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EnviCore: My five day’s diary in Davao

Thursday, January 5, 2012 - 13:13
Ryan Damaso

Mindanao is called the land of promise. Yet its vast plains, fertile lands, mineral-rich mountains and unique biodiversity have been both a blessing and curse to the people. The resources which should provide for the people’s needs have at the same time attracted unscrupulous people whose only goal is to profit any cost.

CEC's team of educators was sent to this promised land last June 17, 2011 to hold lectures on the environmental problems borne out of some people’s greed. Using the Environmental Cadres Course (EnviCore), an intensive educational curriculum devised by CEC for communities and funded by DVV International, we trained representatives from the peasants, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, Church people, NGOs, women, and youth sectors on how to best adapt and respond to environmental problems caused by excessive logging, mining, among other problems.

Based on the participants’ answers on the Training Need Analysis (TNA) forms, I gathered that this would be their first environmental course. We had a lot to accomplish during the five training days. Hopefully, the knowledge we brought would arm the people against the harmful effects of abusive human activities on nature and aid them in their struggle for a better future.

Excited
Our flight to Davao City was delayed by a couple of hours. It was already late in the evening when we arrived at the Davao City airport, where we were received by members of our partner organization Panalipdan Mindanao, the broadest local inter-regional formation dealing with environmental issues and campaigns in the region. Yang-yang and Ikang, who are both staff members of Panalipdan, met us at the airport and escorted us to the resort which would serve as our training site.

The site was dense with trees, damp with dew and quiet—a stark contrast to the city we came from. Only waves from the nearby sea and the whir of the air conditioner disturbed the silence in the training hall, where some participants from far-flung areas slept soundly.
I was also exhausted by the day’s travel, but I felt more excited for the training we would facilitate the next day—the 2nd nth time I would be conducting an EnviCore training. Still, I felt like I did during the first time: excited to impart invaluable knowledge, and learn from the people’s experiences.

Enthusiastic
I woke up at six the day after, itching from an ant bite that Yang-yang told me was related to the rain. When the rains come, the ants creep into the cottages of the resort. At around eight o’clock, the trainng's 22 participants filled the training hall.

The participants were eager students. During the different topics covered by EnviCore (such as Basic Ecological Concepts and Processes, State of the Philippine Environment, Campaign Planning and Administration, Networking and Selected Environmental Laws), they asked questions about issues that they faced in their own communities, such as how they can petition for the nullification of a mining permit. We talked about national laws, city ordinances, human rights violations, national patrimony and sovereignty, among others.

Their interest in such things overwhelmed us, but we understood completely: they were interested because these issues directly affected their lives. Their welfare is threatened by the health hazards of harmful pesticides from banana plantations, mine waste and militarization from mining operations, landslides related to large-scale commercial logging, and reduced harvests from the sea mainly because of competition from large commercial fishing vessels.

Through the discussions, it was clear that the people suffered from the loopholes in our environmental laws, the incompetence of the government, and flaws within our justice system. They asked our resource speaker, Atty. Jobert Pahilga from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, if there was a court higher than the Supreme Court (SC), just in case they lose their cases in all courts. Perhaps this was the situation these people faced in the past.

Atty. Pahilga said there was no court higher than the SC ordained by the State. Outside the state, however, there is one. “People who have lost hope with the justice system may bring their cases to the People’s Court,” said Atty. Pahilga.

Engaged
During our five-day training, facilitators, participants and resources speakers learned from each other. Our trainees might not have a curriculum to teach us with, but their everyday struggle holds invaluable lessons for everyone.

These people face dangers to their livelihood, families and even to their own lives. Belen Gallieto, one of the participants from Western Mindanao, recounted that “her house is being surveyed by unidentified men.” She said this only began after the anti-large scale campaign in their community began gaining ground. Anti-mining activists such as Gallieto are targets of human rights violators. On March 9, 2009, Eliezer “Boy” Billanes, spokesperson of an anti-mining alliance, was killed by unknown men in Koronadal, South Cotabato.

In the training, I also met people who were moved to action by their exposure to government activities. One of them was Primo, a former soldier of the Philippine Army stationed in his region. He said he left the military because he could no longer tolerate the army and local government’s anti-people practices, such as allowing a Chinese investor to continue with the logging despite the community’s firm resistance against it. Upon leaving the army, he joined a people’s organization that opposed logging in their region.

On the last day, we were all moved by the testimony of Ton-ton, a 21 year old youth who was invited to the training by a nun. He told us that before, he was irritated with activists. This impression changed after our five-day training.

“Kitang-kita ko [ngayon] ang batayan ng ating ipinaglalaban para sa atin at sa kalikasan. [Napaisip] ako sa mga sinasabi ng mga facilitator at instructor lalo na yung mga batas. Dapat talagang kumilos at ipaglaban ang ating kalikasan para sa tao (I now see the basis of the struggles for ourselves and for our environment. I thought about what our facilitators and instructors said, especially about our laws. We should act and fight for an environment for the people),” Ton-ton said. I consider him, and the others who were motivated to fight for a people--oriented use of the resources and genuine cause for the environment, as proof of the success of our Envicore training. There will be more to teach and reach in the days to come.

Ryan Damaso, an EnviCore alumni, is the current coordinator of the Training and Community Services Unit of CEC-Philippines. To read more on EnviCore, click here.