BUTUAN CITY—Environmental degradation and climate change took center stage here as government representatives, non-governmental organizations, religious leaders and local officials met for the Eighth Regional Interfaith Dialogue (IFD) on Climate Change here at Dottie’s Place Hotel.
The issue is crucial to the people of Caraga since the region hosts virgin forests that have been threatened by logging and mining companies.
Among these firms are those owned or controlled by Liberal Party politicians, like SR Metals, which was organized in 2005 and operates the Tubay nickel mining project in Tubay, Agusan del Norte.
The company started quarrying on the basis of rules governing small-mining ventures.
Another significant player in the nickel market is businessman Salvador “Buddy” Zamora, who reportedly finances the campaign of Interior Secretary Manuel A. Roxas II.
Mining also pollutes the marine environment by dumping untreated wastewater into the sea, that allegedly provoked the New People’s Army to attack the Taganito Mine in Surigao.
Environmentalists have also challenged the IFD to discuss as well the impact of climate change on food production following the disclosure of Remelyn I. de Ramos of the Marine Sciences Institute of the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman during a recent lecture at the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (Searca) that “fish stocks in major fishing grounds have been reduced to less than 10 percent of the levels in the 1950s.”
De Ramos also revealed that “the average catch today is less than 50 percent of the catch in the 1970s.”
The UP researcher noted that the Philippines is being battered by the three significant climate-change factors affecting fisheries, which are the increase in surface sea temperatures, ocean acidification and typhoons.
Searca Director Dr. Gil C. Saguiguit Jr. said fisheries is a most significant food source since 60 percent of the entire Philippine population eat fish and other marine products.
Climate Change Commissioner Heherson T. Alvarez, IFD’s main convener, said the dialogue becomes more significant with Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si, which framed the climate-change argument as a moral imperative.
The encyclical was discussed thoroughly during a briefing held at Baybiew Hotel in Manila on August 19, by Greenpeace Ecological Agriculture campaigner Virginia Benosa-Llorin and leaders of the Catholic Church.
“Holding the dialogue in the Caraga region is vital to make the residents aware of mitigation and adaptation measures against the grossly negative climate impacts,” Alvarez said.
“The Taguibo watershed in the region faces increasingly greater hazards because of illegal activities such as timber poaching and illegal mining. The consequences are grave, such as the denudation of the forests which threatened the equilibrium of the region’s ecosystems,” the former
Alvarez explained the major effect of forest denudation is the regular flooding in Agusan del Norte and nearby areas, with millions of losses in livelihood and agricultural productivity.
Illegal logging in the region also became a bigger issue when several forest rangers were killed while on duty.
IFD co-convener and Environment Secretary Ramon J.P. Paje revealed the government is seriously taking concrete steps to combat the violence against defenseless forest workers and volunteers in the region.
The problem of illegal logging will be one of the issues to be tackled during the IFD workshop, the results of which will form part of the Philippine report to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, France, in November this year.
“The dialogues highlight the need for anticipation and adaptation measures to climate vulnerabilities with integrated mapping on floods, soil erosion, landslides, sea-level rise, storm surge, earthquake, volcanic eruption, and others,” sArchbishop Antonio J. Ledesma of the Climate Change Congress of the Philippines said.
On the one hand, Alvarez lauded the local government for approving a watershed code that seeks to protect the watershed in the region and maintain high water quality for the population in the area.
The climate vulnerabilities in the Caraga region will also be discussed, as well as the issue of mobilizing faith-based communities by the IFD coconveners Ledesma and Philippine Council for Evangelical Churches National Director Bishop Noel A. Pantoja.
The IFD is cosponsored by the Climate Change Commission, Philippine Council for Evangelical Churches, Climate Change Congress of the Philippines, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy.