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.