Category Archives: Environment

“Tree tunnel” in Sorsogon lost to road widening

  Yahoo South East Asia Newsroom  by Kim Arveen Patria

Trees in this portion of the highway in Bulan, Sorsogon, have grown big enough that their branches meet, as if creating a tunnel. The so-called tree tunnel is threatened by clearing operations for road widening projects. (Photo from Bulan's Facebook page)
A tree-lined portion of the highway is among the most photographed spots in Bulan, Sorsogon, but some fear the so-called “tree tunnel” will soon be seen only in photos.

Hundreds of almost century-old trees are set to be cut down to make way for wider roads in the coastal town, which is among the busiest and richest in the province.

Angry locals have questioned the government’s road widening projects. An online petition has been launched to stop the tree-cutting. Others have taken to the streets.

“Bulanenos should unite now to save the trees that have yet to be cut down by the Department of Public Works and Highways,” a Change.org petition read.

Bulan resident Ramil Agne, who posted the petition, told Yahoo Philippines that the DPWH has temporarily stopped the cutting of trees, pending a consultation.

He noted that the move came too late, however, as about 185 have already been cut from May 14 to 21. A total of 235 trees would be cut for the road work.

Officials have claimed that the roadside had to be cleared of trees to expand the highway to 20 meters from 15 meters, by adding 2.5 meters to each side.

“The traffic volume on our highway does not warrant a road widening project,” Agne said. He added that the 5-meter expansion “is not enough to call progress versus cutting trees.”

Many residents have also wondered why the road will be expanded when the local airport it leads to has been idle for decades. DPWH has not responded to requests for comment.

“I don’t want the trees to be cut down for the sake of useless road widening project. Road widening project will benefit only few people specially in terms of corruption,” said Andrew Zuniga, who signed the petition.

A “selfie campaign” has also been launched against the project, with netizens posting photos of themselves holding up appeals to save the town’s “tree tunnel.”

More than 100 trees have already been cut to make way for wider roads in Bulan, Sorsogon. (Photo by Karl CK)

Bulan’s case is the latest in what netizens have taken to calling a tree-cutting rampage by the DPWH, most of them tagged unnecessary by the areas’ locals.

Earlier this month, locals in Los Banos, Laguna, protested the cutting of trees for a widening project covering a 5.6-kilometer stretch of road near Mt. Makiling.

Local officials in Iloilo City have meanwhile asked the DPWH to explain why so-called “heritage trees” have been cut down along the city’s General Luna highway.

In Naga City, the local government is also leading efforts against a plan to cut down at least 650 trees along the Maharlika Highway in Camarines Sur province.

“Thousands of trees all over the Philippines, many of them century-old, have been cut for road widening… Many more trees face the same fate,” a separate Change.org petition said.

The petition, posted by Ivan Henares, called on the DPWH and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to stop cutting trees and review the policy.

“This review should provide a mechanism for genuine public consultation and a detailed scientific assessment the cutting of trees may have on the environment,” Henares said.

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Filed under Bulan and The rest Of Bicol Region, Bulan Developments, Crime, Environment, Nature, News

THIS BACMAN IS NO HERO

JGL Eye

By JOSEPH G. LARIOSA

 

CHICAGO (jGLi) – In his diary, Philippine national hero Jose Rizal described Missouri River as twice the size of Pasig River in its widest part. Missouri is just the second largest tributary of the Mississippi, the largest river system in North America.

In my youth, I considered Kawayan (spelled with a “k” since there is no “c” in Tagalog nor Bikol alphabets) River in Basud, Sorsogon in the Philippines just as big as the Pasig River if not half as big in its narrowest part.

When I was in grade school, I always cherished the days when we visited our relatives living near Kawayan River so we could swim in the white water the whole day.

If we could leave early in the day, we would even walk upstream of Kawayan River called “Rangas” for a picnic to visit one of my uncles, Felipe Lariosa, who would guide us to a pool of water which was so clean it was safe to drink. We did not care if we took on water while we bathed.

Today, Kawayan River is like a swamp that may soon become a dry and barren land.

Thanks to what Los Angeles, California activist and former Sorsogon resident Bobby Reyes describes as an “ecological rape” of Kawayan River perpetrated formerly by the Philippine government when it was operating the Philippine National Oil Company, which later became National Power Corporation. The NPC ceded its interest to Energy Development Corporation after submitting the complying bid for the 150-MW Bacman (Bacon-Manito) geothermal plants last year for 1.2-billion pesos (US$26-million) during an auction hosted by PSALM (Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp).

While geothermal is considered “cleaner energy” than coal- or oil-fired power plant because each kilowatt-hour of electricity it generates only emits about 5 percent of carbon dioxide, along with the area’s “rotten-egg” smell as well as ammonia and methane that it emits, geothermal still raises environmental issues such as air and water pollutions along with safe disposal of hazardous waste, silting, and land subsidence.

 FACEBOOK REVOLUTION

One of the residents near Kawayan River, Sonia Lariosa, a cousin of mine, informed Mr. Reyes that in her Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150294889948968.379581.720778967, everyone can see the effects of how huge power companies bring ecological nightmare to the rivers like Kawayan and nearby farm lands when these powerful companies disregard environmental safeguards as they go about with their business.

Sonia complains that Kawayan River is now a very small tributary and from the photos, it seems it is no longer empties into the Sorsogon Bay.

She said her small rice fields are no longer irrigated with water from up streams but with muds “with cement” that can only come from nearby “Bacman II, a geothermal facility that operates two 20-Megawatt-unit turbines “commissioned in 1994.”

The word “Bacman” was taken from the towns of Bacon, Sorsogon and Manito Albay in the Bikol region. It has a steam plant (BacMan I) located in the boundary of Bacon and Manito.

“When my father was alive (Cerelo Lariosa, a World War II veteran), these PNOC people had been bulldozing our small patch of land. My father protested but because nobody can sue the government without its consent, my father gave up and let them do what they wanted,” Sonia recalls.

While the PNOC was building their facility, quarrying of the river went into high gear. Today, when there is rain, there are no more stones to hold the soil and there are mudslides all over the place.

Sonia is not the only one affected. Her neighbors about 200 of them have signed up a petition to put into stop to the unmitigated exploitation of their natural resources that used to irrigate their rice fields, which are the main sources of their livelihood. “We can no longer grow palay in our rice fields,” she wailed.

BANTAY SALAKAY (PROTECTOR-PREDATOR)?

She said she could not get the cooperation of her Barangay Captain so their complaints will reach the higher government authorities (the local “representathieves” of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources), who are conniving with the Energy Development Company people.

They are now enlisting the help of senior law students from Aquinas University in Legazpi City so they can file complaints.

They have formed a group called “Bacman Geothermal Multi Monitoring Task Force,” which will file a complaint against EDC before the United Nations for violating the KYOTO PROTOCOL, an environmental treaty, of which the Philippines is a signatory.

The Task Force realizes that they are up against a behemoth in the industry in EDC, a geothermal leader whose Chair Emeritus is Oscar Lopez of the powerful ABS-CBN international conglomerate. Last May 15, EDC reported a net income of 1.45 billion pesos (US$31-Million) for the first quarter of the year alone. Thru its subsidiaries Green Core Geothermal, Inc. (GCGI) and Bacman Geothermal, Inc. (BGI), EDC acquired the geothermal power plants owned by National Power Corporation, which sources steam from Company’s steam field assets.

Oscar Lopez is a sister of Gina Paz L. Lopez, the managing director of ABS- CBN’s Foundation, Inc.’s Bantay Kalikasan (nature protector) that “envisions a responsibly protected and preserved Philippine environment where children can live safer, healthier and more bountiful lives.”
Sonia said she wrote Gina about her complaints against EDC. But Sonia is afraid Gina is going to be placed in a “conflicting role.”

EDC remains the largest producer of geothermal energy in the Philippines, accounting for 62 percent of the total country, the largest integrated geothermal power company in the world.

Last year, Bacman plants generated 1,199 MW. To appreciate better the power of an MW, a 3-MW plant can supply electricity to Ormoc City, which has a population of 177,524 people and Ormoc’s nearby towns. (lariosa_jos@sbcglobal.net)

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Filed under Commentary, Environment, Friends and Opinions, Joseph Lariosa, Nature, Views and Concern

The Missing Bridge Of Inararan

by jun asuncion

I grew up in Bulan but I have never been in barangay Inararan yet, and perhaps I’ll never  be there since I’m hearing news that its bridge is missing! The Inararan folks are complaining about the missing bridge for a quite a time already. But now they suspect, this bridge will soon be within Giming De Castros’ property. Again?

They said that, at the beginning, they were told by the De Castro administration that there were no funds to replace the damaged bridge. And lately they heard that funds are there but now Giming De Castro plans to build the bridge no longer in the original place but over his own fish ponds. This to the frustration and indignation of the Inararan people.

The De Castros have a history of using public money to develop their own properties. One  case is the Bulan Central Bus Terminal in Fabrica, built with government loans on their donated one hectare piece of land with the option of re-acquiring the said land donation in case the Terminal failed to function as such and /or generate income. The second case is the Bulan Eco-Park in Calomagon where they used public funds for its development, each single tree planted in their property in Calomagon was acquired with people’s money. Students, teachers, volunteers and  school children helped in planting the trees there and in many other kinds of  labor for that Eco-Park. All free labors. “And who will earn the fruits in the future?”,  a concerned friend from Bulan once asked me.

Now the Inararan Bridge! What comes next? The new cemetery of Bulan??? Grotesque-sounding achievements of our local dynasty: The De Castro Bus Terminal, the De Castro Eco – Park, the De Castro Bridge in Inararan and perhaps next to it the De Castro New Cemetery of Bulan, all bearing their name but financed by the people.

The De Castros wish to be remembered by the people of Bulan as philanthropists. But if they use this term just  to trick the people and to advance themselves materially, I think the right term for that is opportunism because of using public office to their advantage. The people of Bulan deserve a serious and corruption-free local government!

We now ask the people of barangay Inararan to update the world on this issue. Send us your opinions, photos or any material about this missing Bridge of Inararan.

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The MEAO Heard ‘Round The World

By JOSEPH G. LARIOSA

  

CHICAGO (jGLi) – The Matnog Environmental Advocates Organization (MEAO) is a very tiny group named after the obscure municipality of my mother in Sorsogon province in the Philippines but its advocacy is getting notice in this part of the world.
MEAO’s advocacy is to be more conscientious with environmental disaster waiting to happen. It got a boost last week when an indigenous villager Maria Aguinda in Rumipamba, Ecuador won a blockbuster $9.5-billion judgment and brought to its knees U.S. giant Chevron for leaving behind an environmental damage for polluting the villager’s rain forest.
The multi-billion dollar judgment should send shockwaves to upstart mining companies in the Philippines, which ventured into this labor-intensive business fraught with environmental pitfalls.
One such debacle in the Philippines that escaped notice was the massive environmental hazards left behind by the United States in the early nineties when the Philippine Senate shut down the bases without first requiring the US to rid the bases of their hazardous materials.
Recently, the multi-national joint $45-Million investment from Lafayette, Philippines, Inc. (LPI) of Australia and the LG Group of South Korea whose contract to mine 18 out of 180 hectares, (not 5,218 hectares that I inadvertently wrote in my previous column), that straddle within Barangays Malobago, Pagcolbon and Binosawan in Rapu-Rapu, Albay province, north of Sorsogon province, was unceremoniously scrapped four months into the six- to seven-year operation following cyanide poisoning that triggered massive fish kills in the adjoining Pacific Ocean.

GRAVEL-AND-SAND MINERS

Now comes a little-known venture capitalist named Antonio Ocampo and/or Antonio Comersiase Jr. who appear to be backed up by a gravel-and-sand delivery truck company euphemistically named Alexandra Mining & Oil Ventures, Inc. based in Quezon City in the Philippines advertising Matnog Ore Project as one of its “on-going mining projects.” The Matnog Ore Project covers 19.840 hectares (not 19,840 hectares that I earlier mentioned in my column).
May I ask these venture capitalists if they have capitalization that comes close to the $45-million put up by the LPI and LG Group and be ready to lose that kind of money when disaster strikes?
Are they ready to operate without PEZA (Philippine Economic Zone Authority) so that they will be paying 54 percent national and local taxes and they get only 46 percent of their ROI (return of investment)?
Do they have money held in a screw so that authorities can draw from it to be given away to victims of calamities and disasters that could be caused by mining operation in Balocawe in Matnog?
Do they have money that will be sourced from fine against them “for pollution” to solve among others the “Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) problem” and for “decommissioning” expenses after the mining operation and replanting of trees that were cleared prior to the mining operation?
“Rehabilitation and environmental mitigation measures” are expensive propositions.

DISASTER INSURANCE, ANY ONE?

Without escrow account, do they have a surety bond or disaster insurance to cover future victims of disaster that may result in the mining operation?
Do they have an ownership structure that will publicly show that the incorporators of the mining permit holder have capability to pay in case of damages by showing their previous statements of assets and liabilities? Are they ready to follow the recommendations of the Presidential Rapu Rapu Fact Finding Commission Report (PRRFFCR) and/or the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) Assessment of the Rapu Rapu Polymetallic Project (DARRPP) issued in 2006?
To avoid the multi-billion dollar fine in Ecuador against Chevron, are these mining permit holders ready to establish “baseline average health condition” by conducting medical tests and “blood work” of the population around the mining area free of charge so that they can show that the population has pre-existing medical health condition prior to and after the mining operation?
Can DENR Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje certify that it has now re-trained its personnel following the 2006 Rapu-Rapu debacle, which according to PRRFFCR exposed its personnel as having “dysfunctional monitoring system”?
And is there now an oversight mechanism that can oversee the operation before, during and after the mining operation?
If the answers to all of the above questions are “yes,” then, by all means, this mining permit holder should be allowed to mine the Matnog Ore Project.
Its approval should stop Governor Raul R. Lee from “politicizing” this project to harass the members of the Sorsogon provincial board, who are opposing the mining operation in Matnog.
Provincial board member Vladimir Frivaldo has complained that ever since he opposed the mining project of Matnog and the STL (small town lottery, the legalized jueteng), Governor Lee has been giving him a hard time.

LEE SHOULD BE RECALLED?

The governor refused to give him detailed information where the previous and existing loans of the province went before he could support another request of the governor to obtain 350-million pesos loan (US$8.1-Million).
If the new loan is approved by the rubber-stamp provincial board, the loan of the province will balloon to 1-billion pesos (US$23-M) if the previous loan obtained by his predecessor, his wife, Gov. Sally Lee, is added to it. He said a new slogan “Utang Sorsogon” will be added to “Bangon Sorsogon.”
Frivaldo also questioned the poor judgment of Gov. Lee for appropriating his office with the third highest budget at more than 65-million pesos (US$1.5-M) when the most important offices like the Provincial Agriculture Office, Provincial Cooperative Office, Provincial Nutrition Council, Provincial Social Welfare and Development are only getting P22.0 million (US$.5-M), P700,000.00 (US$16,279), P500,000.00 (US$11,627) and P2.7 million (US$72,790), respectively. Support to education and social services is only P1.9 million (US$44,186).
Frivaldo also urged Governor Lee to build a new three-story Sangguniang Panlalawigan building because in the existing SP building when it rains outside, it also rains inside, soaking the Vice Governor, SP Members and secretariat staff.
Another complaint of Mr. Frivaldo is Governor Lee’s disapproval of the six staff appointments in his office that is required under the Department of Interior and Local Government Code while Lee’s wife, Lee’s son, then incumbent Sorsogon City Vice Mayor and Lee’s grandson, SK Federation President are “suppressing opponents/critics of your administration policy.”
If Mr. Frivaldo cannot charge Governor Lee with administrative violation of DILG Code before the Office of the President for grave abuse of discretion, he should initiate a preparatory recall assembly or by registered voters to recall Governor Lee as provided for by the Philippine Constitution.  (lariosa_jos@sbcglobal.net)    /

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Filed under Environment, Joseph Lariosa, The Matnog Environmental Advocates Organization (MEAO)

Stop Mining In Palawan

By GINA LOPEZ

Managing Director

ABS-CBN Foundation, Inc.

My dear friends,

On January 24 a very dear friend and colleague Gerry Ortega was shot in the head dead. I was just with him that weekend – and a few minutes before he died what we were discussing over the phone was an anti-mining campaign in Palawan – given that on December two huge mining applications were railroaded – and they were to be near protected sites.

Gerry is dead but we will not let go of his dreams – and mine – and probably yours too.

Palawan has 17 key bio diversity sites – which means it is part of the 70% bio diversity sites which are essential for sustaining life in the planet. It has 2 world heritage sites, 8 protected sites. Yet if you see Palawan on the map you will note that it is a very thin island – which is 82% mountain. It means that if the forest gets denuded and the minerals excavated – the tailings seep directly into the sea affecting the coral reefs. The top soil is thin – and the island eco system is fragile.

Mining is not the way to go for Palawan. I have five eco tourism sites wherein the communities involved can now send their children to school, can dream bigger dreams. Mayor Hagedorn in Puerto Princesa has banned mining and logging – and focused on tourism and agriculture. From 2 flights a week, Puerto Princesa now boasts 10 flights a day. His revenues have gone up from several million to several billion.

Mining as an economic path in a magnificent “Last Frontier” is based on a paradigm of economic growth that is myopic and archaic . In this age of climate change and global warming any economic development that does not recognize and revere the web of life should be thrown in the dustbin.

Please please support the ten million signature campaign to Stop Mining in Palawan. The richness of Palawan is the wealth and pride of the country, it is the wealth of the world. Log in to www.no2mininginpalawan.com  .. register your vote and please please send it to thousands others. You can also include your household by downloading the form printing it – and faxing it t 4152227 or you can scan it and send it to signatures@no2mininginpalawan.com. Questions can be sent to signatures@no2mininginpalawan.com.

Palawan

 Palawan contains part of the 70% biodiversity in the planet. It has 17 key biodiversity areas, 2 world heritage sites and 8 protected sites.

Its topsoil is thin and island eco system is fragile.

There are currently 354 mining applications in Palawan. Mining in Palawan is a myopic, archaic view of economic development.

We need to respect the web of life.

Please, please help me gather 10 million signatures now. We need laws enacted to save our VIP diversity.

Register at http://www.no2mininginpalawan.com / and vote NO TO MINING.

This is for our country, this is for the future.

  Gina Lopez                                                              

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Carpetbaggers Back Off My Boyhood Town!

 

By JOSEPH G. LARIOSA

Joseph Lariosa

(© Journal Group Link International)

C HICAGO (jGLi) – When I was a young boy vacationing in the native town of my mother, Consolacion G. Garra, in Matnog, Sorsogon, Luzon’s gateway to Southern Philippines, I always wondered why its white beaches had sprinklings of black sands.

It turned out those black sands are called “margahas,” which I later came to know as magnetite sands.

With no money to buy toys, we used these margahas to entertain us. We would put a trickle of these black sands on top of a small piece of grade school pad paper and put a magnet or magnetite stone (bato balani) below the paper and we would run the magnet in different directions.

Because the margahas is attracted to the magnets, these black sands would stand up on end, like soldiers, if we moved the magnet or bato balani below the paper. The margahas would follow the magnet like dutiful soldiers.

And it gave us a kick because it put matters under our control.

I had no idea that these margahas and bato balani abundant in Matnog and the whole of the Bicol region were iron oxide minerals that are often mined as an ore or iron. It is commonly used as abrasive in water jet cutting, as toner in electrophotography and as micronutrient in fertilizers, as pigments in paint, etc.

These magnetic minerals attracted nationwide attention in November 2005 when two sacks of dead fishes were allegedly buried in Barangay Binosawan in Rapu-Rapu, an island town of Sorsogon’s neighboring province of Albay to the north.

For these margahas and bato balani to be of commercial use, they have to be mined. During their mining, they would give off toxic discharges, like cyanide, that emptied into Albay Gulf and into the Pacific Ocean that flowed south to neighboring towns of Prieto Diaz, Gubat, Barcelona, Bulusan and Bacon (now part of the capitol town of Sorsogon City), all in Sorsogon province.

GLORIA ARROYO’S SHINING MOMENT

The cyanide poisoning caused massive fish kills in the area prompting President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to create the Presidential Rapu Rapu Fact Finding Commission Report, and a separate DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) Assessment of the Rapu Rapu Polymetallic Project, both in 2006.

In one of then-President Arroyo’s rare shining moments, she approved the Commission’s report to junk the “$45-million in capital investments from Lafayette, Philippines, Inc. (LPI) of Australia, as well as $10-million investments from LG Group of Korea” that were jointly mining in Rapu Rapu. Ms. Arroyo learned that LPI’s Country Manager Mr. Roderick Watt “inadvertently stated in his letter” to her that LPI’s PEZA (Philippine Economic Zone Authority) application did not need the Mayor’s (Rapu Rapu’s) concurrence.

More damaging, however, was the forgery of Rapu Rapu Sangguniang Bayan Secretary’s signature in the SB resolution that granted “ecozone” permit to LPI for tax-exemption.

As a PEZA registrant, LPI certified that it would not endanger public safety or public health or violate anti-pollution requirements by installing pollution-control devices.

As a result of the fish kills, the National Economic Development Authority recommended the LPI’s “tax-free status” revoked. While the DENR ordered the Bureau of Internal Revenue to investigate possible tax fraud as a mere two percent was paid in excise tax for the year 2005 for PhP 2,065,511.54, out of the $2.4-million ore exported.

But the most damning information issued by the Commission is the finding that the “DENR, its bureaus, i.e., MGB (Mines and Geo-Sciences Bureau) and EMB (Environmental Management Bureau), its regional offices, including its monitoring team, (are) to be so dysfunctional as to be unable to prevent the occurrence of the October (fish kills) incidents. They simply did not have the sufficient capability of monitoring mining operations in Rapu-Rapu. Worse, though, is that if they had the capability, then, they utterly lacked will.”

“UNWARRANTED AND UNTOLD SUFFERINGS”

I wonder if my friend, Sorsogon Gov. Raul R. Lee, ever read these reports. He was quoted in the report as saying that in Sorsogon, the fish scare caused “unwarranted and untold sufferings” to fisher folk families, fish traders and the fish consuming public. Did the good governor ever sue the LPI for damages to assuage the “unwarranted and untold sufferings” of his constituents?

A registered mail sent me by Gov. Lee justifies the approval of a similar small-scale mining operation, like Rapu-Rapu’s, in a small barangay of Balocawe in Matnog consisting of 19,848 hectares.

The lucky mining permit holder is one Antonio Ocampo and/or Antonio Comerciase, Jr. of No. 3 Barangay Tomolin, Ligao, Albay. He was given a permit on “Sept. 23, 2009, to extract 25,000 metric tons of iron ore from Sept. 23, 2009, to Sept. 22, 2010, with an option to renew for the same length of period.”

Writer’s Note: Rapu-Rapu’s mining operation covers only 5,218 hectares and was able to extract 67,693 metric tons of gold ore mined in 2005 and exported $2.4-million worth of ore.

Governor Lee was prodded to send me a letter after I e-mailed DENR Secretary Ramon J. Paje that he should listen to the petition of “Save Matnog, Stop The Iron Project.” Secretary Paje, in turn, forwarded my e-mail to Regional Director Reynulfo A. Juan of Mines and Geo-Sciences Bureau in Bicol. Mr. Juan sent me a registered mail, informing Governor Lee about my complaint.

In his letter to the Governor, Director Juan said, “(M)ay we recommend that the Provincial Government conduct the necessary validation on the issues being raised and to inform Mr. Lariosa directly on the actions taken by your office”?

 THIS CABINET SECRETARY IS E-MAIL-FRIENDLY

 Governor Lee told me, the “Permit Holder (on Balocawe mining) was issued with an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) dated Aug. 13, 2009, by the DENR Environment Management Bureau (EMB V) on the basis of the submitted Project Study and Initial Environmental Examination Report after thorough evaluation of that Office who (sic) has the authority and capacity to undertake environmental assessment of projects within their area of jurisdiction.”

Mr. Governor, the permit was issued in August 2009, three years after the scathing Commission Report. My question to you is this: Did you get an assurance that remedial measures have now been undertaken since the Commission’s report in 2006 that indicted the “DENR, its bureaus (i.e. MGB (Mines and Geo-Sciences) and EMB (Environmental Management Bureau), its regional offices, including its monitoring team, (as) to be so dysfunctional as to be unable to prevent the occurrence of the October (fish-kill) incidents? They simply did not have the sufficient capability of monitoring mining operations in Rapu-Rapu. Worse, though, is that if they had the capability, then they utterly lacked (the) will”?

Does the mining permit holder have the LFI’s and LG’s of Korea combined resources in capital investment of $55-million to operate a much-bigger “small mining” operation that will ensure the public safety or ensure public health and not violate anti-pollution requirements by installing “control devices”? If so, who are his business partners?

In the event of a disaster, like a massive fish kills, or loss of the threatened Philippine Eagle owl (Bubo, Philippines), whose nest will be displaced by the clearing of the biodiversity area and occurrence of mudslides, is the permit holder capable of buying disaster insurance from Lloyds of London to appropriately compensate future victims, who in your words, may run into “unwarranted and untold sufferings”?

If you can answer, “yes” to all these questions, I will be behind this permit holder.

Meanwhile, I am appealing to President Noynoy Aquino and the Commission on Appointments to keep and confirm Mr. Paje as DENR Secretary and keep or promote Director Juan just for responding to my e-mail. Any other Cabinet Secretary or Bureau Director would have just deleted my e-mail complaint from their junk e-mails. 


Happy New Year to all! # # #

Editor’s Note: To contact the author, please e-mail him at: (lariosa_jos@sbcglobal.net)

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Filed under Environment, Graft and Corruption, Views and Concern

A Man Named Omar

   

  

by Michelle Dayrit- Soliven*  

I had never known the joys of the ocean until I came across a man so at ease with the earth’s most awesome sea creatures. His persistence led me to a deeply moving encounter that gave me a richer appreciation of the gifts of God to Mother Nature. I arrived with a fearful heart and left with an electrified spirit, courtesy of our newfound family friend, a man named Omar.  

Omar Nepomuceno

 

God equips His children with specific talents and abilities in order to pursue their purpose in life. It is therefore no coincidence that Omar Nepomuceno was born in the seaside town of Donsol in Sorsogon, a blessed haven where the world’s largest concentration of butandings (whale sharks) abound.  

A strong self-taught swimmer, Omar’s fondest childhood memory is that of his grandfather Isidoro taking two styrofoam ice chest covers used in his ice candy business. Using rope made of straw, he securely tied one onto his grandson’s back, the other onto his stomach. Then he would say to his apo: “O, sige na hijo, maligo ka na.”  

His parents Rosalina and Isidoro Jr. watched over their fearless little son joyfully swimming around the river.  

He describes himself as “taong dagat” because he adores, protects and  

respects the ocean and everything in it. Omar completed a Marine Engineering course at Mariners Polytechnic Colleges Foundation in Legaspi City. When the Department of Tourism and the WWF conducted training for butanding interaction officers (BIOs) in Donsol, Omar emerged on top of his class. He loves butandings and he loves his job with a passion!  

I felt this when I met Omar last month in Donsol. I had been hearing his name from my younger sea-loving sisters Yvonne and Christine who had gone several times before me. For a very safe and enjoyable experience, they highly recommend Omar as my guide. Indeed they were right, but I experienced much more than they prepared me for.  

All butanding encounters are different and everyone has his or her own story to tell. Mine began on the morning of March 27.  

Incidentally, we were in Sorsogon the day before to attend the first graduation rites of The Divine Healer Learning Center. This is a school that provides quality education for underprivileged but deserving students founded by Father Gerard.  

It was a perfect day. Clear blue skies and glorious sunshine accompanied us on the scenic drive to Donsol. Upon our arrival on Vitton Beach, we received an enthusiastic welcome from a man named Omar, introduced as our BIO. He accompanied us to watch the orientation video in the registration office. “So it is you my sisters were talking about,” I told him as we walked into the boat and set off into the azure waters of the bay.  

He asked if we had with us some snorkeling gear. My son and husband nodded and showed it to him. He checked on them and seemed satisfied. Then he looked at me. The moment I dreaded came and I felt I just had to tell him: “Omar, there is something you need to know. I have never ever in my life used a mask and snorkel. This will be my very first time.” Instinctively he probably felt the fear I had because he immediately assured me that it was very easy. “Kaya mo yan, ma’am. Don’t worry, I will teach you now,” he told me.  

He put the mask over my face and adjusted it comfortably. Then he gently inserted the snorkel into my mouth and showed me how to breathe. “Now, remember, do not worry. When I say jump, just jump in and hold on to me when you get into the water,” he said. I nodded, trying to keep a brave front. Suddenly, I heard the boatman pointing and excitedly saying: “Ayan na! Nandyan na yung butanding.”  

I froze in fear! So soon! My sisters told me that they had to wait an hour or two to find a whale shark. I thought I would have more time to get used to the use of a mask and snorkel. They stopped the boat. I watched in horror as my hubby and my son jumped in. Omar was looking at me. “Ma’am, it’s time to jump. Let’s go!” I panicked! My heart was pounding as I hoisted myself unsteadily onto the edge of the boat. I was shaking while the boat bobbed up and down. I fought to keep my balance. Like a rag doll I was awkwardly teetering back and forth, so afraid to hit the water and almost fell back into the boat instead. I was trying to open my mouth to say, “I’m backing out! I changed my mind! I cant do this!” Suddenly I felt Omar’s strong hand taking mine as he jumped in pulling me into the water with him.  

I wanted to scream but the snorkel was in my mouth. I closed my eyes. Terror gripped me as we hit the water. But I heard Omar saying, “Ma’am relax ka lang. Just hold on to me and do not be afraid.” He readjusted my mask and snorkel and said, “Ready? Let’s go!” He held my hand firmly and swam away, not giving me time to think.  

“Look down,” Omar told me. “Just put your head down.” I obeyed… put my head down. And opened my eyes… and gasped! The sun’s rays penetrated the waters revealing a humongous blue gray figure with round white spots swimming gracefully beneath me. I was right smack on top of the butanding and the water was so clear I could see it breathing. Omar swam and supported my elbow lightly so that I could interact with this gentle being. As the silence enveloped me under water, a sudden peace pervaded my soul. I felt a deep spiritual connection between the whale shark and Omar as we all swam together side by side, basking in joyous tranquility.  

It was a successful conspiracy. These two soul mates (Omar and the whale shark) sensed my fear of the sun and the ocean kept me with them for a blissful 30 minutes, emptying me of all my fears.  

That was only the first of the six butandings I would encounter that day. We all emerged triumphant and invigorated. Omar was elated. BIO Florante Trinidad did such a good job with Lucy Lee’s new underwater camera that we each had a video of our interaction with these colossal yet amiable beings.  

We then enjoyed a sumptuous lunch courtesy of Sorsogon’s very gracious Gov. Sally Lee. Over succulent seafood and the best ginataang langka, Omar shared his stories.  

Very protective and caring in nature, Omar wants his visitors to make the most of the time and money they spend to come to Donsol. “I want everyone to be comfortable in the water and go home with wonderful stories to tell.”  

His most unforgettable experience in the ocean was the day in 2001. He had some American guests who flew all the way from Pittsburg wishing to see a whale shark. They didn’t just see one but a whole school of them, about 50 on a feeding frenzy. They were ecstatic!  

Another glorious moment was the day Omar and Florante successfully rescued a trapped butanding in Batangas. Asked how they did it, when several others before them failed, he humbly said, “I prayed for God’s assistance.”  

He takes every opportunity to share his insights to protect the precious butandings. “If a group of six fishermen kill a butanding, six families may have enough to live on for six months. But in exchange the rest of the other families in the community will all go hungry for years to come. Why? Because this brutal act could scare the butanding population away. And what do you think will happen to the van drivers who pick up guests, resort owners and restaurant owners, their employees, souvenir stall owners, boatmen, BIOs? With their livelihood gone, their families will go hungry,” he said.  

He prays often for the safety of his wife Yvette, a nurse in the Middle East, and is most grateful that his daughter Rayven graduated grade school at Aquinas School in Legaspi with honors. This nature lover feels God’s presence in the sunshine, the calmness of the sea, the magnificence of the gentle butandings. “I always ask God to please let my visitors see the butanding.” He is happiest when he sees his guests enjoying.  

“I always want to spread the sunshine,” he says of his motto in life. “Whatever blessings and gifts I receive from God, I must share.”  

To Omar, this means teaching others the skills he has mastered like swimming, being a good BIO, training others who want to be guides of other natural attractions, giving talks to the fishing community on the importance of not harming but preserving their environment, finding new activities and exciting destinations that guests to his beloved province of Sorsogon can enjoy and his fellowmen can benefit from. /  

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*Asking Michelle to publish her article in Bulan Observer, she replied :  

“Sure Andres! ( Andres?- that’s me, jun!) That was one experience I will never ever forget. Omar is the best. I am so glad you did not drown (she’s referring to my story of almost drowning in the sea of Donsol when I was 8). You must have a mission in life to fulfill. I am sure it is something that will be most rewarding. Be blessed in all you do.” MICHELLE DAYRIT-SOLIVEN  

Thank you Michelle!  

 Omar is my first cousin (mother’s side), he lives and works in Donsol. I have good memories of Donsol as I also partly spent my childhood there. The beautiful sceneries with Mt. Mayon against a lovely sunset, the quiet sea and the loving people and of course my dear grandparents Doro and “May” (mother) Nepomuceno with whom I used to go for a walk along the sea after dinner. I met Omar  last April 2009-  in Bulan!   

 jun asuncion  

————————HELP PROTECT THE WHALE SHARKS!————————–  

                     

 

  

  

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