(20 years after the CBCP Pastoral Letter What is Happening to our Beautiful Land?)
Beloved People of God,
“Everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial” (1Cor. 6:12).
Twenty years after our pastoral letter regarding our environment, we reflect on the gains and failures of the years that have passed. The document began with a somber reflection that, Our country is in peril. All the living systems on land and in the seas are being ruthlessly exploited. The damage to date, is extensive and, sad to say, often irreversible. We encourage the faithful to see their work and to protect creation within the context of their faith. As a people of the covenant, we are called to protect endangered ecosystems like our forests, coral reefs and mangroves, and to establish just and humane communities.
New threats to our environment
Since 1988, a number of new threats to our environment have surfaced. In this reflection, we will confine ourselves to the following: (a) irresponsible mining, (b) illegal logging, and (c) global warming and climate change.
A. Irresponsible Mining
The Philippine Mining Industry has a poor record of community accountability. Over the years, mining companies have systematically engaged in the rape of Mother Earth and left a legacy of impoverished communities and environmental despoliation.
In a Statement of Concern on the Mining Act of 1995, we called attention to the quotation from the Book of Numbers: Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell (Num 35 :34). Today we ask ourselves whether we are going to repeat in the 21st century the mistakes we made in the past.
Thus far, the country has already identified 23 priority mining project, which is estimated to encroach 60% of protected areas and about 1/3 of ancestral lands. With very little regard for long-term development goals, most mining projects issued Environmental Compliance Certificate without securing the Free Prior and Informed Consent of the affected communities. Uncontrolled and poorly regulated extraction and exploitation of mineral resources have threatened other resources. The Mining Act itself encourages the exploitation of our land by granting priority access rights to water and timber. Provisions such as these make it easier for the communities to slowly be eased out of their land. The expansion of sites granted with mining permits and clearances eat considerable portions of land devoted to agriculture.
We should be reminded that the Church’s mission includes offering people an opportunity not to have more but to be more by awakening their conscience through the Gospel. We should learn from our Indigenous Filipinos who managed their forests in a sustainable way for hundreds and thousands of years. Alternatives such as agro-forestry and ecotourism can still provide jobs and food without endangering our lives and environment.
The Church joins in the collective and continuous call against the uncontrollable plunder of our natural resources. Above all, it calls on a moratorium on mining activities until the government and the mining companies learn to uphold the right of the indigenous peoples, compensate the affected communities for past damages, and ensure responsible mining practices.
B. Illegal Logging
Illegal and destructive logging largely contribute to the decimation of our forest resources which causes loss of biodiversity, instability and massive erosions of upland soils, serious damage to our rivers and underground freshwater ecosystems, and coastal areas.
The Philippines has lost at least 82 percent of its original forest cover since the 16th century. It has also earned the notoriety in Southeast Asia as the only country with the thinnest forest cover. Among the 89 tropical countries, the Philippines is one of 11 with the lowest forest per capita (at 0.085 hectare/capita)—and most of its watersheds are considered degraded. Land conversion, together with slash-and-burn farming, forest fires, pest infestations, typhoons and illegal logging are the primary causes of deforestation.
The disastrous effects of destructive logging are further worsened by extreme climate occurrences associated with climate change. Extreme weather conditions such as typhoons cause flooding, massive landslides and terrible loss of life, the worst among them being the tragedies in Ormoc in 1991, Aurora and Quezon Provinces in 2004, Southern Leyte in 2006, and very recently, in Iloilo in June 2008.
The problem of illegal logging is an extremely complicated issue that must be dealt with by all stakeholders. The CBCP calls for an enhanced multisectoral cooperation, and the implementation of effective measures to clampdown the illegal logging trade. In particular, it urges the government to issue a total commercial log ban and intensify efforts to rehabilitate and reforest logged over areas, particularly those places vulnerable to earthquakes, landslides and floods.
C. Global Warming and Climate Change
The sea level rise due to the increase in temperature is projected to adversely affect 16 regions in the Philippines, 20 provinces and more than 700 municipalities. Climate change has increased the number of stronger storms and typhoons that hit the country every year. Each typhoon that hits our land reminds us of our balding forests. With every landslide, we are reminded of the vulnerability of man against the dynamics of nature. The 2007 Fourth Assessment Report of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reveals that Manila, Cebu and Davao will be of great risk.
Nature constantly reminds us that it is not only the illegal acts committed by some that simultaneously burn and freeze our home; our daily habits and our choices contribute greatly to this tragedy. Our continuing dependence on fossil fuel and the government’s subsidy on diesel, the use of coal as an alternative despite clear evidence of its highly polluting nature are the collective factors that contribute to the changing climate and weather patterns.
We must take advantage of the gifts of nature which offers healthier and less destructive options such as wind and solar energies, water and geothermal resources.
The challenge to preserve our beautiful land may be difficult but not impossible. We recommend that dioceses, parishes and other institutions especially the government would foster education on the protection of nature. We encourage every citizen to eliminate wasteful consumption. We pray that the government, in making economic and political decisions, would always consider that true stewardship does not mean economic gains for the powerful few. True stewardship is the constant and continuing work for the benefit of all.
No material gain can equate the value of life. Every Filipino depends on the environment. Because of the threats against these fragile resources, our lives and livelihood are likewise threatened. Our present and our future must not be made to depend on programs that offer short-term gains for a chosen few. Our responsibility to our mother nature is our responsibility to ourselves. We call on all stakeholders, the government and its implementing arms to contribute in good will, so that in a responsible and humane manner we can reflect that human life does not have a price.
We end this Pastoral Letter with the words we used 20 years ago : “There is an urgency about this issue which calls for widespread education and immediate action. We are convinced that the challenge we have tried to highlight here is similar to the one which Moses put before the people of Israel, before they entered their promised land. ”
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.
+ ANGEL N. LAGDAMEO, DD
Archbishop of Jaro
November 5, 2008