Rethinking Society Over a Cup of Coffee

A Communal Action to Protect the Environment

I have just attended the Bishops – Legislators Forum on Environment Concerns. The Forum was convened by the archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro led by Archbishop Antonio Ledesma. This is a response to recent floods which left three people dead and affected 16,104 families or 83,321 individuals in 47 barangays or more than half of the city's 80 barangays.

The legislators were represented by Rep. Rufus Rodriguez of the second district of Cagayan de Oro City, Rep. Teofisto Guingona Jr. of the 2nd district of Bukidnon and Rep. Jose Ping-ay of NATCCO.

The bishops side were represented by Bishop Antonio Ledesma, Bishop Juan de dios Pueblos of Butuan and Bishop Edwin de la Pena of Marawi. Also present were Father Falcon representing the diocese of Tandag and Father Danilo Paciente of the Diocese of Malaybalay.The forum was attended by various civil society groups, media, farmers and people’s organization.

The two main issues that surfaced in the forum were mining and logging. Bishop Pueblos said that CARAGA has become the mining capital of the Philippines. He recalled that before the Philippine mining of 1995 was implemented, it was hard for mining companies to secure a permit but now there are 143 applications in CARAGA alone, 83 of which are already approved.

The mining act fully allows foreigners to the ownership and operation of mining companies here in the Philippines and gives mining companies tax holidays for 10 years. The Arroyo government said it is responsible mining but again “there is no responsible mining in a graft-ridden government”.

In Cagayan de Oro, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) data shows that the bureau already approved three Exploration Permits (EP) covering a total of 7,123 hectares for gold and other minerals. The permittees are Eagle Crest Mining and Development Corporation, Cypress Mining and Development Corporation and Glendale Mining and Development Corporation.

In response, Rep Rufus Rodriguez said that he has filed House Bill 5888 in congress which seeks to make Cagayan de Oro a mining free zone. The bill intends to criminalize metallic ore mining or gold mining and regulate non-metallic mining or sand gravel operations in the city. The bill proposes bill proposes an imprisonment of at least six to 12 years for violators, including fines ranging from P100,000 to P500,000. If the offense is committed by a corporation or association, “the president and the manager/s of said corporation or association, or its agent or representative in the Philippines, in case of a foreign corporation or association, shall be held liable.” Rodriguez has also filed House Bill No. 5887 to declare Cagayan de Oro a logging-free zone.

Bishop Ledesma said in his synthesis that community awareness on environmental issues has prompted a call to action which is a concerted effort from all sectors of society to protect the environment. Alternative livelihood should also be available for workers who depend on mining as a source of income. He connected it to the advocacy to reform and extend the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program saying that farming can be an alternative livelihood. Farming and the environment are very much interrelated.

This is already a step towards protecting our environment.