“We are now on the road to recovering the environment we have lost,” claimed the DENR. While progressive groups say, “With the forests being converted into plantations and logging permitted by the government, the area has been denuded up to a point wherein a mere rain shower could cause a catastrophic landslide.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – In celebrating Earth Day on April 22, the Quezon City local government hosted a representative of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) who reported about the sorry state of the Philippine environment, and what the Aquino government is doing to address these problems. Standing for DENR secretary Ramon Paje who is in Washington D.C., DENR undersecretary Demetrio Ignacio said the Philippine seas are now at the center of many regional activities, prompting the department to give it greater attention.
The Philippines has 30 million hectares of land area and a considerably bigger 214-million hectares of waters within its territory. Of late, parts of these territorial waters have been in the news over offshore mining concessions and permits, increased traffic of ships including warships and the likely installation of military equipment such as coastal and underwater radars, plus the damages these warships bring such as the dumping of toxic substances and untreated wastes into the seas and the three-month grounding of a US Navy’s minesweeper on a no-sail protected reef.
But DENR’s Ignacio did not touch on these in his “State of the Philippine Environment” report. A different gathering, also at the Quezon Memorial Circle and composed of progressive green groups, named the biggest abusers of the Philippine environment even as members of the Philippine National Police surrounded them and asked them to stop their program.
Green groups led by the Kalikasan Peoples’ Network for the Environment held a parallel Earth Day activity in protest of the government’s Earth Day commemoration at the Quezon Memorial Circle early morning of April 22. President Aquino was slated as guest of honor at the Philippine government’s Earth Day activity. Instead, the DENR reported Aquino’s supposed achievements for the environment and praised his government’s efforts.
Progressive groups questioned what the Aquino government is celebrating on Earth Day when, as they said, Aquino has been leading the attack on the environment via his administration’s liberalized policies on mining, logging; its support of destructive energy projects such as huge dams and dirty coal plants; and its inaction on US military ships’ violations of Philippine seas.
Claims that Aquino is serious in its ‘ecogovernance’ only dumbfounded the Kalikasan-PNE. They cited many cases of environmental abuses and disasters which they all traced to the Aquino government’s programs. None of these cases were mentioned in the DENR’s “State of the Philippine Environment” report. Aside from the US military warships’ reported pollution of Subic waters and destruction of parts of Tubbataha reef, other cases not acted upon by Aquino include at least three devastating mine spills in 2012. These are the Philex’s Padcal mine spill, the biggest mining disaster our country has ever experienced, said Clemente Bautista Jr., national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE. These mine spills, he said, occurred right after President Aquino “issued his Mining Executive Order or EO 79, a policy that is nothing but propaganda to make the mining industry appear strictly regulated.”
In August 1, the Padcal mining project of Philex Mining Corporation started to release millions of metric tons of mine waste into the waters of Benguet and Pangasinan. Another mining company, CitiNickel, had two mine spills that contaminated rivers in Palawan province.
Philex is the biggest mining company in the country. It also has offshore oil and gas mining concessions in Palawan; it is “requesting” radars and various forms of military protection from the Aquino government in the disputed area near the West Philippine Sea (or South China Sea), which the U.S. military also wants to ‘secure.’
Aquino’s environmental achievement exposed as bald lies
DENR’s Ignacio said the state of Philippine environment reflects how we have abused the environment, degraded the ecosystem. These, he said, resulted in poverty, unmitigated flooding, and the onset of climate change. He said the Philippines has one of the richest biodiversity but it is one of the most threatened in the world. He admitted that the Philippines has one of the lowest forest cover in Asia, at just 24-percent. But he said the Aquino administration has been working on it. He reported that the DENR has now finished surveying 78,000–hectares of Philippine forests, with its boundaries delineated.
“We are now on the road to recovering the environment we have lost,” DENR’s Ignacio said. He extolled Aquino’s total log ban on all natural forests, the first in the history of the country, he said. He ascribed to it the data that they have brought down to only 31 the 197 towns previously considered as hotspots of illegal logging. Ignacio said the DENR had apprehended 22-million board feet of illegally cut forest products, equivalent to 2,300 trucks. He said they donated these confiscated wood such as Narra, Molave, Lauan, to schools.
But this so-called total log ban appears to be a sham.
In Davao Oriental, for example, a region devastated by Typhoon Pablo last year, over 83,000 hectares of land are exempted from the Aquino administration’s logging ban, said Terry Ridon, president of Kabataan Partylist. He said that another 30,000-plus hectares of land in Davao Oriental have already been converted into plantations for export-quality banana, palm oil and biodiesel.
“Agri-business multinational corporations such as Dole, Del Monte and Sumifru are aggressively expanding further across vast areas in almost all provinces and regions in Mindanao, depriving thousands of peasants of land to till as well as grabbing more land supposedly intended for food crops,” said Jorge Madlos, spokesman of National Democratic Front in Mindanao. Because these agribusiness giants are continuing to brazenly violate “revolutionary policies on the environment and subject the Lumads, peasant and workers to continuous oppression and exploitation,” Madlos said the New People’s Army (NPA) has stepped up meting out punitive action against the agri-based multinational corporations.
These expansive plantations are known to cause massive soil degradation, poisoning of rivers and streams and other water sources and massive siltation and flooding of low-lying areas.
Typhoon Sendong which lashed Mindanao in 2011 nearly drowned entire communities along the Cagayan River in Cagayan de Oro and Mandulog River in Iligan City. The NDF blamed the tragedy on the fact that areas at the foothills of the Kitanglad and Kalatungan mountain ranges and the vast Bukidnon plateau are already studded with monocrop plantations.