17 April 2011

The Need for Enduring Hope

A Palm Sunday Reflection for the Alay Kapwa National Campaign 2011
"Kapwa at Kalikasan, Pananagutan Nating Lahat"
Lenten Action-Evangelization Program of the CBCP National Secretariat for Social Action - Justice and Peace

As we enter the holiest of our liturgical seasons, the story of our Lord’s passion from the Gospel of Matthew is read. This passion narrative begins with the scene that was the turning point in Jesus’ public ministry: not His triumphal entry to Jerusalem but the betrayal of Judas.

1. Betrayal

“One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?’ They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over” (Mt 26,14-15).

In a way, our government’s record of pursuing national development, harnessing our natural resources and protecting the environment has been somewhat taken straight from the Gospels’ passion narratives. Time and again, we have seen hopes dashed and best efforts undone when state officials and institutions betray the people’s trust. The words of Judas ring true till today: “What are you willing to give me to hand it over to you?”

Case in point: Rapu-Rapu island in the Bicol region. The island’s long history of mining has been a history filled with corruption and callousness, greed and neglect, and a disregard both to people’s lives and the environment. The Japanese army mined the island during World War II. The Hixbar Mining Company took over from the Japanese and left it in the 1970s with three of four rivers contaminated and an extensive tract of land barren and useless. Toronto Ventures Inc. came in the 1980s and operated without the mandated public hearings and consultations. Lafayette Philippines Inc. entered the picture in 1999.

From the start, majority of the island’s residents were against the latest mining project. The Diocese of Legazpi has issued a pastoral letter condemning the move. Civil society staged protest actions. A senate inquiry was made. A few small victories were won by opponents of the mining project, but in the end Lafayette still had its way. It proceeded with its operations.

In vain, the people turned to their elected officials and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for help. In the end they would realize that it was actually the government that invited mining companies to come to their island without their knowing it. They would realize the DENR is the government’s lead mining salesman. It is the DENR that identifies sites as suitable for mining. It is the DENR that advertises those sites for mining investors, conveniently downgrading environmental harm. It is the DENR that grants MPSAs without consulting local residents and ECCs even without social acceptability. It is the same department that admits it cannot sufficiently monitor production and operation of mining companies; and connives with mining officials to cover-up incidents of mishaps and fish kills. When a company like Lafayette fails, the DENR scurries to look for other investors to “save” the project. And should the people seek legal action, it is the DENR who would first receive their complaints and judge its merits before any court could hear their case.