ECOSPEAK: Not at the expense of the people and marine life in Davao Gulf

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(Delivered at the Sangguniang Panlungsod of Davao City on Tuesday, 11 October 2022 by Mylai Santos, on behalf of the Sustainable Davao Movement)

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 15 October) — Hiraya ug Kalinaw!
Greetings of peace and shared aspirations to you, the Honorable Councilors of the 20th City Council of Davao, and to fellow Dabawenyos in the gallery, our partners for a sustainable Davao.

I appear before you today on behalf of the Sustainable Davao Movement (SDM), the convenor of an Alliance for the reefs which will be directly affected by the SIDC/Samal bridge project. I am Mylai Santos, Ecoteneo Director of the Ateneo de Davao University (The appearance we make here today is not mere eco-lala or “pangitag isyu.”)

We have a local marine biologist with us today who will be presenting after me. We are here as professionals, as concerned citizens of Davao, and as global citizens facing the local and global environmental crisis together.

Please allow me to frame our concerns and share our position for realigning the bridge – that will take off from the Marine Protected Area of Bgry Hizon and land at Costa Marina, right beside Paradise Reef.

Four days ago, the entire world was shocked when children in the daycare center in Thailand were gunned down by an ex-police with drug use history. This image is difficult to un-see.

Society can sometimes be like the drug-crazed gunman. 

We can be so addicted to the idea of what progress is that sometimes, we lose sight of what will happen to the children, when for that idea, we compromise the environment that is already in a state of climate emergency.

Yes, progress can come from building more roads and bridges, but must we really cut down our ancient trees, condemn the mangroves and eliminate precious coral reefs on which marine life depends? What benefits do we gain when the costs are too high? What can we gain  that is worth it when we squander our future for a cheaper loan?

Last November 2021, this August body, sitting as the 19th City Council stood for the heritage trees when it passed the Save Heritage Trees Ordinance.

Thanks to this Council, the Narra trees along Zamora street were spared from the DPWH culvert project this February 2022.  The project had the necessary permits (national and BLGU), but we raised our concerns and mentioned the ordinance. They proceeded with installing the culverts but thanks to shared environmental vigilance, they steered clear of the trees.

Because of the LGU of Davao city the trees in Zamora stand today. Because of the LGU, led by the City Mayor, the Narra trees outside the Ateneo Grade School still stand today after they had been targeted to be cut down by DPWH in 2020. 

Now more than ever, we need these trees, as our city pavements have reached 50 degrees Celsius, as per the urban heat study that IDIS spearheaded last Friday.

The coral reefs in Davao Gulf, on both sides, Samal and Davao are like trees in the city and more:  they are the rainforests of the sea.  Marginal fisherfolks and local communities will suffer more (as they have with the pandemic) when marine productivity drops as soon as the reefs are wiped out. 

We need you, City Council of Davao, to once again be on the side of the people and the environment. Yes, the bridge may have been intended for the general public, but the present design overlooks the  people who will be gravely affected by the destruction of the marine life ecosystem.

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Report of the SIDC project glossed over the damage on the reefs and marine life (including cetaceans/whales and dolphins – where at least 15 species have been sighted in Davao Gulf since 2016). And the Project only assigned a weight of 10% on the environment as part of the criteria for choice of landing site. 

How would this 10% justify the fact that the bridge will directly cross over the MPA (marine protected area) of Barangay Hizon as recognized in the CLUP passed last January 2022?

How would this  10% account for the marine ecosystem in Paradise and Davao Gulf as a key marine biodiversity area (MBA) recognized by DENR as such since 2016? 

In the Davao Gulf,  #Marinelifeishere and in the vicinity where the bridge will be put, the corals are not dead.

In our journey together these past years, Honorable Councilors, from Saving Shrine Hills, to 10% green spaces to the bike lanes, we have done good work for people and the Earth. 

Let us continue doing good together not only on our side of the Davao Gulf but also on the side of Samal.  We are not against the bridge per se, we only ask for its realignment. Assuming, without conceding that the bridge is an economic option, let it not be at the expense of the people and marine life in Davao Gulf. 

Our youth and children place their expectations and hopes on us to do better than those who came before us.

Pope Francis has said, on the pandemic and the climate emergency that, “The most important lesson we can take from these crises is our need to build together, so that there will no longer be any borders, barriers, or political walls for us to hide behind.

We believe that this current City Council is a listening body, a body that will not just toe the line and cower before power being flexed by national agencies – power that stomps on the rights of our children to their future. 

I believe that this City Council truly represents the people of Davao, and IS the voice of the people of Davao City and the environment which sustains it.

(Mylai Santos is the Director of the Ecoteneo of the Ateneo de Davao University) 

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