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Promote Forests for Health

By Leon Dulce

The COVID-19 pandemic, like many catastrophic infectious disease spreads the world has faced, could have been avoided if we treated our forests differently.

Indeed, various studies have demonstrated that 60 to 70 percent of recognized emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) are zoonotic, or originating from animals, mostly wildlife. A United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization study showed that 15 percent of these EIDs are associated with forests.

COVID-19 itself has been genetically traced back to bats, which are nocturnal forest and cave denizens. Bats are seen as the “ultimate incubator” for COVID-19 because of its robust immune system encouraging viral strains they host to adapt and evolve into dangerous and highly infectious pathogens.

Epidemiologists are scrambling to determine how exactly COVID-19 ‘spilled over’ from bats to humans, though initial scientific explanations point to the virus jumping from bats to other mammals to humans in the live animal markets of ground zero Wuhan, China.

What is clear is that the coronavirus would have remained dormant if its carrier species remained isolated away in intact forest ecosystems they inhabit.

Web of life, web of consequence

Forest biodiversity plays a huge role in disease control by promoting good microbiota that compete with the disease-causing pathogens, and flora and fauna that compete with or predate on virus-carrying species to keep their populations in check.

Forests also provide various ecosystem services such as food, water, climate regulation, and pollution control, all helping human populations improve their health and wellbeing.

This complex web of life is continuously unraveling as we continue to lose our forests. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) itself estimates that our forest cover is down to just 7 million hectares or just 23.3 percent of the Philippines’ total land area. What can be considered intact forests are actually a mere 7 percent of our original pre-colonial forest cover.

The consequent biodiversity loss is catastrophic. In 2011, the rate of biodiversity extinction in the Philippines was already 1,000 times faster than the natural rate. Global average extinction rates at present are now up to 10,000 times faster.

The country’s latest climate change assessment report roots the biodiversity problem in key drivers such as land conversion, deforestation due to logging and conversion to agricultural land, mining, introduction of exotic species, and pollution.

The Philippine Forest Code has failed to arrest deforestation and these multiple challenges to the use of forest lands. It has served only to promote export-oriented timber plantations instead of sustainable forest management practices. Other extractive and destructive policies such as the Mining Act of 1995 also provide convenient trojan horses into forest protection policies.

This web of consequence extends to the global level through the Philippines serving as a waypoint for the global wildlife trade. We are not only a hotspot for poaching but also a porous entry and exit point of wildlife trafficking that reaches as far as Africa and Europe. Weak wildlife protection law enforcement clocking in at just 26% conviction and 13% penalization rates are failing to stop this continuing plunder of our biodiversity.

Rainforesting, rewilding

We the public deserve a ‘Green New Normal’ beyond the COVID-19 crisis. Promoting forests for health, from rainforestation to urban rewilding, is a crucial solution to the coronavirus emergency, recovery, and post-pandemic new normal that we urgently need.

We must address the perennial lack of public funds for forest protection. Latest available data indicate that there is an 80% financing gap between the actual average budget for biodiversity protection of P4.9 billion, and the recommended level of spending from 2008 to 2013. Government must double its current annual budget for environmental protection and biodiversity conservation up to P25 billion per year to address these financing gaps.

Government forest rangers and personnel are just 10% of what we need to sufficiently cover our entire forest areas with adequate enforcement. We must increase the number of employed forest rangers and personnel, and improve their job security by increasing their wages and protection needs.

Finally, we need to overhaul our forest, biodiversity, and natural resource laws. We have to be strict with the tradeoffs, making sure not a single project that threatens massive biodiversity loss will be allowed in our remaining forest corridors. #

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Leon Dulce is the national coordinator of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE), a grassroots-led national environmental campaign center established in 1997. Kalikasan PNE is a convening organization of the Citizens’ Urgent Response to End COVID-19 (CURE COVID), a national people’s initiative of various communities and sectors in response to the pandemic crisis and its impacts on their health and livelihood. 

Rights defenders tell UN of many rights violations in PH

GENEVA, Switzerland—A team of Filipino rights defenders here are preparing for another busy week calling for investigations by the United Nations (UN) on the state of human rights in the Philippines.

With three oral interventions one after the other last Friday, March 6, and another last Monday, March 2, the Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (EcuVoice) strongly urged the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to pass another resolution in June to look into various reports of many rights violations by the Rodrigo Duterte government.

But contrary to the confrontational stance employed by the government Mission in the ongoing 43rd UNHRC session here, the four speakers from EcuVoice unanimously supported the reports presented by UN special rapporteurs.

EcuVoice delegation co-leader and Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said last Friday that she welcomes the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders that noted “wide-ranging and cumulative violation of the rights of defenders.”

“This rings true in my particular case and that of human rights defenders of Karapatan. Twelve of my colleagues were killed by suspected State forces under the current administration, three have been arrested the past four months, and many more are facing trumped up charges. Women defenders face misogynist attacks, driven by discriminatory pronouncements of government officials,” Palabay said.

Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay addressing UNHRC’s 43rd Regular Session.

Johanna dela Cruz of the National Council of Churches of the Philippines said they are also grateful for the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders and support his conclusions and recommendations.

Dela Cruz said church people’s rights in the Philippines are violated, primarily those “doing their Christian mandate and mission of ministering to the poor and the marginalized. Bishops and Parish priests, particularly from the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), were red-tagged, harassed by soldiers implicating them as rebels.”

National Council of Churches in the Philippines’s Johanna dela Cruz addressing UNHRC’s 43rd Regular Session.

EcuVoice head and International Association of Democratic Lawyers interim president Edre Olalia for his part reported to the UNHRC that in the 44 months of the Duterte administration, at least 48 lawyers including judges and prosecutors have been murdered.

“Human rights lawyers like Ben Ramos as well as lawyers handling drug-related cases continue to be brazenly attacked in various forms. Orchestrated smear campaigns and vilification by red-tagging, labelling and reprisal charges against human rights defenders at every opportunity continue with impunity,” Olalia said.

The three defender’s reports Friday brings to four the successful oral interventions presented by EcuVoice before the UNHRC.

Last Monday, Clemente Bautista of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment reported that there are serious challenges to life, security and liberty of environmental defenders in the Philippines, “which redound to transgressions on the rights to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environmental of communities, including that of indigenous peoples and peasants.”

Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment’s Clemente Bautista addressing UNHRC’s 43rd Regular Session.

“It must be noted that the EcuVoice delegation have welcomed all the UN special rapporteurs’ reports presented thus far, quite different from the bellicose stance of the Philippine government in the ongoing debates,” Olalia said.

This week, the UNHRC is scheduled to hear reports and oral interventions on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights as well as reports on minorities despite a growing scare of the spread of the corona virus disease (COVID) in this country brought about by 24 confirmed cases.

COVID has also spread in neighboring France and Italy, prompting overseas and migrant Filipino workers to express travel and work concerns that are likely to be affected by stringent measures imposed on border crossings.

All side events at the UN in this city have been cancelled that has severely affected restaurant and café businesses of Filipino expatriates in this city. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

EcuVoice: PH government exporting red-tagging in Geneva

GENEVA, Switzerland—A group of rights defenders called on the Philippine Mission to the ongoing 43rd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council here to just answer questions about the human rights situation in the Philippines instead of engaging in red-baiting.

“The Philippine Government must focus on explaining to the international community why rights defenders are being killed and arrested, members of the Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (EcuVoice) delegation said.

Reacting to the government Mission’s statement Wednesday, March 5, at the Palais des Nations, EcuVoice said the government must also stop recklessly accusing killed and threatened human rights defenders as supporters of communists.

“How are vilifying human rights defenders as terrorists a justification to the fact that many of us are under threat of unjust arrests and are being killed by the security forces of the Duterte government?” EcuVoice delegation co-head and Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

The group said that while paying lip service to UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Michel Forst’s report on the invaluable contribution of human rights defenders, the government accused rights activists in the Philippines of “[using] the cover of human rights defenders to protect, cover, or promote agendas of deceit and violence.”

The government further accused Filipino “communists” of benefitting from and exploiting the goodwill that the United Nations system endows human rights defenders.

 “Mr. Forst, you have mentioned the need to address impunity and provide effective remedy, what would you advice in such situation where unscrupulous groups are using the defender badge as an impunity blanket to evade accountability from gross human rights violations?” the government self-righteously taunted.

“This red-tagging spree being exported by the government in the august halls of the UN Human Rights Council is ad nauseam and reflects not only the paucity of its arguments but the bankruptcy of its moral ground in the community of nations.

“Enough already. Just answer the questions please, “EcuVoice team leader Atty. Edre Olalia said.

The EcuVoice delegation is in this city to follow up on at least written submissions related to the Iceland-led resolution in July 2019 calling for an investigation on human rights violations under the Rodrigo Duterte government.

Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment international networks coordinator Clemente Bautista successfully presented an oral intervention on the killings of environmental defenders last Monday, March 2.

Other delegation members include a human rights worker facing arrest when she returns home, a congresswoman whose partylist is villified, a widow of a slain human rights lawyera bishop who is facing death threats, a mother whose two sons were murdered in the “drug war,” a lawyer who is labelled and his group viciously smeared a journalist whose peers are being pressured, and this reporter whose colleagues are facing various threats. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

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.

Oceana Gold hit for illegal operations

By Melvin Gascon 

Residents and environment activists on Monday denounced Australian firm Oceana Gold Philippines, Inc. for supposedly continuing its mining operations in Kasibu town in Nueva Vizcaya despite the lapse of its license on June 20.

Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) said OceanaGold has been conducting illegal activities since the expiry of its financial and technical assistance agreement (FTAA), prompting the provincial government to alert the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the local environment officers on the company’s operations. “There are plenty of pending reports, complaints, government resolutions, and other documented evidence that OceanaGold violated various environmental, socio-economic, and human rights regulations which should warrant the mine’s stoppage and not its perpetuation,” said Leon Dulce, Kalikasan PNE national coordinator.

Nueva Vizcaya Gov. Carlos Padilla on June 20 issued an advisory to the PNP and its provincial and municipal environment offices and the village council of Didipio to “restrain any operations of OceanaGold upon the termination of the FTAA,” based on the Local Government Code of 1991 and the Environment Code of Nueva Vizcaya.

OceanaGold’s FTAA states that the mining agreement “shall be terminated and the parties shall be relieved of their respective obligations” upon the expiration of the contract.

However, David Way, OceanaGold’s general manager wrote a letter to the Didipio village council citing a June 20 letter from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), citing Administrative Code which states that existing licenses “shall not expire” until the application for renewal has supposedly been finally determined.

In a June 20 press statement, OceanaGold said it has lodged a notice to renew the FTAA in 2018 and has been “working collaboratively with the government of the Philippines on the renewal process.”

Dulce said the MGB and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) cannot invoke the Administrative Code since they were remiss in their duties to consult host communities.

“They endorsed Oceanagold’s FTAA renewal application to the Office of the President instead of cancelling it outright,” he said, citing the resolutions of rejection by the provincial and village councils.

Kalikasan PNE urged the MGB and DENR to withdraw their endorsement of Oceanagold’s FTAA to the Office of the President. “In the dialogues we conducted with the MGB and the DENR, these agencies admitted that they failed to put into consideration the body of evidence submitted to them over the past year,” Dulce said.

“With concerns such as the full withdrawal of social acceptability and a lack of environment and human rights due diligence, there is no way a legitimate regulatory body would have let OceanaGold’s license renewal application go any further,” he added. According to Kalikasan PNE, the MGB’s legal opinion allowing OceanaGold to resume operations amid the absence of a mining agreement and the clear opposition of LGUs is “patently wrong and irresponsible.” “It would be hypocritical of the Duterte government to claim that it wants to stop mining for creating a monster in our country, but then allowing a foreign corporation like OceanaGold to operate with impunity,” he said.

The MGB has been lawyering for this foreign mining corporation instead of defending our national patrimony from it. The people of Nueva Vizcaya will definitely take action to halt Oceanagold’s operations and demand indemnification and other just compensations for its various crimes against the people and the environment,” Dulce said. #

Would CASER have prevented mining disasters?

SPECIAL REPORT

By Raymund B. Villanueva

National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant Randy Malayao can only shake his head as he looked at photos of the landslide in Itogon, Benguet last month that reportedly killed 69 residents, majority of whom were miners and their families. Initial reports said the tragedy was brought about by the torrential rains brought about by typhoon “Ompong” that wreaked havoc all over Northern Luzon. Eventually, however, it was accepted that the typhoon only triggered the disaster and that mining activities in the area—both large and small scale—was its main cause.

“It should not have come to this,” Malayao said. “This could have been prevented if only the Manila government listens to the people,” he added.

Since his release from prison as a political detainee in 2012, Malayao has resumed his work as a consultant of the NDFP’s negotiating panel, attending formal negotiations in Europe and reciprocal working group meetings in the Philippines and abroad. As the NDFP’s resource person from Northern Luzon, he is intimate with mining issues in his home region of Cagayan Valley, as well as the Ilocos Region and the Cordilleras. Environmental protection was one of his advocacies that made him a victim of abduction and intense torture in the hands of the Philippine Army. He spent four and a half years inside various jails as a political prisoner.

“The countless discussions I attended on what makes our people poor, especially the peasants, opened my eyes that environmental degradation contributes to their poverty, contrary to what has been promised them for more than a hundred years. Mining activities in Northern Luzon has made its people poorer,” he said.

Rescuers try to clear part of the landslide in Barangay Ucab, Itogo, Benguet that killed 69 residents. (Photo by Kim Quitasol)

The victims of the Itogon landslide are a case in point. Malayao said that mining activities, primarily when mining giant Benguet Corporation was active in the area, caused its forest cover to be denuded and its soil unstable. The landslide last month was only the latest in a string of similar incidents and it is unfair to blame the victims who he suspects are allowed to continue their activities with the consent of the company that still owns the mining licenses in the area.

Northern Luzon is one of the Philippines’ mining hotspots. Gold, copper, and molybdenum are mined in Nueva Vizcaya; gold and nickel are extracted in Isabela; gold has been mined in the Cordilleras for hundreds of years, and gold and magnetite (also known as black sand) are mined in the Ilocos Region and Cagayan Province’s coastal and offshore areas. As a mountainous area, the regions are also a prime source of sand and gravel as well as lumber. But despite the nearing depletion of its mineral wealth, it is agriculture that keeps the regions’ economy afloat. While it has enriched a few corporations beyond belief, mining has only kept many of its residents in poverty. Not a few have lost in their lives.

It was because of this situation that the NDFP has pushed for environmental protection, rehabilitation and compensation as one of the top agenda under the substantive issue of social and economic reforms of the peace negotiations between itself and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP).

CASER and the environment

It was as far back as September 1, 1992 that both the GRP and the NDFP agreed in the document called The Hague Joint Declaration to discuss social and economic reforms to address “the root causes of armed conflict.” Both parties agreed that a Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) is a program that could end poverty and other social problems. It was only recently, however, that a section on environmental protection was finally approved, even if the issue had always been on the table for more than 26 years already.

“[NDFP’s] latest version of [its draft] CASER is the result of careful study and analysis started in the middle of 2016. The NDFP Reciprocal Working Committee on Social and Economic Reforms (RWC-SER) looked at the relevant experience and practice of the revolutionary forces in the cities and, especially, the countryside,” the NDFP said in the preface of its book on the peace talks agenda.

As expected, the NDFP had been scathing in its assessment of the state of environment in the

Philippines, especially mining.

“Corporate mining depletes our minerals as well as destroys forests and mountains. National minorities are displaced from their communities and ancestral lands. Critical resources for national industrialization are lost,” the NDFP said. “The profit-driven nature of capitalist production with the particular neo-colonial pattern of production and trade, that overrides social and ecological considerations has been the main factor in the devastation of the Philippine environment and the consequent disasters that have plagued the country,” the NDFP explained.

It may come as a surprise to most, however, that under its CASER proposal, the NDFP is not against mining. Rather, the NDFP says it is for responsible and pro-people mining.

NDFP urges environmental protection with economic development

For the NDFP, mining is not evil. It only becomes so because the environment is being destroyed by current mining practices and it only benefits members of the local ruling elite and foreign economic interests.

The NDFP said that environmental protection, conservation and the wise use of natural resources are necessary components of socio-economic development policies and that ecological balance is integral to national development.

By this, it means two things.

First, current destructive mining practices must be stopped and replaced with more environment-responsive ways. Not a few were surprised when the NDFP expressed full support to former GRP environment secretary Gina Lopez when she ordered the ban on open pit mining and a review of all mining activities nationwide. In turn, Lopez said she was willing to work with the revolutionary New People’s Army (NPA) in protecting the environment. This prompted the NDFP to invite Lopez to attend the NDFP-GRP formal peace negotiations in Europe to present her views the Left said were in accordance with its programs on the environment.

“The desire of Gina Lopez to work with the NPA for peace and development is welcome by the NDFP.  It is directly related to the environment, agrarian reform and rural development now being negotiated under the substantive item Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms,” NDFP chief political consultant Sison said. “It will be fine if Gina attends the fifth round of formal talks,” Sison added.

Lopez told Kodao she would accept the invitation provided she would be confirmed by the powerful Commission on Appointments. “Yes, I’ll go,” Lopez said. “What I would want to do is to create models first than just talking.  What I would like to do is to work with the NPA and create models where we get people out of poverty in like six months to a year.  Then I’ll go talk to him (Sison): ‘Sir, look at what we did here. What if we do these everywhere?’” Lopez explained.

Lopez was eventually rejected by the CA and Duterte decided to not reappoint her controversial environment secretary.

Second, the NDFP wanted that upon signing of the CASER, most of the raw materials from the country’s mining activities would stay in the country to be used for its national industrialization drive. “The strategy of export-led economic growth has opened the country’s natural resource to control and plunder by the foreign monopoly capitalists, big comprador bourgeoisie and bureaucrat capitalists. As the imperialists and the local exploiting classes freely siphon off the nation’s natural wealth, they leave behind a ravaged environment, Industrial wastes like mine tailings and carbon monoxide emissions and unsafe agricultural products pollute and destroy the environment,” the NDFP said.

The group added that existing laws such as the Mining Act of 1995 mean the wholesale delivery of the national patrimony to the unbridled exploitation by foreign investors through the liberalization of the mining industry. They open the door wider to the destruction of the environment and the displacement of the national and ethnic minorities from their ancestral lands.

Under Section 2 of NDFP CASER’s principles of environment protection and economic development, the group proposes that the parties “…commit to pursue economic development with due regard to the protection and efficient use of the country’s renewable and non-renewable resources and to institute measures for ensuring a healthy national environment.”

GRP panel’s ‘surprising’ draft

It was not only the NDFP that sprung surprises in its environment protection drafts of the CASER. The GRP was not to be outdone when it submitted its own environmental protection, rehabilitation, and compensation draft after the fourth round of formal talks in Noordwijk An Zee in The Netherlands in June 2017.

“The GRP’s draft has many provisions similar to NDFP’s. While there are differences between their drafts and ours, there are enough similar provisions that could be the foundation of a favorable agreement on this issue,” an NDFP source told Kodao.

For example, on the issue of mining, the GRP RWC-SER’s draft said that the pursuit of economic development must integrate protection, efficiency, and just use of the country’s resources and ecology, including making sure that the carrying capacity of the environment is not breached.

Taking a cue from the NDFP draft, the GRP draft, under Section 6 of its draft Priority Actions for Sustainable Development and Environmental Justice, says that all mining operations are to be regulated “to ensure domestic processing of mineral resources, guarantee environmental protection and justice, safeguard mine workers, compensate communities for damages, uphold democratic consultation and the consent of communities, allocate mining revenues and benefits equitably, and charge the costs of mine maintenance, disasters and rehabilitation to the revenues of mining firms.”

Support from environmentalists

Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment national coordinator Leon Dulce hailed both the NDFP and GRP negotiators’ respective drafts as steps towards the protection of the environment and national development.

“What both parties have shown is that, at the very least, they were willing to discuss how mining could be more environment-responsive and beneficial to the Filipino people at the same time,” Dulce said.

Kalikasan said the country may have around 7.1 billion metric tons of metallic mineral reserves (such as gold, copper) and nickel) and 51 billion metric tons of non-metallic deposits. “The total revenue of these reserves may be worth US$1 trillion, ten times the country’s gross domestic product and 14 to 17 times larger than its entire external debt,” the group said.

Like the NDFP and GRP’s drafts on environment protection, Kalikasan seeks a reversal of the nature of the country’s mining industry.

“In forums and symposiums organized and attended by Kalikasan, including congressional hearings on the People’s Mining Bill (House Bill 2715, filed by Bayan Muna) that we are suporting, we have always said that the mining industry should be geared towards national industrialization,” Dulce said.

Kalikasan said that the mining industry should be redefined for the production of raw materials—such as base metals, basic chemicals and petrochemicals needed by the basic, medium and heavy industries—to produce as much consumer, intermediate and capital good with the country’s stock of finite mineral and non-mineral industrial raw materials and in the process provide jobs to the country’s vast human resources.

“In other words, our country should not be exporting everything that is mined within our territory because we need them for when we finally industrialize. And that may be possible if the GRP and the NDFP agree to sign a CASER and honestly implement it,” Dulce said.

The environmental activist also clarified that under both the NDFP and GRP drafts of the CASER as well as HB 2715, that the drafts are not necessarily against foreign mining corporations.

“I think these documents clarified that as long as these foreign mining corporations have no bad records and they agree to contribute to national industrialization, they are welcome,” he said. The People’s Mining Bill says that the State shall in cases allow foreign corporations to invest in the mineral industry.

“Based on the National Industrialization Program and the country’s capability and capacity, the government must identify the mineral areas where foreigners can help and invest subject to rigorous screening and strict regulations…The participation of foreign companies in the critical stages of mineral extraction and processing shall be in accordance with a mandatory program or agreement for technology transfer and equity shares that do not exceed 40 percent of the full capital requirements,” HB 2715 reads.

“Alas, the GRP principal (Duterte) is unwilling to continue the talks,” Dulce bewailed.

Wasted opportunity

Malayao agrees with Dulce that Duterte is wasting the opportunity to have an environmental protection agreement signed with the NDFP.

“I could not begin to describe to you the hard work put into crafting both the NDFP and GRP drafts on environmental protection under the prospective CASER. It was supposed to have been discussed as early as June 2017 by the negotiating panels,” Malayao said.

A signed agreement between the GRP and the NDFP is a binding and legal document, Malayao explained. Even without a final peace agreement, both the GRP and NDFP can already implement its provisions, as they did with their agreement on human rights and international law when they established a joint monitoring office in 2004.

“If the CASER was signed and implemented last year, perhaps extractive activities in Itogon, as well as in Naga City in Cebu Province, could have been more strictly regulated. Perhaps, the near simultaneous tragedies last month would have been averted,” Malayao said. #

‘Cha-cha’ to worsen PH ruin, says group

By Melvin Gascon

Environment groups on Monday expressed concern over the proposed charter change by the Duterte government, saying the draft federal constitution bodes danger for the environment.

In a statement, Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment rejected the bid to change the constitution and replace it with one that would supposedly allow foreigners and political dynasties to gain full control of the exploitation of the country’s mineral resources.

“We resoundingly reject Duterte’s Cha-cha which would only open up more of our natural resources, lands, and coastal areas to 100-percent privatization and foreign ownership,” said Leon Dulce, Kalikasan national coordinator.

Kalikasan cited provisions in the draft constitution which supposedly removed the exclusive right of Filipino-owned companies to exploit the country’s natural resources.

Under a proposed federal system of government, natural resources will supposedly be under the control of regional republics, which, Dulce said, will most surely fall into the hands of the regions’ political dynasties.

Only worse’

The group thumbed down the government’s ongoing efforts to address ecological problems, saying these were “not commensurate” with the rate of environmental destruction the country is facing.

On the contrary, the Duterte government is “encouraging policies which threaten to exacerbate these losses,” Kalikasan said.

The group also challenged the government to protest the reported destruction by Chinese fishermen of corals and other marine resources in the West Philippine Sea.

“We are with the 80 percent of the Filipino people opposed to the Duterte regime’s continuing inaction over China’s continuing occupation and reclamation efforts in our water (and the) 90 percent of Filipinos who strongly believe retaking the reefs and shoals turned into islands are on just grounds,” Kalikasan said.

They slammed the Duterte government’s centerpiece of its environmental programs, the rehabilitation of Boracay island, as “a fake program”, as this was carried out with no concrete strategic plans.

“No concrete action has been taken on the still-permitted mega-casinos and big resorts, and attempts at independent investigations into the island’s situation are being prevented,” Dulce said.

Kalikasan also assailed the alleged failure of President Duterte to make good his promise to make erring mining companies liable for their violations against the country’s environmental laws.

“Duterte’s hogwash rants against the big mines are being contradicted by the actions of his own Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) which is set to reopen and allow to operate at least 24 of the 28 big mines supposedly up for closure or suspension,” they said.

“More and more people will get to see for whom this regime indeed stands for: the mining oligarchs at the helm of his own (members of) Congress and Cabinet,” Kalikasan added. #

Saving Taliptip

by Leon Dulce

Obando Fishport was bustling with activity at 6:00 in the morning. A colorful and tightly packed flotilla has gathered, fishing boats carefully slipping and sliding past each other to get their turn at docking.

 The bustle slowly fades to an idyllic backwater as we travelled via pump boat to the coastal village of Taliptip in Bulakan town, Bulacan province. Its surrounding seas is life to some 5,000 mostly fishers and salt-makers. It is from the gentle waters and mangrove corridors where they get their bounty of fish, mussels, crabs, shrimp, and krill.

On this collection of small island communities, a 2,500-hectare reclamation project by the San Miguel Corporation is being aggressively pursued, threatening to convert everything in its wake into a an aerotropolis complex of airports, expressways, and urban expanse.

 The project was a well-kept secret from Taliptip’s residents until concerned environmental advocates and church workers raised the issue among the communities—and until President Rodrigo Duterte was seen in the news already inking the project’s deal.

 Residents, especially the families who have lived in the village over the past 80 years, are concerned that their life and livelihood are under threat by this project.

A fisherman tending to his nets in Taliptip. Photo by Leon Dulce/Kalikasan PNE

“So long as the sea is here, there is hope…What will we fish when all this is turned into cement?” said Arthur*, a fisherman from Sitio Kinse, an island community of Taliptip ensconced in a dense shroud of mangroves.

 Arthur shared that the average fish catch for a day would net them around 500 pesos. Deductions from their gross income will be used to defray gasoline and other expenses and pay their boat consigner’s share. During the dry seasons, some fishers tend to the salt fields and get 154 to 254 pesos as payment per sack depending on the quality of the salt.

 A good day’s catch is a rarity nowadays, however. Gloria*, a woman resident of Sitio Dapdap, explained that fishing families usually stock up their live catch in makeshift pens and sell these on a weekly basis. A daily trip to and from the central market in Obando is simply too expensive compared to the dwindling daily catch.

A section of the Bulakan Mangrove Eco-Park. Photo by Leon Dulce/Kalikasan PNE

The hardships push the people of Taliptip to be sustainable by necessity. Living off the grid, residents pooled their resources to set up solar panels and batteries for their simple electricity needs. The residents take care of the mangroves since the shellfish they harvest live among its roots, and serve as a natural barrier to big waves.

 Aside from a 25-hectare eco-park established by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), various other stretches of mangroves are spreadt across Taliptip’s waters. A huge population of birds such as terns, egrets, kingfishers, and swallows make a home out of these trees.

A plethora of birds roosting over makeshift structures put up by fisherfolk. Photo by Leon Dulce/Kalikasan PNE

It is not hard to see the importance of these coastal greenbelts. The National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), the lead agency that approved the reclamation project, however, apparently has a diametrically-opposed view.

 San Miguel has pronounced that it can payroll entirely for the P735.6-billion aerotropolis, a hefty price tag that must have been the clincher. That amount seemed enough to justify ignoring the thousands of people set to be displaced and the ecologically critical vegetation to be converted.

A portion of a stretch of mangroves allegedly cut by San Miguel personnel. Photo by Leon Dulce/Kalikasan PNE

Early this year, the Duterte government also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Dutch government to cooperate in the crafting of the Manila Bay Sustainable Development Master Plan (MBSDMP). The cart came before the horse, however, with projects such as the aerotropolis rapidly progressing without the guidance of a comprehensive sustainable development and management framework.

San Miguel personnel were reportedly behind a massive mangrove-cutting spree in Taliptip two weeks ago. Communities had no idea if the cutting had a special tree cutting permit from the DENR, as required by law.

 Almost 30,000 hectares of such projects presently cover the entire length of the bay.

A fisherman off the port of Obando. Proposed reclamation projects span the entire coastline of Manila Bay. Photo by Leon Dulce/Kalikasan PNE

For Arthur, defending the only livelihood they know from the real threat of reclamation is non-negotiable. “We will not leave our homes. We will fight so long as there are people supporting us and giving us strength to fight,” he declared.

Environment groups and churches are digging in deep with the communities for the struggle to save Taliptip and various other communities across Manila Bay. Will Duterte stand with the people and stick to his rhetoric against reclamation, or will he bow once again to the oligarchs it has vowed to stand up against?#

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Leon Dulce is the national coordinator of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE). Follow the local people’s struggle to save Taliptip on Facebook, or through the hashtag #SaveTaliptip on Twitter.

*Real names withheld for security purposes

 

 

 

Davide hits charter change as ‘war against the environment’

By Kalikasan PNE

Calling the proposed charter change (cha-cha) a “war against the environment,” former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. said the constitutional amendments threaten a “catastrophic environmental crisis and grave intergenerational injustice.”

In his keynote speech in a public forum on the ecological implications of cha-cha held at the Miriam College Environmental Studies Institute last April 12, 2017, Davide said the lifting of the 60 percent Filipino citizenship requirement is potentially dangerous.

“[L]eaving it completely to Congress to provide a new rule, which could even include no requirement at all, would end up with the outright surrender of the natural wealth – and eventually even of the country itself – to foreigners, especially to foreign business conglomerates,” Davide said.

Davide said various doctrinal principles and rules on the right to environment, such as the jurisprudence of the ‘Oposa v. Factoran’ case on intergenerational justice and the Supreme Court’s Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases in 2010, “would be either put to naught or severely emasculated” by cha-cha’s proposed amendments.

He also noted that the proposed Federal component States or Regions, each “lorded over by enlarged or new political dynasties who may have their own business empires” would create new layers of corruption regarding the exploitation, development, and utilization of natural resources.

Kalikasan PNE photo.

In a unity statement released during the forum, the LUNTIAN (Lumaban sa Cha-cha, Ipagtanggol ang Kalikasan) coalition said that on top of allowing 100 percent foreign ownership, “timber lands, mineral lands, reclaimed lands, and national parks that have been exclusive for public interest will be reclassified to allow private ownership, making these critical ecosystems vulnerable to land grabs and monopolies by foreign capital and big business.”

They furthered that “cha-cha proposes to delete Article XVIII Section 25 which prohibits foreign military bases and facilities in the country. If approved, the conversion of our shoals such as in West PH Sea and Benham Rise into naval and air bases, including the storage of nuclear weapons and other dangerous war materiel on Philippine soil, will be legally free.”

The forum was organized by the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) in cooperation with the LUNTIAN Coalition, Miriam Public Education and Awareness Campaign for the Environment (Miriam PEACE), Green Convergence, Advocates of Science & Technology for the People (AGHAM), Center for Environmental Concerns – Philippines (CEC), Nilad, UP Green League, and the No to Cha-cha Coalition.

The forum organizers announced that they will hold an ‘Eco-Walk’ on April 21, 6:00 to 9:00 AM at the University of the Philippines – Diliman comprised of environmental education activities such as bird watching, native tree walks, a museum walk, and an urban gardening workshop for children, to highlight what is at stake should cha-cha push through.#

‘Manila Bay is still alive,’ fisher folks opposing reclamations say

A special report by Reynald Denver del Rosario

MANILA BAY is alive and still able to provide livelihood for thousands of fisher folk and their families, communities and environmental groups say as they continue their campaign against ongoing and future government reclamation projects on one of the country’s most important body of water.

Last year, President Rodrigo Duterte has given the green light to more than 80 billion peso worth of reclamation projects implemented by the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA). Despite opposition from various sectors, the government ordered a fast-tracked completion purportedly to give way to economic development and ease the metro’s traffic woes, among other reasons.

But beyond these promises of change and progress lie concrete problems faced by the environment and grassroots communities. One of the affected areas is Manila Bay, a body of water which different coastal communities rely on for their living.

With the implementation of these massive reclamation projects at full swing, affected residents face threats of losing their livelihood and communities. Since then, communities have strengthened their unity as they fight for their rights as citizens.

A Manila Bay fisher tending his boat after a day out trying to make a living. (Photo by R. Villanueva / Kodao)

  1. Manila Bay to be ravaged by eight reclamation projects

The eight ongoing and planned reclamation projects on Manila Bay include the 650-hectare Navotas Business Park reclamation project, first initiated in the 1960s but was revived during the administration of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino.

Manila City Mayor Joseph Estrada has also recently approved a fourth reclamation project under his term—the 419-hectare Horizon Manila project at an estimated cost of P100-billion. It involves the construction of a commercial hub composed of three new islands. This approval came two months after Estrada approved the P7-billion Manila North Harbor expansion, which will reclaim 50 hectares from the waters of the bay.

Last February, Estrada approved the New Manila Bay International Community project, a 407-hectare mixed-use commercial and tourism center proposed by UAA Kinming Development Corporation.

Estrada also upheld the Solar City project, a major entertainment hub which covers 148 hectares and approved by his predecessor Alfredo Lim.

Another reclamation intervention is the 635-hectare Las Piñas-Parañaque Coastal Bay project intended to be a residential, industrial, educational and commercial zone.

The other reclamation projects in Manila Bay include the 360-hectare project in Pasay City and the 300-hectare project in Parañaque City, a public-private partnership with a giant mall and real estate company as the private-sector partner.

These massive reclamation projects in Manila Bay are part of a larger national reclamation plan pursued by the government purportedly to further boost the country’s economy. These, however, shall come at the expense of fisherfolk and coastal communities being displaced, fisher folk and environmental groups said.

  1. Despite massive pollution, Manila Bay is still thriving.

The Manila Bay area is one of the Philippines’ major center of economic activity, including fishing and aquaculture activities. However, its ecosystem continues to face problems from multiple developments taking place in the area.

Pollution, over-fishing, and loss of habitats are few of the issues threatening Manila Bay, according to the Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia (PEMSEA). Its effects include the significant degradation of the involved ecosystems and biodiversity, which eventually affects those who are dependent on it.

According to the Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC), fish are already scarce in the bay according to a public scoping undertaken by no less than the Department of Environment and National Resources (DENR).

Fisher folk challenges the claim, however, saying the DENR study is being used to justify the planned demolition of their communities and livelihood by and on the bay.

According to Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA-Pilipinas), fishermen still harvest a considerable amount of fish from Manila Bay. For them, the government should rehabilitate the waters, not reclaim them.

Navotas City, for example, benefits from what the waters of Manila Bay still have to offer. Dubbed as the “Fishing Capital of the Philippines” Navotas City and its residents largely depend on fishing and related industries for livelihood. Residents of Barangay Tangos in Navotas still benefit from the waters to sustain their livelihood, despite various obstacles. Fishermen harvest different kinds of seafood, including shellfish, squid and shrimp, among others.

An urban poor community sits under the shadow of the towering buildings of Makati City and along the polluted Parañaque River. (Photo by Raymund B. Villanueva / Kodao)

  1. Waste is used as justification to displace the coastal communities.

Forty eight year old fisherman Romeo Broqueza of Barangay Tangos couldn’t hide his frustration with Manila Bay’s waste problem, saying that the issue is used against them. According to him, most of the waste came from other places and not from their community itself.

“Kung tutuusin, pwede iyang pag-usapan, kasi madali lang naman linisin iyan e. Nandiyan ang barangay, tutulong yan,” he said. “Ngayon, ginagamit nilang dahilan ‘yang kalat para paalisin kami dito.”

Residents also scored the dumping of waste in nearby communities. According to Nieves Sarcos of PAMALAKAYA, big barges continue to deliver 100 truckloads of trash to Barangay Tanza per day.

“Mataas na ang basura, parang bundok na,” she said. “Maraming nahuhulog na basura mula sa barge, tapos aanurin papunta sa amin.”

In 2008, the Supreme Court (SC) issued a writ of continuing mandamus directing 13 government agencies to clean up, rehabilitate and preserve Manila Bay in 10 years.

PAMALAKAYA claims that almost 60 percent of pollution entering Manila Bay comes from Pasig River, in which 80 percent comes from industries and commercial establishments in Metro Manila.

Manila Bay Coordinating Office executive director Antonio Gaerlan stated that wastewater from 86 percent of the 14 million households served by water concessionaires is still directly flushed out into Manila Bay. The mandatory construction of wastewater treatment facilities for all households, establishments and industries was not included in the privatization of water services under the Fidel Ramos administration with Manila Water and Maynilad Water Services.

PAMALAKAYA has condemned past and present administrations that use the SC’s order as justification to demolish fishing communities.

The fisher folk group continues to push for the rehabilitation and clean-up of Manila Bay. With its continued destruction, small-scale fishermen have experienced the trend of fish-catch depletion, from 10 to 15 kilos down to two to five kilos of average catch per day.

A fisher folk is heading out to Manila Bay from the Malabon River. (Photo by Raymund Villanueva / Kodao)

  1. Government policies threaten the livelihood of fishing communities.

According to PAMALAKAYA and Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (KADAMAY), the Navotas Business Park reclamation project would displace 20,000 fisher folk and residents across four coastal barangays in Navotas City.

The group added that fresh and affordable fish from Navotas would also become unavailable due to the displaced communities.

Markers and fences are already constructed along the shores of Barangay Tangos in preparation for the project. The fisher folk fear that the barriers would block their fishing boats from going offshore and restrict their already limited fishing activities.

According to Republic Act 10654 or “An Act to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing,” small and medium fishing vessels are only allowed to operate within 10 to 15 kilometers from the coastline in municipal waters.

Fishermen are directly affected with this policy. According to them, fish of high value like tilapia and bangus cannot be found in the shallow areas; they are forced to prioritize crabs, squid, shrimp, and other small fish, which do not sell as much.

According to Broqueza, only big ships benefit from the Manila Bay since small-scale fishermen can’t go too far out to sea.

“Dati communal ‘yang Manila Bay. Malalaking isda talaga tulad ng tuna at bangus ang nahuhuli diyan, kahit ng mga maliliit na mangingisda. Kaso, ngayon, wala na,” he added.

Fish continue to dwindle because of large-scale fishing by big companies, fisherfolk say. “Pag maliliit na fishers, ‘yung sapat lang at di sobra-sobra. Yung mga negosyo kasi, sobrang mangisda,” Broqueza said.

Due to the declining fish catch, small-scale fishermen choose not to bring their fish to the Navotas Fish Port for offloading.  Instead, they do business in their barangay despite earning substantially less. According to Dodong Remojo, a fisherman of 30 years, around 70 to 80 percent of the fish in the port come from Palawan anyway.

Fishermen also suffer from various violations imposed on them. There are no markers which indicate the 15-kilometer distance from the shoreline—they only estimate how far they have sailed. The ambiguity makes them vulnerable to violating the limitations stated by the law.

Patrol activities by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), fisher folk say, have become a venue for corruption through the filing of various violations against small scale fisher folk.. “Hindi ka pa nga nakakalagpas, nahuli ka na e,” a resident said. Fishermen are charged from P100,000 to as high as P1.5-million, depending on the violation, including illegal equipment, lack of permit and exceeding 15 kilometers, among others.

Forty-four year-old fisherman Danilo Tulda said the officials are on patrol day and night to get the chance to yield profit from accused violations. “Araw-araw ‘yan sila, nag-aabang talaga sa laot. Kapag tumakbo ka, papuputukan ka,” Tulda said.

Rafael Sales, a fisherman for 33 years, said they were forced to pay a fine of P1.5-million after supposedly violating the law while fishing in Bataan. They were lucky as the officials eventually agreed to lower the fine to P150,000. “Kahit wala kang violation, lalagyan ka. Kaya bang bayaran ng mga mangingisda ‘yon?” Sales said.

Children of fishing families practice their skills on makeshift rafts on the Malabon River. (Photo by Raymund Villanueva / Kodao)

  1. Damage has been done by the reclamation projects, and will continue to do so.

CEC’s Lia Alonzo cites previous reclamation projects as contributory to more hazards on the bay, such as the one which gave way to a giant mall by the bay and even earlier ones such as the Cultural Center of the Philippines complex undertaken under the Ferdinand Marcos regime.

Geologists said further reclamation projects pose greater danger as the area stands on top of a fault line. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) already said that Metro Manila is overdue for a strong magnitude 7.2 earthquake from the West Valley Vault that traverses Metro Manila from north to south.

Alonzo cites the flaws of DENR’s issuance of the environmental compliance certificate (ECC) under the Philippine Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) as one of the factors.

The ECC is an issued document after a positive review that a project meets environmental laws and policies and certifying that the proposed project will not cause significant negative environmental impact. In practice, however, issuance of the said document favors the reclamation projects and its proponents.

According to CEC, the government failed to evaluate larger domino effects of the reclamation projects to different communities. “Nakikita natin na may mga lugar na maaapektuhan ng projects pero di na sakop ng EIS,” Alonzo said.

PRA said that engineering solutions will be applied to prevent potential damage.

CEC, however, stated that such processes are both expensive and are not foolproof. CEC maintains their stance of rehabilitating the Manila Bay under the mandamus issued by the SC. Reclamation, they say, will further destroy the already damaged ecosystems and shall affect many fisher folks.

“It is not enough reason to say na wala naman nang buhay diyan, kaya hayaan na lang nating i-reclaim,” Alonzo said. “Para sa mga mangingisda, di pa huli ang lahat para ma-rehabilitate ang Manila Bay.” #