that “if it is true, its existence can’t be hidden from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) where applications are filed.” He said “all were baseless charges.”

Mike, the young Marcelo, who serves as the BATA’s project manager, confirmed Danglong’s reply. He said the rumors may have started when they went to Manila to follow up on their certificate of ancestral domain title (CADT).

But on Monday’s meeting, Danglong, the Marcelos and the other BATA leaders were no longer able to hide the truth. This was because copies of the certificate of incorporation (COI) of the WPMC were distributed to the members of the AB, including representatives of the media who were invited.

Westcoast of Palawan Mining Corporation

The COI from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revealed that the WPMC was incorporated on February 6, 2008. It will be engaging in “large scale mining, quarrying, milling, processing, smelting, producing nickel and all kinds of ores, metals and minerals, as well as the byproducts thereof, to purchase, lease, or otherwise acquire mining rights, mines, building plant, machinery, equipment and other properties necessary for its business.”

With principal office at Caimito Extension Road, Barangay San Jose, the BATA leaders who belong to the mining corporation are Rosino L. Bunan, Sr., Epifanio L. Marcelo (treasurer of the BATA); Sardin A. Gurian, Victorino V. Danglong (chairman of the BATA), Safdul B. Guinto, Sr., Melecio G. Pandeno, Eddie A. Seniaga, Onsino A. Alian, Pompilo D. Damalde, Danilo S. Virtudazo (not Virto Dazo as earlier written in this newspaper), Alexis R. Balayo, Samuel N. Pandod, Durmili S. Ninge, Motaleb M. Kemil and Mike Marcelo (the BATA project manager).

The seven directors of the WPMC are Bunan, Marcelo, Danglong, Damalde, Virtudazo, Balayo and Kemil.

Balayo was apparently elected as treasurer of the mining corporation, and it was in his name that a deposit of P2.5 million was made in trust on November 17,2007 under Saving Account No. 050-109248-070, per a certification issued by the HSBC Saving Bank (Philippines), Inc.-Makati Branch.

The formation of WPMC casted doubt on the credibility of the BATA leaders, who many believe do not have money to put into the corporation. Initially, Hablado had notions that they might have taken out the money from the royalty share.

But Epifanio, the older Marcelo, said they did not pay a single centavo as share to the mining corporation. “Sa katotohanan, wala kaming ibinayad (Honestly, we didn’t pay anything),” Epifanio said.

His son Mike, on the other hand, explained that the mining corporation was set up even before the BATA was formed. But the documents obtained by the AB proved that some of the developments that happened on their application only occurred in the early months of 2008. By this time, the BATA has already been formed.

Provincial NCIP Director Roldan Parangue believes that the Tagbanuas are just being used so local mining speculators can stake tenement mining claims. “There are no more to claim. Every claim has been applied for,” Parangue told them at the AB meeting.

“Why didn’t you tell the truth? The only answer we want was a yes or no,” Ponce de Leon, obviously disappointed, asked the BATA leaders. He said that the fact the BATA leaders lied about the existence of WPMC was reason enough for their members to really doubt them.

Expensive dwarf coconuts

The NCIP and the AB also want an explanation on why the BATA leaders struck an agreement with Virtudazo for the supply of 49,300 dwarf coconut seedlings with a total price of about P3.2 million. Each costs P65.

Ponce de Leon said the municipality of Quezon, under the leadership of Mayor Ronilo Caputilla, has a coconut project that sells them cheap and that the Philippine Coconut Authority is, in fact, giving them for free.

Mike said they didn’t know that the municipality has this project, and that their mistake was failing to inquire where they can get cheap coconut seedlings.

Virtudazo, who reportedly owns the Tree of Life farm in Barangay San Jose, will be delivering the seedlings from Zamboanga.

Ponce de Leon said the PCA currently bans coconut from other provinces to be brought to Palawan without passing quarantine and through them.

In Balinsay’s complaint, he said not all Tagbanuas are amenable to the project because some of them are already old and can no longer handle a coconut tree farm.

Ponoy said this is true, and that not all of them own lands where the coconut seedlings can be planted. Apparently, this is the reason why the project was in the first place, never consulted with the rest of the BATA members.

The AB required the BATA leaders to show a copy of the agreement with Virtudazo to determine if it can still be voided. This is despite the admission from the BATA leaders that they’ve already paid in advance even if the coconut seedlings have not been delivered yet.

Ponce de Leon said the NCIP has a legal counsel that can help them cancel the agreement and coordinate with the PCA or the municipality of Quezon regarding the coconut seedlings they require.

As of press time, Epifanio has already resigned as treasurer to avoid further criticisms that his family has no “delicadeza” engaging in nepotism. In the Marcelo family, Mike serves as project manager, his sister Lea the assistant secretary and another sister is apparently a scholar of the BATA.

Danglong, on the other hand, explained that although he is the chairman of the BATA Board of Trustees, his decision is not his to command. He said he is always outvoted on major decisions.

Ponce de Leon and Saulon said that as long as the BATA leaders have not liquidated funds from the royalty share that were already spent, their members will always doubt their honesty and integrity.(PalawanTimes)

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