MANILA, Philippines - Coffins and corpses row on row; splinters that once were homes; mud everywhere; survivors lining up for water, food, clothes; officialdom appealing to Manila, the Red Cross, anyone, for help-familiar sights. Photo captions now read Cagayan de Oro; not long ago, they read Ormoc, Quezon, Aurora, Leyte, Gingoog.
President Aquino releases millions; relief agencies mobilize; the media appeal for donations; people send old clothes and canned goods; international organizations respond; the Navy dispatches ships; soldiers and locals do "retrieval and rescue" work (of bodies, and survivors, respectively).
DENR says, "I told you so." Two years ago, we are reminded, a study showed that certain areas including some in Cagayan de Oro were vulnerable to flash floods. The recommendation was to relocate. But no, residents remained and more were allowed to move in.
Lonely voices like those of U.P. and Ateneo academics, ABS-CBN Foundation's Gina Lopez, have been warning: protect trees and prevent flash floods. Like sponges, forests absorb and hold rainfall and release them gradually via springs and brooks, thereby providing power, irrigation and drinking water during dry months. Bare mountains, on the other hand, shed rainwater (and topsoil) immediately. Water rushes to low ground, overflows river banks and sweeps away everything in its path. Debris, including logs, borne by powerful currents ram homes and people.
A logging ban was announced by President Aquino and pre-massacre, a similar ban was reportedly imposed at ARMM by ex-Gov. Mangudadatu. Obviously no one takes such directives seriously. I've seen log-laden trucks on P. Burgos Drive, Quirino Avenue, San Marcelino Street alongside Manila's Western Police District headquarters-all within hailing distance of Malacañang. Could it be that blanket bans are imposed, but are lifted case-to-case on quid-pro-quo?
A permit or a daintily-entitled "Forest Management Agreement" is all it takes to make illegal logging legal. Not only that, speaking up against logging is bad for the health. Forest guards doing their duty don't last long. Scientists take a stand for the environment and opposing PR campaigns quickly follow. Alberto Pinagawa, Mindanao community leader, received 20 bullets allegedly from influential loggers for protesting the cutting of old-growth trees within his Higaonon ancestral domain. That was two years ago (Wala Lang, February 1, 2010) and I'd be surprised if anyone has been charged and justice meted.
One wonders, then, about loggers denuding forests; farmers converting uplands into cabbage patches and flower beds; miners digging pits in mountains or chopping trees to shore up tunnels; zoning authorities allowing construction on landslide-and flood-prone sites; officials and law enforcers turning blind eyes (and maybe open palms) to environmental destruction. Do their consciences twinge over death and misery, property and crop losses? Do they care that they gain tainted money, while others pay for repair and relief?
Dispatching relief goods is fine, but for the long run, shouldn't we try preserving virgin forests; serious reforestation, having commercial tree farms supply mines, plywood factories, builders; and putting honest checkpoints at key rivers, ports and roads-maybe starting with Manila's Rizal Park?
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