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A ground-breaking disaster

"How about some accountability?"

 

 

In light of the recent ecological disasters and calamities brought about by a series of typhoons –particularly by Typhoon “Ulysses” that claimed the lives of at least 72 people, caused damage of about P1.2 billion in agriculture and P470 million in infrastructure – it is our duty as citizens to ask what, when and where things went wrong.

Was this merely nature’s wrath, or something that could have been prevented? Could we not have avoided it however we tried? Or was this what environmentalists have been warning us about for decades? Santa Banana, finger-pointing after the fact is never a productive exercise, but an examination of the past can greatly help us ensure a better future.

For example, the calamity fund has been slashed since the 2019 annual budget. That certainly did not do us any good. The gains of development seem to be a paltry sum compared to the loss of lives and damage to livelihood and property.

The diametric opposite of a natural calamity is a natural resource. I believe that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources should take a long, hard look at its role in the country’s entire disaster management picture. Its policies and actions, made to protect the Philippines’ natural resources, should also have disaster and calamity mitigation as a mindful, intentional purpose.

I remember it was former Senator Loren Legarda, now Capiz representative, who said that deforestation is the major reason for flooding, water shortage, soil erosion, siltation and landslides.

Santa Banana, this is consistent with what countless residents from Rodriguez, Rizal have been saying about their area ever since large-scale quarrying operations all but ravaged their natural resources.

True enough, the province of Rizal and its neighboring places were among the hardest-hit by super-typhoon Ulysses. The trees that used to protect the surrounding valleys from floods have been replaced by gaping holes caused by the quarrying.

One does not have to be an environmental expert to see from the aerial photos that, with that kind of damage, something bad is bound to happen.

Ironically, one of Rizal province’s largest quarrying operations – Majestic Earth Core Ventures Inc – is owned and chaired by a former Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary, Rep. Mike Defensor. Santa Banana, you’d think that being once an environment official, Defensor would leave no stone unturned and examine all possible effects that quarrying would have on communities that are less than five kilometers away from the digging site.

Indeed, a number of environment-preservation groups are holding companies like Majestic Earth Core Ventures partly responsible for the catastrophic floods that left hundreds of communities homeless.

How about some accountability?

It is time to demand some accountability from the people whose job it is to ensure that our country and our people are protected. Perhaps, in a bid for profit, mining, quarrying and logging companies have lost sight of the greater good. How can we protect ourselves and our environment from human greed?

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In the calamity that befell Cagayan province, forest degradation was responsible for the loss and destruction. We must also hold people accountable for what happened there. Those from Cagayan and Isabela have known about illegal logging, mining and quarrying done in connivance with government official. My gulay, nobody must be spared! Looking at the photos of the devastation just breaks my heart.

With the devastation and the loss of lives, we need a permanent, well-funded agency like the Department of Disaster Resilience that can focus and strategize on what should be done about flood-prone communities.

Yes, we do have the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, an ad hoc body under the Department of National Defense. But, my gulay, it’s a reactive body that is called upon only when calamity strikes!

This department would cover all sorts of disaster. It’s crucial and urgent. Let’s not listen to senators who say that this would only pad the bureaucracy!

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Vice President Leni Robredo must be so pleased when President Duterte rants about her. That is her strategy -- to get public attention. She just wants to be in the limelight. And now she has succeeded.

Then again, Mr. Duterte is the one who enjoys a 91-percent approval rating.

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ERRATUM. In my hurry to beat my deadline last week, I made a mistake with the middle name of my former student Roberto Ongpin as “Valdes,” not “Velayo.” This reminds me that Bobby was the youngest ever managing partner of SGV, a prestigious audit firm. Sorry for that, Bobby!

Topics: Emil Jurado , Typhoon “Ulysses” , Department of Environment and Natural Resources , Senator Loren Legarda , flooding , deforestation , quarrying
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