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SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: Writing off Iponan River

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MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 21 May) — Heavy equipment used for mining operations in Iponan River, a water body between Cagayan de Oro City and Opol town in Misamis Oriental, passed through three barangays of the city (Tumpagon, Pigsag-an and Tuburan) in full view of residents and officials of these barangays, according to a report by Froilan Gallardo (MindaNews, 20 May 2023).

“We have questioned the barangay officials why they have allowed these illegal mining activities and often their answers are that they are powerless to stop the miners,” the report quoted Engr. Armen Cuenca, chief of Cagayan de Oro Local Environment and Natural Resources Office, as saying.

Based on Gallardo’s report, Cuenca did not elaborate why the barangay officials said they are “powerless” against the miners. Did the miners bring along armed thugs? Or did they drop names the mere mention of which would make any barangay official back down and say “all right, be my guest”? The official’s statement leaves much to the imagination.

The disgusting part is that as early as 2013 the Court of Appeals had issued a Writ of Kalikasan and a Writ of Continuing Mandamus to protect Iponan River from further destruction. It’s been 10 years — repeat, 10 years — and it’s business as usual for the rapacious miners and whoever is protecting them in the halls of power.

Yet, they could not have done it without the Mafia-like protection of powers that be. Accountability goes beyond the barangay officials who played deaf and blind to the illegal mining activities.

Aside from the concerned local government units, the writs ordered the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), National Bureau of Investigation, Philippine National Police, Armed Forces of the Philippines, and Bureau of Immigration to submit monthly reports of their enforcement activities.

The court’s requirement for these agencies to submit reports means they should also perform site inspections — and seizures and arrests if need be — on a monthly basis or whenever the need arises. Were these being done? If yes, what did their reports say? If no inspections were done and no reports were submitted, these agencies owe the public an explanation.

Since this concerns environmental protection I believe the primary responsibility to initiate actions in fulfillment of the writs falls on either the local government units or the DENR.

It’s improbable that after the issuance of the writs it’s only now that the concerned authorities got wind of illegal mining activities in Iponan River. Ten years is too long to cite ignorance as an excuse. This could be a case of nonfeasance.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at hmcmordeno@gmail.com.)

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