Media’s help sought on Mindanao’s critical environment situation

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/9 Dec) – The media must dig more and be more critical in the midst of a deteriorating environmental situation in Mindanao, former presidential assistant for Mindanao Jesus Dureza said in the opening Thursday of the three-day 7th Mindanao Media Summit.

Dureza, who is now publisher of the Davao-based Mindanao Times and the Mindanao trustee of the Philippine Press Institute, said the media must go beyond the usual fare of reportage “amidst the various advocacies” on the island’s deteriorating environmental state.

“Study very well and deliver the correct message,” he told more than a hundred participants to the summit, which focused on “Environment Watch: Mindanao.” Dureza said resource conflict is emerging as a more serious source of conflict in Mindanao and environment watch is the “call of the moment.”

In her rationale of the summit, Carolyn Arguillas, chairperson of the Mindanao News and Information Cooperative Center (MNICC), cited that floods in Mindanao have displaced more people than war did.

Arguillas presented that roughly about 100,000 people were displaced by war in Mindanao in 2011.

But she added that in January 2011 alone, floods in Mindanao communities displaced about 855,480 persons, which is 43 percent of the total number (2 million) displaced by floods all over the country.

Arguillas also called the attention of the media on the lack of tsunami warning signs in the Moro Gulf, site of the worst tsunami that hit the country in the 1970s.

The tsunami left 8,000 people dead or missing, 10,000 injured, and about 90,000 displaced. The gulf, she said, is the most tsunami prone in Mindanao.

Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) chair Lualhati Antonino, in her presentation, said Mindanao is faced with the impact of unparalleled activities that pose implications on the capacity of its resources to support development.

She called the attention of the media on the “situation of the watersheds and river basins in Mindanao,” “the current production and settlement practices affecting our environment,” “and the serious implications of our unsustainable development practices to food, human, and environmental security.”

Most developments dependent on the natural endowments of Mindanao are aggravating the impacts of climate change to the economic and social activities of Mindanao, she added.

Antonino cited that Mindanao holds original growth forest blocks which are now “fast depleted.” The remaining forest cover of Mindanao is now only 21 percent, including plantation species, she said, citing 2002 data from the Department of Environment and Natural

She also cited 2010 data from the Environmental Science for Social Change (ESSC) that said that Mindanao’s natural remaining forest cover, which is essential for water production, is now at only six percent.

Antonino said Mindanao’s natural resources are so diverse and rich that is why Mindanawons “are able to support their economic progress well, given the right support and monitoring.”

But she added that since the economy of Mindanao is primarily dependent on agriculture, any adverse effect to its resources affects production and livelihood of many farmers and agricultural workers.

“Right now, increased human settlement activities already pose severe implications to the capacity of our resources, the biomass of our wildlife, and the sustainability of our waters and watershed areas to support developments,” she said.

She added that unsustainable agricultural practices and lack of an integrated and coordinated approach in managing and developing river basins in Mindanao “contribute to the cumulative deterioration of our watersheds.”

Antonino cited as examples mangrove cutting in coastal areas, quarrying, mining without mitigation measures, disposal of wastes in water systems, unregulated use of water, and increased community settlement along riverbanks all add up to create detriments to ecosystems.

“Such ecological challenge lodges Mindanao’s sustainability to an alarming level,” she added.

For Mindanao to achieve sustainable development, she added, an appropriate and effective resource management mechanism must be put in place to harmonize and integrate all efforts to rehabilitate watersheds and river basins. “The enabling environment shall be anchored on three areas: production, protection, and settlement,” she said.

Antonino highlighted MindaNOW: Nurturing Our Waters Program, a project spearheaded by MinDA. She said it is testament of support to the national policy of sustainable development and a supplement to the endeavors for the National Greening Program by the DENR. She added that it serves as one of the concrete translations under the Mindanao 2020 vision of striking a balance between economic development and ecological integrity.

Organizers said the summit this year intends to help journalists engage their communities not only in its traditional role in providing accurate news and information “but also in opening venues for deeper discussion on pressing issues regarding the environment.”

The summit intends to increase the capacity of journalists to produce greater quality and volume of reporting; raise the level of public awareness and debate on environment issues; and create opportunities for journalists to build networks with scientists, technology experts, consumers and other media organizations. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)