Today is September 22, 2017
Today is September 22, 2017

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The Fight for Environmental Justice

Posted on July 25, 2013

As posted in www.inquirer.net, July 15, 2013 –

He is the first to admit he became an environmental activist by accident. As a priest, he saw the anguish of his parishioners, notably the Mangyan community in Mindoro. The ecosystems upon which they and their forebears primarily relied on for sustenance for generations had been vastly degraded. Mining had become a scourge in their lives.

According to Fr. Edwin Gariguez, Mindoro Island is one of the largest food producing provinces in the Philippines and the seventh most important biodiversity hotspot in the world. Agriculture, biodiversity protection, human rights and mining simply do not mix.

Fr. Edu, as he is fondly called, is one of the six 2012 Goldman Prize awardees and is the executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ National Secretariat for Social Action. He is among the growing number of Filipinos leading the fight for environmental justice and ecological integrity, opposing a highly destructive activity such as mining, as so much is at stake, including food security, human rights, and yes, our own survival in this climate challenged era.

Fr. Edu Gariguez was in town and joined the panel of distinguished resource speakers from the legal, scientific and grassroots communities in sharing their learnings in the recently-concluded Environmental Law Symposium at West Gorordo Hotel, with the theme ”Integrating Legal Remedies to Protect Natural Resources in the Philippines”. Co-organized by the Philippine Earth Justice Center, Inc., and the Foundation for Philippine Environment (FPE), the important event aimed to enhance the environmental lawyers’ network in the country consisting of legal practitioners in the field of environmental law and sharing of insights and lessons in environmental legal defense. It definitely attained the objectives, capped by a highly inspiring visit to the Renewable Energy (RE)-powered house of Councilor Nestor Archival and the stand-alone solar housing unit which, if replicated nationwide, will revolutionize the slow RE Program of the administration.

We oppose mining as it has caused more heartaches, destroyed ecosystems and has potential to exacerbate disasters. The Philippines is a mega-diversity country, but now saddled with low forest cover. It has very high geo-hazard risks from flooding, landslides, siltation and the destruction of important biodiversity areas. Alarmingly, according to the United Nations Report on Mining in the Philippines, over half of the active mining concessions and two-thirds of exploratory concessions are located in areas of high seismic risk where earthquakes are considered likely.

Pursuant to the study by the United Nations University’s Institute for Environment and Human Security and the German Alliance Development Works, the Philippines ranks third in the list of countries most vulnerable to climate change. “Factors, such as land conversion, deforestation, and mining activities, worsen the effects of climate change and have a multiplier effect on disasters.” (A quote from Rodne Galicha, Philippine country district manager of The Climate Reality Project (TCRP), http://globalnation.inquirer.net/14987/philippines-ranks-third-on-climate-change-vulnerability-list#ixzz2PPq5xiaZ).

Unfortunately, despite the devastating impacts and the laws and policies promoting sustainability and ecological integrity, which prioritize the quality of life of the people, and our unique high biodiversity endemism, the policy on unsustainable projects such as mining was continued by the present Aquino administration. The law, RA 7942, Philippine Mining Act of 1995, is treated as cast in stone, seemingly impermeable to the continuing destruction of ecosystems and properties, death, and damages suffered by the people and the clearly strong legal framework for environmental protection, public participation and local autonomy under the 1987 Constitution, environmental laws and the more recent statutes on climate change and disaster risk reduction.

It is true that President Benigno Aquino III launched the National Greening Program and issued Executive Order No. 79 committing to comply with existing laws to protect the environment and establish a no-go areas for mining (section 1), and put in place an Integrated Map System to include Mining Related Maps, to guide “all planning and decision-making process” (section 16). However, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources lifted the mining moratorium even without the committed maps and the failure to identify specifically the No-Go areas for mining.

It is time to review our priorities if we are to consider the needs of the present and future generations. Will we leave them a barren earth or one capable of nurturing life for both humans and non-humans?

Let us ponder Fr. Edu’s Acceptance Speech as Goldman Prize awardee and reflect how we can help in the fight for environmental justice for all:

“I was taught by the Mangyan indigenous peoples to care for the earth. For them nature is likened to a womb that sustains us with life. One of these leaders is Badang, a Mangyan woman that went on hunger strike with me. She was ready to die to save the watershed threatened by mining. For her, once the forest is destroyed, we too will perish. She helped me understand that what is at stake in the campaign is the survival of our planet, of which we are merely a part.”

“Protecting the rights of the poor must take precedence over corporate greed. Genuine development must prioritize the need to ensure ecological sustainability over market profitability. We should never sacrifice people and the environment for short-term benefit of the few.”

“I also believe that in our effort to save our environment, we need to promote global solidarity. We have only one world to care for and to protect, and every small initiative matters.”

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