Mini-EDSA in remote San Fernando (Bukidnon)

May. 28, 2009

By Media Mindanao News Service

(August 15, 1987 News Digest Volume 1, August 1987-July 1988)

BUKIDNON (MMNS) – There were no well-heeled among them; no tanks to support them. But they kept a faith in their cause and held on for 12 days. They possessed the same resolute will that drove out a tyrant from the country. Theirs was a demonstration of people power. Except that they failed. It seems.

For 12 days, the rural folks of remote San Fernando town of this province barricaded the roads to dramatize their opposition to the destruction of nature’s gift: the forest. It is not always true that the forest lives forever. It dies and when it does, the people feel it.

For years, the peopleof San Fernando had united themselves to oppose a large projected dam that would have effectively inundated the whole fertile 30,000-hectare valley – their main source of livelihood and pride. The project was shelved in 1983 due to economic crisis. The townsfolk heaved a sigh of relief.

But not for long, however, as they realized that they are facing another serious environmental threat. Logging operations were indiscriminate in the watershed areas of two big rivers that cut through San Fernando. The Pagbugtaw sa Kamatuoran (PSK), organized originally to defend the town against the dam found another battle. Their experience taught them petitions, troopings and rallies were not enough.

Last July 21, about 1,000 PSK protesters began blocking the highway that leads to the town from long-bed haulers. But 13 days later, a constabulary crowd dispersal unit pounced on them. The truncheon-wielding troopers attacked the barricades shortly after the morning mass at the nearby parish church.

Fr. Patrick Kelly, the Canadian parish priest of San Fernando captured the counter with these words:

They stood at the picket line, young and old, men and women – even a woman with a baby at her breast – terrified, with tears streaming down their cheeks. And the PC came with their shields and four-foot rattan sticks. The crying and yelling and groans could be heared all over. People were beaten, thrown to the ground and pushed out of the way of the logging trucks.

Twenty residents, mostly women and children were injured in the melee. Fr. Kelly himself, a vocal supporter of the protest, was brought to the PC headquarters in Malaybalay, the capital town, for questioning. He was released later.

Since then, logging trucks have passed through San Fernando, escorted by armed government soldiers and militiamen. The PSK, on the other hand, received a restraining order from the court, at least, until August 21. But the protesters have not lost heart. The PSK continues to picket by the roadside apparently to remind the company and the government that they have not abandoned their cause.

Specifically, the PSK is demanding the cancellation of the concession permit of C.C. Almendras logging company. But the latter appears as determined as the former, resorting to behind-the-picket-line tactics, if Rogelio Reganon, PSK president is to be believed.

Three days after the violent dispersal, Reganon revealed they received an offer from the firm of 50,000 pesos a month with jobs for the protesters to boot. Reganon himself was offered a high-paying ob plus a house and lot. But PSK members stood on their ground. They rejected the offer which came to persuade them to stop their protest action. They care for the present but the future matters more.

The issue, however, is not only environmental, Fr. Charles Gervais, another Canadian priest argued. Fr. Gervais who runs an apostolate to help the Manobo tribe and is currently out of the country, once told MMNS that the destruction wrought by logging along the Bukidnon-Davao Norte boundary is not only physical but social as well.

He related how the once self-sufficient Manobo community which roughly comprises one half of the town’s population have been entirely corrupted a few months after the logging road reach it. Tribesmen left farming for the fast bucks that came with cutting wood for the company. Soon the cash was lost to vices – gambling and drinking – which the Manobos learned from the lowlanders. Not only that. In July last year, thousands of board feet of logs were left to rot under San Fernando’s forests when C.C. Almendras abruptly stopped buying from the Manobos.

The Manobos survived the drought calamity in 1982 to 1983 and almost certainly, they still will at the moment. But somehow, something died.

Worsening situation, said Fr. Kelly, is that C.C. Almendras company does not implement a reforestration program inside its 35,000-hectare concession area. Although owned by one Caridad C. Almendras from Davao City, it is reported that a Korean, Jayvee Chun, a former logging operator in the area acts as financier. Chun’s company, the Karamfil, is itself notorious for its wanton disregard of reforestration regulation. For instance, their lumber jacks would chain and drag logs to waiting haulers, wiping out young trees on their path.

Fr. Gervais, who had noticed the catastrophic effects as early as last year said that these are more evident during rainy season. Commented he: All that flows out of Pulangi river is mud.

The people of San Fernando share the common concern that is environmental destruction. They respond to the government’s exhortation to protect the forests. They have sent petition letters and telegrams supported by no less than Mayor Nicasio Lacson. Their messages either did not reach the addressees or were simply ingnored which prompted them to take an active yet peaceful move. Yet when they did, all they got were bruises.

What does it take to merit government action? (Media Mindanao News Service, News Digest Volume 1, August 1987-July 1988)

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