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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, January 7, 2019
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with Errol A. Gatumbato
OPINIONS

The year that was

Rock & Refuge

Before 2018 finally ended, several parts of the country, particularly Samar and Bicol, have been affected with the onslaught of tropical depression Usman, which brought heavy rains that resulted to severe flooding and landslides.

The typhoon caused a number of deaths and damages to agriculture and infrastructures. The occurrence of flooding and landslides was mainly due to the continuing denudation of our forests and the poor land use planning, although these hazards could also be attributed to numerous factors, especially so that the Philippines is geographically situated in the western rim of the Pacific Ocean, known as one of the hazardous parts of the Earth.

The plan of the Cove Manila to drop 130,000 balloons for the countdown to the New Year became viral in cyberspace. It garnered negative reactions from environmentalists and the campaign with the hashtag #DropBalloonDrop snowballed in various social media platforms and was carried by mainstream media. The activity was viewed to cause environmental harms because the balloons will eventually become solid waste and may find their ways to land and seas.

Initially, the organizer of the event insisted that the dropping of balloons would be done in an indoor setting and the balloons are biodegradable. In a statement, however, the Climate Reality Project Philippines, a group founded by climate laureate and former US Vice President Al Gore, said the dropping of balloons was “wasteful, unsustainable and ecologically apathetic”. It further claimed that “all these balloons, if not recycled, will end up as waste in landfills and other areas which will harm wildlife, marine and terrestrial ecosystems and even clog sewage systems, among others”.

The widespread negative reactions from the public prompted the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to issue a stern warning that it will not hesitate to file charges if the event would be continued and caused environmental harm. Eventually, the Cove Manila backed down and did not pursue the dropping of 130,000 balloons, which was earlier aimed to establish a Guinness World Record.

This case was a good example of how public vigilance could trigger action from the government and prevent the likely occurrence of ecological damages.

It was also last year when the more than two-decade old National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of the Philippines was amended, with the passage of Republic Act 11038, or the Expanded NIPAS Act. The law similarly declared 94 protected areas, four of which are in Negros Island – Northern Negros Natural Park, Balinsasayao Twin Lakes Natural Park, Apo Island Protected Landscape and Seascape, and the Tañon Strait Protected Seascape.

This column reviewed the different provisions of the law, including some of my concerns, in four series in July 2018.

One of the controversial issues last year that captured the attention of the public was the closure and reopening of Boracay, the country’s premier and popular tourist destination. Numerous environmental concerns have triggered the closure, including overcrowding, land conversion, improper waste disposal, illegal structures, coral damages, and wildlife dislocation, among others. During the closure, it was reported that rehabilitation measures were carried out under the leadership of the DENR and the Department of Tourism. The island was reopened in October with certain restrictions.

It hardly took the attention of the public, but in November last year, the report of the Philippine Climate Change Assessment Working Group 3 came out, that claimed the country’s emissions are increasing, brought about by the continuing economic growth. The report said that although the Philippines has minimally contributed in the global green house emissions, estimated only at 0.31 percent in 2010 and 0.39 percent in 2015, the country emissions increased from energy, agriculture, waste generation, and industrial processes.

Almost half the emissions came from the use of coal and fuel oil for electricity generation, estimated at 41.8 percent in 2010, and it continued to increase by 3.7 percent annually. The transport system contributed about 35 percent of the total emission of greenhouse gases. The report also found out that agriculture, especially livestock farming and rice cultivation, produced methane.

The global greenhouse emissions have been known as one of the major culprits of the climate change phenomenon that is creating numerous damages to the environment and the people around the world.

As we look forward to a better 2019, I also hope that the protection of our environment and natural ecosystems remains as an important concern for all of us. Rest assured, Conservation Matters will continue and attempt to chronicle events, concerns, and challenges on environment as they unfold this year and onwards. Happy New Year!*

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