MS 30th Anniversary XXX

The Verde Island Passage

On World Ocean Day last week, it had to be an academic institution in a country across the Pacific that enthusiastically declared the discovery of more than 100 species that are new to science. All these new species of marine creatures--ranging from sea slugs to delicate heart urchins-- were found in the Verde Island Passage, scientists from the California Academy of Sciences announced.

The principal investigator, Terry Gosliner, the academy’s senior curator of invertebrate zoology, said “the Philippines is jam-packed with diverse and threatened species; it is one of the most astounding regions of biodiversity on earth.”  He added that the species lists and distribution maps that the academy has created during its years surveying the country’s land and sea will help to inform future conservation decisions and ensure that this incredible biodiversity is afforded the best possible chance of survival. The Verde Island Passage, now known as the center of the center of the world’s biodiversity, lies between the provinces of Batangas and Mindoro.

 Incredibly, the Philippines, for its part, made no big deal out of such discovery of new species in the Verde Island Passage. Of course, one should accept that these days, nothing is more important to the leaders of the country than the 2016 elections. Never mind the astounding discoveries of new species, and that they may be threatened unless protected. In fact, the government seems to have forgotten the commitments it made years ago to protect and conserve the Verde Island Passage.  Now, the Verde Island Passage is in grave peril of destruction. Open pit mining in the municipality of Lobo, Batangas whose long coastlines are along the rim of the Verde Island Passage, is in the works.

 The Department of Environment and Natural Resources has held hastily-called hearings regarding the application of a foreign corporation to do open-pit gold mining in Lobo. The DENR said it was only doing its job because, it said, the Sangguniang Bayan of the municipality of Lobo passed a Resolution on April 20, 2015 endorsing the application for open pit gold mining in Lobo by a foreign mining company. The Sanggunian, headed by the Vice Mayor, on the other hand, pointed a finger to the barangay captains for giving their assent to the application for mining.

Yet, most, if not all, of the barangay captains who gave their assent to mining--it turns out-- did not know what open pit mining entailed. They were told that it would create jobs but did not realize that modern mining is not labor intensive and that it will, in the long run, and for hundreds of decades to come, impoverish them even more. They did not have the faintest idea that the soil upon which they derive crops will no longer be fit for planting, the seas from which they obtain food will die from pollution and poisoning, and the forested mountains that give them fresh air will be blown away.

What’s worrisome is that the executives of DENR and the local government of Lobo seem suddenly stricken with a serious case of amnesia. Back in 2006, or soon after a well-publicized study by Carpenter and Springer highlighting the importance of the Verde Island Passage for being the center of the center of biodiversity, both the national government and the local government units of Batangas seemed headed toward serious conservation efforts in the Verde passage. The national government established a Task Force to prepare a Comprehensive Management Plan for the Verde Island Passage Marine Corridor, with seven key government agencies tasked to implement the preservation of Verde Island Passage. The lead agency was the Department of Environment and Natural Resources while the Department of Tourism was a member.

 In 2008, eight municipalities of Batangas, among which was Lobo, established the Batangas Bay network to protect the Verde Island Passage. The Department of Tourism, for its part, declared the Batangas peninsula as an eco-tourism zone which is off limits to mining. Yet, the coverage of such declaration mysteriously excluded the municipality of Lobo which fronts the Verde Island Passage itself.

Open pit mining, as studies show, uses explosives to excavate the earth and lop off mountains to extract gold and mineral ores the fastest and cheapest way possible. Broken rocks and debris, all contaminated with toxins from the explosives, will fill the air and the waters. Mining uses such poisonous chemicals as cyanide, among others, to produce gold from the ores. Although the mining company promised to build a tailings dam to contain toxic waters from the mines, the problem is, when storms come--and they come often--or when heavy rains pour, the poisoned water in the tailings dam will overflow to the soil and the sea. Inevitably, it will flow and contaminate the Verde Island Passage.

In a power point presentation by Ms. Gina Lopez of ABS CBN, she showed that all the places in the Philippines where mining was permitted such as Zambales, Cotabato and Rapu Rapu in Bicol, massive destruction to the earth, water sources, the seas and the people’s health resulted. The communities were left even poorer than they were; their children and people afflicted with frightening diseases; and their surroundings—nothing but a barren swath of wasteland.

The government must remember its bounden duty to protect its people and its precious resources under the Constitution and the many international conventions it entered into for the conservation of biological diversity. The world depends on the Philippines to give a chance of survival to the new species discovered in the Verde Island Passage.


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