Wanted: Coherent policies for sustainability

By: Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos October 29,2017 - 10:37 PM

Atty. Gloria Ramos

Last Tuesday, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu announced the possibility for the open-pit mining ban to be lifted before 2018. That certainly is a cause for alarm, not just for the environmental advocates and the citizenry affected by the severe impacts but also for our rapidly threatened biological diversity.

His predecessor, secretary Gina Lopez, issued a memorandum banning open-pit mining. According to a Handbook by ELAW, “Open-pit mining often involves the removal of natively vegetated areas, and is therefore among the most environmentally destructive types of mining, especially within tropical forests.”

Mining impacts agriculture, fisheries, livelihoods, ancestral domains, apart from irreversibly changing ecosystems and way of life. To wildlife, it is damaging as it destroys their habitats and food and cuts off their migratory routes, with resulting species decline or decimation.

It is widely believed that secretary Gina’s anti-mining stance caused her her post. But, guess what? Her policies were fully in accord with our Constitution — we have a shared responsibility not to impair our environment, and to protect the environmental rights of citizens.

Such duty transcends beyond our lifetime. This is the gist of the Oposa ruling interpreting the constitutionally mandated right to a balanced and healthful ecology, to which state agencies tasked to protect our environment must adhere to. The Supreme Court ruling is considered part of the law of the land.

Indeed, our country is replete with outstanding pro-environment laws to protect our people’s rights and our being an “ecological superpower,” at that.

The challenge — always — is in the law’s implementation or it’s being made “invisible” by those tasked to implement it at the executive branch.

Another prime example, climate change and flooding being already felt notwithstanding, is the continuing penchant by the local authorities, Cebu LGUs not exempted, and developers, for the ecologically destructive dumping-and-filling of our coasts, also known as “reclamation” projects.

Last week as well, Manila mayor and former president Joseph Estrada hosted at the Manila City Hall the unveiling of the planned mixed-use 318-hectare development on a so-called “man-made” island in Manila Bay.

Do they know that the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources presented a report before Senator Cynthia Villar in 2016 that all the planned reclamation projects in Manila Bay are spawning areas for sardines?

In addition, it should not be forgotten that there is a nature reserve called the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area (LPPCHEA) situated south of Manila Bay. It has “mangroves, ponds and lagoons, mudflats, salt marshes, and mixed beach forest all over. On March 15, 2013, LPPCHEA was recognized as a wetland of international importance by the Ramsar Convention because of the critical role it plays in the survival of threatened, restricted-range and congregatory bird species. It is the sixth Ramsar Site in the country to date.” (https://ncr.denr.gov.ph/index.php/89-webpage/338-brochure)

This reminds me of the planned Cordova reclamation project which stands to displace our fisherfolk who have the “preferential access to their fishing grounds” and to destroy one of the largest seagrass ecosystems in Central Visayas, the loss of which would mean saying goodbye to fish and marine wealth, including bakasi and the Bakasi Festival.

Under RA 7279, The Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992, the LGUs are required “to coordinate with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in taking measures that will plan and regulate urban activities for the conservation and protection of vital, unique and sensitive ecosystems, scenic landscapes, cultural sites and other similar resource areas.”

Will these projects be given the clearance by the BFAR and the DENR? We hope not.

Citizens have the right to know, the duty to ask and to explore remedies such as citizens suit. The path to sustainability is in our hands.

It is noteworthy to share this from the website of the Biodiversity Management Bureau under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources:

“The Philippines is considered a mega-diversity country rivaled only by a few countries in the world when it comes to variety of ecosystems, species and genetic resources. Many of the island comprising the archipelago are believed to have a very high degree of land and animal endemism. The country hosts more than 52,177 described species of which more than half is found nowhere else in the world (Philippine Biodiversity Conservation Priorities: A second iteration of the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, 2002).…

“The country is also considered a biodiversity hotspot. This is because the Philippines continues to experience an alarming rate of destruction of these important resources brought about by overexploitation, deforestation, land degradation, climate change, and pollution (including biological pollution), among others.”

The irony of the twin announcements on mining and reclamation was not lost on many. The 12th Session of the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals in Manila, was still ongoing, with State Parties, with host Philippines included, committing to do more and ensure conservation and protection of our wildlife and their habitats including having holistic and sustainable policies.

The question that our children and their children will someday ask from us is this: Why were we hung up on short-term economic benefits at the expense of tremendous environmental damage that they and future generations are suffering from?

A healthy and vibrant environment is the foundation to people’s well-being and prosperity — and we should never forget that. Live the law!

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TAGS: policies, sustainability, wanted

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