MANILA, Philippines - Nelson Sombra, a 'katutubo' farmer from Bgy. Maasin in Brooke's Point in Palawan, confesses he was not able to go to school, and never even went to Grade 1.
But he bravely faced newsmen, members of civil society, non-government organizations, academe, and the clergy on Thursday (Feb. 3) in Quezon City to make a heartfelt appeal: "Humihingi kami ng tulong. Gusto naming makatulog ng hindi natatakot na baka mag-landslide. Hindi na puwede 'yung pagmimina. Manipis na ang Palawan."
Sombra was joined by Jonathan Lagrada, barangay captain of Bgy. Ipilan, also in Brooke's Point. Lagrada said there is a need to stop mining in Palawan, the Philippines' last ecological frontier, because of the impact it has on the people and the environment.
"Mawawalan kami ng tubig at sariwang hangin. Dapat bigyan ng proteksyon ang magsasaka. Kung walang magsasaka, wala tayong kakainin," he said.
|Nelson Sombra (left) and Jonathan Lagrada. Photo by Karen Galarpe, abs-cbnNEWS.com.
Sombra and Lagrada are among those who have backed the "No to Mining in Palawan" signature campaign launched Thursday (Feb. 3) by the Save Palawan Movement spearheaded by ABS-CBN Foundation Managing Director Gina Lopez, Puerto Princesa, Palawan Mayor Edward Hagedorn, and members of civil society, academe, non-government organizations, and the clergy.
The signature campaign, which came about after the killing of civic leader, environmentalist and broadcaster Dr. Gerardo "Doc Gerry" Ortega in January 2011, hopes to raise 10 million signatures to send a strong message to the governments of the Philippines and Palawan of the need to stop mining activities in Palawan and help protect its natural resources.
Wanted: Protection for Palawan's beauty
The province of Palawan is known for its natural resources which have captivated many people, both Filipinos and foreigners.
It is home to 40% of the Philippines' remaining mangrove areas, 30% of the country's coral reefs, 17 key biodiversity areas, 2 UNESCO World Heritage Sites (the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River Natural Park and the Tubbataha National Marine Park), and 8 declared protected areas. It also has a wide variety of flora and fauna species.
According to Hagedorn, the ecosystem in Palawan, though, is fragile with the island's narrow shape and thin layer of topsoil that makes it prone to erosion, and this is one good reason why mining should be banned.
A second reason is that there are laws that protect Palawan, such as the Republic Act (RA) No. 7611 or the Strategic Environment Plan for Palawan, which spells out the general strategy for development of the province.
|Save Palawan Movement launched the 'No to Mining in Palawan' signature campaign on 3 Feb 2011. (L-R) Ed Hagedorn, Gina Lopez, Mika Ortega, Fr. Robert Reyes, and Atty. Grizelda Mayo-Anda. Photo by Karen Galarpe, abs-cbnNEWS.com.
RA 7611 mandates that "all types of natural forests, areas above one thousand (1,000) meters elevation, peaks of mountains or other areas with very steep gradients, and endangered habitats and habitats of endangered and rare species should be fully and strictly protected and kept free of human disruption," according to a statement released by the Save Palawan Movement.
In spite of this law, mining continues, and there are still applications for mining permits being filed even in core protection zones, said Atty. Grizelda "Gerthie" Mayo-Anda, founding executive director of the Environmental Legal Assistance Center, trustee member of the Palawan NGO Network Inc., and convenor of Bantay-Mina-PNNI.
A third reason is that the "costs outweigh the benefits," said Anda. Mining activities result in reduction of forest cover, water pollution, and displacement of indigenous communities, she added.
According to Hagedorn, banning mining will not mean the end of livelihood. His city, Puerto Princesa, has shown that through tourism and agriculture, it is possible to survive even without mining activities.
Mika Ortega, eldest daughter of slain broadcaster "Doc Gerry," joined the appeal for 10 million signatures for the campaign.
"We live in a culture of death. We need to change that and go back to a culture of life. The most important thing is not gold, copper, cellphone or a laptop. It's food, air, and water--things we are losing already. The costs always outweigh the benefits. Let's bring back a culture of life," she said.
Lopez called for support for the signature campaign. "There is nothing in the world that can stand in the face of a people united," she said.
Doc Gerry's dream
Lopez also revealed that it was Doc Gerry's dream to have a Philippines where natural resources are protected. “Di kailangan sirain ang kalikasan para mapakinabangan,” Doc Gerry used to say. The campaign will hopefully bring about the fulfillment of his dream.
The launch was attended by "Running Priest" Fr. Robert Reyes, environment leaders Clemente Bautista (Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment), Atty. Jose Andres Canivel (Philippine Tropical Forest Conservation Foundation), and Rhodora Angela Ferrer of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines.
Also present to signify their support were Kabang Kalikasan ng Pilipinas (WWF-Philippines) president Jose Lorenzo Tan, country director for Conservation International Romy Trono, executive director of Palawan NGO Network Inc. Atty Bobby Chan, Tanggol Kalikasan executive director Atty. Rolly Bisquera-Sheen, Alyansa Tigil Mina national coordinator Jaybee Garganera, Firefly Brigade project manager Isabel Bunao, and other environmentalists.
Lopez said Filipinos can sign the petition online at http://www.no2mininginpalawan.com/. For inquiries and support, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or fax to: 632-4152227.