Make environment, peace in Mindanao top issues in 2007

Lawyer Suharto Ambolodto, head of the Cotabato City-based Caucus on Muslim Mindanao Affairs, said voters should ask their candidates about how they would support the peace process

Ambolodto said the voters must assert that the peace process should emanate from local governments rather than the perception that it was the work of only the Office of the Presidential Assistant on the Peace Process. He said “local governments have no choice but to support the peace process”.

Ambolodto briefed on Friday radio reporters from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and Southwestern Mindanao on effective approaches to voters' education in a workshop here.

He said the candidates have to present a "competitive package" to win voters and it must include how they intend to help work for peace.  

Business and government officials have cited economic losses to Mindanao due to bomb explosions and the stalled peace negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The environment, too, should be on top of election issues in Mindanao.

Lia Jasmine Esquillo, whose group, the Interface Development Interventions (IDIS), pushed a ban on aerial spraying, said environmental issues are “about survival of the people”. The proposal to ban on aerial spraying was approved on second reading at the City Council here Tuesday

Esquillo said the voters should ask their candidates about their stand on issues like protection of natural resources, mining, and use of coal-fired power plants as these were not highlighted in the 2001 and the 2004 elections.

She said Mindanao was “very rich in natural resources that is why it attracts extractive industries like mining and logging”. She cited the expansion of agribusiness plantations that may impact on the environment. "That's a reason for greater safeguards from our leaders," she said.

She said the voters must come to a point of making candidates reveal their true intentions on how to use Mindanao's resources.

Esquillo said, however, that the people are not yet attuned with putting environmental issues on top of their criteria in voting. "It's an issue of survival, but they think it is still far from the stomach," she said.    

Davao City Councilor Leonardo Avila III, environment committee chair, said environmental legislation was not merely political but also a moral issue. “Local government leaders must be at the forefront of protecting the environment. Environmental problems like global warming, are problems worse than terrorism.”

“We do not have to wait for tragedies, like that in Leyte, for us to move,” he said. Protecting the environment should not be left to two or three members of legislative bodies but the political will of the body to legislate environmental protection, Avila said.

"That is why voters must demand from the candidates their stand on these issues and be able to make them accountable for their decisions," he said.

Bukidnon provincial legislator Alfredo Guden, whose council earlier approved a ban on aerial spraying and legislated the province environment code said voters have the power to put environment on top of political issues. "It is important that voters should factor it in," he said.

Ambolodto said voters should be reminded that they have the power to change governance and uplift conditions in the community.

"Voters should understand that the facility of that uplift that condition is in the kind of officials they vote for on election day," he said. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)