“It is our mission to come together and strengthen our defense of the environment in peril.“
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Filipino environmental defenders praised and committed to help raise support for the “exemplary acts of heroism’ in defense of the environment.
A forum held in UP Diliman, November 29, discussed the ongoing protection of the environment, assertion of land rights, ancestral domain and THE people’s rights to co-manage the natural resources from Manila Bay to Central Luzon, to Palawan and Compostela Valley in Mindanao. (Read: Success in sustainable bungkalan farming in Mindanao hailed at national confab)
The forum concluded that the sort of land assertion and sustainable farming being pushed by Ugnayan ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura and Kilusang Mayo Uno, together with the Palawan NGO Network Inc.’s defense of forest and marine resources, and the Compostela Valley Farmers’ Association’s collective struggle to bar open-pit mining operations that would destroy their farms and displace thousands of farmers was exemplary environmental heroism but also being vilified and attacked by the government.
According to Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, systematic attacks against defenders from 2001 to 2018 have resulted in at least 225 people murdered for standing up for the environment.
Since 2010, for example, the people of Compostela Valley have been opposed to the large-scale mining operations and the contractualization schemes as well as landgrab by banana plantation corporations. Noli Villanueva of Compostela Municipal Farmers Association who spoke at the forum recalled the concerted mass actions conducted by 11 towns of the province to block huge machines and equipment from turning Cateel into an open-pit mine.
Ten farmers and members of CFA were killed, but Villanueva mused, “In this struggle, the people will persevere despite Martial Law because they have nowhere else to go.”
Seated beside a para-enforcer from Palawan, who counts 10 fellow para-enforcers killed in the last few years, they represented what the forum described as “environmental warriors.”
The forum hailed also the efforts to assert land and environmental rights of indigenous Aeta people in Pampanga and Tarlac. Unknown to many who are now glued and chagrined at the unfolding corruption of the country’s hosting of the SEA Games, the very site of its venue in New Clark City is already rife with violations. Members of artists and writers opposed to development aggression Kamandag belied the government claim that the lands being transformed into the New Clark City were uninhabited and idle. In truth, Pia Montalban of Kamandag said, farmlands with root crops and palay were bulldozed; Aetas and farmers were driven away.
Aided by the UP Geography faculty members, they have been conducting a counter-mapping of the said areas in Pampanga and Tarlac. What are now the aquatic areas where SEA Games hold swimming competitions used to be forestlands. Aetas have been forcibly displaced in the construction of roads going to New Clark City. Palay fields were bulldozed and cemented over. In various parts of the province the Aetas and farmers’ groups are trying to organize to maintain what’s left of their once vast ancestral domain.
“These heroic acts are being wrongfully vilified as economic sabotage and even outright terrorism to justify reprisals against them,” said Leon Dulce, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.
In the middle of these “complicated struggles” and nearly a year since they held an environmental defenders’ conference, the environmental defenders launched the formation of Environmental Defenders Congress (Envidefcon).
There are more environmental actions to be hailed, and needing to grow in strength, said Clemente Bautista, international coordinator for Kalikasan PNE. How to go about it, how to strengthen the defense of the environment, is what they hope to do through Envidefcon.
“It is our mission to come together and strengthen our defense of the environment in peril. We collectively urge the government to recognize and respect our work, and to work for the safety of all environmental defenders,” said lawyer Antonio La Viña, former dean of the Ateneo School of Government and lead national convener of Envidefcon. Bulatlat. Bulatlat.com