MANILA, April 22, 2008 (STAR) By Katherine Adraneda - Environment activists criticized the government yesterday for its “serious shortcomings” in the implementation of environment laws.

On the eve of today’s Earth Day celebration, they gave President Arroyo an award for being “a bane to the environment” and blamed the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for promoting destruction, instead of conservation, of the country’s natural resources.

The international environment group Greenpeace also lamented the continued degradation of various water resources in the country.

This year’s celebration of Earth Day in the Philippines is focused on saving and protecting the seas and other water resources.

Greenpeace Water Patrol activists yesterday “investigated” a dump in Angono, Rizal which it said has spread to the banks of Laguna Lake.

As part of the investigation, the activists got water samples in the vicinity and posted the sign “Our trash. Our water. Protect our water sources!” to remind the public that waste dumped on land eventually ends up in the water that people use.

The group called on the government to strictly enforce laws on waste disposal to protect threatened freshwater sources.

Beau Baconguis, toxics campaigner of Greenpeace, said illegal open dump sites have re-mapped the banks of Laguna Lake, creating reclaimed areas built on the dirty garbage of towns and cities and slowly killing the major freshwater bodies in the country.

Citing information revealed by the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) last December, Baconguis said that dumpsites in four municipalities – Paete and Biñan in Laguna and Angono and Taytay in Rizal – are close to Laguna Lake’s shores.

Meanwhile, the group said 14 dumpsites in other nearby towns compound the water pollution problem of Laguna Lake.

Greenpeace lamented that although the LLDA has asked the concerned local government units (LGUs) to implement the Ecological Waste Management Act of 2000 (Republic Act 9003), the dumps continue to pollute the body of water.

Greenpeace warned that toxic leachate from the garbage dumps is expected to ooze into the lake for years to come, even after the sites are successfully closed.

Based on the assessment of Greenpeace, the dumps in Angono and Taytay, in particular, occupy the lake’s waters, a blatant violation of the Clean Water Act of 2004 (Republic Act 9275), and Ecological Waste Management Act of 2000.

Greenpeace Water Patrol said the Angono dumpsite was supposedly declared closed by Mayor Aurora Villamayor last January. However, during its investigation, the group encountered garbage trucks delivering fresh garbage to the site just a week ago.

The group said on the other hand, the Taytay dumpsite remains fully operational.

“Starting with the Angono dumpsite, Greenpeace is taking samples of water within the lake as part of our larger campaign, Project Clean Water, launched last October 2007. The project aims to bring people together toward a common goal of safeguarding our water sources,” Baconguis said.

“We intend to examine and expose the pollution levels of various freshwater sources around the country. Through this, we hope to catalyze much-needed action to reverse the continuing decline of our water resources,” Baconguis added.

Greenpeace expects to release the partial results of its investigations later this year.

Greenpeace is an independent, global campaigning organization that acts to change attitudes and behavior, to protect and conserve the environment, and to promote peace.

Laguna Lake, also known as Laguna de Bay, is the country’s largest lake, and the second largest inland freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, following Lake Toba in Sumatra, Indonesia.

Laguna Lake is being eyed as a potential source of potable water for Metro Manila. However, the LLDA said the lake is in danger of dying in five years if no steps are taken to improve its rapidly deteriorating water quality.

“Greenpeace hopes that this should also be a call to action for all Filipinos to adopt a more responsible attitude toward the waste they generate and dispose. Through the simple practice of responsible waste management at home, such as segregation and composting of organic waste, we can be part of the solution to the problem of garbage and water pollution,” Baconguis said.

As this developed, the militant Kalikasan-People’s Network for Environment yesterday said it will step up protests on Earth Day against the worsening natural resources depletion, ecological destruction, and plunder of national patrimony in the country.

Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan, claimed that the continued destruction of the country’s natural resources has pushed the country farther away from genuine development, self-sufficiency, prosperity, and sovereignty.

“The Philippines has vast natural resources – enough to keep its population far away from hunger, debt, and poverty. Yet the historical exploitation of its natural wealth by a few elite interests has continued unabated up to the present, leaving less land, water, floral and faunal species, and air for the benefit of the majority,” he said.

Bautista said the current rice crisis is also reflective of the fast diminishing number of agricultural lands due to degradation and land conversion.

He scored the government for continuously resorting to massive importation as a solution to the food crisis instead of embarking on genuine agrarian reform as well as serious protection of the country’s environment and natural resources.

“Instead of responding to the current ecological crisis and defending our national patrimony against plunder, the Arroyo administration has continued to evade accountability for its transgressions and crimes against the environment and the people. Eight years under President Gloria Arroyo have only resulted in more devastation, depletion, and pollution,” the Kalikasan said.

“Worst, the administration’s bloody and tainted human rights record is reflected in the rising cases of persecution and harassment of people defending our national patrimony. Of more than 900 victims of extrajudicial killings since 2001, environmental activists have identified 23 as being related to environmental issues, particularly mining,” it added.

The group accused President Arroyo and her administration of having been directly complicit in passing various laws, policies, and programs that are tend towards exporting and selling off the country’s remaining natural resources to foreign interests.

It also charged that the Arroyo administration is engaging in “a grand clearance sale” of Philippine forests, lands, mineral ores, agricultural produce, biodiversity, water, and marine wealth to the highest foreign bidder.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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