Envi group blames mining, logging for massive devastation of ‘Pablo’

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/ 9 December)–An environmental group has blamed large-scale mining and logging operations to the widespread destruction and deaths wrought by Typhoon Pablo in Compostela Valley (ComVal) and Davao Oriental.

As of 5 a.m. Sunday, 540 persons were reported dead, 1,088 injured and 827 still missing, majority from Region XI, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said.

“The heartbreaking reports of deaths and destruction in New Bataan, Compostela Valley and several Davao Oriental towns and elsewhere show how Mindanao’s environment has reached its maximum limit,” Sr. Stella Matutina, OSB, Panalipdan Mindanao secretary-general, said in a statement.

The group said President Benigno Aquino III’s visit last Friday to disaster-stricken areas “should compel him to stop large-scale mining and other extractive industries that caused the tragedy.”

Aquino and eight Cabinet secretaries made a short visit to areas affected by Pablo in Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley on board six choppers.

Matutina said her group “hopes Aquino’s trip is not just for mere photo ops or top-level meetings but rather let him get to see the picture of the devastation so he can make a decisive move to stop mining policies he is pushing such as Executive Order 79.”

She cited a report made by Panalipdan Southern Mindanao that both provinces are swamped with many large-scale mining and logging companies, with Davao Oriental accounting for 31 mining tenements, application and operations while Compostela Valley has 43.

Matutina added that these activities involved cutting down trees, destroying farms, rivers and bio-diversity areas that surely contributed to the massive floods in the area.

“Already, there have been many landslide incidents in the past which were triggered by these operations but the government hasn’t done anything to stop them,” she stressed.

In a meeting with Cabinet members after the visit at the Davao International Airport here, Aquino said: “I want concrete basis of what happened.”

The President ordered the departments of the Interior and Local Government, Justice and Environment and Natural Resources to investigate the mishaps of two evacuation centers in Barangay Andap, New Bataan in ComVal and Cateel in Davao Oriental.

“Why did it happen?… Is it because the people had no alternative? Is it because of lack of appreciation on the information gathered, (being) not understandable?” he asked the body.

Aquino said he wants a study aimed at eliminating casualties in the future by giving Filipinos timely information, adding, “Ang katotohanan ay dadalawin tayo ng bagyo (The truth is we will be visited by typhoons) every year on the average of about 20.”

The President said there is no sense in rebuilding the communities if they would still be located in the same areas devastated by landslide and flashfloods.

He explained the tasking for the investigation: the DILG to supervise the local government units, the DOJ to look at the potential criminal and civil violations, and the DENR to provide scientific facts for whatever conclusions with the assistance of the Department of Science and Technology.

Crisis manual will also be improved to add details on how one determines how safe the areas should be and who is responsible to check actual performances on mandated actions, Aquino said.

Review of mining applications

Edilberto Arreza, regional director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), said the agency is considering a review of mining applications in typhoon-stricken areas and is making sure that the areas applied on are guided by geo-hazard maps that include mitigation measures should natural hazards occur.

He also reiterated the moratorium imposed by the DENR last year in the acceptance of mining application, approval of permits and issuance of Environment Compliance Certificate.

Joselin Marcus E. Fragada, DENR-11 director, told reporters that their programs are being focused on planting more trees, attributing the landslide and flooding after Typhoon Pablo as due to lack of forest covers.

However, he also cited that a part of the destruction was due to the impact of climate change and global warming, saying “that’s why typhoon and earthquakes are now stronger.”

“We would like actually to be more proactive in the department, and try to encourage people to stop cutting trees and plant more to increase our forest cover, specifically in ComVal and Davao Oriental,” Fragada said. (Lorie Ann A. Cascaro/MindaNews)