“The environmental crimes committed during the dictatorship are bound to happen again if Bongbong Marcos gets one step closer to Malacañang.”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Environmental groups have united to campaign against the vice presidential candidacy of Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., as they recalled the legacy of his father and namesake whose two decades in power saw impunity in the wanton destruction of the environment.
At a gathering on April 19 at the University of the Philippines-Diliman, climate change activists – ranging from First Quarter Storm activists, Martial Law babies up to millenials – expressed that a win for the younger Marcos brings him “a heartbeat away” to the presidency.
“We will not let the Marcoses return to Malacañang because many victims have not even attained justice,” said Petti Enriquez of Bukluran parasa Inang Kalikasan (Bukal-Batangas).
Aside from impunity in the massive human rights violations committed under his dictatorship, the groups said Marcos left an environmental legacy of “dirty energy” projects and laws. These continue to serve as frame for many of today’s flawed laws and projects that adversely affect farmers and indigenous peoples, and pollute agricultural and forest lands, air and water resources.
“The Marcos era saw the most rapid destruction of the environment and biodiversity loss,” said Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE).
Frances Quimpo, executive director of the Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC) said the degradation of the country’s forest cover peaked during the Marcos era.
The unity statement initially signed by 19 environmentalist groups said up to 7 million hectares of forest cover was lost from 1965 to 1986, as Marcos granted timber licensing agreements (TLA) to favored cronies.
The study “One century of forest rehabilitation in the Philippines” puts the loss of forest cover at an annual loss of 300,000 hectares per year from 1965 to 1975, but gradually declined to 100,000 ha. per year from 1985 to 1990.
Lawyer Ipat Luna of Pusod Inc. rebuffed Marcos supporters who claim that the Marcoses could not have stolen $10 billion from public coffers because the country did not have that much money. But Luna said the Dictatorship’s economic wealth came from plundering ecological resources. She cited the “missing lumber,” as the records of logs imported by Japanese companies do not match the record of exported logs.
To quell the budding peasant-based national democratic revolution, Marcos implemented Presidential Decree 27, or the Land Reform Act, which distributed certificates of land titles to tenant farmers. PD 27 came with the program Masagana 99, purportedly aimed to increase rice production to 99 cavans per hectare. Government promoted high-yielding rice varieties (HYV) along with a whole package of chemical farm inputs and machineries accessed through loans.
Quimpo said Marcos developed good relations with the International Rice Research Institute (Irri), which developed the HYVs. But behind the propaganda on increasing farm yield were the interests for profit of big agribusiness and transnational corporations (TNCs).
Rice production did increase, but so did the expenses. “Peasants suffered deep poverty, because their harvest only went to pay loans,” Quimpo said. Indebtedness eventually led to landlessness, as the farm was used as collateral for loans.
Meanwhile, the more sustainable planting of traditional rice varieties and bayanihan or collective way of farming began to be forgotten.
Chemical farming also led to the depletion of ground water and chemical saturation of rice lands, which led to lowered rice yields in the years to come. Chemical pesticides also wiped out natural predators which used to keep pest population in check. Many farmers also suffered diseases from exposure to pesticides.
Marcos legacy: ‘Dirty energy’
In the guise of responding to a crisis, Marcos pushed for energy projects, such as the Calaca coal plant, the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP), Chico river dam and Kaliwa-Kanan or Laiban dam. The latter three were thwarted by the fierce resistance of indigenous and peasant communities.
The country completed payment in loans and interests for the mothballed BNPP amounting to $2.5 billion only in 2007. Massive protests were led in Central Luzon opposing the BNPP built by Westinghouse Corp., which had unresolved design flaws and sits at the foot of Mt. Natib, a potentially active volcano.
Marcos, however, succeeded in putting up the country’s first coal plant in Calaca town, Batangas province in 1981. Enriquez said Marcos used the “power of imminent domain” to arbitrarily convert 167 has. of agricultural lands to industrial use in San Rafael village.
Enriquez said communities continue to suffer from the air, soil and water pollution from the plant. The Calaca coal plant is now Sem-Calaca and privately-owned by the DM Consunji Inc.
“It was there where I experienced eating inside a mosquito net – because of the carbon,” said Enriquez, recalling her exposure trip as a young activist in one of the communities affected by the coal plant.
Environmentalists are now opposing the expansion of 600-megawatt Sem-Calaca to 1,000 mw. They attribute various respiratory diseases, low agricultural production and water pollution to the coal plant.
In Cordillera, Marcos’s ambitious Chico River Dam Project opened a floodway of protests, as threatened indigenous communities barricaded roads to stop the entry of construction workers and machineries.
Fernando Mangili, spokesperson of Amianan Salakniban (Defend the North), was a high school student from Itogon, Benguet during martial law, when he started joining protests. He said his own town of Itogon was 75-percent owned by the Romualdezes, the clan of Marcos’s wife Imelda, whose cousin Benedicto Romualdez owned Benguet Corporation and received privileges from the Dictator.
Mangili also cited Cellophil Resources Corp., owned by Marcos crony Herminio Disini, which acquired a TLA covering 100,000 has. in Kalinga-Apayao and Abra. Confronted with strong resistance from the Tigguian tribe, CRC eventually stopped operation in the 80s.
He recalled that Marcos tried to dissimulate the restive Kalinga folk by offering scholarships to Cordillera youths. Mangili said it required taking an entrance exam, which he took. “The test was not so hard. But in all of the region, only those from Kalinga were accepted,” Mangili said. The “scholarship” lasted only three months.
In 1980, soldiers shot dead Kalinga leader Ama Macliing Dulag in an attempt to push the dam project. But the people’s movement has taken momentum, and led to the formation of the regional organization, Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) in 1984.
Raymond Palatino, chairperson of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-National Capital Region (Bayan-NCR) said the Marcos era saw proliferation of reclamation projects, the biggest of which was the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) complex along Roxas Boulevard in Pasay City, which used to be a national park. He said the reclamation consequently resulted to the loss of biodiversity and flooding in lower areas.
At present, Bayan-NCR is protesting the expansion of reclamation along Manila Bay.
Palatino also cited Marcos’s “chaotic urban planning,” as exemplified by “Smokey Mountain,” the 21-hectare land fill in Tondo, Manila where tens of thousands of scavengers dwelled and sourced their income. Ironically, Palatino said the urban poor were “eyesores” to Marcos’s wife Imelda, who conducted “beautification” campaigns to cover poverty scenes in Metro Manila.
The environmentalists lamented how Marcos’s oppressive decrees which engendered impunity continue to be enforced to this day, such as the Revised Forestry Code, which they said “led to massive deforestation and commodification of our forest resources.”
Mangili cited that in the 90s, he and barricading Itogon residents were charged with violation of Presidential Decree 463, Marcos’s Mineral Resources Development Decree by Benguet Corp. The residents of Ucab village in Itogon barred the entry of mining machineries as they called for a stop to open-pit mining. The charges against them were coercion, illegal entry and economic sabotage.
Meanwhile, CEC’s Quimpo said many farmer groups wanted to sue Irri for the diseases they acquired from pesticide use, but are prevented by PD 1620, issued by Marcos in 1979, which gives Irri an international organization status, thus, immune from suits and liability under Philippine laws.
The fisherfolk group Pamalakaya cited PD 704, the predecessor of the Fisheries Code, which pushed for export of fisheries products, allowed the entry of big foreign fishing corporations, and promoted the privatization of fisheries resources through the lease of hundreds of hectares of fishponds.
Pamalakaya had criticized the Amended Fisheries Code, which, they said, still has features of PD 704.
“These laws were not revoked under Cory. What more under another Marcos?” Quimpo said.
His father’s son
Gwen Borcena of Green research said the younger Marcos has his own bleak environmental track record, noting how in 2013, the senator “blocked” the senate passing of the National Land Use Policy Act. Borcena said it was a crucial legislation and part of the United Nations Agenda 21 for land use. She said the bill had already passed third reading, but failed to be passed at the end of the 15th Congress.
Marcos, who was chairman of the Senate committee on urban planning, housing and resettlements claimed that he had to consult with all stakeholders, but pledged to pursue the bill in the 16th Congress.