Monday, November 23, 2009

An Open Letter to DENR Secretary Jose L. Atienza

November 23, 2009


Secretary Department of Environment and Natural Resources

Secretary Jose Atienza:

It was with great joy that we ended our meeting last Wednesday, November 18, 2009, when, after finding out that the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) for the mining company, Intex Resources, in Mindoro was acquired with grave irregularity – that it was given without the required genuine consultations and endorsements of the affected local government units, as attested by the mayors of the two directly affected towns and the governors and congressmen of the two provinces of Mindoro – you promised to suspend the ECC. We admired then your sense of justice and your commitment to stand by the truth. All the hunger strikers and their supporters happily celebrated a thanksgiving mass outside the DENR compound. But alas, the rejoicing was short-lived when your order came out a couple of hours later! It was just a mere 90-day suspension order. Your letter did not reflect accurately the discussions and agreements of the meeting, among which (1) the recognition of the LGU’s moratorium on mining; (2) the failure of the Intex Resources to conduct a genuine consultation in the communities; (3) the steadfast refusal of LGUs to allow the entry of the Intex Resources in the area, and (4) the sustained rejection and withholding of consent of the legitimate indigenous people to be affected by the mining operation. We all felt betrayed. If the ECC was acquired with irregularity, why should it be just suspended for 90 days? Is it not invalid, and being so, must be revoked? Other thoughts then came to my mind. In the said dialogue, in front of two provincial governors, several mayors, congressmen, priests, two bishops, DENR officials and several Mangyan leaders, you were empathic about your allegiance to the law and your assurance to punish anyone in your office who does not abide by the law. In our spontaneous joy at your declaration of withdrawal of the ECC, we were not able to follow up the name of the person who recommended to you its issuance without the proper procedure. Who had been at fault in issuing the ECC? Is anyone accountable for it?

We also discussed about the area covered being a watershed. You were once again emphatic that no mining company will ever be allowed to operate in a watershed area. Despite DENR’s failure to formally declare part of the contested location a watershed, all of the representatives from Mindoro present in the dialogue confirmed that some 11,000 hectares covered by the ECC definitely includes the watershed that feeds the two Mindoro provinces.

The fact that the area is a watershed has long been established and explains why former DENR Secretary Alvarez cancelled the company’s mining permit in July 2001. Even the technical descriptions of the place bear this out. Why then was the ECC merely suspended, and not cancelled as logic demands? Will a mere suspension order correct this mistake? Take note that the mining concession is not only a catchment for the critical watershed of the island, but the area also overlaps with the ancestral domains of the indigenous peoples – Alangan and Tadyawan Mangyans, whose leaders and representatives are continually holding the hunger strike in front of your DENR office. They categorically declare that a genuine Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) was never granted and that the Intex Resources resorted to deception and indirect bribery to get a pseudo-support from a number of indigenous leaders. I do not know what manner of advice you received to issue this suspension. But it is not too late to correct the error – and soon! The 25 hunger strikers, most of them Mangyans, are now in the 7th day of their hunger strike. Don’t you care at all for their situation? Is this not part of your pro-life stance? We hear that in a matter of days you will submit your resignation from office to run for elections. Is the delay a tactic to wash your hands from your responsibility? You issued the defective ECC; have the courage to revoke it! Allow me to remind you that your responsibility is more towards the care of the Philippine environment and the Filipinos who mostly depend on a well-balanced ecosystem than towards foreign investors who are here not to help our country – in spite of all their protestations – but to exploit us and our natural resources. If you would have to make a mistake, better err defending the lives of the Filipino people, than err defending money and foreigners! Better to lose your face in front of foreigners than to lose it in front of your countrymen and women! Mindoro, blessed by God with rich natural resources, is a food basket of the southern Tagalog provinces, including Metro Manila. Thousands of small farmers depend on the rivers flowing from the mountains for their irrigation. All these would be lost due to mining operation. It is because of this delicate balance of nature in the island that the provinces of Oriental and Occidental Mindoro and the Municipality of Sablayan, where the mining site is located, have issued a moratorium of mining for 25 years. In our dialogue, you have repeatedly challenged the local officials of the island to stand their ground not to allow mining operation in the two provinces. And indeed, they have stood their ground! They have issued the moratorium. But why is this not being respected by your national office? The ECC you issued is for mining. The provinces have clearly stated that they do not want mining. Why have you even entertained the application for its issuance, and much more, issued it?

You have always insisted on the observance of the law. But the way you disregarded the decision of the local government units in Mindoro is a gross violation of Section 70 of the Mining Act of 1995, which clearly requires the conduct of a genuine consultation, approval and endorsement through ordinance from the affected municipalities and the provincial government.

Moreover, the basis for issuing the ECC is utterly baseless since you also disregarded the decision of the independent scientists who conducted the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The EIA Review Committee for the Mindoro Nickel Project voted on September 23, 2009 to recommend the denial of the ECC. However, on October 14, 2009, you unilaterally reversed the experts’ decision and issued the ECC, thereby endangering the environmental safety of the island province.

I appeal to you, Mr. Secretary, to revoke the ECC. Do not blame the people for going into hunger strike. They would not have done it if the ECC was not issued in the first place. They want to have their voices heard, and now, many people even out of Mindoro – bishops, priests, religious, lawmakers, students, parishioners and many NGO supporters are hearing it. Now is the chance for you to prove your pro-life stand and the respect you hold out for the primacy of local government. Otherwise, please do not campaign on pro-life issues in the coming election and do not claim that you are for the good of the local government in which you would be running. “If you close your ear to the cry of the poor, you will cry out and not be heard.” (Proverbs 21,13) I pray that you would have courage, humility and compassion.

Yours truly,


Auxiliary Bishop of Manila

Chairman of the CBCP-Episcopal Commission on Social Action – Justice and Peace

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Pastoral Letter on Urban Planning and Development Policies

Unless the lord builds the house, those who build it labor
in vain. (PS 127, 1)

AFTER the terrible destructions brought about by typhoon Ondoy in our metropolis, we now embark in rebuilding our lives and our cities. Life must go on. We must move on. We move now to the arduous work of rehabilitation. Let us do this not haphazardly and superficially so that we rebuild on firm foundations and the sufferings of others may not be aggravated. Let us allow ourselves to be guided by the Lord and his teachings.

On October 9, Aling Myrna and her teen-age son, residents of a community living in North Fairview, were shot to death by a private security guard as they protested the location of a fence being put up to keep them and their community “out of danger!”
Why do the thousands of people, people like Aling Myrna, cling to their homesites even in danger areas, and resist relocation to safer sites outside the city? The answer is simple. Their sources of livelihood are in the city, and there are none in far-away relocation areas. Commuting to the city from these areas would take many hours each day and would cost a very substantial part of a day’s income. Better the risks of life as an informal settler in a danger zone, they argue, than death by starvation in nice houses far away.

These, be it noted, are the people who keep the city humming. They are mainly market vendors and small tradespeople, bus and taxi drivers, washwomen and house help, janitors and construction workers, even policemen, firemen and public school teachers. They do not beg in the streets or steal food. Without them the city would come to a halt. Yet there is no legal place for them in the city.
Pope John Paul II in his encyclical “Centesimus Annus” (no. 43) is sharp and to the point on this matter.

“The obligation to earn one’s bread by the sweat of one’s brow also presumes the right to do so. A society in which this right is systematically denied, in which economic policies do not allow workers to reach satisfactory levels of employment, cannot be justified from an ethical point of view, nor can that society attain social peace.”

Behind the killing of Aling Myrna and her son lies a whole “structure of sin,”: land values which are far beyond the reach of our poor and many of the middle class, low taxes on unused land, the use of vast amounts of land for shopping malls, for upscale residential subdivisions and golf courses.

The term “structure of sin” tells us that the evil is pervasive, built into the structures of our society, something of which we are all a part. If the construction workers who build our homes and offices received wages sufficient for legal income, those homes and houses would cost far more than they do. Our newspapers would cost far more if the scavengers in Payatas who collect old paper for recycling were able to live away from the garbage and filth. Indeed, practically all that we buy or the services we use bear the mark of this sin.

It is not enough then, to simply order people off the waterways. A deep restructuring of our society is called for, starting in the present crisis with urban and land policy. To this effort of restructuring, we, the Archbishop and Bishops of Metro Manila pledge our full support. Hence we call for:

1. Urban land reform so that the poor may have the possibility to have security of tenure in our cities where their livelihood is found.

2. A moratorium on demolition of the dwellings of the poor if there is no humane relocation for them as our present laws require. Humane relocation would include accessible places of work for them.

3. A follow through of the processes to allot public lands to the poor in the areas that have been given to them by presidential declarations. Let the public lands declared by the President be developed and effectively be made available to the poor.

4. Legislations to raise taxes on properties that are idle, or to altogether expropriate them. The right to private property should not be given priority but the common good.

“Christian tradition has never recognized the right to property as absolute and untouchable. The right to private property is subordinate to the right to common use, to the fact that goods are meant for everyone. Private property is in its essence only an instrument for respecting the principle of the universal destination of goods; in the final analysis, therefore, it is not an end but a means.” (Compendium on the Social Teachings of the Church #177)

5. The swift implementations of the Clean Air Act and other environmental laws by disallowing heavy and highly pollutive industries within our cities which are densely residential and commercial. The zoning ordinances of the cities should be reviewed. Heavy industries, and not the poor should be relocated outside of our cities. If this is done, more people will move out of our cities to work in these industries.

6. In re-settling the poor and rehabilitating our cities priority should be given to the employment of the people. Informal settlers have grown in number because of lack of employment possibilities in places outside the metropolis. The “squatting” problem is not primarily a problem of housing; it is a problem of employment.

7. Let us not blame the poor in the waterways for the flooding of our cities. Let us look beyond: the unabated logging in Sierra Madre and Mt. Banahaw, mining ventures in our mountains, haphazard collection and unplanned disposal of our garbage, irresponsible city planning and development of subdivisions, just to name a few. Together let us take a hard look at our present practices and have the political will to reform them. In truth we can say that the government officials and the rich have more to do with the destruction of our environment that aggravated the recent flood than the poor!

There are many cries for reform as we experienced the unprecedented calamities of our times. We join our voices as your pastors in this call but we call for much deeper reforms that would really address and better the situation of our cities. Only when the needs of the least in our society are addressed with our society achieve true and lasting development.

Let us not lose courage. Let is heed the voice of God in the recent events. God is telling us something. We have experienced the bayanihan and damayan spirit in a remarkable degree these few weeks. This tells us that if we want to, we can work together and be concerned even to the point of sacrifice. Let us then continue to work together and be concerned to reform our ways that the environment be respected and protected and the poor be given deeper consideration so that they too may have a more generous part in the development of our cities.

Your pastors in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Archbishop of Manila

Auxiliary Bishop of Manila

Auxiliary Bishop of Manila

November 11, 2009

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Letter of the Roman Catholic Bishops of Manila to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on Aerial Spraying

October 29, 2009

Dear President Arroyo:


For many years now, families living in the surroundings of Cavendish banana plantations in Mindanao have been complaining of getting sick, their crops dying and water resources contaminated because of aerial spraying. The chemicals sprayed from airplanes used for bananas indiscriminately expose the people and the environment to poison.

Various international and local studies point to the hazards of aerial spraying of pesticides on humans and the ecosystems. This was recently proven by the technical review made by the World Health Organization on the DOH commissioned study few years ago.

We are one with all affected people of Mindanao in working for their deliverance from this immoral practice of aerial spraying that infringes upon human health and dignity. We cannot allow their suffering to go on any longer for anything that offends people, especially the least of our brothers and sisters, is an offense to God.

As Pope Benedict XV said in his encyclical Letter “Caritas in Veritate,” “the Church has a responsibility towards creation and she must assert this responsibility in the public sphere. In so doing, she must defend not only earth, water and air as gifts of creation that belong to everyone. She must above all protect mankind from self-destruction.”

We commend the Department of Health (DOH) for standing by and adopting the key recommendations arising from a study prepared for the DOH by the Philippine Society of Clinical and Occupational Toxicology and the University of the Philippines–National Poison Management and Control Center, which recommends among others the banning of aerial spraying. Once more your health department has proven to us and the whole Filipino people that indeed they are for the protection of the health of the people especially the most vulnerable.

We therefore recommend and request that her Excellency help the DOH in strengthening their appeal by issuing an executive order banning permanently aerial spraying everywhere as soon as possible. This executive order will be your very valuable legacy of governance. It will surely be remembered by the next generations as your deep expression of motherly care for them because you have protected them from dangers of incurable diseases and early death. Let us remember that we are duty bound as Christians to value life more than economic gains.

We look forward for your immediate response.


Archbishop of Manila

Auxiliary Bishop of Manila

Auxiliary Bishop of Manila

Bishop of Cubao

Bishop of Kalookan
Chairman, CBCP-Public Affairs Commission

Bishop of Novaliches

Bishop of Pasig

Bishop of Parañaque

Monday, September 14, 2009

Letter of the Roman Catholic Bishops of Manila to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on the Laiban Dam Project

September 14, 2009

Dear Pres. Arroyo:

Greetings of Peace!

As Pastors, we are one with the outrage expressed by our people against the Laiban Dam project of your administration. The project is made worse with SMC’s offer of US $2B government guarantee with “take or pay” provision in a proposed Joint Venture contract with MWSS.

“In these trying times when uniting the people is more urgent, any project that can be a cause of suspicion and division should be avoided.” What may be perceived as common good of the present generation may turn out to be a cause of suffering for the next. Even with the best intention of providing more water to the people can spark protests when it ignores and violates framework for sustainable development, ethical and legal considerations.

The project will submerge 28,000 hectares of a biodiverse-rich forest-ecosystem, under a 113-meter high Laiban Dam. Moreover this dam is situated on top of a seismic fault line with historical record of 7.6 intensity. It will undermine the integrity of Marikina watershed reservation and violate E. O. 33 given on July 16, 2004, which bans the settlement, entry, sale or disposition of land in Marikina Watershed by relocating 12,728 upland (indigenous) people to Brgy. San Ysidro.

It will destroy the ecosystems of the towns of Gen. Nakar, Real and Infanta, like the more or less 3,000 hectares mangrove fish sanctuary and farm irrigation. Likewise, such actions will endanger Metro Manila of flooding, air pollution and intensify global warming and climate change.

People have the right to be provided with full information concerning the water program of the government, the terms and conditions of the private ventures, the biddings, etc. Unfortunately even NEDA, a government corporation has been in the dark on the arrangements entered into by MWSS and SMC. MWSS and SMC cannot invoke their right to confidentiality on a project imbued with public interest where public funds will be used in the process.

In addition, the project will violate various laws such as the Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”) System, the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act (“NIPAS”), the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act (“Wildlife Protection Act”),E.O. 33, and the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (“IPRA”).

Madam President, in their latest report, both Maynilad and Manila Water publicly declared systems losses of 69% and 20%, respectively, due to leakage problem, thereby, belying claims of water shortage. In the meantime, consider the possibility of rehabilitating Wawa Dam since it has served as the main water supply of Metro Manila for 60 years. With a watershed area of 27,980 hectares, it is capable of continuously discharging millions of liters of fresh water daily.

For the sake of the common good, we are requesting you, Madam President, to scrap the Laiban Dam project. Instead, let the government and its agencies focus their attention on the following:

1. Remedy the leakage problems of Maynilad and Manila Water;

2. Declare Marikina Watershed Reservation as Protected Area under the NIPAS Law;

3. Expedite Reforestation Efforts in Marikina Watershed to increase water capacity, provide carbon sink and mitigate the impacts of global warming and climate change.

4. MWSS to pursue its primary mandate of serving the people, the common good and working closely with environmental groups, LGUs, NGOs and POs. It must also provide avenues for public discussion and debate concerning a wide variety of water management options.

We advocate service for the common good and integrity of creation out of our love for life. We pray that we join our forces together for the sustainable development of our people. God bless you.


Archdiocese of Manila

Auxiliary Bishop of Manila

Diocese of Cubao

Diocese of Pasig

Diocese of Novaliches

Diocese of Kalookan

Diocese of Parañaque

Auxiliary Bishop of Antipolo

Bishop- Emeritus, Prelate of Infanta

Friday, May 29, 2009

Time to Become Accountable

When I, together with some other bishops and members of the urban poor, joined the farmers who went on huger strike in December, 2008, I prayed fervently not so much for strength of body but for elasticity of patience and continuous belief in good faith. It was heart-rending for me to see how everyday the farmers would fight against weakness and call on the congresspersons to give them their due, in so few but sincere words. I fought hard as well, trying not to hate the men and women legislators who would continue to disregard the farmers and pass by them in a hurry to get to their Christmas parties…to enjoy their bounty. Every time I felt discouraged I would close my eyes and assure myself that justice would come, maybe during the six-month period the legislators afforded themselves to study and introduce “perfecting amendments” to the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.

It has been more than five months since that day Congress issued that Joint Resolution which to me was a promise made by them to do their job, albeit a little belatedly. But my experience in sessions at the House of Representatives tells me that the people’s representatives have no intention of enacting the CARPER bill. There are but seven session days left and yet they have discussed the bill only once, with several members obviously delaying the bill’s passage and proposing amendments that will water down the program. The House leadership claims that they are merely waiting for the Senate to pass their own version but there is no such luxury of waiting, no luxury of being political lazy and insincerity. Sadly, not only those who are known to be landowners are opposing the bill, even some of those who claim to fight for human rights seem to go out of their way to block this essential social legislative measure.  

Time is running out on us, not just on Congress but on all of us who fail to help protect the farmers’ right to be emancipated from their bondage to the soil. We should all work hard and fast towards ensuring that the widespread hopelessness of our farmers will be arrested and will no longer be aggravated. Then, disregard of the farmers’ welfare was met with tranquil and non-violent means of protest. Then and now, our legislators continuously show arrogance and greed which shall later on be met no longer with impunity but justice. Meanwhile, our farmers are back again, united for one purpose: to ask this government for redress, to ask our leaders to treat them reasonably and fairly so they would respond responsibly and soberly as well. Our farmers are telling us NOW is the time to act with definite steps toward social justice. They are telling us that the government’s maybes will no longer suffice in answering their calls. Because all of us, especially those who wield power, will be made accountable for both the wrongdoings we commit and the duties we omit to do. 

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Protecting Whose Agenda?

I recently visited the lobby of the House of Representatives session hall. I immediately noticed the newly renovated walls bearing pictures of significant events in Congress’s history. Among those pictures pertaining to the present Congress was a photo of a booklet with the following words printed on its cover:

“Sustaining the Growth, Spreading the Benefits:
A Legislative Reform Agenda for the House of the People.” – House Speaker Prospero Nograles

This made me ponder for a while. Amidst all the seemingly unsound and doubtful legislative proposals and policies cropping up in Congress these days, I could not help but wonder. Whose growth are our national leaders trying to sustain? Are the laws churned out by this body upon which we, as a people, have entrusted our wisdom really for the benefit of the Filipino? There is one House measure which has piqued my concern at the moment. I came across this House Resolution (HR) No. 737 which, essentially, proposes to grant ownership of Philippine land to foreigners.

Under the proposal, alienable lands of the public domain—which are agricultural lands- with a maximum area of one thousand hectares, can now be leased to foreign corporations for a maximum of fifty years. And disturbingly, ownership, not just lease, of agricultural lands measuring up to twenty-five hectares is granted to foreign corporations. This proposal seeks to change the proviso in the 1987 Constitution which restricts ownership of Philippine lands to Filipinos and Filipino corporations.

Under Section 2, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution, the ownership-in-trust of natural resources is vested with the State and the State may sell, lease, or otherwise alienate the rights to these resources through contracts to Filipinos and Filipino corporations only. Thus, foreign individuals or corporations are clearly excluded.

Under HR 737, the State will do away entirely with the restriction on foreign ownership. The proponents of this Resolution seek to amend the constitution and open our land to foreigners, with the haste and neglect unbecoming of any honorable national leader.

This Resolution is actually another try to resuscitate the failed Cha-Cha attempt by the solons. It becomes apparent that, despite the claim of limiting amendments only to economic provisions (foreign ownership of lands) which will help gear up development, productivity, and efficiency in the country, this pursuit for Charter Change may become a vehicle for other unwanted changes in government. A vehicle highly vulnerable to derailment. This Resolution, dangerous in itself substantially, may also usher in procedural irregularities in amending the Constitution. There is a danger, real as it is grave, that this measure could be used to influence answers to questions of good governance and accountability.

I tried hard to weigh the possible benefits of this Resolution for the Filipino people vis-à-vis the obvious dangers that would come with it. Assuming that HR 737 is indeed merely an economic proposal, would foreign ownership of lands really result in economic development of the country? And if it will, will this economic development trickle down to the people who have remained poor even during times when ownership of land access to land and other natural resources were ensured to Filipinos only?

I shudder at the thought of unfair competition for land between Filipinos, citizens of this country who have made land productive, and foreign entities with nothing but abundant financial resource to offer. I am jolted by the terrible scenario of Filipinos becoming squatters in our own land. I remember that God told us that the earth and all its bounty is for us to share, maybe this measure is not bad after all. But then I realize that the Filipinos who have been gifted with stewardship of this country have not even had their rightful share and yet they will have to give way to those who have the might and wealth to take part of more than they need. Surely, it must not have been God’s intention to encourage excesses when there are those who lack not only as regards land but also dignity.

As it is, the Government already has designated millions of hectares of our lands for the benefit of foreign corporations, without consideration for the farmers, indigenous peoples, and other members of the communities affected by these government exploration and biofuel contracts.

I believe that the Constitutional restriction on foreign ownership of land obviously involves a national security issue. I have been informed that there is no cap to the total area allowable for foreign ownership. If this is true, there might come a time that we will run out of agricultural lands which serve as food sources. And even if these lands continue to be used for food production, there is also a risk that most of the produce of our lands will be exported and yet we will no longer have a say on the matter. This will be an attack not only on our food security but also to our integrity as a people as well.

With the threat of enabling foreign corporations and associations to hold, acquire, and be granted the right to possess, own, utilize and develop land in our country, what will be left for the Filipinos? As we all know, the agrarian reform program is still underway, and thousands of farmers still await emancipation from the land they have tilled for generations. Over one million hectares of land await distribution. Our government cannot feed its own people, and yet we open up all our resources for non-Filipinos, as if without regard for our own people whom it is supposed to serve.

It is said that only fifteen million hectares of alienable and disposable agriculture lands are available to answer for the food security of Filipinos. HR 737 does not help improve this situation. HR 737 poses grave danger to our national security and sustainability. It is also unjust, considering that there are millions of Filipino peasants still not owning the lands their families have tilled for decades. It is unjust that our resources should be used primarily for the benefit of foreigners, and not those who do not have a stake in domestic development and peace.

As I take in the implications and consequences of this measure, I find myself challenged and hopeful at the same time. Though I am saddened by the apparent prioritization of this bill by the House of Representatives, I feel challenged as a Filipino to help protect the rights of my fellow Filipinos, here and in the countryside, who remain landless. I am challenged to continue pushing for laws which will protect the rights of the marginalized Filipino, laws such as the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension (CARPER) with Reforms. I feel challenged but I remain hopeful and vigilant. I am hopeful because I see that there are still those leaders in government who work with us, their constituency, to make sure that the government works for national interest instead of the interest of the privilege few.

Together with people from the peasant sector, among others, I remain vigilant and urge Congress to fast track the enactment of socially just bills such as the CARPER bill and call on them to disapprove oppressive and unfair bills like House Resolution No. 737. I am hopeful that amidst underhanded efforts to go against the wisdom of the Constitution, to further deprive the marginalized Filipinos of their basic rights, and to evade laws on accountability, we Filipinos will prevail if we work together and fight with the guidance of our righteous God.

I also find comfort in the pockets of brilliance and statesmanship found in the history of Philippine Congress. I am praying fervently that our national leaders will, true to their promise, Sustain the Growth and Spread the Benefits for the Filipino people. I urge every Filipino to act with vigilance in ensuring that government agenda will reflect that of the people, in calling for accountability in governance and in seeking the just distribution of Philippine land and natural resources.#

+Broderick S. Pabillo
Auxiliary Bishop
Archdiocese of Manila

Seeing through the smokescreen

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