A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: On the verge of a great sea-change

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 29 June) – It has been raining in Davao in the past week causing floods in some parts of the city. With memories of Pablo still fresh in people’s minds and with news stories of floods devastating communities on both sides of the globe – across India and Canada – causing untold human suffering, hundreds of household members go to bed worrying if they will wake up in the night floating in flood waters.

Which is why it was comforting to get a message on Facebook from a friend with these words as I got ready to go to bed:

So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
And cures and healing wells.

Hope for a great sea-change? Is this possible in the midst of ecological disasters shattering our lives? Well, we can always be thankful for small mercies. And given the call for resiliency, one needs to mobilize whatever sources of hope one can encounter along the way.

Such has been the good fortune that we have happily bumped into in the last few days in Davao City. These have been truly serendipitous considering that we are celebrating Environment month in June. With a number of events and activities taking place, it is possible to “believe that a further shore is reachable from here!”

First there was the culmination of the two-year struggle waged at the Legislative Hall of the Sangguniang Panlungsod (SP). Monday, 24 June 2013, will go down in Davao City’s history as the day when Davao City’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan (Clup) and new Zoning Code Ordinance 2013-2022 was finally approved at the Final Reading. The members of the city council – despite all the pressures from those who opposed the Clup for reasons that can only benefit themselves and not for the common good – courageously exerted their political will as they yielded to civil society organizations’ (CSO) demands to pass the Ordinance. Earlier the CSOs were worried that the passage of the Ordinance would be blocked “in view of unverified rumors of attempts by opposition to procedurally delay the vote until the 17th Council is sworn in.”

The ones most delighted with the passage of Clup are the CSOs in the forefront of the advocacy and lobbying work required to push the City Council to pass the Ordinance, namely the Friends of Davao Shrine Hill, Maa’s Environmental Watch Committee, the Barangay Ma-a Purok Leaders Association, the Interfacing Development Interventions, Inc. (IDIS), Minland Foundation and many others. Their first concern was in saving the Shrine Hills and pushing the agenda of an urban ecological enhancement sub-zone that would “advance Davao City environmentally, improve life safety against geohazards and Climate Change, as well as enhance sustainable development and our quality of life, now and in the future.” (Take a bow J. Stacey Baird, Norma Javellana, Arnold Vandenbroeck, Mary Ann Fuertes and the few others who mobilized the CSOs to pressure the SB to take the side of the people!)

But since the Shrine Hills issue could only be pushed if there is a Clup, the CSOs mobilized the citizenry for the passage of the Clup and new Zoning Code Ordinance. It had not been a walk in the park as some members the City Council were vulnerable to the pressures of the those opposed to the Ordinance and only a few – especially Council Pilar Braga – steadfastly held their ground in favour of the common good of the vast citizenry and their children’s children. Fortunately, almost all of the members of the City Council saw the light of day and – led by the Honorable (truly a deserved title this time!) Arnuldo Cabling who chaired the Committee in charge of this issue – rose to the occasion and came up with the historic vote the consequences of which will be felt in the years to come. As the outgoing Mayor, Sara Duterte-Carpio exits from the political scene, she carries with her the distinction that it was during her watch that this historic ordinance was passed.

As they are not about to rest on their laurels and take a break, the CSOs are now preparing for the next stage of the struggle as a new SB and a new executive take over. They will again need to engage the City Hall for the Implementing Rules and Regulations and the allocation of the needed budget. They will also need to lobby further so that their dream of a visible green oasis in the Shrine Hills – stretching from MacArthur Boulevard on the southwest to Diversion Road at Ma-a Road on the northeast – will be fulfilled. If this comes to pass, Davao City will stand proud alongside cities such as New York with its Central Park.

Soon after the victory with the Clup, the CSOs were at it again, pushing for a Green Davao City at a forum held “inside the belly of the beast”, at the Violet Room of the SB Building on Thursday, June 27 in celebration of the World Environment Month. With the theme – Think.Eat.Save – the CSOs gathered together both government officials and their leaders to look towards greater government-civil society collaboration to deal with urgent ecological issues as well as provide for long-term sustainable development. A list of the sponsors of this forum show the vibrant collaboration among government agencies, NGOs, people’s organizations and founding agencies supporting ecological projects.

At the forum, incoming Councilor Leonardo Avila III – perhaps the most ecologically wizened local official – gave a presentation in terms of the council’s engagement with environmental issues through the years since 1947 when a zonification ordinance was passed to the recent landmark Clup ordination. He encouraged the audience of mainly CSO members to continue its militant lobbying with the Council as there are more environmental problems to deal with. During the forum some of these issues presented by the speakers included addressing food security (Mr. Valente Turture of the City’s Agriculturist’s Office) and the public urban transport (Dr. Seng Felias of the Davao Sustainable Urban Transport Project). The forum also tackled how to deal with problems arising in the upland, urban and coastal eco-systems of the city.

If only to underscore Davao City’s vibrant ecological movement, the Mindanao Coalition of Development NGO Networks (MINCODE) held their General Assembly at the city’s Brokenshire Convention Center also on June 27. Its theme – Reclaiming the Mindanao Promise! CSOs on CCA and DRRM: Increasing Capabilities and Reducing Vulnerabilities in Mindanao Communities – was so urgent that the invited resource speaker, Sec. Nereus O. Acosta, the Presidential Adviser for Environmental Protection, dropped all his other schedules to be at this forum. In his timely speech to the MINCODE members, he challenged the CSOs to partner with the present administration to be more actively involved in the urgent call to deal with climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction and management.

With more than 400 member organizations across Mindanao – covering practically all the big NGOs including Association of Foundation, PhilDHRRA, Pakisama, PBSP, MASS-SPECC, Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society, MINCON and others – MINCODE is the major CSO coalition that can truly partner the State’s strong resolve to deal with urgent ecological issues brought about by climate change. During this forum, local actions on CCA-DRRM were shared by a few of the members, which showed their strong political will to engage these urgent issues. How MINCODE will respond to the challenge in the years to come will test their capacity to walk the talk.

Finally, on Friday, June 28, the Network Opposed to Coal in Davao City (Dabawenyo Ayaw sa Coal) and various people’s organizations marched across the Freedom Park to continue their campaign and actively engage the Aboitiz Power and the City Government on this issue. Earlier, despite the opposition of the people the LGU and Aboitiz Power pushed for the setting up of a coal power in Binugao. Despite this setback, the network continues with its campaign and despite the heavy downpour last Friday, the marchers stood their ground and stormed the heavens with their cry to stop coal pollution and promote alternative sources of power.

The heavens did respond earlier to this kind of a cry in the person of Pope Francis, who, like his predecessors – Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI – have consistently issued exhortations to the faithful to be militantly engaged in ecological action. His words to the public on June 5, World Environment Day, need to be heeded by all: “The Popes have spoken of human ecology, closely linked to environmental ecology. We are living in a time of crisis: we see this in the environment, but above all we see this in mankind. The human person is in danger: this is certain, the human person is in danger today, here is the urgency of human ecology… God our Father did not give the task of caring for the earth to money, but to us, to men and women: we have this task!”

Well “madlang people” out there, believe that a great sea-change is occurring in the ecological field out there. Believe that a further shore is reachable from here. If in the view of Jurgen Habermas, we of the lifeworld are willing to colonize the system of the market and the bureaucracy, “all well be well” (in the words of Julian of Norwich). There are small miracles taking place already as we become instruments in setting up “healing wells” for humanity and our one and only planet.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar of Davao City, former head of the Redemptorist Itinerant Mission Team and author of several books, including “To be poor and obscure,” and “Mystic Wanderers in the Land of Perpetual Departures,” writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English [A Sojourner’s Views] and the other in Binisaya [Panaw-Lantaw].)