Las Navas, Northern Samar, Philippines – The Samar Island Partnership for Peace and Development (SIPPAD), a partnership composed of different sectors – church, government, academe, civil society organizations, youth and media in the provinces of Northern Samar, Eastern Samar and Western Samar held their 42nd General Assembly on September 13 at Vista de Las Navas resort.
The assembly, with the theme ‘Recognizing the Rights of Nature, Vital Towards Sustainable Peace and Development in Samar Island’, aims to continue and further strengthen the mission and vision of the Samar-led bishops partnership to achieve a better life for the people of Samar. In attendance were three Catholic Bishops of the Samar Dioceses, namely Most Rev. Emmanuel C. Trance of Catarman, Most Rev. Isabelo C. Abarquez of Calbayog and Most Rev. Crispin B. Varquez of Borongan.
Official statistics published this year by the government said that 3 in every 10 families in Eastern Visayas are poor. Among the provinces in the region, Biliran had the lowest poverty incidence among families at 18.0 percent. Meanwhile, Southern Leyte ranked second lowest at 22.8 percent, followed by Leyte at 29.4 percent, Northern Samar at 30.0 percent, and Samar at 32.2 percent.
“We see the urgency of protecting the environment if we want people to persist and exist. We need to make a balancing effort to ensure that in any development path, the environment are given the same importance as humans. And the recognition of the Rights of Nature will help us give the proper perspective,” Bishop Crispin Varquez of the Diocese of Borongan said.
The Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc., a group that jumpstarted the Rights of Nature Campaign in the Philippines and a partner of the Diocese of Borongan in its post-Yolanda Rehabilitation Program, attended the assembly. Represented by Atty. Macki Maderazo, the group shared updates on the campaign including the drafting of the RON Bill. According to Atty. Maderazo, the RON Bill is set for filing between the dates of September 30 to October 1 in time for the Catholic Church’s celebration of the Season of Creation.
Philippine Army 8th Infantry Division representative, Major General Pio Diñoso III who is also an environmentalist lauds PMPI for pushing initiatives towards the protection of the environment and calls the group “guardians of nature.”
Several local government executives keen on the RON Bill said they will study further the proposed legislation.
At the end of the program, the SIPPAD General Assembly unanimously passed a resolution supporting the Rights of Nature Bill and Campaign.
Local Environmental Issues Tackled:
Members of Protect Manicani Island Inc. (PROMISI) represented by Becky Destajo raised concern to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) executives in relation to the Hinatuan Mining Company. Ms. Destajo said, given the expired mining contract of Hinatuan, the company should have rehabilitated their home-island long ago and start leaving the island for good.
Meanwhile, Fr. Juderick Calumpiano, Social Action Director of the Diocese of Borangan also asked the DENR to clarify the reasons for allowing Emir Mineral Resources Corporation to operate without going through the usual process as mandated by the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 such as the required conduct of an Environmental Impact Assessment pre-operation.
In 2016, Emir Mineral Resource Corporation was among the mining companies found by the DENR Mining Audit to have caused violations and was duly suspended. However, Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) has recently recommended the lifting of its suspension without fully disclosing the actual violations of the said company, and what were the corrective measures imposed and how were they implemented by Emir.
The DENR replied that it will officially write SIPPAD regarding the status of the operation of these two mining companies.
The SIPPAD General Assembly also supported a resolution to finally declare Homonhon Island as a Critical Habitat with the addendum on the historical context of the island of Homonhon.
The whole day assembly ended up positively with the three Bishops blessing the participants for a safe trip back to their respective home provinces.