Abuse of Power

JP Enrile Commentary

Juan Ponce Enrile

I was utterly upset  when I learned what the Chief of Staff of Chairman Allan Capuyan of the National Commission for Indigenous People (NCIP) did to a lady lawyer who, upon my advice, brought to Malacañang the plight and grievance of a foreign investor who was a victim of unusual red tapes,  delays, and machinations by the NCIP. It seems that when the NCIP learned that the lady lawyer succeeded in bringing the ordeal of her client to the attention of the Palace, the NCIP officials reacted angrily. So angry were they that the Chief of Staff of Chairman Allan Capuyan rudely and blatantly berated the lady lawyer through a phone call.

Evidently, what the Chief of Staff of Chairman Capuyan did was a clear and grave disservice to the Palace, to the Governor and people of Palawan, and to the prestige, honor, economic well-being, and progress of the country. It was a crude abuse of power by little people in government.

What made the NCIP officials so angry?  Were they hiding something so badly that they did not want the Palace to know?

Are they such exceptional and untouchable part of the bureaucracy that they do not want even to be controlled or supervised by Malacañang?

What gave them the license to disdainfully scold a member of Bar and the general public?

Are they not earning their keep and high salaries from tax money from the people, like the lady lawyer, that they scornfully mistreated?

Are they that powerful as a government agency to be not in accord with the vaunted policy of the current regime to alleviate the economic hardship of down-trodden people of the country, like those in Palawan?

To be candid about it, I am truly puzzled and pissed off by the furious, ugly, and arrogant behavior of the NCIP officials. I had been in government service myself for over half a century, and, during all that time, I had never heard nor encountered any such haughty behavior of government officials.

It appears that in 2015 the Palawan Provincial Government and the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) invited a foreign investor – a well-known company using modern farming methods and fast-growing and high-yielding variety of coconut seedlings – to develop a coconut plantation in Palawan.  The foreign investor accepted the invitation and agreed to invest in the country.

The site of the investment was an ancestral land of a tribal community in the town of Rizal in Palawan province. Because of that, the foreign investor sought the assistance and approval of the NCIP. And the NCIP required the foreign investor to secure the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of the members of the concerned tribal community where the investment would be done. The foreign investor dutifully complied with the required FPIC, which was accomplished under the strict supervision and guidance of the NCIP.

In 2016, the FPIC process was completed, and a report was made recommending the award of a Certificate Precondition (CP) to the foreign investor. This was required by the rules of NICP. And so, on May 20, 2016, after a Memorandum of Agreement was signed among NCIP, the concerned tribal community and the foreign investor, the NCIP awarded a CP to the foreign investor.

The foreign investor began the implementation of the coconut plantation covering 3,500 hectares of land. It initially recruited and employed 1,200 employees and started paying the rental for the leased ancestral land to the concerned tribal community.

In 2017, the Board of Investments (BOI) certified the foreign investor as a BOI-registered company and a BOI registration certificate was issued to it.

Then suddenly, without any notice to anyone, the NCIP arbitrarily suspended the CP of the foreign investor. The suspension was contained in a Resolution No. 7-01-2017 dated January 10, 2017. But, surprisingly the resolution was only sent to and received by the foreign investor on May 23, 2017. It took the NCIP more than four months to provide the foreign investor with the adverse resolution. Thus, the ordeal of the foreign investor began. The foreign investor filed a motion for reconsideration with the NCIP on June 1, 2017.

Meanwhile, the concerned tribal community and the foreign investor sought the assistance of the Presidential Management Staff (PMS) through the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Regional Concerns (OASRC) in the region where Palawan belonged.

The OASRC investigated the case. In June 2017, the OASRC wrote a letter to Leonor Oralde-Quintayo, then Chairperson of the NCIP, that the foreign investor was good for the concerned tribal community. The OASRC stated in its letter that the foreign investor would alleviate the poverty in Ransang, Candawaga and Culasian – three barangays in the town of Rizal, province of Palawan. It recommended that the suspension of the CP of the foreign investor be resolved right away so that the interest of the concerned tribal community would not be jeopardized. But the recommendation of the OASRC was not heeded.

The foreign investor tried and explored every effort to reach out to and placate the NCIP. But all its efforts turned out to be in vain. The NCIP was adamant, unyielding, and insensitive like the rock of Gibraltar.

In 2018, after suffering so many losses, the foreign investor decided to stop its operation and development activities. However, it continued to pay the salaries of its employees and to provide them with educational, health, and livelihood assistance. It also continued to faithfully pay the rentals for the leased land to the concerned tribal community.

Then suddenly, on October 26, 2018, the poor foreign investor finally received a resolution of its motion for reconsideration, after waiting for more than 16 months, only to be told that its CP stayed suspended.

Hence, the harassed foreign investor was impelled to elevate its case to the Court of Appeals for review on November 6, 2018.

After that, the foreign investor together with the Danish Ambassador to the Philippines, met a certain Director Ed Bantayan to find a faster way to resolve the problem with the NCIP. This effort too ended in failure.

In 2019, despite its repeated setbacks, the foreign investor continued to pay the salaries of its 1,200 workers and to pay the rental on the leased land of the concerned tribal community.

Then a new chairman, Allan Capuyan, was appointed for the NCIP, in lieu of the former Leonor Oralde-Quintayo, who was removed for alleged corruption.

This gave a new a ray of hope for the desperate foreign investor who immediately approached the new NCIP chairman for help. As a result of this new approach, a Field Based Investigation was ordered to be conducted. The Field Based Investigation report recommended that a Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) be conducted once more among the members of the concerned tribal community.

The hapless foreign investor agreed and provided the money needed for the repeat FPIC process. But as time went by, nothing happened in the repeat FPIC process.

So, in January 2020, the helpless foreign investor went to the exalted office of Chairman Allan Capuyan to ask his help to end the delay in the restoration of its suspended CP. To appease the NCIP, the no-choice foreign investor agreed to withdraw its petition for review from the Court of Appeals.

On July 6, 2020, the regional office of the NCIP where Palawan belonged recommended that the CP of the foreign investor be restored.

Thereafter, the foreign investor was invited to participate via zoom in two en banc meetings of the NCIP.  The first was held on July 7, 2020 and the second was held on August 1, 2020.

These two meetings produced nothing for the unfortunate foreign investor. Instead the NCIP disregarded the result of the FPIC process in 2019 that it ordered to be conducted. Moreover, and worse, the NCIP ordered the already battered foreign investor to show cause for this and that reason.

Finally, on August 6, 2020, the NCIP changed its mind and required a validation of the FPIC process in 2019. The foreign investor was again asked to provide the money for that purpose.

The NCIP also wanted a “delineation” of the area for the coconut plantation and for the foreign investor to provide the money for it, which was unnecessary because the Department of Natural Resources had already done it previously, the area being a forest land within the official jurisdiction of DENR.

This is the deplorable saga of a well-meaning foreign investor who courageously wanted to help the country.

The question is: How can we attract foreign investments to come to the country if this is the way we treat foreign investors? Why should we allow little Indians like those in NCIP to damage the honor and prestige of the country and her people?

If this is the way things are below the level of the President, what future can we expect to create for the poor people not only in Palawan but in the entire county?

Why did you, Chief of Staff of NCIP Chairman Allan Capuyan, get so riled when the problem of the unlucky foreign investor reached the ears and eyes of Malacañang? What really bothered you? Please answer. I rest my case!. JPE

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