Monday, November 5, 2012

Wanted: Environment Defenders

(A revised version of this essay was published in Manila Standard Today on November 5, 2012)

Five years ago, I found myself riding in a tricycle within Ateneo de Manila campus heading out to Katipunan Avenue – in silence.

Suddenly I noticed that tears began to flow from eyes. The lady beside me who happened to be one of our local organization’s trustee embraced me and she began to cry, as well.

Yes, one of our leaders was shot to death that very day in an isolated island called Sibuyan. He was killed by an armed mining security officer while leading a protest against a research activity funded by a mining company. He was infuriated by the fact that mining conglomerate dummies were given special license to cut some 70,000 trees and the world’s largest nickel mining company was trying to invest in the island.

To my knowledge, this is the only environmental killing case which a court tried to resolved – with three years imprisonment for the killer, after five years of seeking for justice.

Weeks after the court decision, the local government units of the province of Romblon, from the governor down to the lowly concerned barangay captain were sued by a mining company for their local issuances against mining aiming to protect the environment and the rights of the their constituents.

Three years ago, I was invited to visit a municipality in the northernmost part of the country where both onshore and offshore sands are being extracted for magnetite. The local executive sought our help on how to halt the mining operations in which, ironically, allegedly the legislative chief fully supported.

For the record, the local executive broke the chain of decades-long political dynasty when he won the 2007 local elections. However, he was charged with a lot of administrative cases at the provincial council and was suspended twice. The vice-mayor then took over the mayoralty twice.

I was there in the last take-over. I was with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) team to visit the magnetite mining site. When we went back to the municipal hall, we were barred by armed policemen to enter. But I argued that my bag is in the mayor’s office. I was allowed to enter but the CHR was disallowed. To my dismay, they left the area in which until now the reason is unknown to me.

The mayor stood up by his principles and the municipal hall was locked inside. He declined to step down. Hours passed by, the electricity line was cut, no water - with armed men around the area. Evening came and thanks to an internet broadband stick with a fully-charged laptop, I was able to communicate to Manila.

At last, through our religious connections, I was able to jump out from a window and was escorted by armed men to a makeshift police security station where I was interrogated. The police head in command told me that the vice mayor wanted to see me and that I should go to his place. I declined because I knew my life and security were highly at risk given the situation.

I was allowed to go away, alone. I walked for almost a kilometer in the dark while at one time men riding in a motorcycle approached me and asked questions in a language I was unable to comprehend. I just walked and walked until I reached the place where I was fetched by church representative for safety.

The mayor gave up his post the following day. After a year, his close confidante and leader of the anti-mining movement was shot to death.

To date since year 2007, there are more than 30 environment activists who were murdered, almost all have been receiving threats and being harassed.

Most recent were the murders of children Jordan Manda of Zamboanga del Sur, Jordan and Janjan with their pregnant mother Juvy Capion of Davao del Sur. Capion’s family has been opposing the largest copper mine in Southeast Asia, the Tampakan Copper-Gold Project of SMI-Xstrata.

On the day when the Capion massacre happened in that gruesome morning, one of our anti-mining leaders Esperlita ‘Perling’ Garcia of Cagayan province was arrested for an alleged libelous Facebook post against magnetite mining in her town.

The day before, we marched from CHR to the House of Representatives to halt mining operations until policies on mining industry are put in order. We were calling for the enactment of the Philippine Mineral Resources Act of 2012 or the Alternative Minerals Management Bills (AMMB) which aims to put environment conservation, protection and rehabilitation first respecting the right of the communities to decide, and push for concrete mining no-go zones.

In the evening, we went to Mendiola to voice out the sentiments of indigenous peoples, farmers, fisherfolks and mining-affected communities who had joined the AMMB Caravan from more than 15 provinces in the country. We were joined by indigenous women who were vocal on their stand against the atrocities brought about by the mining industry among other development aggression. The president of the republic did not show up.

Last week, Dr. Isidro Olan, an active anti-logging and anti-mining leader in Surigao del Sur survived in an ambush.

Some say ours is a risky advocacy. The number of environment defenders may be few but the impact of what they do is for the benefit of all.

Threats are challenges. If we yield to threats, fear comes. The risks involved in this advocacy are inevitable. Being an environment advocate is a lifelong commitment. We are all called to discover for ourselves the amazing link of our lives to nature. Unless we are unable to accept that we are part of the totality of nature, we will continue to look at it as a mere object for utilization. This we do to learn from the past, address the abuses of the present and pay for our ecological debts for the next generations to come.

With the blood of those who died for the environment, environment defenders become warriors.  

And I am afraid, yes, we are becoming endangered species.

We may belong to the one percent of our country’s population, but we are everywhere, unnoticed. We are not left-winged, we are just ordinary citizens promoting the constitutional rights to a healthful and balanced ecology for all.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

People power abused: mutant candidates in the making

(An edited version of this essay was published in Manila Standard Today on October 3, 2012.)

Nobel laureate and former United States vice president Al Gore when asked about the inaction of politicians on the present climate crisis, he answered back poignantly – political will is a renewable resource.

To my surprise, in another instance I have heard him suggesting that in a crisis wherein governments and businesses are unable to act, we should emulate the people power revolution of the Philippines.

People power? Where is it now? Gone were the days when we had to take up arms and kill people, and be killed, for our sovereignty as a nation. Gone were the days when we held our arms close to each other to trample down a dictator.

We are facing a bigger crisis. Economic fall-down? No, in the eyes of our present and former administration – a transcendent perspective of investment based on how we flaunt our country’s natural resources and sovereignty in a pompous and seductive way.

A self-crisis created by ourselves being puppets of the power shared to the supposed leaders and defenders of our inherent human and natural rights. A self-inflicted crisis, a disease brought about by apathy and blind obedience to the mutant power. And the only cure is to reclaim such power and make it again of the people, by the people, for the people.

Recent studies say that the Philippines is the most typhoon-vulnerable country in the world, second in economic risk for natural disasters and third most prone to hazards of climate change.

We have swum in floods, our relatives and friends buried in landslides, drowned in raging seas. From the bellies of Manila Bay tons of plastic wastes showing off how irresponsible we are and how the implementation of laws are inutile. Not counting the industrial wastes which are legally exported by overly consuming countries and accepted by us with open arms as if we are happy to be called a sovereign state of dumps.

We have not learned from the lessons of the past such as the Marinduque mine disaster, and now, the leak of water and sediment wastes from a mine in Padcal, Benguet. The mutant power behind the venerable flag of the country is bullying the very honorable statesmen to continuously flaunt our mineral resources almost to be given free to aliens, forcing to lastly give an environmental compliance license to the future biggest mine in Southeast Asia situated in South Cotabato, displacing indigenous peoples communities, thousands of trees to be cut, huge mine waste pits near an active volcano with thousands of hectares agricultural land downstream.

Gradually, the mutant power opened wide the gates of our gardens and farms to mutant agricultural species, or monsters – controlled by one or few transnational corporations. Unknowingly, in our veins flow unnatural modified nutrients which will result eventually to a mutation of our genes. Safe food mixed with genetically modified organisms, less rationality with more profits.

In this country where freedom of expression is recently suppressed, how can we reclaim the power we just lent to the leaders who now become mutants?

We put our hopes in the chosen few, as of now. There are still a handful trusted leaders in our society but are endangered, either by suppression or death.

Today, we commemorate the fifth anniversary of a man who sacrificed his life for his people, Armin Rios Marin. He was elected councilor for his staunch stand to defend the fragile ice-age island ecosystem of Sibuyan in the province of Romblon. As he joined the island’s defenders, they successfully kicked out the world’s largest nickel mining company. Though he only served for three months, he lived by his principles and public trust to the last breath of his life – we have given him the power and together with the community, nourished and made it a platform for selfless public service and payment for ecological services.

How many of our leaders now are willing to stand up selflessly for the general welfare, for a healthful and balanced ecology?

Yes, the biggest crisis we have now is ecological crisis and to solve this is to reclaim and exercise power we have as a people. This week, people who seek power are lining up asking us to lend our sovereign power to them.

They are pleading to borrow our natural power. We shall not allow them to abuse it; else our society shall become a dynasty of mutants.

The natural environment is the center of our life. It is where biodiversity gives life, clean water, clean air, food, medicine, shelter and clothing. It is where the non-living things serve as platform and balancing system for the whole life-cycle.

God-given, yes. And we should manage it responsibly with accountability. The real essence of sustainable development must be exercised.

Remember, mutants may be heroes on silver screen – but in public service, no way.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Testing Executive Order 79: Sibuyan Island

(An edited version of this article was published in Manila Standard Today on September 18, 2012.)

The controversial Executive Order 79 signed by President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III and its Implementing Rules and Regulations are already set in place. What’s next? Consider the case of Sibuyan Island, situated in the middle of the Philippines composed of three municipalities belonging to the province of Romblon.

This ice-age island called Sibuyan Island is undoubtedly a hotspot for biodiversity conservation as seen by the scientific community. Biologists claim that the island has vast variety of flora and fauna species found nowhere else in the world. The National Museum counted 1,551 trees in one hectare with 223 species, of which 54 are endemic, concluding that Sibuyan has the world’s densest forest, as confirmed by noted botanist Dr. Domingo Madulid. Thirty-three percent of the land area is basically primary forest which covers more than 140 square kilometers.

This 445 square kilometer island is a center of endemism, according to the US-based scientific institute The Field Museum which also says that the beetles and lizards of Sibuyan have yet to be studied, but it would be a good bet that more new species remain to be discovered by biologists. Sibuyan Island boasts 700 vascular plant species and is a critical plant site as described by the Philippine National Herbarium. A scientific study conducted by University of the Philippines researcher Miah Mayo Malixi shows that there are 35 endangered and endemic species in almost all barangays outside the protected area, Mt. Guiting-guiting Natural Park (MGGNP). With an approximate area of 15,265.48 hectares, MGGNP has been established by virtue of Presidential Proclamation 746 in 1996 under the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act (NIPAS) or Republic Act 7586. Moreover, a publication ‘Priority Sites for Conservation in the Philippines: Key Biodiversity Areas’ by the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) exposes that there are one critically endangered, four endangered, and eight vulnerable species of biodiversity within and outside the protected area.

In a publication of DENR together with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), New Conservation Areas in the Philippines Project, it assesses that “several new (endemic mammal) species have been discovered in small islands such as Sibuyan (five new species) and Camiguin (two new species), catapulting these islands to a new status as centers of mammal endemism.” It further explained that “the distribution of land mammals illustrates that each island that existed in the Philippines during the latest Ice Age period is a unique center of biodiversity. Smaller islands that remained isolated during the Ice Age, although small, are also considered unique centers of biodiversity. One example is Sibuyan Island (463 km2), which hosts four species of endemic non-flying mammals (plus one bat), a total exceeding that of any country in Europe.”

Almost every year, new biological species are being discovered. In 2008, a new species of stick insect has been discovered, the Pharnacia magdiwang. In 2010, a new species of shrew has been documented, crocidura ninoyi. Gekko coi or Leonard’s Forest Gecko, named after famous taxonomist Leonardo Co, was known in 2011. And in 2012, a new owl species has been found, Ninox Philippensis Spilonota.

MGGNP has been proclaimed by PAWB as an Important Bird Area (PH 058) and Conservation Priority Site (CPA 82). The seas of water surrounding Sibuyan and Romblon Islands have been considered as a priority conservation area for Cetaceans. Sibuyan Island is also a Conservation Priority Area for amphibians and reptiles.

In addition, the whole island has been declared a mangrove forest swamp reserve through Presidential Proclamation 2152 in 1981, putting it as an initial component NIPAS.

To emphasize and maximize biodiversity conservation for and of communities, a project granted by the UNDP in the amount of US$ 48,982 had been satisfactorily completed. The project mainly the Sibuyan Island Ecotourism Development Plan which according to UNDP’s Small Grant’s Program, a biodiversity conservation undertaking through the promotion and institutionalization of ecotourism programs and projects and setting-up of an island-wide network that will serve as support mechanism for environmental conservation and management.

Since year 2008, the whole province of Romblon, including Sibuyan Island, has been stricken by flooding, landslides, storm surges and typhoons, to mention Typhoons Frank, among others, which devastated crops and livestock amounting to Php 110 million. Further, the combined climate and weather related risks vulnerability of the Romblon is relatively high. In fact, the geohazard maps of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau show that almost 100% of Sibuyan Island barangays are highly susceptible to flood. Additionally, nearly 85% of Sibuyan Island is highly susceptible to landslides.

On 23 December 2009, five days before he resigned as DENR head, Secretary Lito Atienza approved a Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) valid for 25 years in favor of Altai Philippines Mining Corporation (Altai), a subsidiary of Canada-based Altai Resources Inc., which is now operated by Sibuyan Nickel Properties Development Corporation (SNPDC) by virtue of an agreement on November 2004 with SNPDC’s Australian Connection and shareholder Sunshine Gold Pty. Ltd., a subsidiary of Australia-based Pelican Resources Ltd. As early as 2006, SNPDC through its subsidiaries All-Acacia Resources Inc. and Sun-Pacific Resources Inc. applied for small-scale mining permits before operating under Altai’s mineral rights.

In 2007, then DENR Secretary Angelo Reyes issued a Special Cutting of Trees Permit within 406 hectares of land, equal to 9,455.183 cubic meters or more or less four million board feet, in which conservation institution Haribon Foundation assessed that there are threatened tree species to be cut such as apitong and yakal species included in the national list of endangered plant species. Although the permit has been suspended, it was neither revoked nor cancelled and may be lifted anytime.

As of September 2012, there are active applications for MPSA in an area of 623.70 hectares for feldspar, 1,791.21 hectares for nickel and chromite exploration, and 544.3 hectares for gold under Minahang Bayan.

Despite the joint resolutions of the three municipalities of Sibuyan: Magdiwang, Cajidiocan and San Fernando which clearly says that “Sibuyan Island’s sustainable development can be achieved through enhancing the vast agricultural lands and natural bounties of the island than through the temporal benefits mining industry have promised; and believed that in the pursuit of the development of the passionate care for Mother Earth and the Environment shall not be set aside and disregarded,” the national government still accepts mining applications in the island.

With the call of communities, and one life sacrificed in the person of San Fernando Councilor Armin Rios-Marin, the local government units invoked their constitutional rights to a healthful and balanced ecology under Article II Sections 15 and 16 of the Philippine Constitution and the general welfare clause of the Local Government Code of 1991, Chapter II Section 16; and the provisions of Climate Change Act, Disaster Risk Reduction Management Act, National Integrated Protected Areas Act, Wildlife Conservation and Protection Act, Philippine Agenda 21; and in the spirit of the Convention on Biodiversity, Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, and all of the aforesaid facts and figures; in which the Mining Act of 1995 stands alone together with the Small Scale Mining Act of 1991, and some other related policies, although constitutional; intergenerational responsibility and precautionary principles are also invoked to exempt Sibuyan Island from mining.

If mining would still be allowed in critical island ecosystems which has delicate biodiversity and excellent ecotourism potentials; in protected areas, mapped geohazard areas, without social acceptability with companies circumventing laws and policies in favor of themselves hiding in corporate veils in connivance with corrupt officials, then Executive Order 79 and its Implementing Rules and Regulations are inutile, so do with the Mining Act of 1995.

Thankfully, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau suspended the activities of SNPDC.

But, suspension is not enough – the license must be revoked, if the executive order under the shadow of the mining act is effective.

Shaping our country’s future?

Quo vadis?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The queen and I: remembering Maita

This blog entry has been published in Manila Standard on July 16, 2012.
Maita at the Ateneo de Davao University talking on the economic lies of mining. (
"Hapi birthday my dear Rodne."

That was the last text message I received from Maita.

Yes, I did not know her at first.

The first time I heard her name was when I was still a volunteer for a mining policy reform campaign in 2008. She was interested to work for the campaign.

After two years, I met her in a cozy office of Action for Economic Reforms (AER), the home of a transparency in extractive industries campaign called Bantay Kita. I was tasked to assist her in a series of fora and focused group discussions on the economics and transparency in the mining industry.

I wanted to know more about her. I admit, before going to the office of Bantay Kita, I googled her name online and explored the web to learn more about this woman - the ordinariness of her extraordinary life.

I asked Fr. Archie Casey, a Scottish missionary, and my superior Jaybee Garganera about this  'queen reformist turned economist' and how to deal with her. They just smiled and at least I felt relieved.

Intimidating. That was my first impression. But when she stared back at me and called me by my first name with her husky voice coupled with a real smile, I know our work would be full of adventures.

Together with her assistant, we took a small plane to Tablas Island, spent a night in a simple bed and breakfast called Pearl's Cafe and the next morning prepared brewed coffee for us - she brought with her a french press!

Our boat trip to Sibuyan Island was full of surprises - surprises of knowing her inner beauty - intelligence, wisdom, generosity and simplicity. She was flexible. The island people loved her not because she was a celebrity but being a down to earth woman - from politicians, the religious to the plain housewives, fishers and farmers.
Real joy ride with the queen on our way to Dagubdob Falls.

After rounds of meetings with the townsfolk, we decided to refresh ourselves. I grabbed my father's motorcycle and drove Maita and a woman guide to the still undeveloped Dagubdob Falls. There, she marveled at the beauty of nature. For me, it was the right time ask her on how she became so interested with environmental issues especially mining.

She looked at me and answered: "Rodne, it's so unfair, it should be just and fair." Then she looked at us again, one by one, shook her head and said: "Never permit the miners destroy your island." She smiled again held a pitcher plant and drank fresh water from one pitcher.
Maita drinking fresh water from a pitcher plant in Dagubdob Falls.

We need to catch the plane in Tablas Island which would leave mid-morning. The mayor of San Fernando town offered a speedboat and at 4 o'clock in the morning we found ourselves crossing the rough Sibuyan Sea. I had second thoughts, a 63 year old woman and a former beauty queen, crossing Sibuyan Sea?

After two hours, we were in the middle of the notorious nautical highway, with 3-5 meters high waves. I was consistently asking Maita and her assistant if they were okay. Staring at her, I saw no fear. Minutes later, flying fishes were literally flying into and over the boat. I felt a little nervousness - what if sharks and barracudas would fly over our boat? Maita was still calm despite the cold - we were all wet, five of us - the other two are the boat operators.

One hour passed, we got lost. The captain of the boat could not remember where we ought to dock. But thanks God, I know my geography and the mysterious Kalatong mountain showed up. It helped us located the airport by the beach.

A four-hour travel, indeed! We reached Tablas Island and Maita was smiling at us while saying like: "Oh, we are here. We had a great boat ride, isn't it?." Of course, her assistant was relieved and fear was gone.

I was then tempted to ask her if she were afraid. If my memory is right, she answered back, "Why would I be afraid? You have to face all these if you want to serve the people. If it is your time, then it is your time - it is natural."

And the rest is history.

She became a  mother, a grandmother, an adviser. She accepted me as I am.

I was unable to thank her for the lessons I learned from our conversations, work-related or personal - even love life.


Madam Maita, wherever you are, I want you to know that:

I cannot again ask you to ask me if I smoke, you would know my answer ("Yes, I am a second hand smoker."), and we would burst into laughter.

I shall miss that moment when you felt cold and you asked for my coat. I was really worried about you that day in Ateneo de Davao University.

How I wish to go back to that paradise island in Lumot Lake where Mother Nature where the earth, air, wind and fire are felt as one - from the moment I left Manila to the last minute of the travel, you never stopped guiding me.

I shall miss all our activities together, the humor and the wisdom, plus the one-liners which tickled our minds yet challenging our beliefs and perspectives.

Next year, no Maita shall greet me on my birthday, but your greetings last June shall be forever.

You mat not be able to cross the stormy Sibuyan Sea but I am sure you are now smoothly sailing to eternity.

You may not be able to drink from a pitcher plant but I am sure you are now drinking from the fountain of life.

You may not be able to go back to that island in Lumot Lake but I am sure you shall reach the paradise reserved for a hero like you.

Thank you for becoming part of my life.


What I know is that she now became a successful environment advocate who left a great challenge to all of us: we cannot just monetize our natural resources to satisfy the greed of the few.

Maita may be as gentle as the zephyr's touch but if one is oppressed, she is as fierce as the big and strong waves of a stormy sea.

Laughing out loud in a meeting with the employees of San Fernando, Sibuyan Island, Romblon.

"There is no debate that the extraction of mineral resources does extreme damage to biodiversity, water systems, land viability, and the environment in general..."

-Margarita 'Maita' Favis Gomez (1947-2012)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Eco-nomy: what is it?

Photo taken from

The Earth Summit in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, has ended. But what is this controversial issue called ‘green economy’?

Let us explore some reflections on the word ‘economy’.

For those who believe in the Bible, the whole existence comes from nothing – creation, ex nihilo.

Let us explore the story of creation deeply in the context of maintaining the balance of Ecology.

From the first day to the fifth day, the Creator prepared all things in this wide universe and in the place where we live we call home – the Earth. He saw all these things were well and good: night and day; waters and sky; land, seas and vegetations; sun, moon and stars; and sea creatures, birds and animals.

All which have been there became, primarily, the totality of the oikos – household – our home. Etymologically the word ‘ecology’ comes from ‘oikos’.

The Creator saw it was ‘good’ – all things he created.

(When English word ‘good’ is translated to the Filipino language as ‘Good morning’, it definitely means ‘magandang umaga’ – ‘maganda’ literally is ‘beautiful’. In the Filipino perspective, creation may be the epitome of what is good and beautiful – a comprehensive look at the oikos in itself as both material and transcendental system reflecting the immensity of interconnectedness and order towards peace and order between creatures.)

This is the genesis of oikos – the household prepared for the sixth day. This is the first part of the whole story of existence. It is the ‘household of enoughness’ in which all things have been put in place to address the needs of creation in itself and prepare for the coming of the stewards as the seen reflection of the unseen Creator.

On the sixth day, human beings were created in the image and likeness of the Creator – from the oikos, dirt was gathered and human life commenced. This is the first time human beings knew about Economy.

‘Economy’ in its original meaning is not all about profits and investments – it comes from the two Greek words ‘oikos’ and ‘nomos’ which mean ‘household’ and ‘management’. Apparently, economy speaks of the management of the household – hence, to be stewards of the oikos, that is to maintain and oversee the grand goodness, beauty, interconnectedness, symbiosis and interdependence of the whole of creation.

All that were created were seen as very well and good. The stewards were instructed then to take care of the whole oikos except that they were prohibited to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It was a commandment.

When the first humans gave in to the temptation of the serpent, disobedience and malice reigned in their minds and there was chaos – disorder. Disobedience led to greed and they ate the forbidden fruit.

This is the corruption of the genuine meaning of Economy.

But the challenge of the Creator remains – to bring back the real meaning of being true managers of the oikos.

As we know, all these led to the Great Flood.

There are things in this world which should not be exploited nor touched nor destroyed.

Friday, July 6, 2012

On what is ours

(An edited version of this essay was published in Manila Standard Today on July 6, 2012.)

What is mine is what I own, that is what is ours is what we own. Making what we own theirs without our cognizance and permission is stealing.

Making what I own, which I did not acquire nor asked for, ours is collective ownership. It is the recognition of the responsibility of my peers to my possession - to protect me and what I own from possible harm by some others who do not belong to our circle though may intrude and declare that they are also responsible to what we now own through collective ownership. The fact that they do not belong to the circle and are alien to us, their ownership is not inherent. We may permit them to take responsibility with the aim of advancing our status, however, if taking such responsibility for their own utility by taking what we own from us is an absolute harassment.

What is ours is what we call heritage. This is how what I own becomes ours. Hence, what we own depends on how we own it and we, as owners, see to it that it is being utilized for our own benefit to live in the present and prepare for the future without defecting our interdependence on each other, including the dependence of what we own as regards its continuous existence in defense from utilization through exploitation by aliens.

Heritage is of the past which continues to exist in the present to be preserved responsibly for the future. It is what we own and it owns us. It owns us because we depend our livelihood on it, that it produces what we need to exist.

Making what is ours theirs for the sake of development is noble but if part of it would be salvaged and taken away from us is disagreeable. Sustainable development, a kind which gives balance to all, living and non-living to progress in harmony and co-existing interdependently, should be offered instead.

It is environmental heritage that I ought to point out. Environment is the highest form of heritage we have for the one who has given this kind of inheritance is inherently unknowable, hence the length of being of it being ours is unknowable, eternal. This, for us as heirs, is inherent inheritance.

I say this as one of the heirs of an ice-age island geographically located at the center of the Philippine archipelago. Though some may disagree with me, this is my own perspective and I would be glad if others may share mine - this might become a collective ideal.

The issue at hand is mining. What a word to play with, but the word is quite controversial and it needs a deep but careful understanding and scrutiny. Generally speaking, mining is tantamount to exploitation—land exploitation in this case. Yet, no matter how we put some other technical and obscure meanings on it, still the meaning remains the same. The root-word of the term is 'mine', the verb is 'to mine', and the act of it is 'mining'. What is being produced after the process is the 'mined', whatever it is. Words are interconnected and meanings are related. Hence the act of mining is not only to exploit the land to get the minerals, but also 'mining' what was 'mined' -- or owning it. So what is ours is being 'mined' to become theirs. In the process, to become what is ours to be theirs, that is mining what is ours, they equate it monetarily, either momentarily or permanently. For a time, to exploit and take some away; or for all time, to exploit and take away all what could be taken out in so far as they claim it and take the monetary equation, they have given in exchange, a thousand fold.

To consider mining as avenue for development and poverty alleviation to a third-world country excited to progress is far from reality and could be considered as a myth. First-world countries such as the United States of America , China and Japan commenced their journey to development and progress, primarily, through agriculture, a historical fact. Thus, considering mining as alternative for development is a wrong notion, at least here in the Philippines.  If we say 'alternative', we should choose what is better, safer and sustainable.

There are more issues to be considered and resolved as consequences of the mining industry. Some would be patrimony, environmental degradation, and social division, among others. 'Mining' could be a source of greed and selfishness, of hate and apathy. Promises for economic stability and development are temporary. May I quote Dr. Ernesto Gonzales', former Director of of the University of Santo Tomas - Social Research Center, comment during the Bishops-Businessmen's Conference General Assembly on the issue of mining: "Instead of creating wealth, mining industry in the Philippines has created poverty."

Now, the Philippines opened her doors to foreigners to mine our minerals. It is now what I call mining what is ours and making it theirs. I think it is now also the time to open our eyes to this reality. Gradually, our land are being exploited—the land our ancestors tilled and cared for for centuries; the land our heroes defended and martyrs fought for. And in the name of development and economic progress, the Philippines is now an open country—for foreigners and some Filipino greedy capitalists selling our lands and minerals. For whose benefit? For them and for the chosen few. They gain, we lose.

Treasure under our feet? Yes, indeed, but not to be exploited for our land is not for mining (at least in island ecosystems such as ours). Our minerals are treasures of the very soil that make our plants grow to satisfy our hunger eaten and waters flow to quench our thirst.

What is mine and making it theirs is unacceptable.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Me, here; them and everything else in Rio+20

Again, minds and brains from all over the world gathered themselves in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, to negotiate and perhaps decide on the plight of human existence in the principles of sustainable development. Generally, there were two kinds of negotiators: brains which can control, and the other, brains which think comprehensively accepting the fact that the continuous rape of the environment, which leads to a massive imbalance in nature, is in itself the gradual extinction of homo sapiens.

Unfortunately, the clash of the overly-consuming countries and the consumed ones was definitely unavoidable: the east versus the west, or the south versus the north. But in the spirit of environmental justice, we hope that our planet can still be saved through an emphatically genuine dialogue.

What may be the root-cause of this whole crisis?

Yes, it is as if we control the whole universe.

The brain – where a lot of intellectuals regard as the abode of homo sapiens’ superior rationality – is the tiniest natural receptacle of all the galaxies combined in the whole wide universe.

As viewed in this consumerist generation in which all natural resources are considered as subjects for utilization, it is as if the existence of everything belongs to human being’s capacity to contain the essence of nature in its skull.

Can we limit nature in our brains?

The processes in nature had been dynamic to its fullest purpose serving both living and non-living things. Symbiosis is evident within the living world and the non-living is always there constantly as part of life-support systems providing a balancing platform to a quite complicated yet continuous life-process.

There was once grand harmony and order. There may appear disorders but such resulted to the restoration of order, yet part of the whole overarching cycle of life.

Every species has its own view of the world, of the universe. There may be some which yield to the physically powerful few with larger brains and all wanted to survive, but nature itself limits the survival capacity of some and the limitation is a challenge to adapt.

When ancient humans came into existence, they learned how to utilize the non-living as instruments to survive, and the living as food to sustain the natural processes within the body, perhaps to become more powerful. This skill of humans slightly above what some other animals could made them superior – the ability to think before acting – manipulation of the once orderly world.

Not in the case of the first walking and thinking mammal, perhaps. They lived within the symbiotic community, equal among others adhering to the principles of survival. When their number increased, communities evolved, varied communities with different views of survival. What is common then was symbiosis which is integral, non-compartmentalized.

During the course of time, the non-living which was originally used simply as instruments became the mode and food. The balancing platform which had been supporting the life-cycle was eventually utilized destructively. Hence, the imbalance between the living and non-living had been inevitable.

Humans when given full opportunity and power tend to abuse.

Symbiosis may be one of the strongest forces behind evolution of species especially in interdependent co-evolution, the natural course of evolution had been tampered with a disorder never experienced by the universe since the beginning. Surprisingly, the phenomenon can be traced back to the superiority complex which occurred in the human brain.

Be that as it may, human brain will still decide on the future of our home called Earth. The meeting of brains may not agree in a genuine solution, but I hope the heart and soul may help.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Green resolutions for 2012

This article was originally published on Manila Times - Sunday Times Magazine on January 22, 2012. Written by Climate Leader Shiela Castillo-Tiangco.

The good thing about the New Year is that it presents another opportunity to start over and try to do things better. For this year, I’m proposing several resolutions for our planet— three of which most of you are familiar with and might even be practicing. The last five are various ideas that make perfect sense with the first three. The 8Rs put together make for a great list of green resolutions for the New Year. I heard the 8Rs first from my good friend Rodne Rodino Galicha, district manager of The Climate Reality Project-Philippine Presenters, when he shared it to the Asia-Pacific Climate Change Leadership Congress last November. 

Here are the 8Rs for green living:

Reuse. Avoid anything disposable. However, some disposables could have a longer lease in life with reuse. For instance, restaurants make food to go with throwaway containers, which can actually be reused. By reusing things, we keep more ‘stuff’ from entering the system, which almost always end up in dumps. Before throwing something away, ask yourself, can this be reused? You will be doing the planet, and your wallet, a lot of good.

Reduce. Are you cooking too much for the size of your family? Are you shopping for things that you don’t really need? Are you generating waste that could be reduced? Less is more. By reducing what you use and lessening the waste that you generate, you have less impact on the environment. 
Check out wonderful waste reduction tips on the net that can be immediately practiced at home and in the office.

Recycle. If you cannot reuse something, ask yourself if it can be used for another purpose? By recycling, we are using less energy needed to manufacture various products, thus we are helping mitigate climate change. Through recycling, less raw materials are used and less pollution is generated.

Repair. Filipinos are great at this. I know, because my parents still have the two electric fans we had since I was eight or nine years old, and believe me, that was a long, long time ago. Those fans conked out probably twice, and my parents had them repaired. By repairing our stuff, we get a lot of savings as we prolong the service life of our appliances and other things.

Rethink. New Year is the best time to reflect on our impact to the planet. Evaluate your lifestyle. What should be changed? What should you do to be a better earth citizen? You’ll be surprised at your answers if you seriously take on this exercise.

Refuse. Say no to things you don’t need. I have been blessed to have generous sisters who shower me with gifts. Sometimes it’s hard to tell them I will have no use for their new gift, but I guess they are starting to see how simple (probably even Spartan to their standards!) my lifestyle is. I always appreciate new gifts I could really use and even decent hand-me-downs from my sisters who have impeccable taste. They keep me stylish while I refuse more trips to the mall.

Rain-forest. Are you aware of the country’s National Greening Program? The target is to plant 1.5 billion trees by 2016.

Although some issues mar the NGP, you can always have a local initiative for greening. But make sure to plant only endemic and indigenous trees instead of exotic ones. And remember it is not enough to just plant trees. The new concept is tree growing, where you actually visit the trees again to make sure they are thriving well.

Reconnect. Our indigenous brothers and sisters show us what we have lost— our connection with nature and the entire family of creation. Modern living has brought about an aversion to nature or biophobia. Richard Louv notes that the younger generations have “nature deficit disorder.” One way this can be addressed is by well-planned nature trips that should be done regularly, whether once a week, once a month, or once a year. It should be pleasant enough to look forward to, especially for those who are not the adventurous types. Better to start them young, as children who grow up without any connection to the environment could hardly be expected to value or care for it when they grow up.

Reconnecting with nature is not as simple as reading books about loving nature. Nothing compares with actually communing with the environment. An hour on Facebook or in front of the TV cannot be as memorable as a nature walk, birding or spelunking. Reconnecting with nature is rejuvenating, even a spiritual experience!

By the way, my last date with nature was last November, I better plan for the next one.

What do you think of these green resolutions? Are you doing the 8Rs this year?

Shiela R. Castillo is a co-founder of the Movement of Imaginals for a Sustainable Society through Initiatives, Organizing, and Networking (MISSION) and is a trained presenter for Nobel Laureate and former US Vice President Al Gore’s The Climate Reality Project (TCRP). She blogs as Green Pen at