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If You Want Peace, Protect Creation

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By Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, SJ

FOR the celebration of the World Day of Peace at the beginning of the Year 2010, the message of Pope Benedict XVI focuses on the theme: “If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation.” The Holy Father makes a plea for “ecological awareness” and calls attention to “the relationship between the Creator, human beings and the created order.”
“The environment must be seen as God’s gift to all people,” the Pope stresses, “and the use of it entails a shared responsibility for all humanity, especially the poor and future generations.” These words of the Holy Father ring out in sharp contrast to recent events that took place in a remote forested area of Northern Mindanao.
On Christmas Eve 2009, a Higaonon tribal leader, Alberto Pinagawa, 54, was waylaid and killed in Barangay Minalwang on the Gingoog-Claveria upland area of Misamis Oriental. Berting was walking along a remote road with his son on his way home early morning to Barangay Kalipay in Anakan Parish. He was a lay minister and was preparing for the community’s Christmas worship services later that day when he was brutally shot at least twenty times in the face and other parts of the body by M-16 rifles.
Berting was a vocal leader of his tribal community. Since July, he had been gathering petition signatures from local residents on the upland areas to stop the logging operations of Southwood Timber Corporation which had been granted an Industrial Forest Management Agreement (IFMA) by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). The IFMA permit would cover 11,476 hectares and would allow the company to develop and utilize forestlands for 25 years. But instead of cutting only second-growth forest trees and re-planting in the former logging concession of Anakan Timber Corp., local residents reported that the company was involved in the logging of old-growth trees, like the lauan.
Indeed the designated IFMA area encroaches on the wider watershed area along the Bukidnon-Agusan-Misamis Oriental borders which protect the head waters of the Pulangi River to the south and other major tributaries like the Odiongan River to the northern coastal areas. During the January and November flashfloods, Gingoog residents were well aware of the destructive consequences of deforestation in their upland area. Nearly 8,000 residents were displaced by the January 2009 floods alone. It is in this light that a spokesperson representing at least 20,000 signatures presented to Gingoog City Mayor Ruthie Guingona claimed that the IFMA would be “detrimental not only to the environment but also to our lives, livelihood, homes, families and entire communities.”
At the Gingoog city council special session on Dec. 28, held simultaneously with an outdoor indignation rally attended by the grieving relatives of Berting, the city councilors themselves were told that the local communities and LGU of Claveria were not asked for their “free, prior, and informed consent”—despite the fact that the greater part of the logging operations, 8,000 of the 11, 500 has., was within the municipality of Claveria.
By the end of the extended session, eight of 10 city councilors voted for a resolution asking DENR for the immediate cancellation of the IFMA. Concerned environmentalists have pointed out that the IFMA area constitutes part of the remaining 12% forested area in the Philippines. Instead of deforestation, they stress, the government should engage in extending the forest cover of the country.
Berting Pinagawa before his death would tell his fellow advocates for environment that he was gathering the anti-logging signatures not so much for his upland community, but for the sake of the lowland communities, especially in Gingoog, that would be affected—at present and in the future—by the continued logging operations.
This is echoed by Pope Benedict’s plea for promoting peace through intergenerational solidarity: “Future generations cannot be saddled with the cost of our use of common environmental resources.” “As we care for creation,” the Holy Father notes, “we realize that God, through creation, cares for us.”

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