Environmental advocates led by the Lumaban sa Cha-Cha, Ipagtanggol ang Kalikasan (LUNTIAN) Coalition held ‘eco-walks’ a day before International Earth Day at the University of the Philippines – Diliman and Manila to draw attention to what they say are threats to Philippine patrimony by the proposed changes to the Constitution.
“From our mountain ridges to our urban green spaces down to the coral reefs, our last ecological frontiers are facing increased risks of plunder today,” Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) national coordinator and LUNTIAN convenor Leon Dulce said Saturday.
“Aside from the business-as-usual mining, plantations, and other extractives, the present biggest threat of natural resource is the proposed 100 percent foreign ownership and privatization of timberlands, national parks, and other public commons,” Dulce added.
In UP, the participants held a centralized walk before splitting into groups with different activities: tour of native trees around the campus, bird watching, and urban gardening workshop for children.
The organizers said biodiversity at UP represents the entire Philippines, noting there are at least 109 endemic, resident, and migratory bird species have been spotted within its campus.
Among them are the colasisi (Loriculus philippensis) and the Philippine scops owl (Otus megalotis).
The bignay tree (Antidesma bunius), one of the Philippines’ native trees found in UP Diliman, bears fruits eaten by various species of fruit bats that are part of the campus’ local biodiversity.
But biodiversity, public lands, waters, minerals, energy, agriculture, fisheries, and other resources and public utilities reserved for the benefit of Filipinos will lose constitutional safeguards under proposed cha-cha revisions, LUNTIAN said.
The group pointed out proposed changes on the charter’s Article XII on National Economy and Patrimony that seek to allow full 100 percent foreign ownership in strategic resources and sectors.
“The country’s experience under the Mining Act of 1995’s full foreign ownership scheme resulted in no concrete economic gains, with companies entitled to repatriate 100 percent of their profits back to their home countries,” the group said.
Mining Act also provides water, timber, and easement rights for companies that essentially render affected communities powerless to sue for drying of wells, logging, and land-grabbing, the group added, saying 68 percent of mines were involved in various violations.
Among them are the destruction of the habitat of flora and fauna and pollution, the destruction of which is expected to skyrocket under the proposed unbridled entry of foreign investors and their projects, the group explained.
LUNTIAN said the intrusion of Chinese vessels on Benham Rise and the continuing militarization and reclamation activities on the West Philippine Sea by China are added threats to Philippine patrimony and environment.
The group also noted that environmentalists and communities against destructive big mining projects, plantations and dams remain vulnerable to reprisals the military they accuse of being in the payroll of mining companies.
“Through the eco-walk, we want to impress upon the participants an inkling of what is at stake for the environment of the entire county should ‘Chacha’ push through and if the killings and human rights violations of environmentak defenders go unabated. The already detrimental effects of the ongoing commodification of our commons will be more magnified,” Dulce said.
Aside from the Kalikasan PNE and LUNTIAN, the Eco-Walk organizers included AGHAM – Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (AGHAM), Center for Environmental Concerns – Philippines (CEC), College of Science Student Council (CSSC), Climate Change Network for Community-based Initiatives (CCNCI), March for Science Alliance (MSA), Miriam Public Education and Awareness Campaign for the Environment (Miriam PEACE), Nilad, Philippine Native Plants Conservation Society Inc. (PNPCSI), UP Manila University Student Council – Science and Environment Committee, and Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP).
A satellite eco-walk was also organized at the Arrocerros Forest Park in Manila.
International Earth Day is observed every April 22 to mark the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970.
Then US Senator from Wisconsin Gaylord Nelson founded Earth Day after witnessing the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California# (Raymund B. Villanueva)