> Environment suffered badly, say critics – philip tubeza

Environment suffered badly, say critics

By Philip Tubeza
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 04:35:00 07/27/2009

MANILA, Philippines—Environmentalist Jesus Nicanor “Nicky” Perlas III says he remembers the day in mid-2001 when it all started to go downhill for the environment under the Arroyo administration.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was presiding over a meeting in Malacañang of the Philippine Council for Sustainable Development when she dropped a “bombshell.”

“She said she thought the pursuit of sustainable development was anti-poor,” Perlas said of Ms Arroyo’s remarks to the multisectoral group created under the Ramos administration to ensure that development did not damage the environment.

Perlas, a recipient of the United Nations’ Earth Warrior Award who has announced plans to run for president next year, said he thought Ms Arroyo was giving priority to antipoverty initiatives over ecological balance.

The President’s statement shocked civil society leaders and was a portent of things to come, said Perlas, who actively participated in the Edsa II people power revolt that catapulted Ms. Arroyo to power in 2001.

“Obviously, she was misinformed because the environment is the source of life, clean air, natural resources. It was like she was in a time-warp,” said Perlas, who has resigned from the council.

“The whole point of the (UN) Earth Summit in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro was to show that there was no conflict between the environment and development. We had a global consensus there and yet there she was saying these things 10 years after,” he said.

“The deterioration of the environment in almost every aspect could be traced to that statement eight years ago,” Perlas said.

Ms Arroyo’s record on logging and mining was the worst since the dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ ouster in 1986, according to Perlas and other green advocates.

Most destructive

“For me, she’s the most destructive,” said Clemente Bautista Jr., national coordinator of the environmentalist group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment.

Bautista said the President had failed to allocate a sufficient budget for reforestation after foreign donors withdrew funding for the initiative.

“It was only in 2009 that she allotted P1 billion for reforestation but that is related to elections. From 2001 to 2008, there was nothing,” Bautista said.

He said the administration claimed in 2004 to have increased the nation’s forest cover to almost 24 percent—7.168 million hectares from 4.7 million hectares in 2003.

But a check with the Forest Management Bureau showed that only 294,625 hectares had been reforested since the Ramos administration until 2006, Bautista said. For 2006, a measly 7,233 hectares were reforested, he added.

Redefining forest cover

Bautista said that the administration tried to increase the country’s forest cover by redefining the meaning of the word “forest” and including private tree plantations and parks in private subdivisions in the classification.

He said that 2.1 million hectares of the country’s forests were under logging concessions and logging production actually increased during the Arroyo administration.

From 800,000 cubic meters in 2000, log production went down to 571,000 cubic meters in 2001 before reaching 841,000 cubic meters in 2005, 1.035 million cubic meters in 2006 and 803,000 cubic meters in 2007, he said.

Bautista said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in the last four years had yet to reveal new data on the country’s forest cover.

“We suspect that the reason behind this is it will debunk their claim that forest cover increased. An independent assessment by the Center for Environmental Concerns estimated our forest cover at only 14 to 16 percent, using an old estimate of our deforestation rate,” he added.

Perlas said the administration had failed to fully implement a number of laws—the Clean Air Act of 1999, the Clean Water Act of 2004, Solid Waste Management of 2000, or the new Renewable Energy Act of 2008—meant to arrest environmental degradation.


Environment Secretary Lito Atienza said the Palace had allocated P3 billion for the solid waste management program, but admitted that compliance was low.

He said that only 20 percent of barangays had their own materials recovery facilities and admitted that some 700 open dumps still exist. “But what is encouraging is the awareness of these environmental programs. Awareness is very big.”

Atienza said a P2-billion effort was being pursued for the reforestation of upland areas and guarding forested areas from the illegal cutting of trees. Local communities were involved in the initiative and paid, he said.

“The program provides livelihood and addresses the issues of employment and poverty alleviation,” he said. So far, the program has employed some 100,000 community members in various parts of the country and the reforestation of 51,000 hectares in watershed areas this year.

The administration is also dredging the Pasig River, which is tied up to efforts to clean up the Manila Bay and Laguna Lake. Atienza said efforts here had been difficult, but a recent Supreme Court decision ordering government to clean up Manila Bay had helped.

Dying Laguna de Bay

Perlas pointed out that fish pens continued to thrive in Laguna de Bay which, he said, hastened its “dying.” Buses continue to pollute Metro Manila and other urban areas, he said.

Plans to amend the Constitution to allow foreigners to own land could have severe consequences, he said.

“If they come in, they will have plantations for biofuel and food production,” Perlas said, pointing out these involve intensive chemical farming.

“The production of biofuels is also a threat to our food security. They’ve already committed 2 million hectares for biofuel and that will mean monocropping. They claim that these are idle lands but these areas used to be forests that we should rehabilitate instead,” Bautista said.

On climate change, Perlas said that while the government had set up a task force to tackle the issue, it still “lacks focus and does not know what it is doing.”

“There was no policy on climate change until two years ago after Typhoon “Frank” cost us P17 billion. That’s usually attributed to 22 typhoons but that happened in just one so they woke up and set up a task force. But until now, there’s no concrete action,” Perlas said.

“They’re proposing a budget of P15 billion to address climate change but that’s small compared to this huge problem that will affect millions of Filipinos. This is really neglect,” he added.

Mining industry champion

But if there’s one issue that really raises the ire of environmentalists, it was Ms. Arroyo’s emergence as a champion of the mining industry even when its practices became destructive to the environment.

“Mining was the worst. As early as 2002, she launched her mining revitalization program with 22 or 23 mining projects and this figure rose to 63 by 2008. The acceleration in granting mining permits was consistent during her time,” Bautista said.

As of July 2008, around 600,000 hectares of mineral land, “many of which are in watershed areas,” were under mining concessions, he added.

Bautista said this policy blew up when what was supposed to be her “flagship mining project with the most modern mining facilities”—operated by Lafayette Mining Inc. on Rapu-Rapu island in Albay—had a major mine spill in October 2005.

“After five months of operation, there was a mine spill. In one year, there were five fish kills and then there was a major landslide,” he said.

Disappearing fish catch

Bautista said he and other environmentalists returned to the island in May and discovered that until now residents were still suffering from the effects of the spillage.

“We went there and the residents complained that there was a 70 to 90 percent reduction in their fishing (yield). There’s hunger,” he said.

“We were told by residents that before, they could go fishing on the shore and get two to three kilos of fish. Now it takes them two to three days to get a kilo,” he said.

Perlas said that resolutions against mining passed by local governments had been ignored in Manila.

“Civil society is not against mining per se but we believe that the wealth of the country belongs to the people. Why allow only foreigners, the big companies to get all the wealth from it?” he said.

He said some tribal chieftains of indigenous communities were even bribed just to get their agreement necessary for the issuance of environmental clearance certificates.

“If you’re looking for bright spots, it’s not in the national government. It’s at the local government level,” he said, citing successes in stopping illegal fishing in the Visayas Sea.

Otherwise, there’s little to show over all in the improving the environment. With a report from Alcuin Papa



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