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HomeOpinionStop Environmental Destruction, Not Just Providing Assistance          

Stop Environmental Destruction, Not Just Providing Assistance          

Kim’s Dream Orlan Ravanera

Why Is Mindanao Worst Hit by Environmental Catastrophe?

As has been said, even with a strong army, a country that has no ecological security is not secured at all. Well, such is res Ipsa loquitor (the thing speaks for itself) in our country which according to the United Nations-Food & Agricultural Organization (UN-FAO) is the 4th hardest hit country in the world by climate change as hundreds of thousands have already died in the last five decades due to environmental catastrophe. 

Recently, Mindanao has been hit by massive floodings and landslides as what has happened in the regions of Davao and Caraga where million have been rendered homeless and hundreds are victims of landslides. No less than His Excellency, PRESBBM, has personally visited the affected areas, helping the victims. We firmly salute PreBBM and the DSWD Secretary, Rex Gatchalian for feeling the pains of the victims. Providing the much-needed assistance is very much laudable but the catastrophe will continue without let-up unless the root causes of environmental degradation will be stopped which is massive illegal logging, illegal mining, the non-stop expansion of massive plantations using heavily toxic chemicals and the devastation caused by six coal-fired power plants.

According to social scientists and environmentalists, to be free from ecological disasters, the Philippine Archipelago of some 7,000 islands must have at least 54% forest cover. But in the last century, our 17-million-hectare dipterocarp forest has been logged without let-up as our country has supplied the timber needs of the world as only 5% of our forest cover remains. Our forests are our invisible “water-dams,” and as our forests gone, 15 of the 25 major rivers in the country are either polluted or dried-up; of the 13 major bays, 10 are already biologically dead, to the detriment of our fishing communities who are now living in hunger and extreme poverty. After losing our forests worsened by the non-stop illegal mining done by Chinese nationals and Koreans using heavy equipment such as Bulldozers and Buck-hoes, our country particularly Mindanao reels-off in survival mode, facing great dangers ahead, experiencing the brunt of ecological disasters, power and water-shortages and the threat of hunger as our agricultural lands are now converted into massive plantations to satisfy the insatiable appetite of the consumerist and materialistic lifestyle in the Northern Advanced Countries. 

This is especially true in the beautiful but broken island of Mindanao where 70% of the agricultural lands (the choicest) are under the control of trans-national corporations and of a few oligarchs, converting these lands into massive plantations, not for us but to feed the consumerist lifestyle of the people in rich countries. There is now this hidden move to amend our Constitution under the guise of PI (people’s initiative) to allow foreign investors 100 percent land ownership. No Sir! Look at Mindanao. A land that is so rich yet the people especially the Indigenous Peoples are living in extreme poverty as their ancestral domains have been land-grabbed by powerful corporations in cohort with the oligarchs. 

Why did we allow a few influential loggers to plunder our natural forest and massacre all life forms, our precious irreplaceable mega-diversity, created by God through the process of evolution for millions, if not, billions of years? Many of these species, flora, and fauna, are endemic, meaning, could be found only in the Philippines, yet, have been erased as powerful loggers who have been elected as Senators, Congressmen, Governors and Mayors and their cabal of vested interest could not moderate their greed. In fact, in just one shipment of logs, a logger would earn some 360 million pesos. 

And all of these were done in utter disregard to the rule of law. Yes, in total violation of environmental laws! I could still remember those years (1991 to 2001) when, I as head of Task Force Macajalar, a coalition of some 300 people’s organizations for peace, justice, and sustainability, was charged by Vicmar Logging Corporation of 200-million-peso damage suit for leading the human barricades to stop logging. A court had issued warrant of arrest against us. I thought then how powerful these loggers are. They were the ones who should be arrested because all their logging activities were all illegal, they were cutting trees in the hinterlands with an altitude of more than 1,000 meters above sea level which is against environmental law that prohibits logging in areas with that altitude. They were powerful then as these logging trucks were escorted by heavily armed men. In the issuance of Timber License Agreements, it was a basic requirement for the loggers to do replanting. Again, such had not been done by these loggers, i.e., Vicmar, Roa & Sons, TIPI, Remedios Fortich, Valderama, Dacudao, the late 2nd Lt. Desty Eleazar, etc. More than 200,000 hectares are glaringly denuded as these logging companies had even established sawmills amidst the forest and no agency of government can penetrate as these areas were heavily guarded.

Those who have plundered the environment may escape penalties in violation of man-made laws but not the punishment for violating the laws of nature which are also the laws of God as the sins of a few loggers are now visited upon our people. And where are these loggers? Well, many are still in power. Is this the reason why, instead of them being made accountable, it is the people who now suffer?

The wealth of Mindanao is not just above the ground; beneath are some 72 kinds of high-quality minerals which have been the subject of massive illegal mining, perpetuated by Chinese nationals and Koreans in cohort with power-that-be. There foreigners are just tourist-visa holders yet they have brought heavy equipment worth hundreds of millions of pesos such as bulldozers and buck-hoes. 

When we in Task Force Kinaiyahan which was formed in compliance with the Writ of Kalikasan issued by the Court of Appeals in 2013, we were so puzzled why mining has intensified in Mindanao with the involvement of Chinese nationals. In their campsite, we have found high-powered guns and have arrested Chinese illegal miners who are only tourist visa holders. 

Task Force Kinaiyahan arrested three Chinese nationals in 2015 in Barangay Tumpagon. But these illegal miners were hideously released after only one week in prison and we have discovered were even accompanied by an influential political personality back to China.

We are so puzzled in Sulog, One Sendong is Enough why our colleague in the environmental movement had been killed, Datu Fausto Orasan known as Datu Sandigan for his courageous act in stopping illegal mining. To put the gravity of the problem in its proper context, please allow me to share on how Datu Sandigan survived the seven attempts to his life that would show how determined were the illegal miners and the extent of their connivance. The dark and diabolical forces that were wreaking havoc to the integrity of the environment through massive illegal mining activities in the Iponan area of Cagayan de Oro were into intensifying it. That time, with impunity and intent to kill. Armed with Garand Rifles and pistols, they pulled the trigger, releasing a barrage of firepower, shooting the house of Datu Sandigan in Pigsag-an. Thinking that Datu Sandigan was already dead, they left walking down the road and giving notice to those whom they had met, not to follow the anti-mining stand of Datu Sandigan or else, they would meet the same fate. Fortunately, Datu Sandigan was still alive to expose those who committed such a dastardly act who were brandishing that they were above the law. Together with His Eminence, Arch. Tony Ledesma and then DILG Regional Director, Rene Burdeos, Datu Sandigan came as 

one of the guests of honor during the World Environment Day Celebration at Grand Caprice in 2013 where he narrated his near-death experience and that of his family as well. What shocked us was the alleged perpetuators were then known barangay officials who were angry because the Caterpillar Backhoes used in mining operation were halted by the Mines and Geo-Sciences Bureau. 

That was how big mining had become then in the five (5) upland barangays along Iponon River and have expanded and intensified their illegal operation in Opol, in Iligan and in other parts of Mindanao. There were thirteen (13) brand new Caterpillar Backhoes used for massive mining operations, highly destructive as these were into open-pit mining. Each Backhoe costs 10 million pesos. So, it was not mining just using “piko” and “pala,” after-all, as alleged by a City Official.

If indeed several officials were indeed involved, we could not help but asked, who else were involved then into those illegal mining activities occupying key positions in government? We supposed that these alleged barangay officials have backers otherwise they would not display such arrogance of utterly disregarding the rule of law. More questions: How true is the allegation that top officials are involved in connivance with high ranking PNP officials as alleged in a Facebook? Who are the big businessmen who would dare to invest hundreds of millions into these illegal mining operations? Latest information that has reached us recently is that these miners are raking so much out of illegal mining, not only by the millions but by the billions of pesos, as recently narrated to me by a DENR Legal Official. Unless these questions were answered, everything will just be in shadows despite the strong outcry to stop our accelerating drive towards ecological disasters.

There were still so many queries that were begging for answers then but until now remain unanswered: Prior to using the thirteen (13) backhoes for mining, there were some sixteen (16) barges that were dredging Iponan River of gold. We were informed that each barge would cost 15 million pesos. Again, who were the investors? Were these barges brought directly from China or Korea, considering that several Korean and Chinese firms were among the sixty-one (61) operators given permits by the LGU and given Environmental Compliance Certificates (ECCs) by the EMB of the DENR? If indeed barges were in fact brought to the Philippines by these firms, how come they were able to smuggle these into the city? Have these barges not passed the scrutiny of the Bureau of Customs? 

While massive illegal logging, illegal mining, and the transformation of our agricultural lands (the choicest) into massive plantations have already wrought so much havoc in Mindanao as our water-table is already contaminated with toxic chemicals, the reason why many are dying of cancer and many babies are born deformed, the FINAL DEATH BLOW is the massive devastation caused by six coal-fired power plants.

An increasing number of countries in the world have committed to stop the burning of coal, as BURNING COAL IS LEADING CAUSE OF SMOG, ACID RAIN AND GLOBAL WARMING. As pronounced then by the Union of Scientists, ”in an average year, a typical coal plant generates 3,700,000 tons of carbon dioxides as cutting down 161 million of trees 10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide which causes acid rain that damages forest, lakes and buildings, and forms small airborne particles that can penetrate deep into lungs; 500 tons of small airborne particles which can cause chronic bronchitis, aggravated asthma and premature death, and so many toxic chemicals such as 225 pound arsenic which can cause cancer.” Well, that is what a typical coal plant can do, typical meaning just around 100 megawatts. Based on DOE data, in Mindanao alone, we have six (6) coal-fired- power plants with a total megawatts of 2,277, namely: the 600-megawatt Malita coal plant of SMC Global Power Holdings of the San Miguel group in Davao; 552MW Kauswagan coal plant of GN Power in Lanao del Norte; 405MW FDC Utilities Inc. plant of the Filinvest group in Misamis Oriental; 300MW Therma South facility of the Aboitiz group in Davao; 210MW coal plant of Alsons Power Group in Sarangani; and the 210MW STEAG coal plant in Misamis Oriental. For the Alcantara group, it has also been advancing the implementation of the greenfield 105MW San Ramon coal plant in Zamboanga City.” Oh my God, that means a total of 2,333 MW in Mindanao alone. That is not acceptable and should never be!

We have been saying all these years that such is NOT ACCEPTABLE to the people especially to the Mindanawons!  But all these years, these big capitalists and their political cohorts have been saying not to listen to us when they were putting up these coal-fired power plants justifying then in cohort then with politicians and mainstream media that this coal fired power plants are clean. “That’s oxymoron” was our reply then as no such thing as clean coal which is now reinforced by thousands of scientists, now reverberating throughout the world especially in the C0P26.

Unless the non-stop ecological degradation in Mindanao ceases, environmental catastrophe will worsen that will put Mindanao in total dis-array. Let us stop sacrificing Mother Earth to the altar of greed and power. WE SHOULD NOT MAXIMIZE PROFIT AND CONSUMER GOODS BUT INSTEAD MAXIMIZE OUR VALUES TO LIVE A DIFFERENT WAY OF LIFE THAT WILL GIVE HIGH ADHERENCE TO OUR ONENESS AND INTER-CONNECTIVITY WITH SACRED NATURE. AS CONSCIOUSNESS, LET US NOW CONNECT WTH THE UNSEEN FORMLESS BEING AND DEBUNK THE FALLACIES OF LIFE. As declared by known environmentalists world-wide, “DISASTER CAN BE AVERTED ONLY IF WE CHANGE THE WAY WE LIVE. This crisis has been caused by our modern way of life, which, despite its considerable achievements, is fully flawed. We are beginning to realize that this way we live now, for all its manifold benefits, not only inhibits human flourishing but threatens our very survival of our species. We have to change not only our lifestyle but our whole belief system. We have ransacked nature, treating it as a mere resource, because over the last 500 years we have cultivated a worldview that is very different from that of our forebears.” Mindanao is indeed the land of the brave and the free.  Let us therefore liberate Mindanao from so much unbridled materialism and consumerism – all for God’s greater glory!

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