There’s No Christmas
Children singing Christmas carols, colorful Christmas lanterns hanging all around , beautiful Christmas trees in every houses and streets , glittering Christmas lights that brighten the nights, people smiling and greeting each other “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!”.
Christmas time is for sure the joyous holiday of the year for us Filipinos. Everyone is in a festive mood and the feeling is very special. It is a season of joy. Family reunions and reconciliation among friends are excitedly looked forward. Comes December 24 midnight, every household dines for yummy noche buena and exchanges gifts in celebration for the birth of Jesus Christ, our Savior.
But for the people of southern Philippines in Mindanao, particularly the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan in northern Mindanao this Christmas season is an extreme nightmare that one can never imagine. Typhoon Sendong a, k.a Washi worstly hit these two cities last December 17 at 2 o’clock in the morning with torrential flashflood and landslide washing away the sleeping population...
Unidentified dead bodies everywhere covered with mud; love ones are nowhere to be found – destruction is all over the place! More than 400,000 people were affected. Thousands of houses along riverbanks were totally washed out. An island of Cagayan de Oro named Isla de Oro submerged in waters. More than 1,000 persons were dead and 50 missing persons as of December 21 report of the Philippine National Red Cross and the National Disaster Coordinating Committee. There will still be more casualties as rescue operations are still digging rubbles for dead bodies. Mostly of the victims were women and children.
Tears of grief and devastation flooded on everyone’s eyes. Helpless images of mothers crying and grieving for their missing and dead children and love ones... Fathers crying in pain and guilt being alive while all his family members are gone are heartbreaking. Children are crying and staring into space looking for their parents made me cry and breathless.
Many survivors said huge logs rammed down that killed their families during the flashflood. In Iligan City, thousands of logs joined the angry flashing waters down to the city shorelines. Meanwhile, the city mayor of Cagayan de Oro Mayor Vicente Emano said in GMA TV News interview that rampant illegal logging activities had caused the onslaught of heavy waters killing thousands of residents. ”If it had been stopped long time ago, the disaster could not had happened”, lamented the mayor.
In September 8, 2011 news report of Sunstar Cagayan de Oro , Jesus Reyes regional chief of Forest Resource Coordinating Division of the Department Of Environment and Natural Resources said around P3 to P4 million worth of illegally cut lumber in different species were already sequestered on checkpoints all over the region.
Environmental and indigenous groups protested the foreign large scale mining companies operating in the region. “Since the Supreme Court decision granting the legality of the Mining Act of 1995, Australian, European and American companies involved in mining and logging operations are indiscriminately excavating, exploring and bombing thousands of acres of lands in the mountains of Bukidnon, Misamis Oriental and even Cagayan de Oro City”, said Jomorito Goaynon an indigenous group leader of Kalumbay Northern Mindanao. Kalumbay is an indigenous organization that is fighting for there ancestral lands, against mining and political killings.
The people of Mindanao had long been protesting the operation of large -scale mining and illegal logging owned by foreign nationals and big business. But, this anti-mining resistance resulted to persecution of many environmental activists. Recently in October, a foreign missionary priest Fr Pops Tentorio was killed in broad delight because of his anti-mining advocacy among the indigenous tribes. Two days later, another local anti mining leader was killed. The government did nothing to render justice to the victims instead, it continues.
The national government refused to see the real story behind this man- made tragedy. In fact, a month ago President B. Aquino approved an Executive Order exempting mining companies on total log ban. He even removed the funding for Disaster Preparedness in the P5- billion budgets for calamity fund in 2011. When the whole nation joined in sympathy and give support to the flashflood victims on the first day, the President is attending a Christmas party. It took three days for him to visit Cagayan de Oro and Iligan City.
During his speech in Cagayan de Oro City on Tuesday, he blamed the local settlers in Isla de Oro for living in danger zones. He blamed the farmers who live in the mountains for cutting trees. But he never ever blamed the giant multi-national mining corporations and the big logging concessionaires operating in the region.
He never mentioned that in Northern Mindanao itself, 23,000 hectares of upland forests have been replaced by the pineapple plantations of the Del Monte corporation (University of the Philippines NIGS). 4,000 hectares, meanwhile, were cleared to make way for the Rapalin palm oil plantation (B. Ellorin, 2011).
How can nature take care of itself when trees are not there anymore to absolve heavy rainfall and protect the population? This is a very basic analysis of our ecological balance that even a kindergarten pupil knew the consequence of massive forest denudation. How can a president, the highest official of the land never know this?
As an environmental activist, I deeply sympathized and joined the victims in their grieving moments. My prayer goes for those who were not able to make it especially the innocent and helpless children. I know how painful losing love ones in this very special season of Christmas. “There’s no Christmas anymore”, said a TV interview by crying mother whose children were all gone. My tears fell and I just shook my head in anger and sadness.
In this sorry state, Christmas carols became lamentations, Christmas lights became glitters of tears, family reunions became separation and Christmas celebration became desperation and helplessness. How can Noche Buena be a special meal on the midnight of December 24 in celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, when a mother or a father can’t even smile searching their missing and dead children? How can children giggle wishing to see Santa Claus when they can’t even find their mothers and fathers to hug and comfort them in the coldness of the night ?
Today, I have to convince myself more than ever that we Filipinos are resilient and very optimistic people. We can still smile to tragedies and hurdle obstacles because we love life. Amid this darkness that engulfed our hopes and our faith for a brighter tomorrow, I still want to believe that we can move on. I know it is easy being said than done.
It is our toiling hands that join together that save most of us in every moment of death. We have to save our remaining hope for survival. We don’t want to mourn again for this kind of tragedy. We need to defend our sovereignty over our lands and waters. Let’s work together and oppose large scale mining and demand from the government to scrap the Mining Act of 1995.