CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/2 Jan) – Environmental advocacy groups, civil society organizations, media organizations and individuals, enraged at the what they perceived as “gross negligence of duty” on the part of City Hall, gathered Friday last week to launch a multi-sectoral movement to ensure the devastation brought by tropical storm Sendong’s magnitude will not happen again.
Led by Task Force Macajalar (TFM) – a local environmental watchdog coalition composed of people’s organizations, professionals, academe and local politicians – the participants first heard a healing Mass celebrated by Archbishop Antonio Ledesma at the St. Augustine Cathedral at 2 p.m. The cathedral was so filled with people that by the middle of the liturgy, one had to stand outside the cathedral.
The Holy Mass was dedicated in tribute to those who died in the flash floods.
After the mass, Orland Ravanera, TFM chairman, took the podium and showed a slide presentation on the actual degradation of the city’s watershed area, which he said made the city more vulnerable to flooding not only to typhoons and storm but even to heavy rains.
Task Force Macajalar has been at the forefront of environmental activism since 1991. It held a human anti-logging barricade in front of the main gate of Xavier University’s Manresa Farms, Upper Carmen, this city from 1998 to 2000.
“Everything is interconnected. Because of the greed of the few loggers and miners, we have deprived the future generations and every one of us now are suffering because of them. The fatalities of Sendong are lives offered to the altar of greed, while the loggers and miners are safely ensconced in their mansions,” said Ravanera.
He said that because of the unabated poaching of the city’s watershed area, its forest cover has dwindled from “37,000 hectares in 1987 to only about 1,000 hectares today.”
“Wala na’y magpugong sa tubig (Nothing can stop the waters). 600,000 hectares worth of water has been dumped in the city’s 200 hectares. The 2009 flood should have served as a grim warning to us,” Ravanera said.
“Let’s wake up. Let’s join hands. Let’s join the Save CdO Movement,” he added.
He also said the short term plan of the Save CdO Movement is to assist in the concerted effort to help Sendong survivors get back on their feet and that their long term plan is to draft a “disaster risk reduction plan.”
“Let us bring back the rule of law to this city. The real power belongs to the people,” he said.
Lawyer Kristine Ravanera, TFM member and Save CdO Movement co-convenor, enjoined the audience to march to the Capitol grounds where they will draft – through “participative planning” – the long term approaches the people will implement to ensure the “Sendong catastrophe never happens again.”
At the Capitol grounds, local political opposition personalities were visible, along with some Sendong survivors. Police wearing physical training uniforms were dispersed along the perimeter of the grounds. Local reporters estimated the crowd to be at least 500 persons.
Kristine Ravanera enjoined the audience to sign a manifesto which officially launched the Save CdO Movement while local band “Dahong Laya” played their environmentally-conscious song compositions.
Some of the people attending the healing Mass, however, frowned at the supposed mass mobilization, saying it is too early for mudslinging when concerted efforts at rehabilitation and recovery should be the primary call instead.
In an interview outside the cathedral during the healing Mass, Myrna Sios-e, director of XU’s Year of Service Program, observed that with the Save CdO Movement massing-up during the healing Mass, “people might have the impression that the Archbishop (Ledesma) was leading the movement.”
“This is not the time to be calling for the ouster of Mayor (Vicente) Emano and they should not have used this Mass as their rallying point,” Sios-e said.
Another by-stander at the cathedral, who refused to give his name, opined that the local opposition politicians are capitalizing on the situation.
Opposition City Councilor Edgar Cabanlas, in an interview after the Mass, said he saw nothing wrong with starting their planned march-rally with a Mass and added that “it is high time for every Cagayanon to be enraged with the present city leadership.”
“This is the time to be biased, to be biased to the poor, be biased against mismanagement and corruption. The mayor clearly does not know what to do,” said Cabanlas.
Manila-based lawyer Cid Bernedo said he purposely came back to the city after reading a series of threads in the social network Facebook group “Mata CdO.”
“I am a Cagayanon. I will help study the people’s legal recourse and we will be looking into laws to help solve the problem here,” Bernedo said in an interview after the Mass.
He said that – together with other University of the Philippines alumni who are Cagayanons – they will help in building a case against Emano.
“Why were these structures that have narrowed Cagayan de Oro River’s mouth granted permits? City Hall will be answerable for granting contracts and permits that are grossly injuring the interest and welfare of the people,” said Bernedo.
“This is a clear case of negligence of duty,” he added.
In a Facebook group “Pulso sa Kagay-an,” Lolo Tito Mora wrote in a thread: “The task of building CDO cannot be entrusted to the hands that almost destroyed it.”
Mike Montalban, reacting to a news clip from a local daily that foreign donations for Sendong survivors have reached more than $12 million, wrote in a thread on Save CdO Now group in Facebook: “Hesusmaryayosep!… Pagka hayahay pa gayud sa naka-kawat ani – sorry, NAKA-DAWAT ANI nga kantidad [which, I am hoping are the ones it was intended for]…” (Oh my God! How fortunate for those who have stolen this – sorry, I meant those who received this amount.)
Arvin Urbain reacted in the thread: “If only that money lands on moral hands, it can build a house for every family affected by Sendong.”
Save CdO Now group has 2,141 members in its list while Pulso sa Kagay-an listed 1,091. (Cong B. Corrales / MindaNews)