“The stakes are high.”
There is a big environmental battle going on in the province of Zambales. Literally, lines on the sand are being drawn that could see the destruction not just of nature and ecosystems but of livelihoods, based among others on tourism and fishing, of many communities.
The environmental and economic impact will not be limited to the nearby towns but to the whole province of Zambales but will also likely have an effect on the whole of Central Luzon. After all, the first rule of ecology is that everything is connected. What you do in one river affects the sea. Destroying the ridge will wipe out the reef. In this regard, there is no other activity that is as harmful as blacksand mining.
What is at stake is Alusiis or Araos river, which flows from the Macolcol or Sto. Tomas River from Barangay Alusiis to Barangay La Paz of San Narciso, Zambales towards the West Philippine Sea. In the guise of a creek rehabilitation project related to the building of a jetty port, blacksand mining will be done – in circumvention of the ban on such activity.
San Narciso is a 4th class municipality that is home to some 28,000 people as of the 2015 National Census. It is a relatively flat plain area with its economy based on agriculture and tourism. It is known as the 5th best surfing destination in the country visited by celebrity and professional surfers. The National Surfing Summit was supposed to be held in the town but was postponed to a later date due to the covid 19 pandemic. It is also home to a private NGO operating a Pawikan (tortoise/turle) conservatory, and a bird sanctuary for 129 species.
The protest against this development aggression is currently led by a network of organizations of fishermen’s groups (Pamalakaya, Deep Sea Fishing Inc. San Narciso Bangus Fry Association, San Narciso Resorts Owners Association, women and concerned citizens led by the Save Zambales Kalikasan Movement (SZKM). SZKM is affiliated with the Philippine Misereor Partnerships Inc. (PMPI), a huge network of various NGOs in the Philippines advocating for environmental protection, good governance and human rights protection.
The protests have been gaining traction and support from local residents and residents of nearby San Felipe town and in fact had successfully driven away those trying to execute the project, as recently as this week.
The group is calling for the cancellation of the permit issued by San Felipe Mayor Leo John Farrales and for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)to issue a notice of Violation and denial of all requests and applications by the AGN Trading and Mines Flowing Construction. Unfortunately, the local DENR has so far been complicit in development aggression. At the same time, the group is calling on law enforcement authorities to guard the area because the contractors continue to operate illegally in the area .
I echo these calls because of the following reasons as the protestors have laid down:
First, the Jetty port project will destroy the town’s ecosystem. San Narciso is a coastal town that faces the West Philippine sea. While it faces the West Philippine Sea which is home to various marine species, particularly high grade Bangus fries, it also has some forest lands where Pine trees and other species thrive. It is a sanctuary of numerous birds. The community is also home to a Tortoise (Pawikan) Conservatory which has become another tourist attraction. The marine, forest and land ecosystem where people and nature live in harmony will be polluted and destroyed by a port construction that will be a preparatory for sand mining concessions in the area.
Second, the Jetty port will terminate tourism which is the town’s major source of sustainable income. The planned jetty port which will be used to transport sand from the river deltas in San Narciso and San Felipe towns will destroy the natural resource that is the main attraction of tourism, the beaches. Economically, the town will suffer because the top taxpayers of the town are the resorts and hotels which had been operating alongside bed and breakfast accommodations owned by the locals. San Narciso is known for its huge waves that are popular amongst beginner and professional surfers. With the construction of the Jetty port, the shores will be dredged and deepened and will destroy the seabed and sandbars that cause waves that are good for surfing. The tourism industry employs a lot of people which include workers at the resorts and hotels, the Bed and breakfast owners, transportation owners and drivers, surf masters, dive masters, and other suppliers for this industry.
Third, food security for Region III will be principally affected because San Narciso supplies high-grade bangus fries all over the region as well as other species of fish, and shellfishes. The town’s fishing industry will be annihilated because sand mining impacts negatively on river deltas and marine resources to the detriment of many who depend on fishing as their source of income. All three organized fishermen’s associations – Pamalakaya, Deep Sea Fishing Association, and the Bangus Fry Catchers Association—object to the project.
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