Last Monday, my assistant, Vinci Bueza, was in Manila to interview Ms. Gina Lopez, in connection with her having been unanimously chosen by our Board of Trustees as this year’s graduation speaker and recipient of our Honorary Doctorate for her achievements in environmental service.
Vinci was never able to interview her. Abruptly, the interview had been called off “due to the death of a staff member” in Palawan. Today, the Philippine Daily Inquirer publishes a heart-rending front-page account by Gina Lopez herself of Gerry Ortega’s death and of what Gerry stood for. She writes:
“Gerry’s greatest pain was mining. He saw and felt how mining has ravaged the environment and destroyed people’s lives. Two days before he died he made a comment to me. ‘We jail people for killing one or two persons. How about institutions or people that ravage environments and cause the death of hundreds or thousands? The floods of Palawan are absolutely due to mining – due to the denudation of forests.”
Ms Lopez recounts an incident that occurred just a day before Gerry was murdered, and her response:
“Then [Gerry] introduced this person, a ‘katutubo.’ Gerry said ‘This man is illiterate, but hear him speak.’
“The moment he took the microphone, virtually everyone in the room was close to tears. I felt the pain—deep… deep… because the environment in which he lived was being ravaged. Mayor Hagedorn was with me and he whispered to me: ‘Look at Gerry, he is crying.’ Gerry was red-faced and emotional.
“Mika, his eldest, who works for the Pasig River Rehab, agreed. ‘My father is emotional and cries easily…. I openly fault the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD).”
This said, Ms. Lopez lashes out at the environmental caretakers of Palawan with the force and passion of Jesus’ condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees:
“You who are supposed to care for Palawan… under your reign Palawan’t forest cover has diminished, mining claims have proliferated, and you dare call yourselves guardians of Palawan? Shame on you!!! You pass two new mining concessions near protected areas! You bulldoze it. Shame on you! Shame on you! Mayor Hagedorn even says PCSD should be abolished!”
She goes on to lament even the economic and developmental absurdity of continuing to allow mining in the country with its sure environmental degradation, when the historical experience is that protecting the environment is far more advantageous.
“Palawan has more protected areas than any other province n the country. It has two world heritage sites and 17 KBAs! This means Key Diversity Areas, areas with global impact! Throughout, it is lush. It’s topsoil is fertile. Mining would kill and is killing it!
“Look at the results. The mining areas are still poor. Then look at Puerto Princessa where Mayor Hagedorn has banned any form of mining, logging. Its economy is booming. From two flights a week to over 25 a day! There are so many hotels. Ask any hotel owner in Puerto Princessa and they will say tourism is booming. Look at the ecotourism projects the foundation has… the people can now send their kids to school… they now can dream bigger dreams.
“And you tell me mining is the way to go?”
Ms. Lopez is collecting signatures to stop mining in Palawan. I have sent in mine. Shouldn’t we all?
But should the concern be not only for Palawan but for the whole of the Philippines? Tourism has brought much new prosperity to our province of Camarines Sur. It is incredible that nevertheless CamSur has been declared a “mineral reservation” ripe for the exploitation of miners. Citizens of Naga and Camarines Sur should cry out with the same passion of Ms. Lopez: “You who are supposed to take care of Camarines Sur, how can you have betrayed her so disgracefully? The weight of your thirty pieces of silver will weigh heavy against you when you seek to enter the Kingdom of Heaven!”
Recently, the Ateneo de Naga University took a formal stance in defense of the environment. It passed a resolution calling for support for Alternative Mining Legislation. The case of Gerry Ortega proves how serious this position is.
If we Filipinos/as do not protect our environment with the compassion of a Gerry Ortega and the passion of a Gina Lopez, we will simply end up with a environment ravaged and consumed by foreigners who have no concern for our people nor for their homeland. Recall what happened in Marinduque. Till today the lives lost, the agricultural lands devastated, the Loac river killed, remain grim reminders of foreign miners who profited from the destruction of our environment with impunity.
Mining is not the way to go!