Face-to-face with pioneering defenders of nature
The University of Cebu (UC) hosted from Aug. 28 to 30 an extraordinary assemblage of environmental lawyers, ecologists, professionals, academicians, grassroots activists, youth leaders, media personalities and public officials. It co-organized the Environmental Law Talks II focused on “Crucial Issues Relating to Environment in Southeast Asia with Focus on Forest Management and Mining Laws” with admirable support from the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) through its Rule of Law Programme Asia Director, Marc Spitzkatz, and in partnership with the Province of Cebu, the Mandaue City Government and the Philippine Business for Social Progress.
The symposium in Cebu was the first of three engagements with local stakeholders in Southeast Asia that KAS has in store this year running on a similar theme. The University of Malaya in Malaysia and University of Hasanuddin in Makassar, Indonesia are slated to hold similar events in November and December, respectively.
UC through its President Augusto W. Go, in his welcome message, “took pride in hosting the international environmental forum deeply aware of the need for a setting where leaders from different sectors from neighboring countries can share their expertise and experience, both good and bad, in forest management and mining.” (http://law.uc.edu.ph/)
UC Chancellor Candice G. Gotianuy acknowledged the honor given to the institution by KAS for it to be chosen as part of the international gathering tackling the challenges of utilization and management of natural resources and proposals for reforms and solutions.
KAS Director Marc Spitzkatz shared that Environmental Talks II, which is a continuation of the series of forums held in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam in 2012, aims “to provide a platform for identifying pressing environmental issues in Southeast Asia and be able to propose tools, strategies and solutions towards addressing these environmental concerns.” The important activity is in line with KAS’ “long-standing objective of bringing people together for the promotion of socially equitable, economically efficient and ecologically sustainable societies,” with “the Rule of Law as one key factor to realize this objective.”
UC College of Law Dean Baldomero C. Estenzo viewed the conference as an “excellent opportunity” to meet the environmental advocates and policy-makers from various parts of the world, “share the challenges demanding our collective concern and an opportunity for networking, collaboration, sharing of information and the building and strengthening of relationships.”
The foregoing objectives were certainly attained from the rich interaction and sharing of experiences and insights from resource speakers from the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and India and the participants from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.
All pioneers in their chosen field of work in environment, governance, human rights and ecology, the speakers and participants of the Environmental Talks II carry on what must be one of the toughest undertakings in this planet: to protect our vastly threatened sources of life and the rights of our people amid the unrelenting destruction taking place at an unprecedented pace, the culture of impunity and the perils of the grave reality called climate change.
Others might perhaps be overwhelmed just thinking about the formidable battles to be surmounted. Undaunted, these pioneering defenders of nature stand out because they dare tread unknown roads and niches so that more people will be better informed, be more aware and understanding of our inter-connectedness with each other and with nature, that hopefully, would then move them into action.
Giving face to the efforts to stop the sufferings and the human rights violations inflicted upon the mining communities and the ecosystem degradation was the resource speaker from Tubay in Surigao del Norte, the former Mayor Sadeka Tomaneng. She is among the increasing number of local government officials who dare take up the cudgels for the constituents heavily impacted by unsustainable projects such as mining. The once pristine sea and fresh waters are now heavily contaminated, residents are excluded from the use of the barangay road, now utilized solely for the trucks of the mining company and the case filed to stop the contamination of the ecosystems is not moving as it should be. Despite the validation by scientists from the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute the cause of the pollution comes from mining activities in the area, the DENR and the MGB have despicably chosen to look the other way, to the consternation of the suffering children, women and men from Tubay.
Amid the appalling inaction of government, the ecological clock is vigorously ticking. Availing of the remedies provided by the law is one approach. Another and equally important is strengthening the networking among citizens, civil society and like-minded civil servants who care for our people and Mother Nature. Increasing the awareness of citizens and policy-makers require such strong collaborative action.
The admirable perseverance, enthusiasm and teamwork displayed by the organizing team from UC are perhaps among the factors that helped ensure the success of Environmental Talks II, as these values should for the people pushing for reforms in our society.
Being patient but persevering will bring us closer to what we hope is a caring society for humans and non-humans alike. The late actor Christopher Reeve summed it best: “I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”
The ball is in the hands of the citizens to move and act, now. Surely, each of us can and must be a strong defender of nature, for our sake and those of the future generation.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.