Friday, May 27, 2022



It was a disaster waiting to happen

Inquirer’s banner story two days ago: “Court finds Marcopper liable for 1993 disaster.” Yes, after all hell broke loose in Marinduque 28 years and five months ago and after a 21-year legal battle.

The 30-plus plaintiffs, the report said, had accused Marcopper Mining Corp. of negligent acts that resulted in the breach of the Maguila-guila Dam and the flooding of the Mogpog River with silt water at the height of Typhoon “Monang.” Three years later, in 1996, another spill occurred, leaving the Boac river almost dead. These Marcopper industrial disasters were the Philippines’ worst, and Mother Nature was crying to the heavens for retribution. Sadly, the material compensation for the plaintiffs can never be enough.


Marinduque, the island known for its colorful open-air biblical passion play during Holy Week that draws thousands of tourists, had its real experience of passion and death during the Christmas season of 1993.

Suddenly, on Dec. 6, 1993, Marinduque’s gullies and rivulets, streams, and rivers were filled with toxic liquid that spilled out from the mine site of Marcopper Mining Corp. Pollution caused by Marcopper (parent company: Placer Dome Inc. of Canada) had long been in the news. In 1988, the Inquirer ran a three-part investigative report on the havoc Marcopper had been inflicting continuously for more than a decade. Warnings had been sounded consistently since the early 1980s, long before environmental consciousness was the norm. The small fishermen of Marinduque were among the first to sound the alarm for obvious reasons—dwindling catch and health issues.


In 1984, long before the deadly Marcopper mine spill, I went to Marinduque to document for a church-based publication the problems of the fishing communities living near Calancan Bay. The social action arm of the Catholic Church was the voice in the wilderness that called the attention to the environmental destruction in that part of Luzon. Marinduque Bishop Rafael Lim, then chair of the Luzon Secretariat of Social Action, stood tall against the wanton neglect. But the country was under Marcos martial rule, and there was not much national outrage over local issues. President Marcos had upheld Marcopper’s petition to continue dumping its waste into Calancan Bay. Today, this would have caused global outrage.

I saw for myself Marcopper’s 16-kilometer pipeline that carried toxic waste far into the sea. Day or night, one could see a deadly sheen on the surface of the water. Beaches were turned into mud-covered landscapes that cracked under the noonday sun. Fishermen had rashes on their bodies. One could feel the imminent death of creation.

I wrote a long feature on Marinduque’s woes in a church social action publication, with on-the-spot line sketches by an artist who came with me, and stark black-and-white photos that I took, one of them of a huge pipe that carried poison to the sea. I had a photo of myself standing on top of that pipe. I could not hide my dismay.

The fishermen asked that a lighthouse be built on the causeway to warn them of the pipeline when they sailed at night to fish elsewhere. The pipeline had been causing floods due to the constriction of water in the bay where islets were too close to each other. People said that a basin had been planned for the area, but Marcopper opted for the cheaper pipeline. The tailings pit in Mount Tapian had not been fully utilized because Marcopper, it was reported, had discovered more copper ore underneath. Marcopper always made representations before the government and promised to improve its waste disposal system. At one time, it simply paid a daily fine while it continued polluting the environment.

In 1986, the National Pollution Control Commission under the Cory Aquino administration at last banned mine wastes from being dumped into the bay. It was in 1993, during the watch of President Fidel V. Ramos, that Marcopper’s tailings containment pond broke and unleashed tons of toxic matter that poisoned everything in its way. The spillage caused a national and international furor.

On March 24, 1996, another mining disaster occurred when the pit with leftover mine tailing was damaged and caused the flow of toxic waste into the river system. It was a deadly one, if not deadlier than the 1993 disaster.

In an article I wrote for the Inquirer in the aftermath of the 1993 tragedy, I could only begin with a cliché: “It was a disaster waiting to happen.”

Read more: https://opinion.inquirer.net/153360/it-was-a-disaster-waiting-to-happen#ixzz7sDO0lmi0
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Friday, May 13, 2022



A new force has begun (1)

First, let me share something painful from a religious sister who has served for years in the second biggest slum area in Manila, living in a tiny room far removed from convent comforts. She has embraced poor, distraught families bereaved by tokhang and extrajudicial killings in the Duterte drug war, has given solace and safety not only through words but through legal and other means.


During the two years of the COVID-19 pandemic and long lockdowns, Sister Marie, a true-brown Filipino, stayed on. I had been in the area where she works without letup, and I could only marvel at her zeal that makes me zoom back to my own dashed aspirations. Sister Marie is sturdy like an ox, but sometimes the yoke and the heavy burden have to be laid down. Was it worth it?

Do not judge, oh ye bashers, smashers, and hush-ers. Istap! the sanctimonious pontifications. Allow her to scan the ruins, to feel her heart racing wildly, and with tears in her eyes and grief in her heart, to strike back. Her Facebook post:


“Sana hindi ka lalapit muli upang humingi ng ayuda dahil iminulat ka namin upang bumoto ng tama pero ibinenta mo pa rin and boto mo kapalit ng 6 na taong paghihikahos. Good luck. Out na rin po ako sa (area na ito).” (I hope you do not come again to ask for material aid because after we had made you aware on how to vote right, you still sold your vote in exchange for six years of suffering. Good luck. Am out of here.)

“Ibinenta mo pa rin ang boto mo” are the key words. Nothing about the chosen and unchosen candidates. Why? is the cry. My painful answer: Soeur Marie du Bon Pasteur, all that hard work and compassion you had poured out for years were no match against the lure of dirty money.

Sister Marie will soon head for an even more challenging post in a foreign country. She has the right to vent her feelings on how the national elections turned out. The Marcos family that pillaged this country is, after 36 years, back in the pinnacle of power. Or am I speaking too soon?

My own take: Remember being thrown into the darkness and dealt a near-fatal blow that left you gutted, crushed, and shattered in a thousand pieces? Recall the rejection, abandonment, and loss, the pain that has no name. This, this is déjà vu, except that you are not alone, you are in the company of kindred spirits who, too, are hurting.

To the tens of thousands of victims of the Marcos dictatorship, many of whom perished in the night (some of whom I knew personally), I, a survivor, am sorry that our best was no match against the avalanche of money that spawned untruths. I light candles on your graves. The youth have begun and will continue.

Even as we speak, the youth that awakened to their own force during the campaign to elect Vice President Leni Robredo for president and Sen. Kiko Pangilinan for vice president continue to push back evil forces of disinformation, deceit, and lies that have taken over the Philippine landscape. Gifts of their time, talent, and treasure are not for naught. We only had a glimpse of them, and there would be more.

Breast beating, blame throwing and I-told-you-so-ing are the knee-jerk reactions of many, not a few biting into the narrative that the “pink movement” that arose from the Robredo candidacy and showed its mammoth force in numbers was too distant from the masses, holier-than-thou, hypocritical, blah, blah, blah. Come on, these traits run across political divides and not the monopoly of one side. I say: When abused, do not offer the other cheek for more abuse. Don’t be “tweetums.” Play Chopin’s “Revolutionary Etude” in the ruins, or better still, “Ang masa, o ang masa” while the victors jostle for the caviar.


It cannot be disputed that the Leni-Kiko campaign ran on the steam of volunteerism that their opponents couldn’t match. NOT MONEY that the Marcos camp was awash in. How? Why? From where? These are not rhetorical questions that beg for rhetorical answers. They had already been answered with legal proofs and documentations.

IT. IS. ALIVE. It is young. Mind-boggling is the force (I’d rather not call it a movement). It bears watching. It throbs, it is raring, raging. Truth is its best weapon. (More another time.)

Read more: https://opinion.inquirer.net/152924/a-new-force-has-begun-1#ixzz7sDOxOSR0
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Friday, May 6, 2022



Journalists’ Election 2022 Pledge

On May 3, World Press Freedom Day, journalists gathered via Zoom to discuss, reflect, and exchange views on the topic “The State of Media Freedom in the Philippines: Journalism Under Siege.” Sadly the forum had to begin with the number of journalists who were slain (23) in the past six years, the threats and shabby treatment journalists have to endure while on coverage, the Red-tagging that puts their lives at risk. But just as horrifying is how misinformation, disinformation, and fake news have almost taken over social media, leaving mainstream journalism to double up efforts to stand its ground (I almost wrote “to reclaim its place”) in legitimate news gathering and reporting.

The forum was held six days before the May 9 national elections when campaigns were at fever pitch, but journalists found time. Thanks to the Freedom for Media, Freedom for All (FMFA) Network, and the Wag Kukurap Coalition Eleksyon 2022. FMFA members include the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, and several media groups. Thanks, too, to the younger crop of journalists who gave fresh insights and discoveries, (yes, discoveries!), which were the result of heightened vigilance and tireless spadework that revealed evil machinations on social media to subvert the truth. I was aghast!


Here is the pledge that hundreds of journalists have signed and which was read and affirmed at the forum. Those who are not journalists toiling in the trenches can draw from this pledge a picture of a minefield that the harbingers of the word must tread.

Affirming that:

Election integrity is not just about credible counting of votes, but about clean, level, legal, transparent, and accountable campaigning;

Credible elections need credible media; conversely, corrupted media can further corrupt politics;

Citizens need issues and debates to be clarified, not simply amplified.

We pledge to:

– Put voters and the integrity of the electoral process at the center of our reporting.

– Focus on issues not just on personalities.

– Examine the track record and qualifications of candidates and political parties vying for public office and hold them accountable for the veracity and honesty of their every statement and promise.


– Cover as responsible and accountable the institutions mandated to ensure an even, orderly, and credible electoral playing field.

– Stand in solidarity with each other when any journalist or news organization is harassed by state agents, political parties, candidates, or private groups for their evidence-based journalism.

– Be accountable to the public. We will hold each other to higher standards of impartiality, credibility, and integrity.

In line with these principles, we commit to:

– Challenge and correct statements and claims that have no basis in fact.

– Avoid highlighting or amplifying falsehoods, hate speech, and incitements to violence.

– Report on the partisan activities of government officials, including those working for national and local agencies, the courts, law enforcement, and the armed services.

– Monitor the independence of the Commission on Elections, the courts, the military, the police, teachers, and all other individuals, and entities involved in the conduct of the election.

– Highlight the efforts of the public and private sectors to uphold the honesty and integrity of elections.

– Monitor vote-buying, campaign spending, and the use of public funds to win elections. 

– Contextualize reporting on surveys and the winnability of candidates. We will not report on surveys without verifying the source of the polling data, the track record of the companies conducting the polls, the methodologies used, and the questions asked.

– Focus on voter education, citizen participation, and empowerment.

– Organize and report on town halls and debates, and encourage candidates and citizens to take part in them.

– Uphold codes of ethics and professional conduct and disclose potential conflicts of interest.

– Make a clear distinction between reportage and opinion.

– Promote safety, public health, and security protocols for and among journalists, and be mindful of the impact of our work on the safety and well-being of the people and communities we interact with in the course of our reporting.

– Share best practices, knowledge, and experience, and raise our individual and collective capacities and competencies in covering elections—as well as the politics, issues, policies, leaders, and people beyond the elections.I add, so help us God. May the universe conspire with us and our efforts to make the truth emerge and blaze during our darkest moments.

Read more: https://opinion.inquirer.net/152704/journalists-election-2022-pledge-2#ixzz7sDPPbGm0
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