Thursday, August 9, 2018

Mangyans now awaiting answers, solutions

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

Big thanks to Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy Cimatu who, upon learning of the Alangan Mangyans’ concerns related to the construction of 13 hydropower plants (one finished, no thanks to dynamite blasting, and about to operate) and their hazardous effects on their ancestral lands, promptly flew to Oriental Mindoro last Friday to hear them out.

But, first, a reminder that today, Aug. 9, is International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Is the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) aware of this? The date and yearly observance were set by the UN General Assembly in 1994.

Excerpts from UN Secretary General António Guterres’ message: “Indigenous peoples have a profound spiritual connection to their lands and resources. Yet, increasingly, indigenous persons are migrating within their countries and across international borders. The reasons are complex and varied. Some are subject to displacement or relocation without their free, prior and informed consent. Others are escaping violence and conflict or the ravages of climate change and environmental degradation… Wherever they live, let us ensure that indigenous peoples enjoy recognition for their contributions and the opportunity to thrive and prosper in peace on a healthy planet.”

In this space last week, we aired the Alangan Mangyans’ concerns as spelled out in the detailed letter of the Holy Spirit Sisters to various government agencies, the DENR foremost among them. While I am writing this piece, communication is going on among the Mangyan leaders (some of whom I have met), persons of interest in government as well as environmental advocates. The Mangyans are now waiting to hear answers from their local government leaders as well as the province’s NCIP office and, more importantly, to be offered concrete solutions.

Cimatu’s visit brought some hope. As reported by Inquirer Southern Luzon correspondent Madonna T. Virola (“DENR hears out Mangyan gripes over 13 hydro projects,” 8/5/2018), Cimatu promised that a team from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau “would look into the people’s complaints and review the project details and safety aspects of the 12 other mini-hydro projects” in several Oriental Mindoro towns. Cimatu chairs the Cabinet cluster on climate change adaptation, mitigation and disaster risk reduction.

Among the Mangyans’ concerns are the dynamite blasting and tunneling by the Santa Clara International Corp. (SCIC), which is reportedly building the hydropower projects on environmentally sensitive areas. (SCIC’s top guy is said to be the same one on top of the ubiquitous chain of supermarkets gaining dominance in the Philippine landscape.)

Cimatu promised to bring up with the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) the case of Naujan town, which had experienced severe flooding during the last strong typhoon. But there is another issue being raised. Can SCIC simply transfer the impending operation of the finished first of 13 hydropower plants to Catuiran Power Corp.? What gives?

So, you see, the Mangyans’ concerns call for multiagency attention, that of the DENR, NCIP, DPWH and their regional agencies and bureaus as well as the local government heads, the Naujan mayor especially. The mayor and officers of SCIC did not show up at the meeting with Mangyan leaders scheduled a couple of days ago at Balite, the village closest to SCIC’s project site.

Ano ba ’yan! As soon as Secretary Cimatu turned his back, the Mangyans were again left to themselves. The Mangyans demand transparency and government dialogue with communities concerned, and not with just a select few people who were not even officially chosen to represent them. The projects have caused divisions among them. Is this a case of divide and conquer?

As I wrote last week, the Mangyans plead for help to avert a huge disaster waiting to happen, not only to them, but also to the rest of us who look upon them to be the guardians of our environment—the forests, the fields, the rivers, the wildlife, the food sources.

Today, UN Secretary General Guterres reminds: “On this annual observance, let us commit to fully realizing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including the rights to self-determination and to traditional lands, territories and resources.”

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Sec. Cimatu, heed Mangyans' plea

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

I have been in Mangyan country in Oriental Mindoro several times and written about the Mangyan communities living there. About this time last year, I was there for the inauguration of a new training center at Tugdaan Mangyan Center in Naujan town where the Alangan Mangyans have their ancestral domain. I ended my happy piece on it with “More another time.”
Well, today is that “another time.”
On behalf of the Alangan Mangyans of Oriental Mindoro, the Holy Spirit Sisters who have lived and worked with them for decades are asking Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy Cimatu, Mines and Geosciences Bureau head Wilfredo Moncano and Environmental Management Bureau head Metodio Turbella to please take a very close look at what is happening in Mangyan territory and act swiftly before it is too late. We might be looking at a disaster waiting to happen—if it has not yet happened.
The appeal is for the suspension of the environmental clearance certificate (ECC) of Santa Clara International Corp., and to request an updated risk assessment of the construction of Lower Catuiran Hydropower Plant and the 12 other approved hydro projects in Oriental Mindoro.
Why? The information I got is that Santa Clara disregarded the agreement that blasting should never be used in the project, and that dynamite has been used to open a tunnel within an environmentally critical area. This, despite the fact that Santa Clara and Mangyan leaders from three barangays had signed a memorandum of agreement specifying no dynamite blasting.

The consolidated report of Task Force Iwas-Baha (a study directed by the provincial government of Oriental Mindoro) came up with serious findings, among them, that the tunneling that was done through blasting and shotcreting might “have affected the integrity of the rock structure of the site which is a critical area owing to its slope category and proximity to the Central Mindoro Fault, for which reason it is deemed necessary that constant monitoring of the tunnel site must be undertaken using a deep penetrating radar.” The report also said that the geo-physical characteristic of the site must be viewed vis-à-vis its “natural vulnerability to landslides and mass slip.”
The religious sisters who have served the Alangan Mangyans in villages in Naujan, Baco and Victoria towns wrote: “We know the mountains and the rivers, especially the Dulangan, Bagto (Catuiran), Bucayao ang Mag-asawang Tubig. Even in the mid-1980s, the rising level of siltation was clearly seen under bridges on the national highway from Baco. We have noted, since 1983, the growing siltation of the Dulangan River and the creeks branching out from it.”
They further noted that blasting and heavy equipment were used in 1983 to construct the mini-hydroelectric plant along the Dulangan River in Paitan, Naujan. Affected was the Mangkatoc River, a tributary to the Dulangan River. A decade later in 1993, when Mindoro was hit by three successive typhoons, the mountain slopes by the Mangkatoc River gave way. Mangyan workers helped excavate the building and revive the plant. Fast-forward to 2015, Typhoon Nona triggered landslides. The whole mini-hydroelectric plant was swept away!
What do all these say? That Mindoro, with all its mountains and the frequent typhoon visits, is a fragile island. AND YET, the sisters emphasize and bring up to the DENR’s attention, 13 hydroelectric projects have been approved for Oriental Mindoro. Photos of the aftermath of Typhoon Nona’s fury have shown wide devastation—homes buried in mud, farms heavily silted. Task Force Iwas-Baha lamented: “Such destructive flooding was beyond the expectations of Mindoreños … This project is perceived to have brought detrimental effects to the environment.”
The Mines and Geosciences Bureau of Mimaropa region had done a study (“Natural Hazards Affecting the Paitan Mangyan Reservation Re: The Construction of the Mini Hydroelectric Dam on the Headwaters of Dulangan River, Naujan, Oriental Mindoro”) that shows the risks and the need for an updated geohazard map and risk assessment.
These all sound very technical, but those who live and have livelihoods in the danger areas—the Mangyans especially who are on the ground—are pleading for help to avert a huge disaster waiting to happen.

Read more: http://opinion.inquirer.net/115058/sec-cimatu-heed-mangyans-plea#ixzz5NjdY29Jf 
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