Olango Island Wildlife
Sanctuary, Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu
my favorite trail, I savor the earthy smells of early rain permeating the
woods. The last time I visited this area, I heard songs of a variety of
birds. Today, a chorus of different tones and tunes breaks the morning
becomes apparent that some migrating birds have arrived. It is exciting to
see them in flocks, numbering in the hundreds and even thousands, glistening
against the clear blue sky as they find their way to their favorite spots in
the Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary.
is part of the East Asian Migratory Flyway, one of the most important
shorebird and waterbird migratory flyways in the world. Every year from late
July until late November, anticipating the scarcity of food and winter cold,
thousands of migratory birds stop over the Olango area on their way from
Siberia, Northern China and Japan to as far as Australia. Among the
migratory birds usually seen here are the Greater Sand Plover (Charadrius
leschennaltii), Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres), Redshank (Tringa
tetanus), Gray-tailed tattler (Heteroscelus brevipes), Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa
lapponica), Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus), Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) and
the Chinese Egret (Egretta eulophotes). We see them again in February to
May, when they come to Olango for some rest and food, to fly north and
complete their long journey to the more favorable summer season in East Asia.
I was already
in Olango when the area was included as the 82nd country member of Ramsar in
1994. This recognition from a prestigious international body highlighted the
sanctuary's importance as wintering and roosting grounds for some 10,000 or
more migratory birds, and focused much needed attention on Olango as a
globally significant natural resource.
I work with
other environmentalists on the island. We do research work such as bird
banding, monitoring of the feeding ground, bird counting, etc. Working with
non-governmental organizations and people's organizations, we conduct an
information and education campaign aimed at increasing people's awareness
and appreciation of the sanctuary as a local and national heritage. We hold
lectures and organize exposure trips to the sanctuary for students and
teachers. Through all this, we have all become partners in the conservation
and protection of the sanctuary.
Malindang, Western Mindanao
I hold two
very different images of Mt. Malindang: the picture I remember from my
childhood, and the Mt. Malindang I know as a Franciscan Missionary.
As I child, I
reveled in the experience of this mountain with the vast rainforest, teeming
biodiversity and the small, scattered close-knit communities whose farming
activities were confined in the rolling areas of the lower parts of Mt.
Missionary, I rue the degradation of the forest due to logging and the
influx of settlers from the lowlands, the loss of biodiversity, and the
consequent loss of the natural capacity of the ecosystem to regenerate.
indigenous people of Mt. Malindang, especially the Subanens, are highly
dependent on the produce of Mother Earth, gathering food, such as fruits and
wild animals, from the forest, their umbilical cord virtually tied to the
earth. They believe that all creations are inter-connected and controlled by
spirits and gods. They believe in the cosmos movement and life cycle, so
they have rituals in almost everything, from the cutting of trees to
planting and harvesting, from conception and birth to death. Their
traditions and beliefs are rooted in the environment, where Man and Nature
must co-exist in harmony.
has become threatened by the sheer need for survival in Mt. Malindang's now
less-than-generous environment. The around 18,000 people - mostly Subanens
and Dumagats - who now inhabit the buffer zone and protected area are poor
and marginalized, and at the bottom of the socio-economic scale. Because the
forest has become denuded and unproductive, Subanens have turned to farming
the steep slopes, a very fragile terrain. The integration of their economy
into the market economy of the lowlanders is an added pressure on the
the mining issue
often, we read about toxic mining wastes - cyanide, mercury, lead and other
heavy metals - being dumped directly or otherwise finding their way into the
sea, rivers, and other bodies of water. I have heard many stories about
mining operations that ignore safety concerns, whether for their workers or
the environment, out of ignorance or sheer greed. The following incidents
are just a few of the well-known cases:
Marinduque - The communities at Calancan Bay were the first victims of
Marcopper's careless disposal of mine tailings. Placer Dome, the
Canada-based management dumped some 200 million tons of mine wastes into the
shallow, coral-rich waters of Calancan Bay, via a 14-km pipeline that
discharged the wastes round-the-clock. Sometimes, the pipes were broken, and
mine tailings also contaminated farm fields and forests. Local people
derisively called these tailings "our snow from Canada." The waste
contamination went unabated for 16 years, from 1975 to 1991. On March 24,
1996, disaster struck: a drainage tunnel of Marcopper burst, spilling 3-4
million tons of toxic waste into the 26-km Boac River, and shattering the
lives of 20,000 people. In March 1997, a research team led by Dr. Fellizar
of the University of the Philippines at Los Banos reported heavy metal
contamination of soil, water and biota in the Boac River area. To this day,
Placer Dome, the Canada-based company that used to own part of Marcopper,
has steadfastly denied the toxic contamination.
- In 1999, Biga Pit, a tailing pond of the defunct Atlas Copper Mine,
spilled toxic waste into Tanon Strait, causing a massive fish kill and
damaging marine life along the shores of Asturias and Balamban.
Monkayo, Davao del Norte - Time and again, diseases and deaths due to gas
poisoning and violence resulting from an ongoing conflict between
small-scale miners and big companies are reported from this gold-rich but
perennially troubled region.
Zamboanga del Sur - Cyanide tailings from Philex Gold Mine found their way
into the sea, affecting 33 species of fish, mollusks, and shells. Mercury
from small-scale mining operations in the area has pushed the mercury level
of seawater to well beyond the tolerable limit of 0.05 ppm. The waste
contamination issue is aggravated by other mining-related problems such as
siltation, the displacement of farmers, human rights violations and poverty.
these problems and the sad plight of the poor people affected by mining can
be a frustrating exercise, because the mining issue is not just an
environmental or even economic concern, it is also an often complex
political and social dilemma. The Mining Act of 1995 (Republic Act No. 7942)
grants foreign companies a free hand in the exploitation of vast tracts of
land under an arrangement called the "Financial Technical Assistance
Agreement", or FTAA. This has resulted in economic dislocation, and the loss
of our indigenous people's ancestral land rights, loss of control by
Filipinos over their natural resources, and loss of environmental knowledge
And for what?
The answer provides an important point to reflect on, especially for women:
Gold glitters on your fingers, necks, and ears. Do you know that tons and
tons of earth are bulldozed from our beautiful mountains to produce those
glittering jewelry? According to a study of the Mineral Policy Center in
Washington, DC, 2.8 tons of earth (one dump truck) must be crushed and
processed to produce a single ring; 80% of all gold produced worldwide is
used to make jewelry, and only 10% is used for industries.
frustrating as it may all seem, we realize we cannot just stand, see and
wait; we must take action. Through the initiative of our Bishops, a
committee on mining issues was organized under the chairmanship of Bishop
Jose Manguiran of Dipolog City. This is a coalition of different
non-governmental organizations and people's organizations focusing on
organizing communities affected by mining, documenting mining issues,
research and advocacy. We campaign against destructive mining at the local,
national and international levels.
involvement with mining issues stemmed, initially, from a feeling of disgust
and anger stirred by the sight of an open pit mining's devastation of a
beautiful mountain, now barren and desolate like a desert. Soon, I began to
actively search for solutions, to dialogue with people in authority, the
Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the local government units,
and mining companies. I have found that, more than anything, solidarity with
the people most affected by mining operations and sharing their problems -
the loss of potable water, fishing grounds and biodiversity, and the
degradation of their environment - are important to sustaining our fight
against destructive mining.
religious Missionary, I did not set out to be an environmentalist, but my
experiences in Olango and then in Mt. Malindang have served as an awakening
for me. The birds of Olango and Mt. Malindang's simple and beautiful people
have taught me where I stand in relation to Creation. I've come to realize
what it truly means to be a steward of God's creation. It means mending our
broken relationships with God, Humanity and Nature by living a life of
simplicity and humility. Creation is a gift to mankind, easily robbed
of its intrinsic worth once it is manipulated, spoiled and abused.
- Ester S. Paredes
This essay originally appeared in Overseas, a magazine
published in the Philippines by oneocean.org
J.R. Goleno (USA).