NGOs and CHR?

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By Jun Ledesma

Sunbursts

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


AMONG the thriving industries in Davao are the Non-Government Organizations. Like the cocolisaps, NGOs in Davao surfaced under a favorable condition. This was when the dictatorial regime was ousted and the new centurions in the government pictured the Philippines as a nation badly devastated by the unlamented regime. The community of nations responded positively. The western countries set up a "mini-Marshall plan" similar to what America and Great Britain did, at a much larger scale, to rebuild the Philippines.

The MMP was set-up in HongKong. Donor countries pooled and poured money for the rehab of the Philippines from the "ravages" of dictatorship and not a few towns and cities benefited from this. General Santos City was among the recipients of hundreds of millions of funds and that transformed the city from the dusty and backward metropolis to a city with modern infrastructures which we see today.

But not all member of the western alliance can extend the Philippine government direct assistance despite the extremely popular Pres. Cory Aquino in the helm of the revolutionary government. The constitutions of many European nations, Canada and Australia included, cannot just dispense the 10% of their coffers for social outreach to countries that needed assistance. The money available for social ameliorations may not be extended to the government but instead directly given to NGOs. Donor countries course this foreign aid through accredited donor foundations or agencies which their respective governments created for this purpose.

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Example of this is Konrad Adenaur Foundation of Germany which funds projects related to "promotion of freedom and liberty, peace, and justice". Canada had Canada International Development Agency (CIDA) to "support sustainable development in developing countries in order to reduce poverty and contribute to a more secure, equitable, and prosperous world." (CIDA was collapsed last year and placed under Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs).

For one reason I would rather keep to myself, Davao City beat other places in the country in coming up with several NGOs. Because we were supposed to be a devastated country after the Marcos dictatorship the NGOs came up with project proposals that have something to do with poverty, human rights, justice, hunger, and illiteracy to name a few. Emerging from the martial law regime, the media have a lot of stories to write and many of these landed in the albums of enterprising NGOs which sent project proposals for funding to the various donor foundations abroad.

As an aside, Janet Napoles actually was a Jane-come-lately although I surmise that she learned much of the tricks of how to raise funds via an NGO from...who else...but someone who must be close to Aquino. Later when the blame-Marcos strategy became rather ridiculous and therefore became irrelevant, many NGOs conjured some tall tales to persuade donor foundations to fund their undertakings. New NGO breed discovered that there are oodles of money in the much talked about climate change and then later in PDAF and DAP. Thus environment NGOs was born and some with interlocking memberships.

There are of course NGOs that are truly true to their commitments and objectives. But these are the quiet ones that do not need media coverage and alliance with militant activists or some contacts and tutors from Malacañang. The genuine NGOs can easily document their achievements while the other breed would need media mileage and invent stories to prove they are wanted by the sectors they purport to help. An exception to this are the Napoles NGOs that quietly purloined taxpayers money via Congress pork barrel and Malacañang Disbursement Acceleration Program.

In Davao City, among the spurious stories that NGOs fabricated was the April 2005 fish kill (hito) stories in Tugbok which various NGOs, and sadly some quarters in the media, imputed to the chemical contamination from banana plantations. The truth was, the more than 30,000 hito from a pond in Lagao, General Santos City was transported to Tugbok and dumped in the ponds owned by a Dr. Domingo. The fishes were already oxygen-starved since the ponds in Lagao had dried up due to extended dry season then. I also found out that the Lagao pond derived its water from irrigation (which had dried up) which explained why traces of pesticides found by laboratory technicians in the carcass of the dead hito were those used in rice fields.

In another tall tale, an NGO which was assisted by CIDA came up with a "well-documented" report that Talomo and Lipadas rivers were contaminated with traces of lead element. PCEEM (the NGO), which stood for Philippines-Canada Environmental and Economic Management, that was involved in the "research", presented to media its frightening findings without verifying where the source of the lethal lead contamination came from. The members of PCEEM went on a free-wheeling stories again blaming the banana plantations despite the statements from the Philippine Analytical Laboratory that agricultural inputs do not use lead. Still PCEEM never corrected the fabrication and proceeded to divulge to media its unverified findings. The claim was preposterous considering that lead element does not occur freely by itself in nature but always as a compound. The most popular ore is galena but to extract lead from this compound needs a tedious process.

Since there was and still is no galena processing plant in the upper stream of Talomo-Lipadas it is therefore incredulous that lead will leach in any of the tributaries that led to the rivers. The only plausible explanation was that the traces could have come from fuel of dump trucks loading sand and gravel in quarries upstream which also explained why the traces was not constant. The other possibility is that residues from lead paint from deteriorated GI roofing must have found their way to the streams. While this was pointed out in the media forum still PCEEM stood by its story unmindful of the fact that it is injurious to the banana industry. Canada and CIDA for that matter would not have anything to do to harm the local industry. Later Canada was stricken out from the acronym 'PCEEM' which was later changed to 'PCEEM Davao' that now stands for 'People Collaborating for Environmental and Economic Management'. End of the story.

So many stories and situations had been invented by environmental NGOs in an attempt to generate funds from donor foundations. Some rib-tickling tale is that river water will be contaminated by turbines of hydropower plants. Other atrocious claims: Banana plantations mix powdered lead bars so that chemical mists will not drift away.

On human rights and justice advocates: That there were more than 800 victims of extra-judicial killings in Davao City and that the perpetrators were DDS of Duterte. These morbid claims which include victims of NPA's Sparrow Units and NPA's "Operation Ajos" and "Operation Zombies" merited a book publication of New York-based Human Rights Watch entitled "You Can Die Anytime...". So incredible were the contents that the United Nations Human Rights Commission issued a disclaimer that it is not a UNHCR publication and that it is not endorsing the book. Even then, the political adversaries of Mayor Rodrigo Duterte demanded from the HRC to have him investigated of summary killings. Despite the fact that then HRC Chairman Leila Delima headed the probe, they came out with zero findings.

Now Mayor Duterte is in a dilemma. To put an end to the isolation of Paquibato district and to alleviate the economic condition and develop the area he endorsed the plan of putting up oil palm plantation. My guess is that he must have brought this up already with the lumads and the rebels. Anyway, when some NGO spitfires heard about this they immediately protested claiming the plantation will damage Davao City's watersheds. Paquibato of course has not been identified as watershed although Barangay Tapak should. But that is my take. The protesting NGO on the other hand should be circumspect about which area to them is watershed. Furthermore, aside from plainly ranting, they should come out with workable proposals that investors are willing to undertake. If they are merely protesting to earn some media mileage to include in their project presentations to donor foundations then they should not do it at the expense of Digong.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on June 26, 2014.

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