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.