OPINION & EDITORIAL NEWS

16/12/2003

The state of the Philippine environment (An audit)
By Leonarda N. Camacho
 
THE Philippines is an archipelago of 7,107 islands with only 300,000 square kilometers of land inhabited by some 80 million people.
 
What is unique about the Philippines is its 220 million hectares of territorial seas that contain the most biologically rich marine life in the world – the Sulawesi Marine Triangle.

What is fantastic about the Philippines is that it is the richest store of fish, corals, and other marine life in the entire world!

Today, however, the Philippine environment is in a critical state – legal and illegal logging threaten its remaining 800,000 hectares of forest cover, unnecessary mining activities are going on; and illegal fishing are done by smart businessmen.

This critical situation inspired the Commission on Science and Technology to undertake the comprehensive audit or inventory of the Philippine environment as quickly as possible.

In partnership with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources which prepared the comprehensive survey form, the Commission sent out 5,000 survey forms to all the DENR regional, provincial, and municipal directors; 79 provincial governors; 115 city mayors; 1,496 municipal mayors; and the members of the three largest women’s organizations of the Philippines – the National Federation of Women’s Clubs of the Philippines, the National Council of Women of the Philippines and the Rural Improvement Clubs of the Philippines. The three groups of respondents are intended to cross-validate one another, thereby getting the most realistic situation.

We can never protect our environment and conserve our natural resources unless we know what we still have and where they are.

Our policies, plans, and programs will all be guessing game unless we know where we are starting from and from there, where we want to go.

Formulating a strategic plan for ensuring a healthy environment and productive natural resources is the dream of all Filipinos.

An environment audit will map biodiversity hotspots and sensitive bioregions, track down land cover changes due to deforestation and flooding and monitor actual status of fishing grounds and coral reefs.

Actually, increasing population, over-consumption and dubious technology, and greed for money are driving the human impact on our environment.

Preliminary Audit

As the reports flow in since May 30, 2003 we learned that while there are bad news, there are also good news.

There are significant areas that are intact:

For instance, the only existing “pygmy forest” in the Philippines located in the border of Mati and San Isidro, Davao Oriental is in danger. Pygmy forests, which are very rare in the world, are natural prehistoric virgin. “Bonsai Forests” having predominantly dwarf trees and plants. This pygmy forest is due to the abundant cobalt under the ground.

This abundant cobalt is now threatening the forest. A foreign mining company and some local officials are moving heaven and earth to mine the forest and to hell with the environment and health of the people.

Another still intact mountains are in the Caraballo Range in Nueva Viscaya. The report says that two foreign companies are fighting tooth and nail with the communities in the mountains to mine gold and copper. The residents would rather continue their citrus plantations.

In Mindanao, too, specifically Maguindanao, communities are busily engaged in fighting off soil erosion by weaving choir mats and placing them on eroding roads and highways. The communities in Maguindanao are also using vetiver grass to fight soil erosion. They also have 30,000 hectares of intact wetlands.

In Panay Island, the communities, with the help of Philippine Endemic Species Conservation Project funded by Germany, are successfully maintaining seed banks for the propagation of indigenous trees.

Batanes and Catanduanes still have their pristine mountains, forests and rivers.

In Tayabas Bay, Quezon, the government is transplanting corals after the corals there were destroyed by cyanide fishing.

In the small island of Hingutanan, Bien Unido, Bohol, there are two water tanks run by solar energy. About 3,000 residents are provided water by this solar-induced water reservoir.

In Western Samar, along Maqueda Bay, 91 hectares have been planted to mangroves.

Now, for the bad news. Palawan is now in jeopardy.

It is bad enough that parts of Palawan were mined for the last 25 years of nickel ore – leaving behind environmental degradation and ill-health and poverty to the communities, today, a foreign mining company, in conspiracy with some government officials, intend to build a hydrometallurgical processing plant. This is an environment disaster waiting to happen. Remember Marcopper in Marinduque?

The damage is greater than the profit. People’s health are non-negotiable.

Just as bad is the situation in Paracale, Camarines Norte. An alleged illegal and unlicensed gold processing plant is merrily engaged in making money to the detriment of the health of the people. This activity has been going on for 10 years. Is the government aware?

Another discovery of the audit.

The San Roque Dam in San Manuel, Pangasinan is in operation. However, there are howls of protest from environmentalists.

And with reason. Small dams are less disaster-prone.

Big dams like Aswan Dam in Egypt and Three Georges in China created havoc on the environment.

Experts around the world opine that while gigantic dams have brought benefits in water supply, the social and environmental costs have been high. More than 80 million people have been displaced globally, mostly tribal communities. San Roque Dam displaced the Ibaloys.

Large dams, damaged aquatic habitat as in Aswan Dam, and blocked migration routes for spawning species.

The Casecnan Dam in Nueva Ecija is a disappointment.

Another bad news is the illegal logging now going on in the Bislig Forests, Surigao, as well as in Quezon where the forest rangers of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources were withdrawn for fear of their lives from the illegal loggers.

As well as the unbelievable marine poaching in the South China Sea and Batanes. But the foreign marine poachers in Batanes who were released after being caught by the local government takes the cake. The poachers were released on the ground that the “rights of the poachers as recognized by international conventions and reflected in our Constitution are superior to the interests of the Ivatans.” Astounding and breath-taking!!!

Well, so much for the bad news.

This wealth of information (environment audit) will be submitted to the national government, the economic planners and decision makers, businessmen and of course environment scientists for remedial measures.

Then and only then, will the Philippine government be able to CORRECTLY plan to reforest denuded forests, stop unnecessary mining, clean the rivers and lakes, prevent overfishing and destruction of corals.

Then and only then will the biospheres of the Philippines be protected and conserved.

We invite the world to help the Philippines preserve the most biologically rich marine life in the world.

  

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