In Last 2 Years, 20 DENR Workers Were Killed

According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, 20 of its employees, contractual workers and civil society partners have been killed since 2010. The latest death toll occurred just last Friday in Surigao del Sur, the ground zero for illegal logging in the Philippines.

Environment Secretary Ramon Paje identified the latest casualties as Rolando Intas, 57, and Wilner Pelos Colorita, 52, who were both gunned down by an unknown assailant. Paje said they were forest protection officers, who work for a forest cooperative in Lianga, Surigao del Sur.

Caraga Regional Director Nonito Tamayo said the two men worked closely with the DENR. A few days before they were killed, they intercepted and confiscated 1,000 board feet of hardwood lumber that were illegally harvested from their forest land.

“They were killed in the market by a lone unknown assailant. One of them died on the spot, while the other died on arrival at the hospital,” Tamayo said.

Before 2010, there were instances of violence against DENR workers, but they were not as severe nor as brazen. In 2009, one DENR employee was killed while at work and he died because of natural causes, DENR records show. In 2008, six died while on official duty, including a forest ranger gunned down at a checkpoint.

Alyansa Tigil Mina and Kalikasan People’s Network said 17 environmental activists had been killed under the Aquino administration. Since 2001, there had been 58 killings, the groups said.

“If the figures from DENR Secretary Paje are accurate … that is extremely alarming,” Carlos Conde of Human Rights Watch told the INQUIRER.

“These killings are all the more alarming in the context of the Aquino government’s determined push for more investments in mining. Without the necessary safeguards in place to protect DENR employees and environment advocates, we are afraid that these killings will continue,” he added.

China Would Be Favored By Gunboat Diplomacy

At least five vessels and several smaller Chinese salvage fleet boats steamed last week into a shoal off Palawan Island to rescue a People’s Liberation Army warship that ran stranded a reef while patrolling disputed waters in the Spratly archipelago in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

The expedition at one point threatened to trigger a new confrontation between the Philippines and China and push the intensity of their territorial dispute to a higher notch since the start of a standoff of their vessels in April.

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) entered the fight on Saturday by flying surveillance planes over the Spratlys and photographing the salvage party working to free Missile Frigate No. 560 from a reef at Hasa-Hasa Shoal (international name: Half Moon Shoal).

The Australian newspaper Sydney Morning Herald, which broke the news on Friday, said the 103.2-meter, 1,425-ton frigate was patrolling disputed waters when it ran into the shallows 111 kilometers west of Palawan, and that the frigate got “thoroughly stuck” on the reef. A Philippine Coast Guard vessel was dispatched to the area to monitor the Chinese rescue operations.

The Herald story followed reports that the Philippine government was  verifying other reports that China had installed a powerful radar on Subi Reef, an islet 22 km from the Philippine-occupied Kalayaan group of islands in the Spratlys.

According to the Herald, the frigate “has in the past been involved in aggressively discouraging Filipino fishing boats from the area,” in what appeared to be an act using warships to intimidate fishermen.

“The accident could not have come at a more embarrassing moment for the Chinese leadership, who have been pressing territorial claims and flexing the country’s muscle ahead of a leadership transition later this year,” the Herald article said.

Philippine defense officials went out of their way to avoid issuing offensive statements over the reef incident, and said the Philippine military was prepared to provide assistance to the wracked warship.

[In the latest development yesterday, Chinese naval ships safely removed the grounded frigate and a Chinese Embassy spokesperson said the warship was sailing back to port with minor damage].

The row over the warship spawned sensitive diplomatic issues. The Philippine government was in a quandary over whether to lodge a diplomatic protest to Beijing. If the setting up of a powerful Chinese radar station was confirmed, Malacañang officials had said, that would be a “provocation.”

Although the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) was not considering a protest, its spokesperson Raul Hernandez said “we need to find out what really happened with the Chinese frigate in our territory.”

He said the DFA would ask Beijing to explain why the frigate became stuck on the shoal.

It would been embarrassing for China to accept the Philippine offer to help them out of a mess which they created by snooping into Philippine waters through their maritime patrols.

30-vessel fleet

On Thursday, after the frigate struck the reef, the Chinese mounted another show of force. Beijing dispatched one of its largest-ever fishing expeditions from Hainan Island to the Spratly archipelago.

Chinese fishing boats regularly travel to the Spratlys, which China claims as part of its territory on historical grounds but which are also claimed wholly or in part by Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.

The 30-vessel Chinese fishing fleet is one of the largest ever launched from Hainan, according to a report by Xinhua, the state-run Chinese news agency.

Debacle in Phnom Penh

Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to channel territorial disputes to a regional mediating body suffered a setback on Friday when the Asean foreign ministers meeting in Phnom Penh failed to issue a joint communiqué on a code conduct that would  provide for multilateral resolutions of territorial disputes.

Cambodia, the host country, blocked a consensus on a draft communiqué, which would bind China. Beijing opposes a multilateral approach to conflict-resolutions, preferring a bilateral approach, which would allow her to settle disputes individually with rival claimants. That debacle shifted the arena of resolution to gunboat diplomacy through which China enjoys coercive advantage.

President Aquino Pays Last Respects To Dolphy

Wearing a white barong President Benigno Aquino III arrived at Dolphy’s wake around 5:30 p.m to pay his respects to the late Comedy King Rodolfo “Dolphy” Quizon.

The President used a back entrance and walked past the reporters without giving a word. While inside, Aquino talked to Quizon’s partner Zsa Zsa Padilla, and left just after around 15 minutes.

The President earlier is considering declaring a national day of mourning for Dolphy. Abigail Valte, a spokesperson of Aquino, said Thursday that the President was now looking at pertinent documents regarding the possible declaration of a day of mourning for the entertainment icon. “It’s being considered, it’s being studied. The necessary documents for the proposal are already with the President,” Valte told reporters.

Valte reminded reporters that traditionally, a national day of mourning is declared on the day of the burial of the comedy king Dolphy.

List Of UN Endangered To Off The Philippines Rice Terraces

The UN office in Manila said last Wednesday the Philippines’ ancient rice terraces, carved into mountains like giant green stairs, have been removed from a UN list of endangered world heritage sites.

Philippine government’s request to rally local and international aid, and for better management of their preservation for the 2,000-year-old living cultural monuments were put on the World Heritage Committee’s danger list in 2000.

The UN information office said in a statement “Both actions were successfully undertaken, leading to the conservation of the remote high rice fields”.

It had extended $153,200 to aid Philippine efforts to save paddies it said were endangered by deforestation, disuse, climate change and earthquakes said by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The terraces was located in the five towns in the northern Cordilleras, were entitled as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1995, mentioning the need to preserve the traditions of terrace-building peoples in Ifugao province.

UN-assisted conservation efforts should drive tourist traffic to the sites by up to 30 percent said by Jerry Dalipog, the mayor of Banaue town, where two of the five terraced fields are located.

He told AFP in a telephone interview that “Once the tourists are convinced that there are still terraces left to see, more of them will come and visit us”.

He also said that the Banaue is set to complete by year’s end a four-month project to repair amphitheater-shaped rice terraces in the village of Batad, one of the most famous sites that had been disfigured last year by a huge landslide.

Dalipog added about the repair works, estimated to cost 50 million pesos ($1.18 million), are being financed by the government and private donors.

“Expression of sacred traditions and a delicate social balance,” which have helped create “a landscape of great beauty that expresses the harmony between humankind and the environment UNESCO defines the terraces.”