Saturday, April 28, 2012

CAGAYAN DE ORO EARTH DAY DOCUMENT Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J. Last April 21 2012, Cagayan de Oro City celebrated Earth Day. Quite obviously it was in the aftermath of the calamity wrought by Typhoon Sendong, last December. What is the situation today? Let me share with you the answer to and reflection on this question given by six prelates of different Christian denominations working in the area. Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, S.J. of Cagayan de Oro passed on the document to me. “More than four months have passed. At present more than 5,000 evacuee families are still living in transitional shelter arrangements in our city as they await the construction of permanent housing units. “The loss of more than a thousand lives and the washed-out destruction of more than 10,000 homes in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities are grim reminders of the other side of Earthday: how the earth itself groans and weeps in the face of man’s abuse of the environment. “Sacred Scripture tells us that God created the world in an orderly manner and ‘found it very good.’ (Genesis 1). The integrity of creation was Yaweh’s gift to the first man and woman in Paradise. In its cosmic harmony, nature itself became the first book of revelation of God’s infinite goodness to humankind. “In this light, human beings were given ‘dominion over all other creatures’ – not to abuse nature, but to become stewards of creation. We are also reminded that in our efforts at sustainable development, we should engage in intergenerational justice – namely, that our present generation should not deprive succeeding generations of the bounty of natures nature’s resources. Our Christian faith impels us to uphold the dignity of every human person and the supremacy of the common good over the individual interests of a few.” Obviously the writers of this document are familiar not just with theological teaching but also with the Supreme Court jurisprudence on environmental law. Oposa v. Factoran, Jr. spoke of intergenerational justice and upheld the right of minors to challenge the validity of logging permits. The Court said: “The right to a balanced and healthful ecology carries with it the correlative duty to refrain from impairing the environment. . . The said right implies, among many other things, the judicious management and conservation of the country’s forests. Without such forests, the ecological environmental balance would be irreversibly disrupted.” The writers of the Earthday document continue: “The widespread destruction brought about by typhoon Sendong was due not only to natural causes but also to man-made malpractices -- such as indiscriminate logging in the watershed areas over the past decades, and more recently irresponsible mining practices, whether small-scale or disguisedly large-scale, on the upland and riverside areas of Cagayan de Oro. “Aerial photographs and first-hand reports by residents in the more remote areas attest to the extensive damage already done to the environment. This is brought about by practices such as hydraulic flush mining, dynamiting of hillside, and massive excavations of the topsoil. There are also confirmed reports that the unprocessed soil is then shipped to another country – a stark example of how our country compromises its own territorial integrity, leaving the landscape scarred and depleted.” I do not have the expertise to be able to affirm or challenge the veracity of the reports contained in this Cagayan de Oro Earth Day document. But I have confidence in the integrity of the report of authors of the document based on facts seen by them from actual day to day contact with the people about things happening in their area of pastoral responsibility and not from comfortable corporate offices. It is also noteworthy that they are not asking for a national policy. They are asking for a remedy for what they know first hand about the ecologically threatened areas of Cagayan de Oro. It may be that what they are asking for are of national application. But they do not presume to speak about other areas. Concretely they ask for the following: “1) We call for an independent, multi-sectoral monitoring body to periodically examine the actual state of mining and logging activities in the watershed areas of Cagayan de Oro. This multi-sectoral body should include representatives of civil society organizations, upland and lowland communities. church leaders and academe. “2) We call for a comprehensive scientific study of the river basin and watersheds of the Cagayan de Oro River and adjoining tributaries. In particular we need an impact assessment of mining and logging, including large-scale upland plantations, on environmentally fragile areas within a proximate radius from the city center, the implications of a ridge-river-reef approach in conserving our waterways, and how extractive activities impact on an island ecology. “3) We need to broaden the meaning of “free, prior, and informed consent” to include not only the upland communities but also the downstream communities that will be affected by mining and logging activities . . . “4) The issue of environmenetal governance has to be clarified . . . e.g. in terms of the prior role of the Department of Environment in issuing prior clearances, the collective responsibility of city council and chief executive, and the need for transparency and accountability . . . “5) Finally, we invoke the precautionary principle [in environmental jurisprudence] – that in the face of so many unsolved issues, the more prudent recourse is safety first for the larger community. . .” 30 April 2012

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