Thursday, February 28, 2019

Needed boost for Mangyans' tertiary education

As the school year draws to a close, and while environmental issues plague the ancestral domains of the Mangyans of Oriental Mindoro, it behooves government agencies to look into the needs — higher education among them — of the special communities that are the de facto, default guardians of Mother Nature.
I have made known in this space a number of times the issues plaguing the Mangyans, and I have been grateful for some prompt government responses, from Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu particularly. So I am emboldened to bring up yet another one, particularly in the field of education.

Long ago in 1992, while doing research for a magazine article on the Tadyawan Mangyans, I happened by the vicinity of Mindoro State College of Agriculture and Technology (Minscat) and spoke with members of an Alangan Mangyan community there. They were very much concerned about their ancestral land then as they are now.
 Their cry: “Dumating ang doser at kami ay dinoser nang dinoser.” (The bulldozer came and bulldozed us.) Their leader, Virginia Maligaya said: “Ano kami, baboy damo? Dinoser nila at dinala sa ilog.” (What are we, wild pigs? They bulldozed and drove us to the river.)

There was then an ongoing battle between the Alangan Mangyans and Minscat. Years before, the Mangyans who happened to be within the 3.68-hectare Minscat “property” since the time of Adam and Eve were driven out, relocated to a place called Ibolo where they stayed for many years. But again, they were driven out of the place already grown with coffee trees, because it was to be converted into the Marcos government’s Palayan ng Bayan (which failed). After that, they were again told to go back where they came from. They did, and after several years, were again being doser-ed.
The Mangyans always lost.
Fast forward to 2019. Sister Victricia Pascasio of the Holy Spirit Sisters, a staunch advocate for Mangyan rights, is one with the Mangyan communities in calling for Minscat “to equalize educational opportunities for the youth in Mindoro by reaching out to would-be Mangyan scholars. It would be a big boost to Mangyan communities if their youth can be trained in agriculture and other technologies.”
She adds that while the state college can give equal access to education, it can also be instrumental in recognizing the land rights of the indigenous people (IP)  as well as legitimate farmer-settlers.
“It is high time to resolve the land issue which has dragged on for decades,” she tells me. “The Department of Agrarian Reform, prodded by the Mangyan original occupants and farmer-settlers, had worked on this for more than a decade. The survey of available unutilized lands by the school in the 1990s really justified distribution. It is never too late to let justice prevail and provide opportunities for marginalized sectors to live with dignity.”

On the education issue, Minscat can learn much from Pamulaan, a tertiary education program for college students from communities of IPs all over the country. Pamulaan was founded by Benjamin Abadiano, a Ramon Magsaysay awardee. Pamulaan boasts of a special curriculum for IP college students, a dormitory, a Living Heritage Museum and a library. Pamulaan is located within the University of Southeastern Philippines’ Mintal campus in Davao City. I have seen it for myself and was very impressed.
Mangyan youth, especially the Alangan, should be able to avail of scholarships both from Minscat and Sta. Clara International Corp., which had promised benefits to Mangyan communities of Balite, Banuton and Caburo, hosts of the corporation’s hydroelectric project located in Naujan town. It will be a big boost for Mangyan youth who need to be trained in agriculture and other technologies.

(There was news the other day that Sta. Clara’s Oriental Mindoro headquarters and heavy equipment were burned by an armed group.)
As to boosting the education of perpetually doser-ed Mangyans, the time is now. There is now a good number of Mangyan professionals, teachers among them.
Ah, but the Mangyans should never lose their own way of writing, a distinct baybayin or syllabary once only etched on bamboo, something they can be proud of and preserve for future generations.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

To eat our own rice

While on my way to a northwestern Luzon province two weeks ago, I took photographs of the four-lane concrete highway that narrowed into two, because the outer lanes on the left and on the right were being used to dry palay (rice grains). On long stretches of the highway were golden grains being raked every now and then for even drying. So preindustrial age.
I could not help thinking of the motorists who were denied the road space meant for them, but I worried more for the people, young kids even, who were doing the raking, because they could be hit by speeding or wayward vehicles.

I could only sigh while I gazed at the paddy fields beyond, rice growing in different plots and showing varying degrees of maturity. So pleasant were they to the eyes and to the mind. Some fields were golden with ripening grain, others lush and green with promise. In good weather.
But there is a tempest of another kind that will hit the rice fields and farmers. That is, the recent passing of the rice import liberalization or rice tariffication law (signed on Feb. 14 by President Duterte). Farmers and even government employees of the National Food Authority (NFA) are protesting. They raise placards saying “Kontra Magsasaka, Kontra Mamamayan!” (Antifarmer! Antipeople!). “The beginning of the end of the rice industry in the Philippines,” one NFA manager said, because “it stripped the NFA of its regulatory and stabilization functions,” thus reducing NFA to “a mere buffer stocking agency.”

Farmers’ groups such as Amihan, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and Bantay Bigas protested in front of the Department of Agriculture to stress that the tariffication law will not solve the chronic rice crisis, that “instead, it will just transform our country into an import-dependent, rice-consuming population.”
Too painful now to hark back to times past when the Philippines was one of the world’s biggest rice producers, a destination where countless foreigners learned the rudiments of rice production. Now, as far as rice production and supply are concerned, the Philippines is in the dustbin.
While NFA employees fear for their jobs, the rice farmers’ fears are even greater — and these are not without bases — so the search for solutions must continue. To produce and eat our own rice must be a rallying cry.
There is the Rice Industry Development Act (Rida) or House Bill No. 8512, filed by party-list Representatives Ariel B. Casilao and Antonio L. Tinio (principal authors) of Anakpawis and Alliance of Concerned Teachers, respectively, and several other coauthors.
First, Casilao paints a grim future scenario when “local rice production is totally devastated and wiped out, rice lands then converted into subdivisions… or planted with export cash crops, all due to the impact of flooding of imported rice, (then) we will just be an addition to the world population that begs for food, whose food security is a sham, and whose right to food totally inexistent.”

Solutions? First, the repeal of the rice tariffication law upon its publication, or 15 days after the President signed it.
Rida is a very detailed P495-billion, three-year development program, targeting as its main beneficiaries the poor rice farmers and poor consumers.

And what are its core programs? Production support; focused poverty alleviation; accelerated infrastructure development; research and development extension services; rice lands protection; and strengthening of the NFA. There will be “rice development zones” or rice bowls that would serve as the centers of the core programs.
The support program includes collateral-free socialized credit, farm inputs support, provision of machineries and crop insurance. Infrastructure development includes irrigation development. Rice lands protection prohibits land reclassification, and land use and crop conversion.
While the budget appears to be huge, Casilao says it is a small price to pay, a long overdue public investment that should have been carried out in decades past “… given that the palay sector has the potential to produce P360 billion worth of produce annually. This will trigger genuine rural development that will seal off the chronic rice crisis, even solve mass unemployment in the countryside… and may even decongest the urban centers in the country.”
Rida is a long, long read (43 pages). You may find it in http://congress.gov.ph/legisdocs/basic_17/HB08512.pdf. It spells hope.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

2 nature warriors raise alarms

Two veteran environmentalists have raised two separate alarms on two issues that should merit the attention of the government and citizens.
Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan, a member of the national advisory council of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Brain Trust Inc. (a sustainable development consultancy), and Antonio Oposa Jr., an environmental lawyer and activist, are speaking out individually to call attention to environmental issues. These two men are also authors of books on the environment. Oposa was a 2007 Ramon Magsaysay Foundation awardee. Tan headed WWF-Philippines for many years.

Tan’s alarm has to do with Taal Lake/Volcano and its environs, among them, the heritage town of Taal in Batangas. A circumferential highway along the east side of the lake is to be built. The problem is that Mount Maculot, “a mountaineer’s first love,” is in the area, and Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology studies show it to be landslide-prone. Also, the road being planned is on the “littoral zone,” that is, the highest zone of biodiversity in the entire protected area.
Tan points out that the east side section of the Taal Lake caldera is the last forest and wildlife area, and covered by the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System rules. The highway project should be put in the freezer, Tan says, because a writ of kalikasan has been filed for Taal Lake, and the Court of Appeals is still monitoring the so-called consent decree.

And yet, Tan says, “the contractor has cleared forests, slopes, slides and coastal areas without approval. The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) created a budget for a 20-meter circumferential road, but not for the purchase of right of way. They may have expected the local government units to provide the land for the road… (but) it seems like no LGU is giving land, hence the proposal is to cover the shoreline of the entire lake with a road, assuming it is all easement and therefore public land. In some barangays, the highway project has removed natural water sources. This will destroy the lake.”
So it is not only the lake’s famous “tawilis” fish that are endangered (there is now a ban on catching them), the lake itself and its surroundings are endangered.
Tan, now a resident of Batangas, also points out that the historical, cultural and religious sites of Pinagkurusan, Dingin and Lumang Simbahan in Alitagtag and Sta. Teresita towns will be affected. Already, the clearing operation is nearing Dingin.
Is the project supposed to be a circumferential tourism highway? What is the basis for a project in a hazard, unstable area? And why has the DPWH delayed the much-needed widening of the Cuenca-Alitagtag road which could be safer?
On another front, the quixotic Oposa, who, along with his law students, brought the case of the polluted Manila Bay to the Supreme Court 20 years ago (and won), is still fighting windmills. While the bay is now undergoing massive cleanup and rehab two decades too late, and the world-class sunset bay continues to inspire romantics, something worrisome is looming in the horizon: reclamation in Manila Bay.

“Reclaim?” Oposa asks. Why, who owned it previously? Someone, he says, fills up the sea with rocks and soil then claims the land as his own and sells it as real estate. In Filipino, “tinambakan at inangkin.” He makes a computation on how developers could make a fast buck or “tubong lugaw.”
The lawyer cites a 2003 Supreme Court decision that declared that submerged areas are public domain and outside the commerce of man. He dares President Duterte (whom he calls Bossing Bisaya) not to heed reclamation offers.

He brings up the negative impacts the Philippine Reclamation Authority should be aware of: bribery of officials in order to scrape off entire mountains to fill the sea; rising water levels (“See you underwater, Camanava!”); the negative effect on marine life; solid and liquid waste disposal; land liquefaction, to name a few.
Oposa waxes sentimental when he pictures Manila Bay wearing a sheen of gold at day’s end: “Reflecting on the evening sky, at twilight time when we ask ourselves why. ‘It is not the things we do, but the things that we leave undone, that leave a bit of heartache at the setting of the sun.’”
Countless Valentine couples will be out there to woo when the sun romances the sea and day turns to dusk.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Pig poo pouring into Batangas Bay

Pinoys and Chinoys celebrated the Chinese New Year of the Pig two days ago with the porcine icon in the mind of most everybody, especially the self-styled seers, soothsayers and their believers. So it is just as apropos to call attention to pigs in another context. Not the lawmakers’ pork barrel issue this time, but pig excrement being poured into waterways, not by the pigs themselves, but by businessmen who raise them for profit and in the process defiling the environment. Picture rivers laden with pig and chicken shit draining into the sea.
Much has been said about the overdue rehab of the “toilet bowl” that is Manila Bay that began last week, and the cleanup of the rivers and creeks that pour polluted, toxic water into that historic body of water, site of battles and source of romantic inspirations — notwithstanding the foulness of it — because of the awesome sheen it lends to the famous Manila sunset.

Adjacent to Manila Bay is Batangas Bay, which could be just as toxically laden because of the pig and chicken shit dumped into the rivers that flow into it. It is not that nobody noticed and complained, there was just no tough action by the local government units (LGUs) for a long time.
It took a Facebook page on traffic monitoring in Batangas to rattle LGUs and call the attention of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). But I am going ahead of the story.

Years ago, I wrote about a close friend who was in trouble with the Bureau of Internal Revenue  because she had refused to pay her taxes for four years in a row. BatangueƱa farmer-environmentalist and former Good Shepherd sister Emma Alday worked very, very hard to clean up rivers and waterways in her hometown of San Jose.
I had seen for myself the efforts she had put into her advocacy, which came out in print and broadcast media. (She is chair of Susi Foundation and, at one time, a frustrated town councilor.) Her complaint had to do with Malaquing Tubig, the town’s natural spring, into which pig and chicken manure were being dumped.
My friend did write a stinging letter to the district revenue officer to explain why she refused to pay business tax “to a government that does not care about the health of the people.” I ran her letter in this space. Too long to explain here how it got resolved, but suffice it to say that it was one for the books! But pollution continued.
Recently, a team from the DENR responded to the complaint on Facebook of the Bantay Trapiko sa Batangas on the pollution of the Calumpang River caused by piggeries. The river is a “principal river joined by many tributaries such as Malaquing Ilog, Sabang, and Ibaan rivers draining (from) the municipalities of San Jose, Ibaan, Taysan and Padre Garcia and the cities of Lipa and Batangas.” It is sometimes called the “Nile of Batangas.”
The team’s report said that, as of 2017, the Calumpang River had “significantly exceeded the guidelines for ammonia, biochemical oxygen demand, chloride and dissolved oxygen. Coliform concentration in Calumpang has “greatly exceeded the DENR criteria for Class C. This can be accounted to an increase in anthropological activity around the rivers which may lead to an increase in domestic wastes.” Anthropological, meaning human, as journalists would simply write in this case. (BatangueƱos’ remark: Ala, e!)

The report adds that Calumpang River falls under Class C, which is supposed to be beneficial for (1) fishery, that is, propagation and growth of fish and other aquatic life; (2) recreation, e.g. boating; and (3) industrial water supply.
The DENR did conduct a survey of 95 firms without discharge permits and, in December 2018, of piggery owners in Cuenca town. The dismal results are too technical to mention here, but “commitments/agreements” with LGUs of Lipa, Batangas, Rosario and San Jose have been made for these LGUs to conduct monthly water quality monitoring and analysis. They shall also submit the list of industries in their areas and validate their discharge permits.

The Philippine Clean Water Act requires all firms to have a discharge permit. The report that I have does not describe “proper” and “improper” discharge.
Batangas Bay’s case should be no different from Manila Bay’s that Mother Nature’s warriors brought before the Supreme Court and won.#