An alliance of religious groups in the Philippines has expressed disappointment and frustration over the three-year-old Aquino government, particularly for its handling of ecology issues and agrarian reform, and its failure to resolve cases of human rights violations. Borrowing heavily from the 1988 environment statement of the Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, the religious said that, “the attack on the natural resources of the country, which benefit very few Filipinos, is rapidly whittling away at the very base of our natural world, leaving a gloomy and dark prospect to future generations”. The awarding of mining certificates by the Philippine government to large mining companies who have been disregarding the environmental and human rights’ objections of local communities was condemned.
The Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines produced the statement at the end of April. ‘What is happening to our Beautiful land’ reflected on the country’s environmental health under the government of Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino. It condemned the impunity following human rights abuses and the failure to support ‘whistleblowers’ who have highlighted injustices.
FULL STATEMENT FOLLOWS:
In the past years we have experienced political instability brought about by massive corruption, economic turmoil, escalating social unrest and distrust under the Arroyo regime. Everyday, the broadcast and the print media would highlight one of these problems. Until one day hope suddenly glimmered when the people put their trust in a man who embodied righteousness and advocated anti-corruption through his slogan - Matuwid na Daan (Kung Walang Corrupt, Walang Mahirap).
The rise to the presidency of Noynoy Aquino brought so much hope. He made us believe that change is possible, that corruption could be curtailed, and that public service is, indeed, a public trust. In the first months of his reign, he relentlessly pursued those who were perceived to be guilty of corruption, and we were all aware of the drama that unfolded on national television when the former first family was stopped from running away from the wheels of justice. Days, months, three years have passed. We hold him to his promise of change. While it is true that there has been headway in the fight against corruption much more remains to be done. NO big fish has been convicted since 2010 and with the way the tentacles of the corrupt have stymied the judicial process, PNoy’s term might be over and the cases will still languish at the courts.
While we acknowledge the effort of some government institutions in carving out corruption, like the DPWH, DEPED, DOJ and others, we were saddened with the news of continuing corruption and abuse on the use of public funds by some congressmen and Senators (the much controversial MOOE fund distribution). These have showed that still much needs to be done. We believe that Governance is not only a fight against corruption; it is the delivery of a better and far more humane life for those who have the least. It is the realisation of Hope, it is a dream turned into reality. And yet today we still witness grinding poverty, agrarian unrest, violations of human rights, assaults on the integrity of creation, the trafficking of our women and children. So much needs to be done. Let not our Hope be shattered and our dreams turned into nightmares. We are now in the third year of PNoy’s term and it is time we ask ourselves so many questions: Akin to the question, “Which way Lord?”, we ask those in authority: Where is this government leading us?
ON THE STATE OF PHILIPPINE ECOLOGY
When a series of typhoons (Sendong, Pablo, etc.) hit us the past years, bringing devastation beyond our imagination, we needed not be an expert to see what is happening and to be profoundly troubled by it. Brown, bare and eroded hills have replaced luxuriant forests in almost all parts of the country. The unabated logging and mining operations have made hell out of our mountains, dried up river beds, and poisoned our fields, causing the yield from the croplands to fall substantially and tremendously. Fisher folk are complaining that their fish catches are shrinking in the wake of the extensive destruction of coral reefs and mangrove forests. The emerging picture is bleak. The attack on the natural resources of the country, which benefit very few Filipinos, is rapidly whittling away at the very base of our natural world, leaving a gloomy and dark prospect to future generations.
As we reflect on what is happening with our beautiful land, we are convinced that this assault on creation is also an assault on our faith. God intended this land for us, His special creatures, not for us to destroy and turn it into a wasteland, but for us to care for it, protect its fruitfulness and prevent it from being devastated (Ge. 1:28, 9:12). He appointed us as stewards of His creation yet we allow such blatant disregard of the sanctity of creation by not conscientiously doing enough to stop illegal logging and mining operations perpetrated by the few and influential elite. The granting of the environmental clearance certificate to Sagittarius Mines in Tampakan showed the insincerity and the double standard scheme that the Aquino Administration employs, for it says it will control and regulate mining and logging operations on the one hand and then it issues permits on the other, a policy that benefits only the few, the powerful and the elite while neglecting the interests of the tribal communities and the poor; at the same time, destroying the integrity of creation.
We have seen enough deaths caused by the devastation of nature. This has to stop! We need more action on the side of the government to ensure that our mountains, seas, rivers and plains - or what is left of them - will be protected and preserved. Otherwise, we will begin to wonder about what really is the agenda of the Aquino administration pertaining to the environment. Does the government really care for its preservation? Why is it bent on allowing big mining industries to continue with their operations? Why is it allowing the APECO project? Is it really for the good of all or is the same old system of corruption at work, for clearly the ones who are the beneficiaries are those close to people in power? We are simply asking. We are simply wondering. Daang Matuwid - is this the way that truly leads to a better future of the people? Or is it simply the old scheme with a new popular name?
While we are thankful that some laws on human rights have been passed, we are saddened by the continuing culture of violence and impunity. We raise our voices with the victims of extrajudicial killings whose numbers are on the rise each day. We are indignant at the massacre of the family members of a B’laan tribe leader who opposed the entry of Sagittarius Mines Incorporated (SMI) into their ancestral domain area. These innocent people were killed during a raid conducted by the military at their farm house. Three (3) members of the Capion family died while the youngest daughter was wounded. We mourn for the many cases of unresolved killings, including that of our own, Fr. Tentorio, and the many nameless leaders of peoples’ organisations. Day by day, in so many places, unabated killings take place as if it were the most normal thing to happen in a civilized and Christian country like ours. We cannot simply be silent with this show of impunity, for, aside from the fact that the victims were defenseless, their only sin was to stand for what they believed to be truthful and just! What do these killings mean? Is there still a rule of law? Are we back to the former days of anarchy - when the law of guns, influence and money ruled? Is this what Daang Matuwid means? Where is this government leading us? Where are we going?
We are saddened by the fact that the labour policy in this country continues to favour capital over labour rights. The many unresolved labour disputes show that injustice is still prevalent. We denounce continuing labour lock-outs and union busting that leads to arrests and killings of labour leaders in the frontlines of struggle. We are anxious about the continuing departure of so many Filipinos to find a greener pasture in other foreign lands simply because our country can’t offer them anything better. We watch with grief the separation of families and of loved ones who have to battle the pains of loneliness, neglect and abuse in other countries just to ensure that they can feed their families at home. Obviously, this continues to be what Daang Matuwid means to many Filipinos working abroad.
Almost on a daily basis, we hear in the news and receive frantic calls from so many poor communities about demolitions that are sometimes accompanied by violence. The continuing struggle of the urban poor is too much to bear. We have witnessed how people are driven out of their homes and shelters, how helpless and powerless they are, like dogs and pigs. While we understand that they have to be relocated to a safer ground, the government must also ensure that their rights will be protected and not harmed; their jobs have to be ensured. We recall with pain the brutal demolition that the government effected in the communities of Corazon de Jesus in San Juan, Silverio compound in Paranaque, San Roque and BIR Road in Quezon City. We watched with horror the use of excessive force on helpless civilians. Moreover, we are very troubled thinking about what will happen to the hundreds of thousands of homes that will soon be demolished in the Coastal area leading to Cavite. We used to believe in Daang Matuwid; yet, with what we have seen and experienced, we are raising our voices with tens of thousands of informal settlers. Where are we going? Where is this government bringing us?
The farmers, whom we believe are the backbone of this country, are the biggest victims and losers of the development agenda of PNoy’s Daang Matuwid. In the countryside, they are threatened by the continuing development aggressions perpetrated by the powerful landlords. Looking back, we witnessed the courageous stand of the Anti-Apeco tribal and farmers’ leaders who marched from Aurora to Manila to denounce what they perceived to be a threat to their lives and livelihood; yet, their cries fell on deaf ears. The President pretended to listen to them; but it seems it was only meant to have good media photo-ops and not really to respond to the needs and anguish of the farmers. This same thing happened to the Hacienda Luisita farmers and the farmers belonging to the Task Force Mapalad. A hope-filled promise was given to them; however, its fulfillment is yet to be seen. The farmers are now restless and angry for they feel they are being taken for a ride by the present regime. The land distribution promised to them remains just that…a promise; as always, a broken promise. Together with the farmers, we doubt the effectiveness of the leadership in the Department of Agrarian Reform. We enjoin, therefore, the Administration to listen to the plea of the farmers and the Catholic Bishops Conference that the DAR leadership be scrutinized to ensure effective implementation of the most important social justice program of governance, which is Agrarian reform and land distribution. If Daang Matuwid is sincere in fulfilling its promise; then, the PNoy government must give out the lands now, including his family’s very own Hacienda Luisita!
TRUTH-TELLERS AND WHISTLE BLOWERS
We thank God for having been given the rare privilege of taking an active part in the triumph of truth over lies in a culture of fear and moral bankruptcy. Jun Lozada, Heidi Mendoza, George Rabusa, Lorena Baylon, Nagamura Moner, etc. were, for us, true prophetic voices who wanted to challenge the thundering sounds of the Goliaths in this mountain of lies known as the government. As they upheld the truth, we began to realise with growing horror and increasing indignation the extent of corruption that is systemic in our government bureaucracy then and even now. We see its toll on our suffering people who could actually live in abundance if the resources of the country were truly used for their good.
We are saddened by the way the PNoy administration is treating the case of Jun Lozada. It is unthinkable to imagine that Jun’s heroic act that has put him and his family, not only in danger, but in a state of continuous dislocation would be in vain. We cannot go back to “business as usual” simply because “higher-up” officials want to get back at Jun. We cannot understand the indifference that the PNoy government is showing about Jun Lozada.
Jun Lozada experienced his own “kairos” which led him to become a truth-teller. Under the Arroyo government he lived the life of a fugitive – tormented and hunted by those he angered with his expose’. Is it too much to ask that we allow him to live a normal life free from harassment as gratitude for his heroic acts? We are fully aware that the law is blind and spares no one but the God we know is a compassionate God, the God we worship is a God of justice and love. Let Jun Lozada and all truth tellers be given the chance to live in peace and rebuild their lives.
SO MANY QUESTIONS, SO FEW ANSWERS
After almost three years under PNoy, we ask so many questions: for ourselves, for our people, for our leaders. We ask these questions that we may be constantly reminded of our purpose: to Serve God and His people. For Ourselves: What else we must do to effect change in Church and society? For our people: Until when should we close our eyes to the reality that too little had changed in our society, and what else we should do to effect true change? For our leaders: Are you happy living in illusion that the lives of our people improved while in truth nothing significant happened to them?
We have so many questions in our minds, questions that we want to be answered, questions that perhaps cannot be answered. But one thing is certain. We cannot be stopped from our obligation to be the voice of the voiceless and be in solidarity with the poor, the neglected, and the abandoned.