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Disappearing forest threatens village’s survival

Church calls for urgent action on environment

Disappearing forest threatens village’s survival
Dead tree: This solitary dead tree is all that is left of a lush mangrove forest. (Photo: Bernardino Balabo)
Bernardino Balabo, Bulacan

June 17, 2011

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Forty-two-year-old Alfredo Lunes has lived most of his life in Pugad, an island village near the coastal town of Hagonoy in Bulacan province. As a young boy, he used to join his late father in fishing trips off Manila Bay. Today he maintains two fish pens and a fishing boat. But the last decade has been hard for Lunes, who also serves as village councilman. The catch here is dwindling, almost by the day. “The sea is not generous any more,” he says. Lunes’ observation is not without basis. He points out the ailing mangrove forest on one side of the village and, on the other side, a lone dead tree; evidence of severe environmental damage. That lone dead tree was part of a dense mangrove forest that acted as a buffer for at least 100 hectares of municipal fishpond. In turn, the fishpond served as the village’s barrier against the huge waves brought by southwest winds in the rainy season. With the forest gone, the fish sanctuary and breeding ground have disappeared. Hence the falling catch. And now the village is at the mercy of the tides. Officials of the Diocese of Malolos say an environmental code for the province is long overdue. “It should have been passed long ago,” says Father Dario Cabral. His view is echoed by Monsignor Andy Valera, vicar general of the diocese, who is demanding the implementation of environmental programs in the province, as a matter of urgency. “The degradation can be traced to man’s lack of discipline and understanding of God’s mandate to be good stewards of His creation,” says Monsignor Valera. “We can’t go on like this, we have to go back to God and preserve our environment for the next generation.” The Bulacan provincial government is fast-tracking the approval of the long awaited code. It plans to create a management office, tasked to oversee the province’s coastal areas. The Diocesan Environment and Ecology Program (DEEP), headed by Father Efren Basco, will call the attention of local officials to issues of waste management and other environmental concerns. Among them is the construction of a giant sanitary landfill in the province, which the church is opposing. “It could become a dumping ground for imported waste materials,” says Monsignor Valera.
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