By SHERWIN DE VERA
BAGUIO CITY — The head prelates of the Diocese of Baguio and the Apostolic Vicariate of Bontoc-Lagawe called on the people and government agencies to protect the environment in their messages read during the send-off program of the Northern Luzon contingent for the Sama-samang Sakay, Lakad at Layag para sa Sangnilikha (Salakyag) 2018.
Held at the Bishop’s Residence in the city on Monday, June 4, the activity was organized by the Philippine Misereor Partners, Inc.-Northern Luzon. Environmental groups, people’s organizations and non-government organizations involved in the campaign against destructive mining, community-based renewable energy and development programs, and human rights from Ilocos and Cordillera attended the activity.
Salakyag is a national campaign that calls for the protection and conservation of the environment. Its main call is the passage of green bills pending in the legislative branches of government for the Rights of Nature.
Connection with nature
In his message, Bp. Victor Bendico of Baguio City emphasized the “need to regain” human’s “interconnectedness with nature and with one another.”
“Given such reality, we need to act as a community to help bring about change where we could be in harmony with nature once again and not allow our wants and desires with worldly values to direct us,” said Bendico.
He also expressed his grief over the ignorance and indifference of many on the effects of their “actions or deed in nature or in society,” noting that, “these had lead us to a not so good predicament – pollution in all ecosystems and climate change…”
Repentance & conversion
Bontoc-Lagawe bishop, Valentine Dimoc, in his message, underscored his call for “ecological repentance and conversion.”
“Now, we are being challenged to recognize with humility what humans are doing in disturbing the integrity of creation,” said Dimoc, adding, “this experience makes us think deeply on (of) how we should change our ways…”
He also singled out the conversion of mossy-forest areas as a key issue that concerned agencies must address. The prelate claimed deforestation continues at a rate of at least 500 hectares annually, with only 47% of forest cover remaining in 2015.
Dimoc called on the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), law enforcers and local government units to “put a definitive stop” on (to the) problem.
“What happened to the mossy forest along the national highways and other accessible areas is a proof of negligence of (by) permanent employees in both DENR and law enforcers through the years,” he added.
LGUs at fault
The chief of DENR Cordillera however said that they are not to blame for the matter. In the Kapihan para sa Kalikasan on June 5, Regional Executive Director Ralph Pablo said that LGUs are the culprit.
He explained that many government units in the Cordillera issue tax declarations covering forestlands, contrary to law. According to him, this emboldens individuals to convert the area, cutting trees to give way for gardens and even residential areas.
Pablo explained that only lands declared as alienable and disposable can be processed for tax declaration. However, he said, that despite the notice given by his office to the LGUs not to give tax declaration over forest lands, the problem persists because local governments are more concerned on their revenue.
The leader of Bontoc-Lagawe Vicariate said “the high incidence of poverty cannot justify further clearing of mossy forest.
He also criticized the skewed development model, patterned after Benguet Province, causing the rapid expansion of vegetable gardens in forested areas.
“There has to be a rational and good governance response to such situation,” he said, stressing that, “social injustice of not recognizing the indigenous peoples’ rights over their minerals and water” is behind the high incidence of poverty in the region. # nordis.net