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Philippines: Environment Disasters Linked to Mining, Logging Operations

While Typhoon Sendong (international name: Washi) flood victims were trying to cope with the massive scale of the death and destruction brought by the calamity, another series of flash floods and landslides ripped through the Philippines in the past three weeks.

Days after Sendong killed 1,257 people last December and left thousands missing and homeless, more floods hit many provinces including Cebu, Davao, Bukidnon, Maguindanao, Compostela Valley, Negros, Leyte and Aklan in the southern Philippines. A deadly landslide meanwhile hit the mining town of Pantukan in Mindanano island last week, leaving 31 dead and over a hundred missing.

As relief operations continue to pour in to flash flood and landslide victims, Filipino netizens also began to ask some questions. The country's tropical climate makes it no stranger to floods and landslides, but the extent of the recent devastation have left many pondering: What are the causes, especially with the increasing scale and frequency of such disasters? What can be done to prevent them or prepare for them in the future?

Antonio J. Ledesma, SJ, the Archbishop of Cagayan de Oro, said that logging and mining is one of the culprits behind the disaster:

Last January 2009, the city had already experienced severe flooding. Some old-time residents recalled that this phenomenon happens every forty years. But barely three years after that, Typhoon Sendong came with greater vengeance.

Illegal logging and irresponsible mining activities have contributed to the degradation of the environment and the siltation of the river bed. The erection of man-made structures may have also impeded the natural flow of the waters.

Cagayan De Oro City Flood Damage Map

Ateneo Physics Laboratories posts the flood damage map of Cagayan de Oro City.

Dugo at Panulat holds [fil] the Aquino government accountable for allowing big business to hold destructive logging and mining operations in the country:

 

Pinahihintulutan ng gobyerno ang pagmimina at pagtrotroso ng mga naghaharing korporasyon at ng kapatid nitong gahamang dayuhan. Pinahihintulutan ng gobyerno na gahasain ng magkapatid ang ating likas na yaman kapalit ng konting kita at pamumuhunan ng mga ito.

The government permits the mining and logging operations of the ruling corporations and their greedy foreign partners. The government permits the two to rape our natural resources in exchange for a little profit and investment.

Lisa Ito also points [fil] to the conversion of forests by transnational corporations into plantations for export crops:

Laganap din ang kumbersiyon ng kagubatan upang gawing plantasyon ng pinya, jatropha, saging, at iba pang export crops, ayon sa maka-kalikasang grupo na Panalipdan Mindanao. Ayon sa mga pag-aaral mula sa National Institute of Geological Sciences, ang CdO ay lalong nagiging bulnerable sa baha dahil sa kumbersyon ng 2,000 ektarya ng kagubatan sa Upper Pulangi Watershed upang gawing taniman ng pinya ng Del Monte Philippines—isa sa pinakamamaking exporter ng pinya sa buong mundo.

The conversion of forests into plantations for pineapples, jatropha (for biofuel), banana, and other export crops is also widespread, said the environmentalist group Panalipdan Mindanao. According to studies from the National Institute of Geological Sciences, Cagayan de Oro became more vulnerable to flooding because of the conversion of 2,000 hectares of forests in Upper Pulangi Watershed for the pineapple farms of Del Monte Philippines-one of the largest pineapple exporters in the whole world.

Environmentalists have pointed out that a geo-hazard analysis conducted by the University of the Philippines confirmed the role of state neglect in the Sendong tragedy. Youth activists have been very vocal about President Noynoy Aquino's veto of a P5 billion disaster preparedness allocation in the past year that could have helped lessened the impact of the floods:

We reiterate that it is the Aquino regime which is a man-made disaster, turning the unavoidable reality of heavy rains into a tragedy: First, because Noynoy himself removed the funding for disaster preparedness in the 2011 national budget. Not a single centavo in the P5 billion ‘Calamity Fund’ went to preparing Northern Mindanao, or any other part of the country for that matter, for natural disasters. Second, because he continues to allow massive, ‘legal’ logging by mining, agricultural, timber, and real estate corporations.

A MindaNews photo shows the logs brought down by the floods to Iligan City from logging sites.

A MindaNews photo shows the logs brought down by the floods to Iligan City from logging sites.

Politika 2013 meanwhile exposes the efforts by big business publicists to confuse the issue and steer the discussion away from the linking of large-scale mining and logging to the calamities:

 

Aside from sweepingly labeling all critics as leftists, the pro-mining and logging publicity offensive likewise attempts to confuse and dishes out lies:

“The Mines and Geosciences Bureau has confirmed that there are no large-scale mining operations in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan…,” CMP President Philip Romualdez said in a statement.

Of course, the mining operations are located in the very wide watersheds beyond the boundaries of both Cagayan de Oro and Iligan.

Meanwhile, Philippine Wood Producers Association (PWPA) deputy executive director Maila R. Vasquez denied the presence of commercial logging operations in northern Mindanao…

So where did the thousands of cut logs that destroyed houses and now littering the coastline and clogging the rivers come from?

Dr. Giovanni Tapang listed 7 ways to reduce disaster risks in the country, including adequate disaster preparations. One of his recommendations is the emulation of socialist Cuba's storm preparations.

Various groups called on the Aquino government to punish those accountable for the disaster. Photo Credits: Karlos Manlupig

Various groups called on the Aquino government to punish those accountable for the disaster. Photo Credits: Karlos Manlupig

Dean Tony La Viña suggests 10 things that should be done after Sendong. He counsels against distractions and blame games, but at the same time calls for holding those responsible accountable:

 

Although this is certainly not the time for blame games, accountability must be exacted. In other countries, notably in Japan, officials take themselves out of the equation by resigning and taking responsibility. Unfortunately, we do not have that tradition here. And so I welcome the task forces created by the President to investigate what happened, although I would have preferred an independent commission to do this job to have more objective findings. Nevertheless when they finish, I hope they will file the appropriate criminal, civil and administrative cases against accountable officials. I would especially want charged those officials who abetted the activities that exacerbated the disaster, or those which had the information and the power to prevent it (but negligently did not do so).

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