From Mosquito Nets to Livelihood and Education, This is How One Corporation Leaves Its Mark on Palawan
When a large multinational corporation descends upon a community and puts their name on a few socially responsible projects, it’s easy to cast a cynical eye and say they’re just doing it for the PR. They are, to be honest, but they’re also taking into account the benefits that come from being a good corporate citizen. Protecting the environment, advocating for people’s rights, or engaging in philanthropy are practices that will make them become a better company, both inside and out.
Pilipinas Shell Foundation, Inc, has been involved in Palawan, ever since the Malampaya Deepwater Gas-to-Power Project was launched at the turn of the millennium. Located 80 km off the northwest coast of Palawan, Malampaya is an operation jointly run by Shell, Chevron and the Philippine National Oil Company. The Malampaya Platform, an island made of steel, collects natural gas from deep in the ocean floor and sends it through a 500-km long undersea pipeline to a plant in Batangas, which supplies three stations that power half of Luzon. Natural gas is said to be a cleaner form of energy, releasing 50 percent less carbon dioxide than coal and 30 percent less than crude oil.
According to the Carbon Majors Report, Shell is one of the top 100 corporations responsible for 71 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change. But until renewable energy becomes more accessible, much of the world is still unfortunately dependent on fossil fuel.
Until renewable energy becomes more accessible, much of the world is still unfortunately dependent on fossil fuel.
Marivi Rebueno-Trudeau, program manager of PSFI, acknowledges the company’s huge carbon footprint. “To be seen as a responsible corporation, we look for strategic ways to sequester carbon and input more in environmental conservation, while providing opportunities for enterprise development,” she says. True enough, PSFI has been a partner in wide-ranging projects that have a profound social impact on Palaweños, starting in 1999 with the malaria scourge. By 2017, malaria had been eradicated from all but the southernmost barangays, using a combination of interventions, of which the mosquito net was the most effective.
In recent years, PSFI has been partnering with local government units and civil society organizations in Palawan to help improve the lives of target communities under ISIP (Integrated Support for Indigenous People), and to develop community-based sustainable tourism under TANDIKAN (Turismo at Negosyo Dulot ng Ingat Kalikasan).
Indigenous people live on some of the most remote areas of Palawan, where Shell’s assets are located. These off-grid communities, found on hard-to-reach mountainous terrain, are unlikely to be hooked up to a main source of power in the next ten years. The socially responsible thing for Shell to do, as an energy company, is to provide them access to renewable energy. The foundation built several micro-grids run by solar, hydro, and wind power, bringing light to nine communities and electrifying some 700 homes.
The Batak tribe, known for their intricately designed baskets, is one of the IP beneficiaries of PFSI’s programs. Erlinda Delos Angeles, a basket weaver and president of the Tatak Batak Association, describes how the women weavers in Sitio Kalakwasan, where 200 members of their dwindling tribe reside, were able to produce more baskets by working at night once they had electricity. The iconic Batak baskets, woven with black strips which are made by burning the bamboo, have made their way to chic El Nido resorts as contemporary furniture and decor. ISIP’s livelihood training programs also helped Ernesto Dagsalio, a farmer, who started making bamboo straws and now supplies several establishments in Puerto Princesa City. In Palawan, the plastic ban is in serious effect, and bamboo straws are by far the more sustainable option over metal ones.
Off-grid communities, found on hard-to-reach mountainous terrain, are unlikely to be hooked up to a main source of power in the next ten years...The foundation built several micro-grids run by solar, hydro, and wind power.
In Bgy. Tagabinet, locals used to earn a living collecting birds’ nests from the nearby cliffs, a process that would damage their sensitive limestone ecosystems. TANDIKAN intervened and presented alternative livelihood solutions, preserving the caves as a tourist spot and creating additional opportunities like organic farming, soap making, and T-shirt printing to supplement the seasonal guiding business. Adventurers can now go spelunking in the Hundred Caves, a site about halfway to the underground river from Puerto Princesa proper. A vigorous hike to the entrance will get you warmed up for a trek through the cavern’s many dark chambers. Head tour guide Bong Yatco will regale you with fun facts about stalactite and stalactite formations while leading you safely through tight passageways, over creaky bridges and down makeshift ladders, all the while dodging bats.
The city’s most popular attraction is still the Subterranean River, which in 2012 was voted as one of the World’s New Seven Wonders of Nature, after a massive text-in campaign, of course. Lesser known is the adjacent 3.5 km-long Jungle Trek which leads to the Mangrove Paddle Boat Tour, an eco-tourism site managed by members of the Tagbanua tribe from Bgy. Sabang with the support of TANDIKAN. The tour takes visitors on a serene 45-minute ride down riverbanks gnarled with the sprawling roots of some very old trees. You’ll learn that mangrove forests provide a natural defense against the erosion and flooding that follow when typhoons hit.
It wasn’t an easy sell, convincing the locals to give up charcoal selling, but the income generated from the paddleboat tour alone has been able to support at least 30 household members.
Before they became tour operators, the Tagbanua had a hand in the destruction of the forest, as they would use wood to make charcoal. Once they were educated on the importance of mangrove roots as a nursery for the fish that would eventually swim out to sea, they began to reconsider their resources. It wasn’t an easy sell, convincing the locals to give up charcoal selling, but the income generated from the paddle boat tour alone, which is steadily becoming a popular side activity to the underground river, has been able to support at least 30 household members. In addition to new skills learned, the formerly shy Tagbanua say they can now proudly share their knowledge with foreigners, pointing out the hidden wildlife, like monitor lizards, snakes, monkeys, crabs, and the tamilok, the famous woodworm delicacy found in rotting mangrove trunks.
Palawan consistently ranks as a top beach destination around the world, with its majestic cliffs, mysterious caves, and hidden lagoons. The island is a true paradise and playground for travelers, but it’s also the ancestral land of a great number of indigenous people. As more resources are diverted to the tourism sector, the IPs should necessarily have a stake in the island’s growth. Knowing how particular sites, projects, and programs support these communities and promote sustainability will hopefully change the way you travel, and it might also change the way you think about CSR.