Dakami Ti Umili: Caring and nurturing our environment

By JUDE BAGGO
www.nordis.net

This week, I attended a forum on the state of the Philippine Environment sponsored by Amianan Salakniban, Katinnulong Dagiti Umili iti Amianan Inc., and the Philippine Task Force for Indigenous Peoples’ Rights. Aside from being informative, the forum also encourages urgency for the protection and conservation of the environment for the people.

Frankly, I am deeply overwhelmed by the state of the Philippine environment as was presented by Mr. Leon Dulce from the Kalikasan-Peoples Network for the Environment. From the facts and data presented, the Philippines is endowed with rich natural resources, gifted with a unique physical terrain and home to various species of flora and fauna. Recently from 2013 to 2015, new species were discovered in the country such as the Sierra Madre ground warbler (Robsonius thompsoni), the pirate ant (Cardiocondyla pirata), a metal eating plant (Rinorea niccolifera), and 100 new marine species in Verde Island Passage. In Palawan, 138 million barrels of oil reserves and 3.38 trillion cubic feet of natural gas have been discovered in Malampaya.

But the biggest irony is that all these resources do not benefit our people. In fact, only the big local and foreign corporations directly benefit from the super profits drawn from these resources at the expense of the environment and the people. It is scandalous to know that our resources from the surface to the depths of the seas and underneath our houses are extracted, depleted, polluted and destroyed, yet the lives of our people remain in abject poverty and misery.

From ridge to reef, the people of Northern Luzon are suffering

Data from the presentation of Amianan Salakniban tells us of the vulnerability of our communities to the impacts of environmental destruction caused by corporate mining and energy projects. In the Ilocos Region, black sand mining has been eating up the coastlines of four provinces, affecting the lives of its people. As of January 2015, there are 118 approved mining permits, another 34 are for renewal and 78 are under process, all covering 343, 203.07 hectares.

Even Metro Vigan, which is considered one of the wonders of the world, was not left alone. Offshore mining has levelled down sand dunes and caused massive erosion along its coastline flooding hectares of farmlands with salt water. In some barangays, wells are no longer fit for drinking because of salt water intrusion.

Decades of magnetite mining by FILMAG Corp. resulted in the sea eating up the coastlines in La Union. Due to the shoreline retreating, ancient corals were destroyed. Foundations of many houses collapsed in Bangar and Luna, La Union.

In Cagayan Valley Region, both its forest lands and its coasts are being ravaged by mining. Although legalized as a “no-mining zone”, Nueva Vizcaya still hosts two of the largest transnational mining companies in the country which continue to pollute its adjacent ecosystems – OceanaGold and FCF Minerals. In 2014, an environmental investigative mission was conducted that proved that the companies were polluting the surrounding rivers, decreasing the number of living organisms in the area.

The lives of the residents are also affected as their lands, houses and source of livelihood are being taken away from them. They also experience constant harassment from the companies’ paramilitary groups; and the military are literally protecting the mining site from the residents who have been deprived of their traditional livelihood.

In Cordon, Isabela, thousands of farmers fear for their lives and lands as the illegal Goldfields Mining Corporation continues to bulldoze their mountains to prepare the land for open-pit mining.

Last year, the residents found proof of the collaboration of Goldfields with Oceana Gold because the latter’s dump trucks were the ones used to transfer about 187,500 tons of gold ore they disguised as mining wastes. This scheme was exposed when the dump trucks were held at a PNP checkpoint and the company was forced to pay fees, however, the mining operations and the transfer of “mine wastes” still continue.

Black sand mining in Cagayan is also causing shoreline retreat resulting to sea surges. At least 300 hectares of rice fields in Buguey, Cagayan are flooded by salt water. This situation is also being experienced alon the shores of Sta. Catalina, Ilocos Sur. Other impacts are the loss of residential and agricultural land areas in Cagayan.

In the Cordillera Region, based on statistics from the Mines and Geoscience Bureau, registered mining applications five years ago numbered only 70. This year, however, the number more than doubled, shooting up to 180. With the excessive extraction of minerals in Benguet over the decades, the mines have dried up traditional water sources and aquifers. Prominent existing mining companies like Philex Mining Corporation, Benguet Corporation, Lepanto Consolidated Mining Comp. and Cordillera Exploration Inc. are now setting their sights to expand and dig deeper holes in other parts of the Cordillera. They all filed for multiple mining applications of various types under the same name or using their partner companies’ names.

In 2012, Philex Mining Corporation – the government’s bastion of ‘responsible mining’ – caused the biggest mining disaster in history as it spilled more than 20 million metric tons of toxic sediments into the water channels of Itogon. DENR slapped a 1-billion-peso fine for the damages but Philex haggled the deal into a ‘clean-up’ option only, as the leak was caused by the ‘act of God’.

However, an independent fact-finding mission conducted by the church and environmental organizations have found out that the tailings dam’s lifespan already expired in 2010, thus it should not have been used anymore in the first place; a fact proving the mining company’s negligence. In the end, DENR ave in to Philex’s bargain and continued business as usual few months after.

Endangered species and habitat

It is disheartening to know of the state of our flora and fauna in the Philippines. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List for 2013, the Philippines is 4th in the top biological hotspots in the world. Over 737 threatened species are listed in the Philippines by the IUCN. In terms of forests, the Philippines is the 2nd country with the least forest cover in Southeast Asia in 2013, losing a third of its forest cover from 1990-2005. The estimated forest cover in 2010 ranged from 6% to 25%.

For fresh and marine water, 2.12 million Filipino families have no access to clean water. Another 921,347 families rely on unprotected wells. At least 1.2 M families rely on springs and surface water and 40% of coral reefs are degraded.

Endangered environmental activists and advocates

Not only is our environment being ravaged by the greedy transnational mining and energy corporations. What is more outrageously unacceptable, and which calls for the strongest condemnation, are the human rights violations committed against communities, peoples’ organizations and advocates working for the protection of the environment. Under President Aquino, Karapatan documented at least 46 cases of extrajudicial killings of human rights and environmental defenders. Aside from killings, other forms of human rights violations are being experienced by human rights and environmental defenders.

Hope for the environment

In the midst of environmental crisis brought about by the unabated mining and energy operations, I am comforted that different communities, organizations and environmental advocates are responding to the call of Mother Nature for its protection and conservation. It is us, umili, who should act with urgency to save our environment from further destruction at the hands of the State and big mining and energy corporations. Our action is not only for us, but this is one of our greatest gifts to the coming generations. # nordis.net

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