Surigao Sur Catholic parishioners say bypass road projects endanger forests, coastal environment

LIANGA, Surigao del Sur (MindaNews / 22 April) – The ongoing bypass road projects in Surigao del Sur have endangered coastal resources and forests in the province, Catholic priests and parishioners said.

These children can only catch rabbitfish along the now reclaimed shoreline of Lianga, Surigao del Sut. MindaNews photo by CHRIS V. PANGANIBAN

In a forum Wednesday marking the two-day Earth Day celebration of the Diocese of Tandag, fisherfolk, the entire Catholic clergy of the province and an outspoken local official here took turns lambasting the projects.

The forum participants cited the ongoing 2.79-kilometer coastal diversion road project that reportedly destroyed 30 hectares of mangrove forest, and the newly-started 18-kilometer bypass road project from the village of San Pedro to Marihatag town traversing the protected forest of an old logging concession area.

Diosdado Labaso, chairman of Samahan ng Mangingisda sa Lianga (Fishers Association of Lianga), said aside from the destruction of mangroves, the coastal road project also affected the seagrass and breeding place of different kinds of shellfish at the seashore near the Sabang river.

He said several century-old pagatpat mangroves near the reclaimed area have already died and some others were dying.

Some 1,600 Catholic parishioners sent a petition on Dec. 20, 2018 to the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to stop the project, but Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu has not acted on it.

Labaso said a road project is only good only if it would not affect their livelihood and marine life.

He estimated that 50 percent of the breading place of shellfish was destroyed when the seashore was reclaimed with limestone for the road project.

For his part, town councilor Samuel Dollano said the coastal road project has destroyed the most diverse ecosystem found along the Lianga Bay shoreline.

He recalled former Environment secretary Angel Alcala as telling him the importance of conservation from the ridges in the forest to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean since Lianga Bay hosts an ecosystem that cannot be found elsewhere in the country.

He added the road project was implemented without consulting the municipal council and did not comply with the requirements like undergoing an environmental impact assessment before getting an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) from the DENR.

“The bypass road truly lived up to its name since it really bypassed all the requirements of the ECC,” the official said.

Dying mangroves near the reclaimed bypass road in Lianga, Surigao del Sur. MindaNews photo by CHRIS V. PANGANIBAN

In his Earth Day pastoral statement, Tandag Bishop Raul Dael said Surigao del Sur is gifted with abundant natural resources and magnificent beauty of nature that lavishly nourishes its inhabitants.

“However, like any other places in the world, we are also facing a crisis that threatens the lives of the people particularly the poor in their access to potable water, arable land productive marine life and a healthy environment.

“Lianga is so privileged but this demands responsibility. The erosion of our mountain is the erosion of our values,” Dael stressed in his speech after the video presentation of his pastoral letter.

Aside from the forum, the parishioners held a caravan around the town and a prayer vigil.

They held another caravan on the second day from Lanuza town to Carac-an in Carmen town where they joined a mass, tree planting activity, and an ecumenical prayer.

They also listened to the testimonies of environmental advocates from different sectors.

This year’s Earth Day celebration carried the theme “Restore Our Earth.”  (Chris V. Panganiban/MindaNews)