The men who risk their lives and livelihoods to protect the environment, (from left) Terso, Richardo, a biologist known as 'Doctor Jong', and Danilo, with Timoay Barlie Balibes and his son Gerry, both of hwom have already paid the ultimate pricne for their dedicated work with their lives.
God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good (Genesis 1:31). We listen to those words every year in the Easter Vigil. They are the fundamental reason we should have profound respect for God's creation, irrespective of any talk about possible environmental disasters. This profound respect is expressed beautifully in God's inspired word in Psalm 104 (103) and in the Canticle of the Three Young Men (Daniel 3:46-90), used in the Church's Morning Prayer on Solemnities, Feasts and on the first Sunday of the four-week cycle.
Pine forest, Benguet, northern Philippines [Wikipedia]
The following article is from the the 13 July edition of Sunday Examiner, the English-language weekly newspaper of the Diocese of Hong Kong. It is featured in the Mabuhay section. Fr Sean Martin, who is extensively quoted, is a Columban priest who has been in Mindanao for almost 40 years.
MIDSALIP (Mabuhay) : If there is an award for the most sickening event of the year, long term missionary to Mindanao, Father Sean Martin, says that he wants to nominate the Department for the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
Fr Sean Martin (r) [A Vicious Cycle of Destruction]
He said that its decision to present awards for the National Greening Programme to the big time illegal loggers in Mindanao at a ceremony held in Oroquieta City on June 4 is one of the sickest things he has seen in decades.
“Witnessing this expression of solidarity with those who continually destroy the environment was a depressing experience for the few who continually risk their lives to protect the environment who attended the ceremony,” he told Mabuhay.
Destruction of lowland area of Sierra Madre, Philippines [Wikipedia]
Awards were presented to Nova Wood Forest Industries, Third Millennium Oil Mills Inc., Misamis Occidental Wood Processing Association, Jim Santos, Manuel Animas, Bejamin Lauron, Joy Ong and Jocilyn Capirig.
Father Martin accused each and every one of the award recipients of pretending to protect the environment that in actual fact they are destroying on a daily basis.
He said that each and every one of them is acting in contravention of Executive Order No. 23, which was issued in 2011 by the president, Noynoy Aquino, to safeguard the environment in the rainforests of Mindanao.
Fr Sean Martin with friends in Midsalip [A Vicious Cycle of Destruction]
The order explicitly bans the cutting down of any trees, yet, Father Martin says that the local offices of the DENR routinely issue logging permits for operations in forbidden areas to the very companies and people whom it is now decorating for protecting the environment.
“These people give out permits to cut logs for a huge fee to people who are involved in logging,” the feisty Columban priest says. “The scrap of paper gives a semblance of legality, which is often enough to prevent concerned citizens in rural areas from protecting the environment.”
Midsalip picket area [Hope for Midsalip]
He says that trucks heavily laden with hardwood logs can be seen on a daily basis returning from areas where logging is banned, which in its turn causes more soil erosion and more flooding, while making the dry season longer and the water supply less reliable.
“The cutting of hard wood trees continues, the floods get bigger causing more damage and the dry season gets longer making it harder for poor people to survive,” he said.
He then quoted an indigenous Subaanen person, who lives in a rural area, as saying, “The officials and loggers are blind to the destruction that they are causing.”
He said that the sickening feeling in the stomachs of all people who work to protect the environment in Midsalip, Zamboanga del Sur, as well as the members of the Alliance to Save the Integrity of Nature (ASIN) is on a par with those who were subjected to the farcical presentation of awards by the DENR.
Father Martin described how members of ASIN presented themselves to the department over three years ago and asked to be deputised to look after the environment. He added that several of their members gave their complete bio-data, as requested, and were told that they would be notified in the near future.
“But nothing has happened since then, except that relatives of the barangay captains in Sigapod and Matalang in Midsalip, who are involved in logging, have been nominated as the official protectors of the environment,” Father Martin said in disgust.
Sierra Madre mountain range, Philippines [Wikipedia]
He described how this effectively thwarts any attempt by honest officials from the main office in Pagadian City to respond to reports by ASIN when they come to investigate what is really going on.
He said that the barangay captains simply inform their cronies in advance that there will be an inspection and all evidence is hidden.
“The efforts of powerless people to safeguard the environment by planting trees and reporting destruction are ignored,” the Irish missionary says.
He then directly accused officials from the municipal office in Midsalip of cooperating with Nova Woods in conducting illegal logging.
“Two saws for cutting timber are installed along the main road to Midsalip in Barangay Bakahan (five kilometres from the town) and in Eastern Sominot, about 15 kilometres from the town of Midsalip, where Nova Woods has its truck depot,” Father Martin explained.
He described officials from the DENR as scauldies (young birds in the nest with their eyes closed and their mouths open), waiting for whatever those who can plunder the environment will give them.
“It is often money, like the official from the town of Bonifacio, Misamis Occidental, who clarified during a meeting in 2013 with concerned citizens that his family had a permit to cut trees and had paid hundreds of thousands of pesos for the permit, and so their seven band-saws are operating legally,” Father Martin related.
Filing petition for writ of kalikasan at the Supreme Court [Hope for Midsalip]
The missionary priest says that the worst of the matter is that the damage being done is forever.
He quotes a detailed geological study done by an English mining engineer and a geologist, Clive Wicks and Robert Goodland, as saying, “Past willful negligence of the fundamental connection between natural resources management and food security has cost The Philippines dearly.”
In their study, The Philippines: Mining or Food? Wicks and Goodland say, “As a result of this, the country has suffered from two massive hemorrhages: the loss of most of its forests from the 1950s to the 1980s; and the loss of much of its fisheries since then.”
They point out that the loss leads to a drop in rice production and affects rainfall and water supply.
“The unnecessary and nationally unprofitable loss of forests and fisheries are akin to killing the goose that would have laid golden eggs in perpetuity,” they say, adding that they are the golden eggs that sustain the poorest people in the land.
“The structure of evil is strong,” Father Martin says.
He added that those who protect nature are highly likely to get shot or have their land and possessions destroyed, while those who destroy the environment are in line for government decorations and accolades, which he said mocks both the president and the people in one sickening handshake.
... relatives of the barangay captains in Sigapod and Matalang in Midsalip, who are involved in logging, have been nominated as the official protectors of the environment.
Outside the Supreme Court [Hope for Midsalip]
You may read more about this situation on MISYONonline.com:
A Vicious Cycles of Destruction by John Din;
Hope for Midsalip by Mary Joy Rile.