By ATTY. EPHRAIM CORTEZ
Good afternoon fellow countrymen, environmental advocates, students, educators, scientists, and patriots.
I thank the Center for Environmental Concerns-Philippines, Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment and the Ateneo Environmental Science Society for inviting the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyer (NUPL) in today’s event. Atty. Neri Colmenares could not join us due to another immediate engagement. He is set to testify this afternoon before the Special 15th Division of the Court of Appeals in relation to the Petition for Writ of Amparo filed for and on behalf of the NUPL.
We are gathered here today to learn and be informed on the current state of our country’s environment and natural resources. We know for a fact that the Philippines is rich in natural resources. We are home to many endemic species of flora and fauna and mineral resources, enough to be utilized for national development and build strategic industries. These are also our people’s source of food and other basic needs.
However, these potentials are being challenged by different environmentally destructive projects and interventions and intensified extraction of natural and mineral resources. Our sovereignty over our natural resources is being bastardized.
This is very evident in China’s encroachment of the West Philippine Sea. Reports confirmed the destruction they are causing to our reefs, and the harassments of our fisherfolks. Just last month, 22 Filipino fisherfolks almost died in the sea after a Chinese vessel rammed through their fishing boat. They were rescued by the crew of a Vietnamese fishing boat moored nearby.
Also last month, the Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) between the government of the Philippines and the Australian Oceanagold Mining has expired after 25 years of destruction and exploitation of our mineral resources. However, Oceanagold insists that they continue the operations and has in fact submitted a renewal of their FTAA. We are glad to have one of the community leaders in Barangay Didipio in this forum to share on their struggles against the mining giant.
Another major issue we are facing is the threats of large-scale infrastructures, in particular, mega-dams threatening the ancestral domains of our indigenous and rural peoples. Three months ago, we started to experience a water crisis here in Metro Manila. As a solution, the government proposed the building of a new dam that it claims will provide a final solution to the to the water crisis. However, communities to be affected and experts have expressed strong opposition to the project since it will cause a massive environmental destruction, and the displacement of indigenous communities in the area. In addition, concerns are also being raised from the fact that the funds to be used for the project will be sourced out as loan from China.
These so called development projects are being carried out at the expense of the rights and welfare of the people. Their results betray the real purpose why they are being carried out. Peoples’ welfare is obviously not part of the purpose. In fact these so called development projects brought with them untold miseries to our people. They result in the displacements and harassments of our indigenous peoples, land grabbing, coastal conversions and reclamations, and the many threats that large-scale and destructive projects pose to the environment and the people. These complicate the worsening human rights situation in the country.
Indeed, we are faced with seeming insurmountable challenges. However, the people are undeterred by these challenges as shown by the strong opposition against these development aggressions. We call on the environmental movement to join us in the fight for national sovereignty, democracy and human rights, and call for the protection of our natural resources and safeguard the future generations. As we have learned in the past, through our concerted actions, through the peoples’ movement, we will prevail over all these challenges.
Mabuhay ang ating bayan!
Makatwirang manawagan para sa kalikasan at karapatang pantao!
*This is the opening speech during the State of the Philippine Environment forum held July 18 at the Leong Hall of the Ateneo de Manila University. The author is the secretary general of National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL).