Environmental advocates led by the Lumaban sa Cha-Cha, Ipagtanggol ang Kalikasan (LUNTIAN) Coalition held an ‘Eco-Walk’ today at the University of the Philippines – Diliman campus to educate the public on the environmental impacts of charter change and other threats to the country’s national patrimony.

“From our mountain ridges to our urban green spaces down to the coral reefs, our last ecological frontiers are facing increased risks of plunder today. Aside from the business-as-usual mining, plantations, and other extractives, the present biggest threat of natural resource wholesale is the proposed 100% foreign ownership and privatization of timberlands, national parks, and other public commons,” said Leon Dulce, national coordinator of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) and convener of LUNTIAN.

The participants first held a centralized walk before splitting into different groups with different activities: tour of native trees around the campus, bird watching, and urban gardening workshop for children.

Studies note that at least 109 endemic, resident, and migratory bird species have been spotted in the grounds of UP Diliman. Among those endemic species that have been found in the campus are the colasisi (Loriculus philippensis) and the Philippine scops owl (Otus megalotis). The bignay tree (Antidesma bunius), one of the Philippines’ native trees that is found in UP Diliman, bears fruits which are eaten by the various species of fruit bats that form part of the campus’ local biodiversity.

But biodiversity, public lands, waters, minerals, energy, agriculture, fisheries, and other resources and public utilities reserved for the benefit of Filipinos will lose constitutional safeguards under the numerous proposed cha-cha revisions on Article XII on National Economy and Patrimony which seek to allow full 100% foreign ownership in strategic resources and sectors.

The country’s experience under the Mining Act of 1995’s full foreign ownership scheme resulted in no concrete economic gains, with companies entitled to repatriate 100% of their profits back to their home countries.

The same act also provides water, timber, and easement rights for companies that essentially renders affected communities powerless to sue for drying of wells, logging, and landgrabbing. Sixty-eight percent (68%) of all operating mines have also been revealed involved in various violations, among them the destruction of the habitat of flora and fauna and pollution, the destruction of which is expected to skyrocket under the proposed unbridled entry of foreign investors and their projects.

Other existing threats to patrimony and the Philippine environment include the intrusion of Chinese vessels at Benham Rise and the continuing militarization and reclamation activities at the West Philippine Sea by China. Environmental defenders and communities at the forefront of struggles against destructive big mining projects, plantations, and dams remain vulnerable to reprisals from state armed forces in the payroll of corporations that stand to profit from the implementation of these environmentally-destructive projects.

“Through the eco-walk, we want to impress upon the participants an inkling of what is at stake for the environment of the entire county should cha-cha push through and if the killings and human rights violations of envi defenders go unabated. The already detrimental effects of the ongoing commodification of our commons will be more magnified,” Dulce said.

Aside from the Kalikasan PNE and LUNTIAN, the Eco-Walk organizers include AGHAM – Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (AGHAM), Center for Environmental Concerns – Philippines (CEC), College of Science Student Council (CSSC), Climate Change Network for Community-based Initiatives (CCNCI), March for Science Alliance (MSA), Miriam Public Education and Awareness Campaign for the Environment (Miriam PEACE), Nilad, Philippine Native Plants Conservation Society Inc. (PNPCSI), UP Manila University Student Council – Science and Environment Committee, and Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP). A satellite Eco-Walk was also organized at the Arroceros Forest Park in Manila.#

Photos crowdsourced from 350 Pilipinas, CEC-Phils, AGHAM