Bishops seek protection of 2 Mindanao mountain rangesBy Aquiles Z. Zonio
GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines—Three Roman Catholic bishops in Mindanao have joined forces in seeking national government protection of two mountain ranges that straddle central and southern Mindanao from mining, logging and other environmentally destructive activities, a spokesman said.
“Our advocacy is no longer confined or limited to opposing mining and other environmentally destructive undertakings. We will do something to protect the environment,” said the Rev. Joy Pelino, social action director of the Diocese of Marbel.
Pelino said Bishops Dinualdo Gutierrez of Marbel, Romulo Valles of Kidapawan and Guillermo Afable of Digos will be going to Manila next week to ask President Benigno Aquino to declare the Quezon and Daguma mountain ranges as protected areas.
The prelates, he said, will also present to the President a manifesto signed by 100,000 individuals against the planned open-pit mine operation of the Xstrata-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI).
“The 100,000 signatures were already prepared. We are just waiting for the letters from the three dioceses addressed to Malacañang,” Pelino said.
He said the declaration of the Daguma and Quezon mountain ranges as protected areas was vital in the protection and preservation of the remaining forests to sustain agriculture in the south-central Mindanao area.
The Daguma mountain range, which straddles the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and part of Maguindanao, is the main source of the Allah River, a major source of water for irrigation in these provinces.
Several mining firms, mainly engaged in coal exploration, operate in the Daguma mountains.
The Quezon mountain range on the other hand plays host to SMI and straddles South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and Davao Del Sur.
It is the location of the headwaters of four major rivers as well as the Liguasan Marsh and Buluan Lake.
“Once these areas are declared protected areas, mining companies could no longer operate,” Pelino said.
Meanwhile, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of South Cotabato said the provincial environment code, which outlaws open-pit mining, remains in force and will not be amended.
South Cotabato board member Ernesto Catedral, chair of the environment committee, told reporters that a review would be done only if the courts declare the ordinance flawed.
No one has questioned in court the legality of South Cotabato’s provincial environment code, he said.