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The Bulacan town where chickens are slaughtered and the river is dead

In this four-part investigative report, PCIJ shows how poultry processing plants in the town of Marilao in Bulacan have dumped untreated or undertreated wastewater into the dead Marilao River.

BY ANNIE RUTH SABANGAN, ROBERT JA BASILIO JR., BERNARD TESTA AND RIC PUOD/Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

Part 1 of 4

What you need to know about Part 1:

  • The town of Marilao in Bulacan province has the biggest number of chicken dressing plants nationwide, slaughtering more than 24 million chickens yearly.
  • The annual operations of chicken dressing plants in Marilao produce an estimated 169,000 cubic meters of wastewater or enough to fill up 68 Olympic-size pools.
  • This huge volume of wastewater is regularly released into the Marilao River, a major tributary of the Manila Bay, which was declared biologically dead in 1989.
  • Lack of resources and personnel prevents municipal government offices from gathering sufficient evidence to establish the extent that the dressing plants are responsible for the pollution of the river.
  • There were efforts to revive the river, but so far failed. 

You know you’ve reached Marilao, a booming municipality in Bulacan province that’s usually less than an hour’s drive from Manila, when a putrid smell of some biological degradation invades your nostrils. Here you will find a cluster of chicken dressing and rendering plants, which have become undesirable landmarks for the town in Central Luzon. 

Kapag sumasakay ako ng jeep galing Muzon, kahit nakapikit alam kong nasa Marilao na ako dahil sa amoy (When I ride a jeep from Muzon, I can tell that I’m already in Marilao even when my eyes are closed because of the smell),” said a female resident, referring to her regular commute to Brgy. Sta. Rosa 1 in Marilao from Brgy. Muzon in nearby San Jose del Monte City.

Marilao’s foul odors, coming from the Marilao River and its tributaries, are so notorious that it is the occasional subject of contempt on social media. The culprit, according to residents, are the poultry processing plants in the adjacent barangays of Santa Rosa I, Santa Rosa II, Patubig, and Loma de Gato that release wastewater to the river.

The smell is worse during dry season, residents said, when there’s no rainwater to dilute and dull the odor of the polluted water.

Bata pa ako naaamoy ko na ‘yan. Ang anak ko, may asthma. Sabi ng pedia huwag siyang i-expose sa amoy at huwag paglaruin sa daan. Mahina raw kasi ang baga niya (I’ve been smelling that foul odor since I was young. My child has asthma. The pediatrician said he should not be exposed to the smell and should not play on the street because his lungs are weak),” said another resident operating a carinderia or eatery in the same barangay.

Marilao has the country’s biggest number of poultry processing facilities, slaughtering tens of millions of chickens annually to supply fresh and freshly frozen food to consumers nationwide.

Of the 149 poultry dressing plants accredited by the Department of Agriculture’s National Meat Inspection Service as of November 2019, almost one-fourth or 34 facilities are in Region 3 or Central Luzon. (See infographic 1)

Twenty are operating in Bulacan province and 11 of them are in Marilao. The industry was among the top employers in the town, according to the Business Permit and Licensing Office, with each plant providing jobs to about 300 residents. (See infographic 2)

It’s a thriving industry that has helped turn Marilao into the richest town in the province, tripling its revenue in the last decade to P793 million in 2018.

Like many industrial towns in the country, however, Marilao has struggled to strike a balance between economic growth and environmental protection.

Infographic 1: Annie Ruth Sabangan/PCIJ

Infographic 2: Annie Ruth Sabangan/PCIJ

Poultry processing uses water to turn broilers into meat products that are safe for human consumption. In Marilao, wastewater from the establishments flow into waterways connected to the Marilao River.

Seven of the 11 poultry processing facilities in the town discharge their effluents to a creek, either from the “rear end of the last pond,” “compartment,” or “tank” of their wastewater treatment plants, based on self-monitoring reports (SMR) that the plants filed with the DENR in 2018. (There is no data available to PCIJ on the other four dressing plants.)

The same seven dressing plants reported using nearly 169,000 cubic meters of water annually to slaughter 24 million chickens. That’s enough wastewater to fill up 68 Olympic-size swimming pools. (See infographic 3.)

Infographic 3: Annie Ruth Sabangan and Angelica Carballo Pago/PCIJ

Water is a huge requirement for poultry processing plants. Workers dip the heads of the chickens into electrified water to put them to sleep, and use hot water to loosen and pluck the feathers. They need chlorinated water to wash equipment for removing the chicken’s internal organs and thoroughly rinsing their carcasses. They also use chilled water to protect poultry meat from bacteria. 

Foodnorthwest.org, a trade association in the U.S., estimates that approximately 3.5 to 7.0 gallons of water is required to dress each chicken with an average slaughter weight of four pounds. Using this ratio, PCIJ computation shows that between 10 billion and 19 billion liters of water were used to slaughter 763 million heads of chicken killed for food in the Philippines in 2019, based on figures from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).

If untreated or undertreated, wastewater from the plants releases oxygen-depleting and fish-killing pollutants such as ammonia, nitrate, phosphate, and total suspended solids.

The succeeding parts of this investigative series will show evidence that this was the case in Marilao. 

Infographic 4: Annie Ruth Sabangan and Angelica Carballo Pago/PCIJ
Infographic 5: Annie Ruth Sabangan and Angelica Carballo Pago/PCIJ

Residents’ complaints

Residents have long complained about the operations of the poultry processing plants, believing that their constant exposure to the foul odors has aggravated their illnesses.

Diyan nanggagaling. Abot ang amoy hanggang doon sa bahay namin sa Patubig (That’s where it comes from. The smell reaches our house in Brgy. Patubig),” complained an aging female tuberculosis patient. She particularly blamed a big poultry processing plant in Brgy. Santa Rosa 1 near the Marilao exit of the North Luzon Expressway, for the reeking smell of Sapang Alat (Salty Creek), a clogged and heavily polluted creek adjoining the Marilao River.

The Municipal Health Office (MHO) is aware of the residents’ complaints and their concerns about the possible dangers to their health, according to Evelyn San Miguel, one of only two sanitation inspectors at the MHO.

She also has a good view of the outfall from the compound of one of the poultry processing plants –– where the liquid waste from its plants falls out from its pipe –– from a window of the MHO building. “Brown ‘yung inilalabas (The discharge is colored brown),” San Miguel said in an interview in September 2019, the same month that PCIJ sailed into Sapang Alat.

The fetid and filthy inlet in the Marilao River in Bulacan leading to a creek called Sapang Alat. Image taken in September 2019. Photograph: Bernard Testa/PCIJ

San Miguel said they forwarded these complaints to the Business Permit and Licensing Office (BPLO) and the Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Office (MENRO). 

The chief of the BPLO, Martin Armando Cruz, downplayed the residents’ complaints, however. While the poultry business was the most “water-intensive” of all industries in Marilao, he told PCIJ he didn’t think the poultry business was among the most pollutive.

Cruz said the poultry processing plants were releasing chlorinated but clear water, a claim that was contradicted by other interviewees for this report and PCIJ’s own findings.

“‘Yung wastewater naman nun puti…. Madaling i-clear [kasi] walang chemicals e. Chlorine lang. Kayang-kayang linisin (The wastewater they release is white…. It can easily be treated because there are no chemicals. It’s just chlorine. It’s easy),” Cruz told PCIJ in an interview in October 2019, referring to the effluents discharged by the dressing plants. 

Cruz conceded that the fetid odor from the plants, particularly from the town’s biggest plant along Sapang Alat, were a nuisance. But he didn’t think it was the cause of the illnesses of Marilao residents. 

“Yes, [it’s a] nuisance. But is it pollutive? Nakamamatay (Is it deadly)? Nakakasakit (Does it cause illnesses)? Sa aming observation, hindi naman (Based on our observation, it’s not),” Cruz said. 

Cruz was inclined to believe that domestic wastes caused more harm to the river than the wastewater from Marilao’s industries, although he admitted that the LGU had made no assessment of the chicken dressing industry’s wastewater.

Hindi kasi kami nagtse-check no’n, wala kaming testing ng water…ang DENR ang [in-charge] do’n (We don’t check that, we don’t conduct water testing…the DENR is the one in-charge of that),” said Cruz.

The residents interviewed for this story requested to hide their names out of fear that the business establishments would go after them for their comments.

A dead river

The Marilao River, a tributary of Manila Bay, has been biologically dead since 1989. It can no longer sustain any life form. 

For fish and other aquatic species to survive and thrive in a freshwater resource like the Marilao River, the water body needs to contain 5 milligrams of dissolved oxygen (DO) per liter of water (mg/l), according to DENR standards.

But the DO levels in the river have not even reached 3 mg/l in the last decade, based on tests conducted by the Region 3 office of the DENR’s Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), which conducts ambient water quality tests on the river. 

Meycauayan River is already likely to be low in oxygen levels, causing several marine animals — including fish — to die. Photograph: Bernard Testa/PCIJ

Scientists call this condition “hypoxia,” a depletion or reduction of oxygen in water bodies that turn them into “biological deserts” or “aquatic cemeteries.” 

The river’s biological oxygen demand (BOD), which represents the amount of oxygen consumed by bacteria while they decompose organic matter in the water, has been rising, too. 

The river’s BOD should not exceed 7 mg/l under better circumstances because, above that level, bacteria will use more oxygen to decompose wastes and thus rob fish and other aquatic animals of survival gas. However, EMB tests showed that the recorded BOD level of Marilao River was a high of 44.52 mg/l in 2018 or four times its level of 11.09 mg/l in 2008. It was an indication that pollution had worsened throughout the last decade.

This is a shared challenge among the industrial towns in Bulacan. The Marilao River is part of the Meycauyan-Marilao-Obando River System (MMORS), a heavily polluted river system that is considered the second top pollution source of Manila Bay.

MMORS is responsible for about a third of the organic matter going into the historic natural harbor in the country’s capital, next only to Pasig River, which accounts for 60%, according to a study by the Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia, implemented by the United Nations Development Programme.

Infographic 6:  Annie Ruth Sabangan and Angelica Carballo Pago/PCIJ

Other industries are polluters, too

While residents point to the responsibility of the poultry processing industry for the pollution of Marilao River, the local government doesn’t have the capacity to gather sufficient evidence to establish the extent that the industry is at fault.

The poultry processing facilities are certainly not the only polluters of the river, which is host to households and other types of industries that produce different types of waste. There are metal and textile factories, manufacturers of plastic products, biscuit and bread makers, and soap and detergent businesses, among others.

Which of these entities contribute the most pollutants to the river? What businesses or industry sectors have effluents with the highest BOD or ammonia? Which ones discharge the most volume of sludge laden with toxic and non-biodegradable heavy metals like lead, arsenic, and mercury? 

Along or near the Marilao River’s Expressway Bridge alone — one of three water sampling stations in the river — there are almost 2,000 commercial entities spread in nine Marilao barangays. Tabing Ilog, Patubig, Sta. Rosa I, Sta. Rosa II, Saog, Lambakin, Loma de Gato, Prenza I, and Prenza II are the town’s business hubs.

The Region 3 office of the EMB also earlier identified 433 establishments in the entire Central Luzon whose wastewater flows into the MMORS.

Which ones among them don’t have wastewater treatment plants or have inefficient effluent cleansing facilities? What businesses are the worst river and fish killers? It would take special types of tests to determine all this.

In an interview in September 2019, when PCIJ was starting this investigation, Marilao Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Office (MENRO) chief Reynaldo Buenaventura admitted they still couldn’t measure the extent of pollution from particular plants or industry sectors because of lack of resources and personnel. 

Marilao is only capable of employing “end-of-pipe” pollution solutions, which requires cleaning up wastes when these have already polluted the river, he said.

May river patrol boat kami, dalawa, galing sa DENR. Araw-araw silang nagpa-patrol pero ‘yung solid waste lang ang nakukuha (We have two river patrol boats from the DENR. The boats patrol every day but they only collect solid waste),” Buenaventura said.

EMB’s usual ambient water quality tests, which gather “primary parameters” such as dissolved oxygen, biological oxygen demand, and other conventional pollutants, don’t trace the sources of pollution, either.

These tests can only give hints and symptoms of the water pollution problem in the Marilao River, but not its direct causes, said Glenn Aguilar, among the EMB staffers in Region 3 who monitor the river.

Failed efforts to revive the river

Several administrations attempted to revive the Marilao River, but efforts have failed to reverse its DO and BOD levels.

The Marilao River was among the 19 priority rivers monitored by the DENR under its “Sagip Ilog” (Save the River) Program, a 2004 initiative that sought to improve the river’s water quality by raising dissolved oxygen levels.  

In 2004, the Marilao River Council was formed to rehabilitate the water body. A project called “Clean the Marilao, Meycauayan, and Obando River System” was launched, involving local government units (LGUs), the EMB, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, the river councils, and the Asian Development Bank. They envisioned a “fishable, swimmable, and drinkable” river system. 

In 2005, Marilao became a part of a stakeholders’ group composed of the three LGUs that have jurisdiction over the MMORS. As a major tributary of Manila Bay, the heavily polluted river system in Bulacan became a focus of efforts to rehabilitate the natural harbor.

There was little to show for all these efforts, however. In 2007, Marilao, along with its neighbor, Meycauayan City, suffered global disgrace after New York-based environmental watchdog Blacksmith Institute included the town in its list of 30 “dirtiest places” on earth. The list raised an alarm over how the town’s industrial wastes were being “haphazardly dumped” into the river. 

In 2008, the Supreme Court issued a continuing mandamus or order to the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and 12 other agencies to clean up and preserve Manila Bay, resulting in renewed attention to the Marilao River. The mandamus stemmed from a January 1999 petition by a group of residents, who won the case in a Cavite court and the Court of Appeals. Ten government agencies, including the DENR and the DILG, appealed to the Supreme Court and lost.

The order prompted Marilao’s MunicipalPlanning and Development Office (MPDO) to conduct an inventory of commercial establishments and households adjacent to the Marilao River and its tributaries, supposedly to pinpoint pollution hotspots. 

What did they find out? Nearly 60% of the 756 households identified did not have septic tanks, while 71% of 91 business establishments had no wastewater treatment facilities. 

It was the first and last comprehensive inventory of households and businesses near the river, said Edmundo Canape, a senior staffer at the MPDO, who signed the 2009 report. Succeeding inventories would only check a percentage of the commercial establishments and households.

In 2011, the Supreme Court again issued a resolution enjoining government agencies and local governments surrounding Manila Bay to implement the 2008 mandamus. The high court cited the 42-year-old Presidential Decree 1152 or the Philippine Environmental Code, which requires all local governments to implement a waste management program.

Part of the directive was for LGUs to address water pollution at source by (1) inspecting all factories, commercial establishments, and homes along the banks of the major river systems in their areas; (2) determining if they have wastewater treatment facilities or hygienic septic tanks based on specifications prescribed by law; and (3) requiring non-complying establishments and homes to set up facilities or tanks within a reasonable time. Otherwise, they faced fines or closure. 

Still, the pollution of the Marilao River continued to worsen.

In 2017, then Marilao Mayor Juanito Santiago issued Executive Order 2017-09 for the town to comply with the High Court’s 2011 resolution. 

In 2018, the DILG flagged Marilao’s weakness in environmental governance. The municipality got a score of 45.91% in a DILG assessment and was one of 19 towns and cities in Bulacan that scored below the passing mark of 75%.

The DILG found that Marilao didn’t follow the Supreme Court directive when it inspected only 15% of the target number of septic tanks and wastewater treatment facilities. No single notice of violation was also issued by the LGU against establishments that failed to comply with Republic Act 9275 or the Clean Water Act of 2004. 

The DILG also noted the town’s failure to relocate informal settlers living along the river banks.

No environmental officer for a long time

In the wake of its failing marks from the DILG, Marilao’s MPDO took new steps to address water pollution at source. 

Based on a 2019 report provided by MPDO staffer Salvador Ramirez to PCIJ, they inspected about 1,000 homes in 16 barangays yearly — a small percentage out of some 50,000 total households — from 2016 to 2018. Notably, the inventory didn’t include business establishments.

The MPDO was simply undermanned. The office established the Marilao River Inspection, Inventory and Monitoring Team (MRIIMT) to attend to its old problem, but Ramirez said this team was a one-man squad. 

“So that time…kami lang dito. Ako. Ako ‘yung bumababa (So that time…it was just us here. It was just me. I was the only one who went to the field to inspect),” said Ramirez.

It was only in 2018 that Marilao would create the Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Office (MENRO) and hire Buenaventura to become its environmental officer. 

The Local Government Code of 1991 does not require the designation of an environmental officer. The town apparently never found the need to have one until Buenaventura was appointed to the post in January of that year. He would later assume the tasks from the MPDO.

In 2019, PCIJ asked Buenaventura if it was possible to send the LGU’s river patrol team to go after dressing plants found dumping untreated effluents into narrow, muddy and clogged tributaries.

Buenaventura dismissed it. “Hindi maaabot ng bangka ‘yun (That can’t be reached by the boats),” he said. 

A PCIJ team discovered it was an arduous task, but it was doable under the right conditions.  — PCIJ, February 2021

This series was produced with the support of Greenpeace Southeast Asia — Philippines.

Next: PCIJ reporting team takes a boat to Marilao River to search for the outfall pipe of a notorious poultry processing plant.— PCIJ

Nueva Vizcaya stands by checkpoints, barricade against OceanaGold

By SHERWIN DE VERA
www.nordis.net

BAGUIO CITY — The province of Nueva Vizcaya stands by its action to stop the operation of OcenaGold Philippines. Incorporated (OGPI), despite the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) order to “remove or dismantle” the checkpoints installed by the people and local government.

Governor Carlos Padilla, on Sunday, December 15, told Nordis that they already responded to DILG Secretary Eduardo Año’s request.

“We are politely turning down the request of the Secretary sapagkat ito ay isang issue na nasa korte (because this issue is already in court) and under the sub judice principle, not even the DILG has jurisdiction on this question,” he said.

He was reacting to the November 22 letter from the agency signed by Año. The DILG chief asked the province to “remove or dismantle the checkpoints” that the people and local government installed at OGPI’s entry.

Año said the provincial government has to first “coordinate with the [Philippine National Police] or the [Armed Forces of the Philippine] and secure the necessary permit” to establish checkpoints.

The DILG also wants the provincial government to “maintain status quo” before the Cease-and-Desist Order (CDO) issued by Padilla on June 25.

OGPI continued commercial operations despite the expiry of its Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) last June 20. The company cited the letter from Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) director Wilfredo Moncano. According to the MGB letter, the Administrative Code allows OGPI to operate as it has allegedly made a “timely and sufficient application for the renewal of a license.”

On July 1, residents of Didipio in Kasibu town and environmental groups, backed by the provincial and municipal governments, put up three checkpoints leading to the mine site of OGPI. The people put up the barricade to ensure the implementation of the CDO and halt the mining operation.

Proactive response

Notwithstanding their letter to the DILG chief, Padilla said that they are also verifying the authenticity of the letter. The governor noted that Diocese of Bayombong Bishop Jose Elmer Mangalinao informed him that  DILG Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya was not aware of the document.

However, the governor also told Nordis that DILG Nueva Vizcaya personally brought the letter to his attention. According to him, the following day, the regional office of the agency also inquired if he received the letter.

“In the absence of proof to the contrary, we are treating [the letter] as something from DILG,” he said.

Asked if he suspects anyone who would do such deceptive step, the governor responded: “Ang tingin ko ang OceanaGold ang number one suspect (I think OceanaGold is the number one suspect).”

Padilla said that mining companies, in general, use deception to protect their interests. He also questioned why the DILG furnished the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Steven Robinson, a copy of the letter.

“Medyo nagdududa rin kami dahil doon sa sulat ni Sec. Año sa amin dahil copy furnished ang opisina ng ambassador ng Australia sa Philippines. Pwede nating sabihin na tahasang pakikialam ito sa internal concerns ng ating gobyerno at ng ating bansa (We also doubt the letter of Sec. Año because they furnished the office of the Ambassador of Australia to the Philippines a copy. We can say that this is an outright intervention to the internal concerns of our government at country),” he said.

“Ang amin lang is panawagan sa DILG, tooto man o hindi ang sulat na yan, ang paniwala naming ay wala sa kamay ng DILG ang usaping ito (Our message to DILG, whether the letter is genuine or not, we believe that this matter out of the hands of DILG),” the governor added.

Actions are in order

Nasa korte na ito at sa first round, sa [Regional Trial Court] level, ay panalo kami ((This is already in the court, at the RTC level, we won) so the presumption is what we are doing is in order,” said Padilla.

He explained that the issues raised by the DILG secretary were the same matters cited by OGPI in its court petition. The company filed for a temporary restraining order and injunction against the action of the people and local governments.

RTC Branch 30 in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, ruled on July 25 to deny the mining company’s petition.

“The OGPI not having clearly proven, at this point, its clear and unmistakable right to be protected, the prayer for a preliminary injunction is denied…,” stated the decision penned by Judge Paul Attolba, Jr.

The judge also noted in his ruling that “other issues raised will be best threshed out in full-blown trial” and ordered the Pre-Trail Conference to proceed.

Padilla stressed that the provincial government “do not want to enter into a dispute with DILG” since the matter is up for the court to decide.

“We are asking Secretary Año to understand that it is within the jurisdiction of the court; that is why we cannot comply with the content of his letter addressed to us,” he added.

Reinforce the barricade

Learning of the DILG, the Alyansa ng Nagkakaisang Novo Vizcayanos para sa Kalikasan (ANNVIK) called on Didipio residents and other groups to send reinforcements for the barricade on Thursday, December 12.

The group reiterated that different the “people’s barricade” was instrumental in forcing the company to stop its operation temporarily. It stressed that its success was the result of the sacrifices of the different sectors that joined and sustained the action for five long.

“Nais lampasan ng DILG ang ligal na proseso ng korte at ipinipilit ang kanyang awtoridad para i-pressure ang mga lokal na pamahalaan sa Nueva Vizcaya (The DILG wants to go beyond the legal process in court and use its authority to pressure the local government of Nueva Vizcaya),” ANNVIK said in a statement posted on Facebook.

Besides the court proceeding, LGU Kasibu and the Save Nueva Vizcaya Movement filed a petition before the Office of the President to deny the FTAA renewal of OGPI. More than 6,000 individuals signed the petition.

“Subalit sa kabila ng kaliwa’t kanang reklamo ay narito ang DILG upang saklolohan ang minahan (Despite the numerous complaints DILG is here to help the mine),” the group said.

The MGB has also admitted that the Office of the President found deficiency with OGPI’s FTAA renewal application under the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act. According to the bureau, the company has to undergo the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) since the area covered by its operation is now under the ancestral domain application by the Bugkalot tribe. This matter came up after the DENR recommended the interim renewal of the FTAA.

ANNVIK added that the DILG letter and the previous endorsement of DENR for the interim renewal of FTAA renewal are proof that the Duterte government favors corporate mining interests. #

MGB hit for ‘lawyering’ for embattled Aussie mine firm

By Melvin Gascon

Environment and civil society groups on Friday slammed the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) for supposedly coming to the defense of a foreign mining firm and allowed it to resume operations despite the lapse of its 25-year mining license.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said the MGB’s endorsement of the continued operation of OceanaGold Philippines, Inc. at its gold-copper mining site is an “insult” against the people of Nueva Vizcaya, who are calling for its stoppage.

“This dubious endorsement it is being used by the mining company to insult the people of Nueva Vizcaya by continuing their operations,” he said in a statement.

Bayan Muna, as well as environment groups Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment and Alyansa Tigil Mina have questioned the endorsement by the MGB and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for the renewal of OceanaGold’s financial and technical assistance agreement (FTAA), the processing of which was supposedly done surreptitiously.

OceanaGold is seeking to continue its operations at its mine project in Kasibu town in Nueva Vizcaya despite the expiration of its 25-year FTAA on June 20.

Based on the Mining Act of 1995, the FTAA is the mining license that allows foreign companies to exploit the country’s mineral resources.

In a letter to the OceanaGold, MGB director Wilfredo Moncano said the firm may continue to operate pending the approval of its renewed FTAA by President Rodrigo Duterte.

In a special session on June 28, the provincial board of Nueva Vizcaya declared ongoing activities of OceanaGold as illegal after it failed to renew its FTAA. The board also authorized Nueva Vizcaya Gov. Carlos Padilla to take “all necessary steps” to stop the mining firm’s operations.

On June 26, Padilla directed the Philippine National Police and the village governments to set up checkpoints along the roads and block any attempt by the company to ship out its mine production.

In a media statement, OceanaGold said it continues to operate the Didipio mine.

“We are committed to operating in accordance with the law and will always comply with all our responsibilities under our contract with the Philippine government,” the company said.

OceanaGold said it lodged its application for FTAA renewal in March 2018, and received confirmation on June 20 from the MGB that it is allowed to continue operations pending the approval of its renewed FTAA.

But Leon Dulce, Kalikasan PNE national coordinator, dismissed OceanaGold’s claims that it was conducting “responsible mining” in Didipio.

“No amount of greenwashing by OceanaGold can gloss over the fact that rivers are vastly silted, periodically dumped with undeclared chemicals, and depleted by its operations,” he said.

According to Dulce, OceanaGold’s operations are also “chronically exposing” the important biodiversity corridor of Caraballo mountain range to air, noise, and water pollution.

“These are just one of many sins of OceanaGold that should warrant the long-deserved cancellation of this foreign mine’s FTAA contract,” he said.

DENR Undersecretary Benny Antiporda said that by stopping the mining activities, the local officials of Nueva Vizcaya are within their mandate of implementing the law.

He said he is verifying reports that MGB had allowed OceanaGold to continue its operations despite the lapse of the the FTAA.

“For me, it is rather simple: if one does not have a license, then it should not be allowed to operate,” he said in a phone interview.

Joma on Gina’s rejection: Reactionaries in Congress won

ENVIRONMENT and Natural Resources secretary Regina Paz Lopez’s rejection by the Commission on Appointments (CA) diminished the prospects of negotiated reforms for a just and lasting peace, National Democratic Front of the Philippines chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison said.

Reacting to CA’s 15-9 vote against Lopez’s confirmation today, Sison said “reactionaries in Congress cast a dismal shadow on the prospects of legislation that is needed to enable the GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) to fulfill its obligations under the CASER (Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms) now being negotiated,” Sison said.

Despite widespread support of Lopez’s anti-destructive mining crusade, the 25-member commission rejected with finality one of President Rodrigo Duterte’s most popular cabinet appointments.

“The people are left with no choice but to fight even more fiercely against the big compradors, landlords and the corrupt politicians,” Sison said, blaming “reactionaries” in the Duterte government for Lopez’s rejection.

Progressives also expressed dismay at the development, calling it a victory for mining oligarchs.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said an extraordinary chance to protect the environment and the rights of the people has been squandered.

“Bureaucrat capitalism and vested interests triumph once again in the rejection of the appointment of Gina Lopez,” Reyes said.

Reyes said compromises may have been made along the way and questioned how such a rejection can happen under the Duterte regime that wields the majority in both houses of Congress.

“Big business interests continue to hold sway in the Duterte regime, both in the executive and legislative branches,” he said.

Reyes encouraged Lopez to continue her environmental advocacy even as a private citizen once more.

“We thank Gina for her outstanding service to the Filipino people. She is more than welcome to continue her activist role for the environment, in the mass movement and even in the peace negotiations between the GRP and the NDFP,” Reyes said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

STREETWISE: High stakes confirmation hearing

Streetwise
by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
On Wednesday 3 progressive cabinet members — Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Gina Lopez, Social Welfare Secrtary Judy Taguiwalo and Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano — are up for confirmation by the powerful Commission on Appointments (CA).
They have been twice bypassed by the CA and subsequently twice reappointed in the interim by President Rodrigo Duterte. But because the current CA has approved a rule that a cabinet member may only be bypassed three times after which the CA will have to reject or confirm the concerned official, it appears that Wednesday will be the final showdown.
The backstory to this is very interesting if only because it is so unusual.  Newly elected President Duterte surprised everyone when, even before he was sworn to office, he offered the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) four Cabinet positions.
Pres. Duterte said the four departments he offered to the CPP – Labor, Agrarian Reform, Social Welfare, and Environment and Natural Resources – dealt with the “most oppressed” and that the Left was known to be “the most vigilant” when it comes to pressing national issues. He also related his offer to restarting peace talks with the revolutionary movement under the umbrella of the National Democratic Front of the Philipiines (NDFP).
In response, NDFP Chief Political Consultant and CPP Founding Chairperson Jose Ma. Sison welcomed the offer but said the CPP could not accept any position not until the peace negotiations had reached the point of a comprehensive peace settlement. In the meantime, Sison said the NDFP could nominate people who are patriotic, progressive, competent, honest, and diligent but not necessarily communists.
Upon the NDFP’s recommendation, Pres. Duterte appointed University of the Philippines Professor and former political prisoner Judy Taguiwalo as secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). Long-time peasant leader and former Anakpawis Party List representative Rafael Mariano became secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR). The labor portfolio eventually went to former Justice Secretary Sylvestre Bello III, concurrent head of the government peace panel negotiating with the NDFP, while that of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) went to Gina Lopez, a known environmentalist and scion of a wealthy business clan.
The appointment of Leftists and social activists, including former Gabriela Party List prepresentative Liza Maza to the National Anti-poverty Commission, lent credence to President Duterte’s avowal that he too was a “leftist” and a “socialist” even as this became fodder for accusations of his political enemies that the Duterte administration had betrayed the country to the communists.
Policy differences surfaced when the burial of the so-called remains of the Dictator Marcos was allowed by President Duterte at the Libingan ng mga Bayani setting off a torrent of mass protests wherein victims of martial rule and anti-dictatorship activists from the Left figured prominently.  Taguiwalo, Mariano and Maza stood their ground in opposition to the Marcos burial but asserted that this was not sufficient basis for them to resign their posts.
While snide remarks surfaced in social media intimating that the three had sold their souls to the devil, these accusations of cooptation did not gain much traction.  The three have proven to be one of the most hardworking, competent, and upright in the Duterte Cabinet.  They have navigated the perilous course of holding top government positions and being subjected  to myriad pressures and enticements while remaining true to their Leftist principles and continuing to serve their “most oppressed” constituents.
The lines began to be drawn for Sec. Taguiwalo during the budget hearings last year.  Many congresspersons, not least of which were those in the leadership of the House of Representatives, objected to and resented the attempts of the DSWD to ensure that the department’s beneficiaries are those truly in need and not merely “lucky” recipients of patronage politics. A compromise was eventually hammered out: congresspersons’ recommendations would be taken into account and given weight by the DSWD even as the set of qualifications specified by the agency would prevail.
But that wasn’t the end of it. The “honorable” congresspersons wanted ironclad assurances from Sec. Taguiwalo that certain funds they had earmarked for the DSWD would only be spent in their districts in accord with their wishes.  In other words the old pork barrel system was alive and well albeit disguised as an informal arrangement between the head of agency and the “honorable” congresspersons. When Taguiwalo refused to play along, her confirmation in the CA was placed in jeopardy.
As for DAR Secretary Mariano, one of his orders that raised the hackles of his fellow Cabinet members particularly the economic managers, was the DAR proposal for a two-year moratorium on land use conversion. Mariano wanted to put the breaks on rampant conversion of farmlands for residential, industrial, commercial or mixed-use purposes. Not only has land use conversion been a tried-and-tested way to go around land reform, it has even been used to cover up landgrabbing itself.  But apart from frustrating the ends of social justice as envisioned by a series of failed land reform programs, this proposed moratorium is in line with ensuring the country’s food security what with the rapidly shrinking agricultural land devoted to food production.
Needless to say, the big landowners in the country especially the owners of sprawling haciendas and corporate farms are literally up in arms over Secretary Mariano’s unflinching support for the right of the tillers of the land – tenants and farm workers – to own their own plots of land.  Recent attempts of DAR to install agrarian reform beneficiaries in land awarded but forcibly taken from them have met with armed resistance from private security guards and hired goons. In some instances, the police have averred that they cannot help DAR enforce its orders because they are outnumbered and outfirepowered by private security forces.
DENR Secretary Lopez’ decision last February to close 23 mines and suspend five others for breaching environmental standards together with the cancellation of 75 contracts for mining projects located in watersheds constituted a declaration of war against large-scale corporate mining in the country.  For this the country’s mining firms banded together to not only oppose her confirmation, but to file corruption charges against her before the Ombudsman.
Too bad Lopez’ anti-mining stance is popular among a public reminded of the horrendous toll on the environment and affected communities from mining accidents and the over-all destructive effects of large-scale mining operations. Moreover her boss, President Duterte, has continued to back her.
For its part, the NDFP recently stated that it views “in very positive terms the presence of (the three) in the Duterte cabinet”.  Fidel Agcaoili, NDFP Panel chair said, “Ka Paeng will play an important role in implementing a program of free land distribution for poor peasants. Ka Judy will likewise play an important role in implementing expanded social services for the people. Gina Lopez meanwhile has expressed willingness to work with the revolutionary forces in protecting the environment against destructive mining operations. They will no doubt be helpful in implementing a Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER) that may be agreed upon by the GRP and NDFP.”
The stakes are truly high in the confirmation hearing of the three officials on Wednesday. Will the people’s clamor for meaningful reforms be dealt another serious blow by reactionary interests through their front men in the Commission on Appointments? #
Published in Business World
1 May 2017

NDFP endorses Mariano, Taguiwalo and Lopez confirmation

THE National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) endorsed the confirmation of three Rodrigo Duterte cabinet secretaries a few days before their final Commission on Appointments (CA) hearing by Congress.

In a statement, NDFP chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili said they look forward to continue working with the three officials in the framework of peace negotiations and achieving meaningful reforms to benefit the Filipino people.

“The (NDFP) Negotiating Panel views in very positive terms the presence of DAR (Department of Agrarian Reform) Secretary Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano, DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) Secretary Judy Taguiwalo and DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) Secretary Gina Lopez in the Duterte cabinet,” Agcaoili said.

“Their inclusion bodes well for the entire peace process as they would be in a position to help push much-needed socio-economic reforms,” he added.

Mariano and Taguiwalo were NDFP nominees to the Duterte cabinet.

Mariano, Taguiwalo and Lopez have all been previously bypassed by the CA and will get their final chance at confirmation at the Senate on May 3, Wednesday.

The NDFP said Mariano and Taguiwalo will play an important role in implementing a program of free land distribution for poor peasants and in implementing expanded social services for the people, respectively.

Lopez on the other hand has earned the underground group’s admiration for her strong stance against destructive mining.

She also recently expressed willingness to work with the New People’s Army in protecting the environment, generating eco-friendly livelihood in mining affected areas and attending the formal peace negotiations between the NDFP and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP).

“They will no doubt be helpful in implementing a Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER) that may be agreed upon by the GRP and NDFP,” Agcaoili said of the three.

The NDFP likewise warned the officials’ removal from office “by reactionary interests” will run counter to the people’s long-standing desire for reforms in government.

Meanwhile, activist groups launched a social media campaign since yesterday calling for a rally at the Senate on May 3 in support of the three secretaries.

“There is an urgent need to show broad support for the progressives in the Duterte cabinet and thwart plans by the CA to confirm only those who wish to uphold “business as usual” politics. It is not every day that we have cabinet officials who truly work for the interests of the people and defy well-entrenched elite interests,” the online appeal said.

“Let us amplify the call to confirm Judy, Ka Paeng and Gina. Join us also in the mobilization and gallery trooping on May 3, 9am at the Senate,” it added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)