2011 will be remembered as the year where deep-seated environmental concerns captured public consciousness and discourse the year round. Pollution, ecological destruction, a climate of impunity towards environmental defenders, and the chronic economic crises pushed by the systematic plunder of our natural resources have gravely impacted on various ecosystems, encompassing the lives and livelihood of many Filipinos. The following are ten major green events that shook our nation and shaped its direction towards the arduous path of development.
1. The murder of Dr. Gerry Ortega. A wildlife veterinarian, advocacy journalist and dedicated environmental activist, Ortega was a stalwart in the campaign against destructive large-scale mining in the pristine lands of Palawan. He helped organize the multi-sectoral Save Palawan Movement to protect the country’s final frontier from mining operations, and promoted various community-based eco-tourism projects as an alternative and sustainable source of livelihood. Ortega was killed in January 24, 2011 by a hired assassin linked to ex-Palawan governor Joel Reyes, known for his pro-mining track record and involved in alleged corruption of revenue from the Malampaya Natural Gas Project.
The 37th environmental activist killed since 2001, Ortega’s case was followed by seven more cases this year, including the killing of Italian missionary priest Fr. Fausto ‘Pops’ Tentorio by government-sponsored paramilitary units for his anti-mining advocacy. In fact, the eight victims of political killings in 2011 were all anti-mining activists. Despite this, the Aquino administration has continued to prescribe the deployment of regular and paramilitary units to protect mining investments from community opposition. The death anniversary of biodiversity conservationist and taxonomist Leonard Co came with still not a word of condolence from Pres. Aquino. Not a single case has been resolved to date.
2. Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown. The industrial giant that is Japan was forced to its knees when the massive Tohoku earthquake and tsunami hit home on March 11, 2011, causing an estimated US$235 billion in damages. What followed was the largest nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Russia when the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant’s reactors experienced full meltdown.
The release of radioactive materials were reported to have continued well into September, with future cancer deaths estimated from 100 to 1,000. This led to the resurgence of anti-nuclear movements across the globe, including the Philippines where the prospects of reviving the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant is still pursued by bureaucrat capitalists such as Rep. Mark Cojuangco.
3. Black coral and other wildlife trading. An expanse of coral reefs twice the size of Manila (or 7,000 hectares) was reported to have been decimated by poachers on May 25, 2011 off the coast of Cotabato province. Hunted for its value in the multibillion-dollar marine ornamental industry, 21,169 pieces of black corals were harvested, and 161 endangered turtles were also killed in the process. Some senate investigations and a blog action day later, the issue has virtually died.
Meanwhile, the sale of Geckos to foreigners were reported in Negros Occidental, with each Gecko weighing at least 500 grams selling for Php100,000 or more. The consumption of Geckos are largely believed to cure various diseases such as skin diseases, asthma and even HIV, despite no known pharmacological research that certifies these notions. The Department of Environment Natural Resources (DENR) have also reported the population of Tamaraws dropping from 314 in 2010 to 274 Tamaraws this year due to habitat loss and poaching.
4. The Filing of the People’s Mining Bill in Congress. Authored by Bayan Muna. Rep. Teddy Casino alongside other progressive lawmakers, scientists, environmental and grassroots activists, HB 4315 or the People’s Mining Bill (PMB) was filed on March 2, 2011 before the anniversary of the Mining Act of 1995. This was one of three different mining law alternatives presented to Congress that aims to junk the current mining laws that has contributed to the wholesale of our nation’s mineral resources to foreign large-scale plunder.
The PMB differs from the other mining bills in its framework of national industrialization, seeking to reorient the mining industry from its current liberalized character towards one that promotes local development and environmental safety through state ownership and regulation. It has already garnered popular support from church institutions, indigenous people’s groups, local government officials, and a pledge from Sen. Bong Revilla to sponsor the senate counterpart of the bill.
5. Aquino administration as ‘pro-mining regime.’ A number of trends in the policies and statements of Pres. Benigno Aquino III has reinforced the conclusion early on that the Aquino regime heralds the continuation of the Arroyo regime’s anti-environment and anti-people mining liberalization legacy. The first is the confirmation of Ramon Paje as the environment secretary, the Arroyo-era secretary responsible for the landslide of approved mineral applications in the previous regime, seen as a continuity plan for the rapid facilitation of foreign mining investments.
Second is the series of statements Pres. Aquino and his cohorts released during the Mining Philippines 2011 Conference on September 13, up to the 58th Mine Safety Week on November 8. These include lauding large-scale mining as the eco-friendly alternative (supposedly because it is under the “watchful eye” of the government’s regulation) to small-scale mining, speeding up the process of mining applications to cash in on the rising global market prices of gold, securing new mining investments from Chinese and Korean companies, and intervening in the South Cotobato local government’s environment code banning large-scale mining.
6. The threat of coal and other dirty technologies. Under the guise of “clean coal technology,” Pres. Aquino has already inaugurated at least 2 coal-fired power plants in his first year of presidency. The bulk of $3.7 billion worth of energy investments announced by Aquino last year came from Marubeni corporation, promising to invest in coal power projects. Local communities, NGOs and government officials in Davao and Zambales have actively opposed the pending projects, disproving the promises of reduced air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and energy price rates.
Meanwhile, the growing garbage crisis has revived the talk of implementing incinerator technologies, using the same greenwashing tactic of clean technology with the MMDA chair Francis Tolentino and Sec. Paje floating rhetoric of “zero-emission” incinerators. Corporate interests have also repackaged incinerators as “Waste-to-Energy” or WTE schemes, promoting it as not only a solution to waste, but as a renewable source of energy.
7. Bird sanctuary threatened by reclamation. One of the last remaining “heritage” mangroves in the urban landscape of the National Capital Region, the Las Pinas-Paranaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area (LPPCHEA) is a 175-hectare wetland area along the Manila Bay that was declared a protected area and serves as a sanctuary for rare and uncommon bird species. The LPPCHEA continues to be threatened by a 635-hectare reclamation project by the PRA aiming to establish an ambitious business center and a highway that will possibly cut through the reserve’s mangroves to link it to the rest of Metro Manila.
The mounted opposition by environmental advocates alongside fisherfolk and urban poor communities living around the coastal lagoon helped bring to fore the various reclamation projects threatening different coastal ecosystems and communities. And why would they not, when reclamation has caused the decline of fish catch and bird populations, directly affecting the fisheries and ecotourism in the area?
8. NPA resistance to mines in Surigao del Norte. The tyranny of mining did not go unnoticed this year, as the revolutionary New People’s Army dispensed some much called-for justice in one of the most daring guerrilla strikes in Philippine history on three large-scale mining operations in the town of Claver, Surigao del Norte. Not a single employee was hurt as some 300 NPA rebels burned down 10 dump trucks, eight backhoes, two barges and a guest house, and seized several guns from company-hired security guards on October 2, 2011.
A day after, an investigative documentary on the ecologically-destructive mining operations in Claver coincidentally aired to a nation-wide audience of millions. This resulted in the isolation of the usual detractors – the Aquino regime, AFP, and the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines – from the general sentiments of the public who approved of the punishment that the government has failed to exact for decades. Even the neoliberal economist Solita Monsod was forced to acknowledge this.
9. Pedring, Sendong and Occupy COP 17. Typhoon Pedring and Quiel inflicted Php15 billion worth of infrastructural and agricultural damage when it made landfall on the Philippines last September 27. Two months later, Pres. Aquino approved the National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAP) going into the Conference of Parties 17 (COP 17), the international climate talks, claiming that the Philippines was among the most climate resilient nations. The NCCAP was criticized by militant environmental activists to be lacking in policy backbone, with its framework, the Climate Change Act of 2009, remaining subservient to imperialist and corporate interests.
Then came Typhoon Sendong just this December, catching Northern Mindanao and parts of Visayas unaware and resulting in the deadliest typhoon disaster of 2011 with over 1,100 dead in Iligan, Cagayan de Oro and Dumaguete City. For all its talk on climate resiliency, contrary evidence manifested in the exposure by Kabataan Rep. Raymond Palatino of Pres. Aquino’s veto of the proposed Php5 billion disaster preparedness budget, and in the causality of legal logging, mining and land-use conversion in aggravating the vulnerabilities of communities to landslides and flashfloods.
10. The travesty of EO 23’s total log ban. An open letter by BenCyrus Ellorin in MindaNews revealed that a significant cause of massive flashfloods in the Typhoon Sendong tragedy was the direct result of continuing logging operations permitted by the DENR through Integrated Forestry Management Agreements (IFMAs) and Community-Based Forestry Management Agreements (CBFMAs) in nearby Mt. Katalungan, and exempted from the EO 23 total log ban imposed last February 2011. In addition to this, a 2009 study by the National Institute of Geological Sciences revealed that another driver of forest cover loss in the Upper Pulangui watershed, was the 2,000-hectare land use conversion in the area into a pineapple plantation.
It took thousands of lives lost to expose EO 23 as a travesty. It must be noted that prior to this, Pres. Aquino even exempted several mining corporations from the standing log ban, so long as they integrate their corporate social responsibility programs in the DENR’s national greening program. Environmental activists questioned: is a reforestation program that takes decades to mature enough to offset the large-scale deforestation posed by extractive corporations?
Notable are the grassroots movements that have held ground in areas of mining aggression, with the people of biodiversity-rich Romblon successful in driving away the Ivanhoe mining corporation and South Cotobato holding on to its environmental code. Urban-based activists were able to mount protest actions that exposed the PR gimmickry of the mining lobby’s national mining conference and mine safety week. The Communist Party of the Philippines, meanwhile, has expressed in its 43rd anniversary statement its commitment to punish destructive mining, logging and other land use operations.
The Philippine disaster experience has remained the same: the infrastructure for emergency response is well in place but largely reactive in character. Corporate media and mainstream civil society organizations have developed a penchant for immediate but anarchistic relief operations, but the nation’s roadmap in general is portent to more Ondoys and Sendongs in the future with its market-based approaches that have no teeth nor bark against the world’s historic and current top GHG polluters.
At the year’s onset, we saw the filing of pro-environment legislation such as the PMB and the Anti-SLAPP Bill. At the end of 2011, we saw the beginnings of the Kalikasan Partylist in their first public appearance on national TV at ABS-CBN’s morning news for a talk on government-approved logging as cause of the Typhoon Sendong tragedy. Expect 2012 to witness the outpour of environmental advocates onto the political battlefield.
As we face the prospects of the Aquino administration’s mounting support for foreign and elite-owned, extractive and pollutive industries in 2012, let us heed well the best practices and address the weaknesses in struggling for the people and the environment that we have witnessed in the year that was. If 2011 saw an unprecedented level of ecological awareness, let 2012 be the year where we see an unprecedented number of new mass activists joining progressive environmental organizations, for we saw this year that only through effectively educating, organizing and mobilizing the people can we nurture the fruits of environmental advocacy.