Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Scenes of Eastern Samar after Yolanda

A dilapidated house seems what remains of one of the coastal barangay of Hernani, Eastern Samar
Rubles, rubles are all there are in a barangay in Hernani, Estern Samar.
This was what the people of Salcedo were saying weeks following the super typhoon Yolanda

This is what remained of the heritage Church of Guiuan, Eastern Samar.
Bishop Crispin Varquez inspects, or mourns, of what remained of the rectory of Guiuan.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

As I See It

The ‘hellish roads’ of Eastern Samar

By Neal Cruz

Philippine Daily InquirerFirst
Posted 00:59:00 02/11/2009

In the wake of the exposé about collusion and rigging by contractors and public officials of biddings for road projects funded by the World Bank comes the news of a thousand angry people in Eastern Samar province protesting the non-rehabilitation of a “hellish road” in the province, the main artery of Eastern Samar that link it to the Philippines-Japan national highway. Aside from a protest demonstration, they signed a petition demanding the immediate repair and rehabilitation of their highways and other national roads.

To say that Eastern Samar’s roads are littered with potholes is an understatement. As the photographs show, there are vast craters that sometimes make portions of roads virtually impassable. Some portions of the highway are planted with young coconut trees as a show of protest. Some craters are knee-deep and threaten the safety of motorists passing through these roads. Because these are national roads, the national government, through the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), is responsible for maintaining them.

What is the problem? It is not lack of funds. It is a case of wrong priorities. It is misuse of government funds. The roads remain in bad shape despite the heavy infusion of national government funds — via the DPWH’s regular budget, plus the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF)) and congressional insertions or initiative allocations (CI).

But judging from the terrible state of Eastern Samar’s roads, it would not be wrong to conclude that much of these multi-billion funds actually ended up in the pockets of the proponents. The reason for the deplorable state of some national highways, such as those in Eastern Samar is, in one word, “corruption.”

What anybody brave enough to traverse the province’s roads will see is that in the midst of the thousand and one potholes are many new road signs. Isn’t that strange? Records show that some P90 million in government funds have been spent on directional signs and traffic posts even before the roads could be built or re-paved. It’s a sin to procure these traffic signs, guardrails and posts when the money used to acquire and install them could have been better used to rehabilitate portions of Eastern Samar’s roads.

But instead of allocating funds for road improvements, the DPWH District Office, which is controlled by Rep. Teodulo Coquilla purchased road signs for road sections full of potholes. It is weird to see spanking new traffic signs and shiny guardrails on roads that look like they have been abandoned for decades.

Records show that these road signage projects include the installation of 181 pieces of road signs and two pieces of billboards that cost P4.78 million at the Camp-Junction Taft-Borongan road section and 358 pieces of traffic control posts at the same road section costing P4.679 million.

P4.65 million worth of guardrails and posts was also purchased for the Junction Taft-San Juan Road and another set also worth P4.65 million for the Borongan-Llorente Road. The DPWH District Office also bought the same set of materials for the same amount for the Oras-Arteche National Road.

Guardrails and posts were also installed at the San Julian-Borongan road section and at the Llorente-Junction Buenavista road to the tune of P4.65 million for each section. More than P10 million was spent by the DPWH for directional signs and highway traffic control posts for the Junction Taft-Oras National Road and Junction Taft-Dolores-San Eduardo sections.

The same sets of materials worth P4.67 million for each road section were also acquired for the Lawaan-Giporlos National Road; Buenavista-Guiuan and the Giporlos-Junction Buenavista National Road. At the Borongan-Guiuan Road section, 182 pieces of road signs were purchased for P4.81 million.

As if these wasteful expenditures were not enough, another P30 million was spent on more road signs and guardrails during the October-December 2008 period alone in the Buenavista-Malabag and Buenavista-Lawaan-Marabut sections.

On top of purchasing these traffic signs and devices, there are also reports about the profusion of ghost road projects in the province.

Fed up with this sad state of affairs, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan [Provincial Board], the Provincial Development Council, and the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council passed separate resolutions in June last year asking or authorizing the provincial governor to help in the improvement and rehabilitation of the national roads.

In a parallel move, Gov. Ben Evardone wrote the DPWH District Office twice last year asking permission to allow the province to help in the rehabilitation work with an initial budget of P10 million.

But according to Evardone, the DPWH did not act on his letters. This is strange because the provincial government can do the repair work, considering that it has its own pool of equipment for the purpose, plus the initial fund approved by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.

Why did the DPWH refuse help from the government of the province where it obviously needs all the help it can get to fix the mess of the national roads? The answer lies in a rumor in the provincial capital of Borongan that the DPWH is sitting on the offer of Evardone on the say-so of a congressman who is afraid that the governor will get the credit for the road rehabilitation.

Finally, the people of Eastern Samar are asking where the P1.3 million monthly maintenance fund, or P16 million a year, is being spent. During an investigation by the Sanggunian, a DPWH engineer admitted that part of the fund is being used to pay the salaries of casual employees of the district office of a congressman.

Will the DPWH main office please do something about this?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Small-Scale Mining—A Looming Menace to Salcedo, Eastern Samar

By Maria Cadahia Perez

WORKING as volunteers in Natural Resource Management (NRM) and Sustainable Development Planning in Salcedo, Eastern Samar in the Philippines, we found it incredible and frustrating to witness the demonstrated threat of small-scale mining making strides as an alternative livelihood to locals while at the same time pushing the sustainability of the natural resource base and the welfare of the population to the shadow of uncertainty.

Salcedo, is a small, rural, 5th class municipality on a scale of 1 (most developed) to 6 (the least developed). People’s livelihood depends mainly on natural resources in coastal and upland areas where farming and fishing are the dominant activities. The natural environment of Salcedo has been continually degraded through the years by deforestation and unsustainable agro-forestry practices in the upland areas and over-exploitation and destructive fishing practices along the coast. All these together with demographic increase have resulted to dwindling local people’s incomes and poor standards of living. The Local Government Unit (LGU) has been inadequately equipped to respond to this challenge and since the last five years, has been supported by technical assistance from international volunteers who specialize in NRM.

But the technical support provided by the international volunteers and their partner organizations to enhance the lives of the local population and reverse the negative trends threatening the environment and progress of the municipality, seems to have been set aside as the Eastern Samar provincial government and its constituent municipal governments started facilitating small-scale mining to “address the needs of development.”

In 2007, the provincial government of Eastern Samar issued an ordinance setting aside sizeable portions of land exclusively to small-scale mining. In the municipality of Salcedo, the provincial law set aside around 2,853 hectares for small-scale chromite mining. At the same time, the Mines and GeoSciences Bureau (MGB) is processing an application for an offshore nickel and iron mining exploration permit in the ecologically important Matarinao Bay which is a breeding/spawning ground for marine life and an important fishing area to hundreds of coastal families in the municipalities of Hernani, MacArthur, Quinapondan and Salcedo.
Is mining really the appropriate development strategy, or is it just being pushed for the enrichment of the few? In the context of this small community, the popular answer given by residents seems to be the latter.

In Salcedo, there is now an alarming increase in the number of small scale mining operations (about 20 pockets of small scale mining at the very least) particularly in the southern barangays where a lot of irregularities are now being committed which put into question the desirability of the mining operations. We conducted field surveys of the mining areas in various months of 2008 and found a lot of irregularities and violations of the law such as: the use of child labor, employment of heavy equipment, burning of forests, and stockpiling of chromite deposits 20 meters away from mangrove and seaside areas, among others.

The mining operators are also conducting a misinformation campaign to trick local officials and residents to believe that the activity would benefit agriculture since it would result to the removal of chromite which is a toxic substance in the soil. However, the same misinformation campaign does not explain that mining would involve the excavation of the soil which, if done haphazardly, as it is being done by the mining operators, would result to the disruption of the soil structure and water infiltration capacity, as well as erosion and leaching of nutrients which, when added all together, would render the soil unsuitable to agriculture.

Due to the inherently destructive nature of mining and the fact that at this early stage, a number of abuses are already being committed by the mining operators, further livelihood, health and environmental problems would arise which in the long run could create more damages than gains. This is especially so since the number of small-scale mining operations in the municipality are expected to increase dramatically and cover various parts of 2,853 hectare mining block, as had happened in many parts of the country where sizeable chunks of land have been declared for small scale mining. It is therefore imperative that the people and the local (provincial, municipal and barangay) government units be informed, organized and equipped to properly evaluate, monitor, regulate, control or even stop the activity if need be.

Environmental and social damages
For sure, the mining operation would bring immediate gains such as employment and increased income from a few to possibly hundreds of families if the mines would operate for years, and also increased LGU revenues from fees and tax collections that could range from a few hundred thousands to a few million pesos a year if a lot of miners would operate in the large tract of land that paradoxically, has been allocated to small scale mining.

However, all these projected benefits should be weighed against the possible adverse effects which include an alarmingly huge number of interconnected environmental and social damages. The negative environmental effects include the following: 1) permanent loss or disruption of natural habitat through the conversion of forest and agricultural areas to mining land, 2) loss of soil through excavation which would result to the disruption of soil structure and function and the consequent decline in soil fertility, and accelerated erosion due to removal of vegetation 3) contamination and disruption of flow of ground and surface water due to damage to the soil’s water infiltration and absorption capacity, release of mine tailings and sedimentation 4) reduced slope stability and higher risk of landslides and environmental catastrophes particularly in Barangay Palanas which is prone to geologic hazards as per 2006 Mines and GeoSciences Bureau (MGB) Rapid Field Assessment, 5) loss of biodiversity, 6) further disruption of off-site or downstream land and water (fishing/spawning) areas including streams, mangroves, sea grass beds and corals, particularly in Leyte Gulf, and possibly even Matarinao and Quinapondan bays, due to the fact that the mining area covers the municipality’s three critical watersheds.

Social damages or the direct negative impacts of mining to the people include the following: 1) loss of agricultural and forest based livelihood and decline in farm yield and fish harvest due to degradation of habitat, 2) displacement of households due to damage to environment and livelihood on and off-site, 3) restricted entry to hunters, food gatherers and shifting cultivators, 4) reduced water availability for domestic consumption and irrigation due to contamination and disruption of ground and surface water, 5)immediate illnesses and long-term adverse health effects (such as lung infection, skin allergy, poisoning, among others) not only from inhalation and skin contact, but also through the entry of large amounts of chromite into the food chain and water supply system, 6) lesser recreational resources and activities, and finally, 7) decline in long-term income and exacerbation of the poverty cycle situation due to the synergistic interplay of all the negative consequences cited above.

Need for assessment
Ideally, a thorough cost and benefit analysis should be undertaken to carefully and accurately assess the pros and cons and provide sufficient information to guide the people and decision makers on the issue. However, even with the limited information available, it is already clear that small scale mining would grossly be more of a bane than a boon to Salcedo. This would be evident if we consider the fact that the 2,852.89 hectares set aside by the provincial government exclusively to small-scale mining covers 24% or about a quarter of the total land area of the municipality.

If this declared area would be peppered with or subjected to numerous small scale mining operations, then it would certainly destroy the environment and resource base of nearly half of the municipality as the impact area covers not only the declared block of mining land, but also covers the downstream and coastal areas. If small scale miners would fully operate in the area, perhaps 3 to 10% (90 to 300) of the more than 3,000 households or families in the municipality would benefit temporarily in the short and medium term from employment and increased income, but about 30 to 40% (900 to 1,200) of the total households/families of the municipality, including the downstream and coastal communities in the nearby towns of Quinapondan, Gen. MacArthur, and even Hernani and Mercedes would have their livelihoods disrupted or destroyed, since the mining area covers three major watersheds and impacts from mine tailings would reach the important fishing grounds such as Leyte Gulf, Matarinao and Quinapondan bays. All these negative impacts would be felt by those affected not only for a few years but for the entire lifetimes of the present and succeeding generations.

The real beneficiaries
Once again, it would be the outsiders or the mining companies (those organizing the small scale miners) that stand to gain windfall benefits, including perhaps a few politicians and supporters who would strike it rich with grease money from the operations. For instance, in the November 19, 2008 issue of the Daily Tribune, Mr. Ernesto ‘Mr. Expose’ Maceda mentioned that “The Bishop and civil society leaders also decry Governor Evardone’s indiscriminate issuance of small mining permits. The talk around town is that the permits are allegedly issued for a payment of P2 to P3 million each.”

All these benefits would be reaped by the few, while majority of the people would be poorer than ever and would be left with limited livelihood options and dwindling income. The windfall beneficiaries would soon disappear after the closure of the mines, and the few million pesos that the LGU would stand to gain from the mining operations would never be enough to pay for the restoration of the soil, habitat and resource base of the municipality. Poverty, environmental degradation, famine, sickness, difficulties in water supply, among others would then prevail in the long term, and Salcedo may partly become a ghost town with a significant portion of its population moving out to find livelihood and salvation elsewhere.

With the foregoing considerations, it is clear that the costs of mining in Salcedo would far outweigh the gains from the activity. It is therefore recommended that the LGU close the mining operations in order to rescue and sustain the life support system and the resource and livelihood base of its constituents.

The grounds for closing the mining operations are plenty. First, the provincial ordinance that allocated 2,853 hectares of land “to be exclusively intended for small scale mining” in Salcedo is unconstitutional in that it impinges upon prior rights. The area covers several hundred hectares of Comprehensive Agrarian Reform (CARP) and Community Based Forest Management (CBFM) lands that were awarded years earlier to local communities such as the one in Barangay Caga-ut and neighboring barangays.

It also covers hundreds of hectares of very steep sloping lands which are protected by national law, as well as locally declared protection areas such as the Salcedo Community Watershed Management (SALCOWAREM) zone, the communal forests in the vicinity of Barangay Naparaan, and special use areas such as the Eastern Samar State University (ESSU). The constitutionally guaranteed prior rights of stakeholders are in conflict with the intent of the provincial ordinance, and therefore the latter being more recent, should be repealed.

Aside from the repeal of the provincial ordinance, it is also recommended that measures be undertaken to improve the capacity of provincial, municipal and barangay governments to effectively evaluate mining projects, and to properly plan, monitor and regulate land use in their respective jurisdictions. Local land use plans should clearly identify areas that should be set aside for protection and off-limits to mining.

At the regional level, provincial plans should be properly integrated, and priority projects, be it in agriculture, forestry, protection or mining should be clearly identified. The Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) should be an active member of the Regional Development Council and should be very involved in the formulation of the Regional Development Plan, particularly the Regional Physical Framework Plan or Regional Land Use Policy which should likewise, clearly delineate which areas should be set aside for protection and off-limits to mining. And since the Plan would reflect the development agenda for the region as agreed by all sectors, then the processing of mining applications and permits should be made in accordance with it. And as active member and supporter of the Council (RDC), the MGB would no longer have to process mining applications that fall in areas off-limits to mining, and the tensions and conflicts that arise from unplanned development initiatives would be avoided.

Lastly, it is recommended that the various levels of government (provincial, municipal and barangay) pass a well coordinated ordinance that would require mining firms to comply with policies and regulations as articulated. For instance pay a reasonable amount before, during and after the conduct of mining operations, as environmental bond or insurance to cover for the rehabilitation of areas that have been subjected to mining. This would help insure that funds are made available for rehabilitation work, even if the mining operators would leave. At the same time, it would be a good gauge to test if an applicant is a responsible miner since fly-by-night companies that intend to only make profits without regard to the negative consequences would be deterred to apply for mining if such bond would be required.

All these and perhaps other innovative strategies and measures would have to be identified and undertaken soon in order to thwart the looming menace of small-scale mining in Salcedo. The fate of the people lies in the hands of the powerful few. Time is ticking, the menace grows and the onslaught continues. As we continue with our volunteer work, we just hope that things will turn out well for the people. God help us.

(Maria Cadahia Perez is a Spanish national working as a volunteer of Natural Resource Management (NRM) and Sustainable Development Planning in Salcedo, Eastern Samar. This work is written in collaboration with fellow volunteers: Judith Namata, Eldrid Madamba and Saibal Dey).