“The problem is that President Rodrigo Duterte chooses to act on other policies such as the haphazard conversion of lands and waters to pave the way for ‘Build, Build, Build’ economic projects instead.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – As the world celebrates Earth Day on April 22 with the theme ‘Protect our species,’ environmentalists, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples and their supporters trooped to the headquarters of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Quezon City to remind it of its main job of protecting the country’s natural resources.
The protesters criticized the government agency’s handling so far of the country’s biodiversities especially those most at risk. At their kindest, they criticized the DENR for dereliction of duty. At worst, they criticized it for abetting the use and abuse of the country’s resources for a flawed economic strategy of mostly exporting it as cheap raw materials for production of transnational companies.
Fisherfolk leader Fernando Hicap, PAMALAKAYA National Chairperson, said the DENR through its secretary Roy Cimatu should have been at the frontline in protecting the resource-rich West Philippine Sea from environmental plunder. But the DENR, he said, has not done anything substantial amid reports of Chinese reclamation and illegal poaching as China proceeds to occupy much of the South China Sea and some 80 percent of the West Philippine Sea, for example.
Despite some 40,000 acres of reefs already destroyed in the course of the Chinese reclamation, “The DENR is not doing anything to impose its existing conservation laws and policies to protect the West Philippine Sea and its biodiversity,” Hicap said.
The result, the fisherfolk warned, is worsening loss of fishing ground and marine life. Not only that, according to the environmentalists, there is also the resulting threat not only on the country’s patrimony and food security but also on the promise of benefits which those parts of the seas could have provided the Filipinos if the DENR had been protecting it.
In the case again of the West Philippine Sea, the fisherfolk and the environmentalists rued the reported ongoing plunder of the Giant Clam (Tridacna gigas) in the coral reefs by Chinese fishing vessels. They are saddened that Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin Jr. has dismissed the giant clam as “just food.”
Actually, said Leon Dulce, national coordinator of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, those giant clams “are vital to the ecological health and climate resilience of West PH Sea that produces 16.6 million tons of fish a year.”
Those bivalve mollusks, known also as the ‘Jade of the Sea,’ play integral roles in regulating sedimentation and pollution, providing protection for other marine species, and rebuilding coral reefs.
Government projects anti-poor, environmentally destructive
Despite the worsening environment and climate situation, new and rare species are being sighted or else repopulated. But the environmentalists warned that these species are facing risks as their habitats are also the site of big-ticket infrastructure projects being promoted by the Duterte administration.
In Manila, the Kalikasan PNE demanded on Earth Day that the DENR swiftly take action to declare as Special Protected Areas the remaining forest and watersheds of Sierra Madre, the Manila Bay and the West Philippine Sea, among others.
In Manila Bay, scientists have reported recent sightings of a new sardine species (Sardinella pacifica) and of rare migratory waterbirds such as the black-faced spoonbill (Platalea minor) despite the degraded state of the water body. Unfortunately, the shore where these new and rare species have been found is part of the over 28,000 hectares of approved land reclamation projects. Environmentalists believe there may be more species that have not yet been adequately studied.
The Sierra Madre forests and watershed, along with the indigenous people living there who have “protected the forests and watershed for a long time,” are facing dislocation due to Chinese-funded mega-dam projects. At least 2,300 hectares of old-growth forests, with its endangered species such as the Philippine Eagle, Philippine Brown Deer, and the Philippine Warty Pig will be submerged by the reservoir of the dam, Kalikasan said in a statement.
To protect these areas from extractive projects or save it from being flattened with concrete for infrastructure projects, the DENR and various levels of government can implement policies governing the Protected Areas, Conservation Areas, Heritage Sites, and International Peace Parks, Dulce of Kalikasan said.
“The problem is that President Rodrigo Duterte chooses to act on other policies such as the haphazard conversion of lands and waters to pave the way for ‘Build, Build, Build’ economic projects instead,” Dulce lamented.
To truly celebrate Earth Day and “protect our species,” the environmentalists concluded their picket at the DENR in Quezon City with the demand that the government subsidize, implement and enforce the protection of this country’s biodiversity. “We must demand that Duterte heed the tell-tale signs of the global biological crisis inextricably linked with our chronic economic and social crises,” said Dulce.
Other protests were conducted on Earth Day for the sake of protecting our species. In front of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau office in Surigao City, members of Anakpawis Partylist, fisherfolk, farmer groups, environmentalists and church people also held a picket. They condemned the government approval of destructive and large-scale mining, which in Caraga region alone covers 42,000 hectares.
The region, particularly Surigao del Norte is the site of the disastrous mining operations of Claver Mineral Dev’t. Corp. that polluted the bays, triggering its suspension by former environment secretary Gina Lopez in August 2016. It is also led to the reviews of mining operations of Greenstone, Taganito and SRMI. Claver Mineral was formerly operated by the Chinese firm Shenzou Mining Group, whose operations were also suspended in 2012.
The Duterte government’s aggressive push for expansion of foreign-owned or controlled plantation also did not escape the protesters’ notice.
In their Earth Day protest in Surigao, Antonio “Ka Tonying” Flores, secretary-general of Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), criticized the ongoing expansion of agribusiness plantations as disastrous to the environment. He said that huge swathes of forest areas are being cleared, especially for oil palm, when mono-cropping destroys biodiversity and weakens the capacity of our land to produce staple crops.
It is not as if the Filipinos are getting rich from all these destruction. Flores said the aggressive expansion of agribusiness plantations is resulting to massive land grabbing, which in turn has been pushing farmers and indigenous people to becoming workers with slave-wages and insecure employment arrangements. There have also been many cases of extra-judicial killings and massacres in Mindanao to drive away the locals from the land being targeted for plantation, mining or other big-ticket projects.
“There is no debate, it is clear as the blue skies and oceans, that it is the government, via its programs and laws, who is the main agent of environmental destruction in the country,” said Anakpawis Party-list Representative Ariel “Ka Ayik” Casilao in another statement.