[Welcome Remarks: Finster Auditorium, 22 October 2013]
It is my pleasure to welcome you all to the Mindanao Water Summit organized by the Ateneo de Davao University Community Engagement and Advocacy Council (UCEAC) in partnership with Tanggol Kalikasan, Bukidnon State University, and Father Saturnino Urios University.
Mindanao is indeed blessed with many natural resources, chief among them are our aquatic resources that flows through the island like veins and arteries, sustaining and nourishing ecosystems of which we men, are only a part. We acknowledge this great gift of water by our island’s name – Mindanao, people of the danao, ranao, lanao, or lake, alluding to the lakes of the Maranao and Maguindanaons. We are children of water. Different cultures in Mindanao and Sulu draw their ethnic identities from the different names and forms of water: S’bu, Suba, Kaulo, Pulangi, Agus, Laut, Sug, E-el. For instance, the T’boli considers Sebu (meaning lake, in their language) as their cultural heartland, the Manobo came from Man-Suba (people of the stream), Taga-Kaulo or people of the headwater, the Pulangi Basin is the heartland of the Bukidnon tribes while Agusan is home to the Banwaon, Mamanwa and Agusanon-Manobo, the Sama, Sama di laut and Tau-Sug are ‘people of the current’. Zamboanga is still called Sambuwangan by the Sama people, a place to moor their boats. Davao is Davoh to the Obo, referring to the flat alluvial plains near the mouth of the river. Truly, aside from cutting through hard rocks with its unrelenting will, water it seems has also carved out our identities as peoples of these islands.
We are richly blessed. Two of the country’s five principal river basins are found in mainland Mindanao. The Agusan River Basin serves as Mindanao’s eastern catchment, while the Pulangi River Basin is Mindanao’s western catchment. Of the country’s 421 rivers, only 18 cover an area greater than 1000 sq. km. Eight of these 18 significant river systems are in Mindanao. Aside from the Agusan and Pulangi, these secondary rivers make up a string of smaller, but no less important, watersheds or river basins that drain into coastal areas such as Macajalar and Iligan Bays in the North, Lianga Bay in the east, Ilana Bay in the west, as well as Sarangani Bay, and the Davao Gulf in the south. In total, Mindanao is said to have 262 watersheds. And of the country’s four major groundwater reservoirs, two are found in Mindanao: the Agusan groundwater reservoir estimated at 8,500 hectares and the Pulangi groundwater reservoir estimated at 6,000 hectares. These underground water retention systems sit beneath Mindanao’s vast watersheds, the Agusan and Ligawasan Marshes.
But alas, we are only flawed men and women. Mindanao’s water resource base has faced serious challenges over decades of resource-using economic activities that had brought destruction, degradation and destruction: wanton logging with little effort to provide for replacement growth, construction of river dams for hydroelectric power generation that has led to massive disruptions in the natural ecology of river systems, unregulated mining activities without requisite environmental safeguards, excessive commercial fishing beyond sustainable catch levels, manufacturing activities built on extractive industries and/or groundwater use without consideration of resource carrying capacities, and large scale monoculture plantation agriculture with its gargantuan appetite for clean, fresh water. We add to our follies the reality of human-induced climate change, which will drastically change precipitation rates, sea levels, and the intensity and frequency of extreme weather phenomena. Our waters are at risk. Lives, most especially of the poor, the weak, the voiceless and the marginalized, are at risk.
Unfortunately, the current concept of development is defined and driven by a market and profit-oriented economy, in which the entire creation and its resources are viewed merely as commodities. It is a system of economy that strives to exploit everything for the betterment of life without any concern for future generations. Addressing the gathering of Arrupe College on 22 August 1998, Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, SJ urges us that “[…] we must defend the rights of the poor because they suffer the most from the ecological crisis; we must bring to light the ethical values of the communion between people and their environment, and educate young people in these values; we must help the discovery of the aesthetic values of the environment so as to be able to sing with Francis the glory of God and to discern prayerfully with Ignatius the love of God shining through the environment”.
I pray that we be blessed with the grace to work for environmental justice inspired by Faith. Moved by a faith that does justice, we go beyond the denial and paralysis, moving into the future with hope, courage, and determination.
 Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan and Cielito Habito, “Managing Mindanao’s Natural Capital: The Environment in Mindanao’s Past, Present and Future,” Pasig City: Brain Trust, 2012, 13.
 Ibid., 22-23.
 Prem Xalxo, SJ, Interplay of Faith and Justice in Environmental Issues in Patxi Alvarez, SJ (ed.), “Promotio Iustitiae: A Spirituality that Reconciles Us with Creation”, No. 111, 2013/2, Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat of the Society of Jesus, 17.
 Ibid., 18.