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

Seeing through the smokescreen

IN the last two weeks, Duterte was relentless in his tirades against the Church and against religion. All of them unprovoked! He sha...