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Racing Towards the Precipice

Kim’ s Dream Orlan Ravanera

Emergency Measures Must Be Mounted: Stop Commercializing X.U.

As Earth Day (April 22) fast approaches, let us reflect on the state of the global and local environment, and how it relates to the anxiety of the Concerned Parents, Teachers, Alumni and Communities (COPTAC) over the Campus for the Future planned by Xavier University and the Cebu Landmasters Inc. (CLI).

The report from last year’s Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland attended by some 200 World leaders and by thousands of concerned scientists and environmentalists mentions that “human civilization is now racing towards the precipice, as the doomsday clock is now set at one minute before midnight.” Further, it states, “Since the United Nations Paris conference in late 2015, climate change indicators have escalated so quickly and an emergency response is imperative if civilization is to avoid breakdown and eventual collapse.”

But, as described by environmentalists, the COP26 was just all talk with no action. For example, to mitigate climate change, it has become imperative to make obsolete the use of coal, and replace fossil fuel with clean energy. However, the world leaders in attendance have made no firm commitment. It is extremely difficult to defunct the use of fossil fuel when trillions of dollars are still being made from its production and distribution, with companies amassing huge profits.

While a world conference report seems distant from our day-to-day concerns, a similar attitude of inaction and neglect of the environment has local consequences. Sendong, the devastating flood in December 17, 2011 that tragically killed some 3,000 people and rendered 10,000 families homeless in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, was a disastrous culmination of years of exploitation of our forests and its ecosystem, which has made our area vulnerable to ecological disasters. Sendong was brought about by the exploitations of our two ecological wealth: the logging of our forests, our wealth-above-the- ground, and the mining of our wealth-below-the-ground.

Let us take a look at the state of our forest ecosystem. In the uplands and hinterlands of Cagayan de Oro, Misamis Oriental, Bukidnon and Lanao provinces, some two hundred thousand hectares of once-upon-a-time dipterocarp forest are now gone and are totally denuded. Logging in this area was done intensively from the 1950s to the 1990s by seven companies, namely, Vicmar Corporation, Valderama & Sons, Roa & Sons, TIPI, Remedios Fortich and Dacudao Logging Company, and other small though well-armed loggers. Much of the logging activities, were done in the prohibited zones; that is, in forest areas with an altitude of more than 1,000 meters above sea level or in areas with gradient of more then 50%. Trees were logged in the forest ranges of Mt. Kalatungan and Mt. Kitanglad, which were all within the prohibited zones. Likewise, logging of the finest of trees, such as red lauan, almacega, mahogany, and narra, was prohibited by forestal laws, yet, they are all gone now.

While it might seem that the logging companies were the sole culprits, in reality, many more outside of those companies were complicit in denuding our forests. These loggers, earning some 360 million pesos for every shipment, dropped money into pockets of law enforcers who turned a blind eye to the violation of forestal laws. I know this for a fact as a logger bragged that he could not be stopped because 90% of those in DENR were under his pay roll. The ten-wheeler logging trucks passed in the thoroughfares of Cagayan de Oro from midnight to 5am when the Cagay-anons were asleep. Each passing logging truck, accompanied by an armed man carrying either Armalite or AK-47, was giving P5,000 at each checkpoint.

After exploiting the wealth-above-the-ground, the non-stop exploitation of our ecosystems continues. This time, the target is the wealth-below-the-ground: the 72 top quality minerals, including gold, silver, copper, and iron. The wealth below the ground is extracted through open-pit and hydraulic mining. Tens of hectares of irrigated rice land had been sacrificed to mining. Some of those miners were well armed Chinese on tourist visa, arrested for illegal mining but were released one week later. Could it be that powerful people may have helped them escape the law?

Sadly, much of the consequences of the exploited resources are borne by the Lumads, the poorest of the poor. Our fisherfolk are now living in so much hunger and poverty as thousand tons of top soil have destroyed the mangroves and coral reefs, the spawning ground of fish, with only 5% remaining in excellent condition.

The exploitation of our ecological systems happened because we were not vigilant enough, and may have even been complicit in their destruction.

Cagayan de Oro and the surrounding area have not recovered from damage to its ecosystem. It is still under strain and another Sendong is a constant threat. If one such flood happens again, it could mean that about 20,000 will die as predicted by environmental experts. Based on their analysis, one-inch-high rainfall in the 200 thousand hectares of denuded areas in the uplands of Cagayan de Oro means one-meter-high flood upon reaching the 200-hectare urban center of the city. Ten-inch rainfall means ten-meter-high flood. Pati daw Gaisano, di na iyan makita.

The 14-hectare wooded agricultural space in Manresa serves as a much needed “shield.” But the plan of the Cebu Landmasters, Inc. to put-up malls and condominiums will destroy Manresa’s mini-forest. Mitigating measures like drainage and canal may be considered but they are inadequate when viewed in a bigger context of the state of the forest ecosystem in the uplands of Cagayan de Oro. More countervailing measures need to be considered. One such measure could be massive replanting, especially of giant bamboo, a great carbon-sink and great water-holder, in the denuded areas, which we, together with the Cooperatives of the Lumads, are now doing.

CLI and Xavier University, please heed the call of the concerned scientists and environmentalists. The commercialism being considered in your Campus for the Future would further damage our environment, as some 40 species of birds will be extinct with the destruction of the Manresa forest, their natural habitat. Environmentalists declare that to continue with business-as-usual is to knowingly, and therefore deliberately, commit a crime against humanity and of all life.

What is important is how to be men and women for others, to serve the least of our brethren, in consonance with the Jesuit pioneers’ vision, from the mundane to the sublime. Let us be vigilant and protect our environment. Xavier could take a lead in asking all levels of our government to mount emergency response against climate change. This could be done, especially with the help of enlightened residents of Balulang.


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