PHL drowns in the flood of cyclical neglect

Val A. Villanueva-Businesswise

Members of both houses of Congress are pushing for “the widespread probe on severe flooding” caused by Typhoon Ulysses, even as President Duterte ordered the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to investigate illegal mining and logging activities in Cagayan Valley.

Calling it a “vicious cycle,” lawmakers believe that the flooding and landslides were more a result of human activities and not just the scourge brought about by the successive cyclones that devastated the country, which continues to reel from a deadly pandemic.

I have heard all of it before. What appears to me as a vicious cycle are politicians acting as they if they really care about the welfare of their constituents whenever disasters strike year in and year out. How many investigations have been done through the years that have yielded actual productive and lasting positive results? Why do politicians insist on merely grandstanding and getting brownie points from the suffering of Filipinos in times of tragedies?

Our so-called “best-and-brightest” leaders point out that these disasters are caused by the lack of watersheds and catch basins, compounded by increasing and unabated illegal activities for the disaster. Some even proposed to designate areas as catch basins to mitigate flooding. I really don’t understand what they mean by this. Catch basins are natural geo formations. It doesn’t take rocket science to caution, or totally prohibit, people from creating communities at the foot of mountains, in low-lying areas, or too close to the shore. What is there to designate? Are they saying we should dig humongous wells to catch the rushing waters from the mountain top? Pray, tell!

Provident Village in Marikina nestles on a natural catch basin. It was inundated along with other low-lying areas during Typhoon Ondoy on September 23, 2009. Ulysses again swamped it this time, with déjà vu scenes of residents being plucked out of their rooftops. On cue, politicians quickly jumped in and ordered—what else?—an investigation. That flooded area, they said, was not even supposed to be zoned as residential. Provident Village was built in the late 1960s. It took our esteemed leaders more than four decades to realize this? What gives?

Up north in Nueva Vizcaya, a landslide killed five people in the gold-mining village of Runruno. Those who were killed, however, were not even in vicinity of the mining operation, but in an area that had been designated as geo-hazard by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) since 2018. Again, what gives?

What I’m driving at here is that these things would not have happened without complicity with people with badges. Why was the developer allowed to build subdivisions in areas deemed as hazardous? Why are townsfolks up north allowed to mine without permits and in total disregard of the dangers that their activities pose, not only to them, but also to the general public and the environment?

I agree that illegal logging, unregulated or illegal mining, and illegal classification of residential areas are what have been causing tragedy after tragedy in those areas. Conducting useless investigations after costly investigations, year in and year out, I also believe, is another tragedy; a vicious cycle that government officials should break out off.

Catastrophes spawn pseudo activists who are just too willing to jump up for in order to get funding from non-government organizations, which are supported in dollars by wealthy philanthropic foundations; grants from local, state, and federal agencies located mostly in the US, and private donations mainly from leftist organizations.

Here those pseudo activists go again, calling for a halt in all mining activities, instead of helping distraught people in dire need of essentials to survive the night. These activists continually lump together small-scale illegal miners with the formal, large-scale sector.

Chamber of Mines of the Philippines spokesperson Rocky Dimaculangan in a statement said: “These illegal operations do not follow the same stringent safety and environment standards required of legitimate large-scale mining operators, including tailings and water management, air and water monitoring, mine rehabilitation, and reforestation. For every tree that is felled to make way for mining, large-scale miners are required to plant 100 trees.”

Ticking off some MGB data, Dimaculangan said: “[A]s of May 2020, the Philippine large-scale mining industry has planted 36.87 million seedlings in 28,717.37 hectares of mined-out and other areas. Of these, 33.76 million trees have survived, or a survival rate of 91.58 percent. As of August 2020, large-scale mining companies spent over P380 million on personal protective equipment, disinfectants, and medical supplies, as well as on food assistance and supplies for the Covid-19 social amelioration measures. The effort has benefitted nearly 300,000 frontliners and 1.1 million households living in host-communities.”

Loss of lives and income are just too glaring to ignore: The Department of Agriculture said the three typhoons that hit the country one after the other caused P10.5 billion in damage to crops and farms, while the Department of Public Works and Highways placed the damage to infrastructure in eight regions at P8 billion. In Metro Manila, the Marikina local government estimated the damage caused by Ulysses at P30 billion. To date, Ulysses has claimed 73 lives.

Senator Risa Hontiveros pointed out that illegal logging and land-grabbing had increased the vulnerability of the country’s natural resources to intense typhoons. I couldn’t agree with her more.

Citing “shocking” images and audio recordings of Isabela residents crying out to be rescued after water that had been released from Magat Dam had inundated their villages, Hontiveros said, “Conservation experts from Masungi Georeserve said illegal activity in Upper Marikina Watershed and Sierra Madre [remained unabated], despite legal protection under the National Integrated Protected System.”

Certainly, our lawmakers know that these “lucrative activities” cannot easily be eradicated unless they act with utmost urgency and uncompromising political will. We know and they know that illegal loggers and illegal miners are acting in cahoots with people in power. For as long as we have leaders who are willing to sacrifice public health and environmental safety for silver to line their pockets, the whole country will forever be drawn into a vicious cycle of mumbo-jumbo.

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