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.”