By Allan M. Mediante
July 2, 2004
a Mosquito Net
DALWANGAN village is a suburb of Malaybalay City in Bukidnon province, and has been home to some 2,000 families, mostly lumads belonging to the Bukidnon tribe. One of them, Ondo Mambalamban said that some years back he had high hopes that most of his children will settle near his house and raise their own families. The village is an ideal place where the cool breeze wafts the sweet scent of plants and flowers giving a balmy atmosphere all day long.
But that was long ago, Ondo lamented. “I missed those days when Dalwangan exuded comfort and sweet scent of the mountain breeze that blows all day long. My family, then, always wake-up each morning with inspiring smile as we meet the glow of the sun rising above the mountains of Malaybalay. What a beautiful day, we always exclaim!
Nowadays, when we wake up, my children cover their noses with cloth, and I immediately light and puff a cigarette to ward-off the foul odor of pig wastes and chicken manure that invade our senses. The day starts with curses against the offensive smell that now pervades the atmosphere. The worst thing comes when we start preparing for our meals. As we place our viand of dried fish on the table, a horde of flies enter our house and that signals the start of more cursing from our house and the whole neighborhood. To be able to eat with out being bothered by the flies, we place a mosquito net over the dining table to cover us and the food,” Ondo said with rancor in his eyes.
When asked on who should be blamed for such an unfortunate situation, Ondo readily replies: the Lord of the Flies!
But what does he mean by the lord of flies? And he explains: “They are those who allowed and approved the mushrooming of piggery and poultry farms in our barangay. What is sad is the fact that these establishments which triggered the presence of the flies have been built where it shouldn’t be, and are not complying with the health and sanitation requirements imposed by government authorities,” Ondo stressed, this time with anger and scorn in his eyes.
He said his married children have long left the place and settled somewhere else because they fear the present condition of their barangay would jeopardize the health of the children.
Death of a River
Lolong slides down a steep, mud-choked trail that slice across the belly of the hill in Kalasungay that leads to the Sawaga River. It is the river that runs through Kalasungay and other barangays towards Malaybalay City proper.
Lolong, has been through this daily chore of going to the river each day since childhood, to take a bath and go fishing sometimes.
But its different now, he says. “When one takes a bath at the Sawaga River expect him to go to a doctor the following day for chances are he will complain of skin itchiness, and contract severe skin infection. There are no more fishes to be fished. That was long ago when we still catch some fishes here. But all we have now are the smell of pollution, of fecal matters and chemicals that seep into the river from nearby piggery and poultry farms,” he lamented to this writer.
What is worse is that that river is one of the major source for potable water for Malaybalay City residents in the past years. Now the river has become a dangerous source of water-borne diseases. Again the culprits are the “Lord of the Flies,” who allowed piggery and poultry farms built near the river. When heavy rains come, the wastes and chemicals from the septic tanks of piggery and poultry farms spill out into the river. “Thus, what we have now is a very polluted river,” Lolong claims.
Ondo and Lolong’s stories are just samples of the numerous silent complaints that pervade the communities in Bukidnon Province.
The LGU- DENR connection
"The real culprits are the officials and employees of the government, particularly the local government unit and the DENR, operating behind the scenes, and who encourage businessmen to enter into this illegal activity," says Vic Abroguena, the action officer of Bukidnon Crusade Against Crime and Corruption.
Abroguena stressed that before a permit to build an industrial or agri-business plant or establishment is issued, an Environmental Clearance Certificate (ECC) from the DENR has to be issued to the applicant.
The ECC permit, in turn, is only granted after the applicant complies with the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) requirements as prescribed in the promulgated guidelines of Section 3 (b) of Presidential Decree 1121 and 1586, according to documents sourced out by this writer from the DENR.
An EIA requirement includes a provision that delineates, for example, that piggery or poultry farm should be not less than one (1) kilometer away from a “Built-up” area – a residential or commercial vicinity. The ECC provision also states that: “…a strip of land from both banks of a river shall be belineated and planted with trees for environmental protection…” This includes all kinds of agri-business operations.
Other provisions state: “That regular and proper maintenance of pollution control equipment and facilities shall be effected at all times to attain maximum efficiency. That solid wastes generated shall be collected effectively and disposed off properly. That any valid complaint on air/odor, water and noise pollution arising from project operation may be a cause for the cancellation of the ECC.
That the proponent shall be held liable for any damage to life and property resulting from project implementation and operation and shall pay just and reasonable compensation to aggrieved parties. That should the operation result to serious environmental damage, the ECC certificate shall be automatically cancelled. “
“Sadly, these has not been properly imposed and acted upon by the DENR,” according to Abroguena.
The Bukidnon Crusade Against Crime and Corruption (BCACC), which is being chaired by a Catholic priest Fr. Venancio Balansag Jr., also charged that a fund that is required to be put up by project proponents to ensure environmental monitoring of all projects is until now unaccounted for, amounting to millions of pesos.
“But corruption really starts from the local government,” said Abroguena. An example, he said, is when a certain member of the local city council demanded money from a poultry project proponent for the approval of his proposed site. The project, he said, was not immediately given a go signal for an EIA because it is located less than a kilometer from a residential area. The project was also opposed by a religious order occupying the Carmelite Monastery in barangay Kalasungay, Malaybalay City. The proponent even went as far as enlisting the help of the bishop but to no avail because the site has not met the requirement provided by law, and the bishop advised the proponent to abide with what the law says.
Yet there are several poultry and piggery farm sites which are situated less than a kilometer from a built-up area, that have been approved before. These, according to BCACC were approved due to ‘under- the-table’ negotiation, with corruption money changing hands. The procedure shows that before a project site is acted upon, the LGU’s Locational Clearance Officer should make an ocular inspection before he recommends the approval to the Council’s Land Use Committee, chaired by a councilor. Lobby money sometimes run to 100,000 pesos or more according to an insider of an LGU who requested anonymity.
The approval of these piggeries and poultries took place when the 1-kilometer ordinance was amended and the requirement was reduced to less than a kilometer.
Even with complaints from the residents, no action was taken by the DENR. No cancellation of an ECC ever took place. “Dalwangan residents, for one, have complained to BCACC that a piggery owned by a certain Pastor has been emitting foul odor from wastes of pigs ever since. The local folks said the foul smell pervades their homes all day long, so that even while taking their meals they suffer from the obnoxious odor. They have blamed the owner of the piggery for not doing something when the piggery’s septic tank and wastes lagoon overflow and the nearby creek becomes its depository.
Another piggery site complained is reportedly owned by one William Go, owner of Tablon Oil firm on Cagayan de Oro have bought a piggery at New Ilocos purok in barangay Dalwangan. The people residing near the said piggery have long complained that even when they are attending church services they are inconvenienced by the piggery’s foul smell. And even when they eat their meals the foul smell of pig manure continue to destroy their appetite.
The local folks also complained that the septic tank of said piggery overflows when rains come and hurtles down the Gantungan Falls and nearby pinetrees.
“Nothing has been done about it even if the Gantungan Falls is being developed as a tourist spot by the DENR,” a local official said. “The situation has reached the ears of incumbent provincial governor Jose Zubiri who ordered immediate action against the culprits, yet until now nothing has been done,” the barangay official claimed.
The same situation is true in Kalasungay where some piggeries and poultries improperly dispose their wastes which find its way into the Sawaga River.
Where is the fund for ECC policy implementation?
A DENR list obtained by this writer showed close to a thousand proponents have been granted ECCs in Bukidnon province alone. Its grave impact on the environment of the province has not been properly monitored nor has there been a proper assessment ever made nor reported.
The BCACC charged that there is no transparency on how the Environmental Monitoring Fund and the Environmental Guarantee Fund (EGF) are being disbursed or used by the DENR. The said funds comes from contributions of industrial and agri-business plant owners which amount from P10,000 to P50,000 each. Big firms, such as Del Monte and Crystal Sugar Milling for example, contribute to as much as P300,000 each year.
As an ECC requirement, each proponent is ordered to create an Environmental Unit headed by a Pollution Control Officer (PCO) supervised by the Environmental Monitoring Board (EMB) of the DENR. The EGF fund is is used to cover expenses for monitoring, immediate rehabilitation and/or indemnification of damages and other related concerns. Although the EMB is not directly accountable of the funds, the disbursement of the funds is being supervised by the DENR’s EMB.
“Now, there is no clear explanation and accounting of how these funds are being used. In Bukidnon province alone, the accumulated funds contributed by big industries would amount to millions of pesos annually. It is being managed by the Guardians of Earth whose members are the PCOs of proponents, but the disbursements need the approval of the EMB. And yet rampant violations of ECC provisions have been left unchecked. We believe the said fund has become only a milking cow of the DENR,” Abroguena said.
According to Abroguenia, another area of corruption can be gleaned from the absence of penalties being imposed on erring firms, or if the errant firm paid the penalty of P50,000 for each ECC violation, there is no accounting of where these money is or how is it being spent, “clearly to the detriment of the local communities who are now victims of environmental pollution.”
The BCACC also bared that notable violations which each carry a P50,000 penalty are left unchecked suchas: for piggeries – 1. Waste Water Disposal System; 2. System of prevention of mitigating odor; 3. Requirement to plant trees to minimize foul odor; 4. None compliance by some firms to create its Environmental Unit; 5. Absence of public information dissemination program on the project, and (violations of other provisions of the ECC mentioned earlier in this article).
At P50,000 each of these violations by many of the close to a thousand firms in Bukidnon alone, millions of pesos could have been used to check and rehabilitate the damages brought about by pollution from these erring firms. But where is the money now?, asked Abroguena.
Only the “Lords of the Flies” know, according to Ondo and Lolong.
The Story Behind the Story
"A few months back before I wrote the article - Lords of the Flies," I was attending a wedding at barangay Dalwangan, when I stumbled upon the idea of writing this article which deals with pollution.
After the wedding ceremony, I was invited to the house of the bride, and as one of the wedding sponsors, were seated at the table for the banquet.
Suddenly a horde of flies swarmed on the tables where food was being served. To my chagrin, the presence of the flies destroyed my appetite. I was not able to swallow a single spoonful of the delicious food served because the flies were all over, even with the initiative of some helpers trying to drive away the flies with big wooden fans fitted with paper tussles.
I talked with some of the residents and asked them if that was always the situation when food is served whether inside or outside houses. And they said yes.
They then intimated that some of the families eat inside a mosquito net so that flies cannot pester them while eating.
But then some of the folks, and even the young have grown accustomed to such atmosphere, of which I can only shake my head with disgust, thinking of the germs that their bodies absorbed, and the horrible diseases which may come with the food contaminated by the flies from nearby poultries and piggeries.
It was then that I started writing about it, in an effort to make authorities and the community alike to show concerned and perhaps arrive at solutions to the problem.
The first article came out on the online publication of JacNet - an organization of Journalists Against Corruption which had a joint project with the Cagayan de Oro Press Club. I was then an officer of the club.
Jacnet also helped me foot expenses in coming out with the article."
ALLAN M. MEDIANTEHOME (Jacnet)