The latest in President Rodrigo Duterte’s outrageous claims? No, we are not talking about his tirade against Vice President Leni Robredo in a Cabinet briefing Tuesday night. The President used the same occasion to blame “squatters” for causing deforestation, which led to massive flooding during recent typhoons. These low-income families’ continuous construction of wooden houses has them cutting down trees, he said.
“’Yung average Pilipino, they cannot afford a concrete house so halos lahat diyan—let us use the word being understood by all—’yang mga squatters, puro kahoy ’yan. Bibili ’yan including coconut wood,” the President said.[“The squatters’ houses are mainly made out of wood so they will likely buy wood, including coconut lumber.”]
“Ang problema niyan sa bukid talagang magpuputol ’yan ng kahoy because ang mga Pilipino, ’yan lang (ang kaya). Saan naman sila kukuha ng semento? Where do they cut the trees?” he added.[“The problem here is Filipinos living in the lowlands would very likely cut wood because that’s what they can afford. Where else will they get cement?”]
With the country’s increasing population and families choosing to build their own dwellings, Duterte said the problem of deforestation is unlikely to end soon. “Magtatayo ng bahay and the temptation to cut the trees and bring it there to the lower land ay really to build houses kaya ’di yan mawawala,” he said.
Earlier this week, Duterte blamed illegal logging and mining activities as among the causes of flooding in several areas and said he would direct Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy Cimatu to look into the problem.
Such activities, according to the President, have loosened the soil in areas like Isabela and Cagayan, which suffered calamitous flooding during Typhoon Ulysses.
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“Kapag maraming butas, maraming tubig na pumapasok sa loob ng lupa. That’s why… landslide. It loosens the soil,” Duterte said.[“When there are plenty of holes in the soil, water goes in and loosens the soil, causing landslides.”]
What about other government-funded projects?
While the President got his facts on landslides and their causes right, he may have left out other projects during his administration that have transformed previously untouched masses of land into industrialized areas.
This includes the construction of the New Clark City last year in anticipation of the Southeast Asian Games which the country hosted. The development in Tarlac bordering Pampanga province drove the Aetas from their ancestral lands.
The DENR, on the other hand, has come under fire in recent years for allowing several projects that disrupt the natural ecosystem, including the contested construction of the Kaliwa Dam. Environmental advocates fear the China-funded project will destroy the Sierra Madre mountain range, a natural defense against typhoons.
This week, the agency defended the building of Kaliwa Dam, with DENR Undersecretary Jonas Leones saying that the project will undergo a thorough review upon implementation. “’Yung Kaliwa Dam, kung ang ikinatatakot nila ay magkakaroon ng massive deforestation, palagay ko hindi naman papayag ang ating departamento kung masisira ang ating kagubatan diyan,” he said.[“If people fear Kaliwa Dam will cause massive deforestation, I think our department won’t allow it if it would destroy our forests.”]
Progress photos of the ongoing construction of access road leading to the New Centennial Water Source at Barangay Magsaysay, Infanta, Quezon #BuildBuildBuild
With such controversial projects being pushed and defended aggressively by this administration despite the massive foreign loans involved and the threats they pose to the environment, isn’t it unfair to now shift the blame for deforestation on marginalized folk who ultimately suffer its dire consequences?
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Sure, they may have been so desperate to build homes out of wood scraps and coco lumber they can afford, but then again, isn’t public housing part of government responsibility? Why blame the poor for the government’s inadequate service?
As for the massive illegal logging, mining and quarrying going on that the President said he would ask the DENR to look into, we’re not holding our breath. Business as usual has been the default mindset that has led to the degradation of the environment after all. But prove us wrong, Mr. President. Please!
Header images courtesy of the Presidential Communications Office and Richard A. Reyes for Inquirer.net
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Writer: NOLISOLI TEAM