MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 15 Oct) – On the 23rd death anniversary of a Bukidnon priest killed for his environmental advocacy, a priest here urged the government to rethink its policy of allowing mining and monocrop plantations in the province, considering that it is considered as a watershed area.
“Let’s rethink our land use management in Bukidnon. It seems that the framework that Bukidnon is a watershed seems yet to sink in,” said Fr. Rey Raluto, dean of studies of St. Vianney Seminary, during today’s forum attended by coordinators and representatives of ecological desks from around the diocese.
“If we really think Bukidnon is indeed a watershed province, we should not just easily allow entry of companies in mining … monocropping,” he stressed.
On Oct. 14, 1991, Fr. Nery Satur and his female aide were ambushed on their way back to Valencia City, then a municipality, after celebrating a mass in Barangay Guinoyoran. He was shot pointblank with a shotgun after falling from his motorcycle. His head was smashed with a rifle butt. He was 29.
Satur, a forest protection officer deputized by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), was killed a few years after the imposition of a logging moratorium in Bukidnon.
Raluto said that in his recent study of the land use plan in the province, he is yet to see that the framework of Bukidnon as watershed is already in place.
He said that allowing mining and monocropping plantations is not “recommended ecologically” if the province intends wildlife to diversify and to protect endangered species.
The priest noted that monocrop agricultural plantations occupy large tracts of prime agricultural lands in the province that is supposed to be headwater of river basins in Mindanao.
He discouraged the promotion of tree planting and tree farming to be harvested later because he thought it served only human interests.
Raluto admitted that the government’s policy for development has to welcome business. But he stressed that a dialogue is a basic step in considering such projects, as it might contradict with the efforts to reforest and protect the watershed.
Leo Abejuela, a representative from the Diocese’s ecology desk who gave a talk during the event, clarified that companies are required to adhere to their Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECCs) for their operations. He cited that small individual farmers are also to blame for environmental destruction because of their poor agricultural practices and lack of knowledge.
In a video presentation about Malaybalay City’s surrounding environment, Abejuela showed footage of the city’s dumpsite and destruction of landscape allegedly due to marginal farmers’ use of “round up” technology.
Abejuela urged for unity among different stakeholders, citing the “big tasks” ahead.
The forum became the launching pad for the “I love You Tree” program of the Diocese of Malaybalay’s ecology commission where parishioners who seek to receive the sacrament of marriage, baptism, and confirmation will be asked to plant three fruit trees each.
Raluto, who finished theology in Leuven University in Belgium, welcome the move as “very practical” as it discourages people from cutting trees.
Fr. Noel Suarez, head of the diocese’s ecological commission, clarified that the “I Love You Tree” project is for everyone, not only for those who seek to receive the sacraments.
He said that they are ready to do “extra-legal moves” in the campaign against logging, as the church did during the time of Fr. Satur.
In 1988, then environment secretary Fulgencio Factoran Jr. declared a logging moratorium in Bukidnon in the wake of anti-logging protests initiated by the people of San Fernando town, which culminated in a hunger strike in Manila.
Satur and 44 other priests were given police power by the DENR to enforce forest laws.
Quoting a DENR-10 official, Raluto said that the police power given to the priests is still valid up to now as it has not been revoked.