PARADISE  RAVAGED

MANILA,
JULY 14, 2008
(STAR) FROM THE HEART By Gina Lopez - When I was in Puerto Princesa, amid the lush mangrove surroundings of San Carlos en route to Honda Bay, an official of PNNI, the Palawan Network of NGOs, sat beside me and showed me pictures that made my heart skip a beat. I have never been in favor of mining primarily because all Iíve seen or heard of it has been unfavorable. The advocates for mining can speak all they want but the fact remains that mining towns are among the poorest in the country. The incidents of destructive mining in the country far outnumber anything productive or progressive about it.

In February of this year I was able to witness a meeting of youth, NGOs and concerned citizens against the pervasive mining in Palawan. I was aghast to find out that there are 398 mining applications filed in this gorgeous land. UNESCO has even declared Palawan as a man and biosphere reserve ó meaning the organization recognizes Palawanís importance to the world! Knowing this, how can we possibly even consider or continue to allow the ravaging of this precious ecosystem? It should be noted that most of the mining is happening upland ó sometimes at elevations 500 meters high, where there are existing indigenous tribes. This also adds to erosion, which can affect marine life and our coral reefs! I remember an old man who took a stand and complained about mining in his private rice field. Whereís the local consultation here? The priest beside me translated the manís woes to me.

In March of this year, I signed a MOA with Tourism Secretary Ace Durano to help the department promote tourism in specific sites ó initially Bicol, Batangas, El Nido and Puerto Princesa. This contract has been a real blessing because it has led me to experience firsthand, and in an increasingly deep way, the awesomeness of our country. And the decibels do not stop increasing.

It was in this personal space ó feeling overwhelmed by the beauty of this land ó that the photographs were shown to me. And they struck me; they actually pained me. It was almost physical. I couldnít even bear to look at the other pictures. At least not in this space.

Back home in Quezon City, in my office, I told Teta, my assistant, ďOkay, show me the pictures.Ē Steeling myself, I flipped the pages. I read the facts and figures attesting to the biodiversity in Palawan. After reading the chart I looked with disbelief at the number and areas of projected mining sites. Somewhere deep inside I seethed; something in me turned and revolted, as often happens to me when things arenít right. It almost felt like a fire was being lit, fueling indignation. And even when my emotions were settled, there was still the clear perception that this just wasnít right. It isnít.

I donít know the history of the situation, nor am I aware of the technicalities. This piece is not meant to be an exposť or investigative journalism. I just want to talk about principles.

I think of Puerto Princesa, the way the land and the people are blooming. The numbers speak volumes. Because of Mayor Edward Hagedornís determination to preserve Puerto Princesaís natural resources, it is a prime visitor destination. As a result, capital investments in the city have increased from P52 million to P15 billion. Crime is down, people are happy, visitors are happy. And, like I mentioned in my previous column, even the land feels happy. Itís an island in bloom.

Surely, Palawan holds the same promise. Itís in the same area. It shares the same body of water, similar resources.

I reflect on this ó and I look at the pictures, the volumes of data before me ó and something here just isnít right. We are not Singapore. We are not Hong Kong. We are an archipelago of 7,000 spectacular islands. We have the land, the seas, and the people to offer a piece of paradise to visitors. Our people can live in paradise. It is very clear to me that mining in a place like Palawan is not the way to go about it. It isnít. And no matter what technical information is sent my way ó I donít think I can see these pictures any other way. Mining in a land of spectacular natural resources? Itís like killing the goose that lays the golden egg! If there is poverty, mining is not the solution. History has shown that it only further marginalizes the poor. It is foolhardy to believe that the destruction of one area does not have a domino effect in the inevitable connection there is in the web of life. Just look at the global phenomenon of climate change. Itís one aspect spilling over onto another. The spilling over doesnít have to be negative ó it can also be positive. We can make positive changes, and these can spill over into our quality of life. Thatís just the way it is.

I commit the energies and passion of Bantay Kalikasan to let the world know the wonders that exist here. What will we have left to promote if mining destroys the environment?

God gives us bounty. We choose what to do with it. We make our own destiny. What choices will we make for our country? For our future? For our children? For our people?

* * *

I can be reached at regina_lopez@abs-cbn.com. If you wish to help develop the local communities of Puerto Princesa contact Gerry Ortega Bayanijuan, manager for Puerto Princesa. If you wish to know more about the mining in Palawan and what can be done about it, please contact Offie Bernardino, head of PNNI, at (048)433-5525. Or e-mail pnnipal@gmail.com.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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