Ravanera: Worst of times, best of times

FROM the ‘50s to the ‘90s, we had lived in the worst of times environmentally when we allowed a few powerful loggers to wantonly exploit the 17 million hectares of diptherocarp forest without let up, which saw the massacre of all life forms in a paradise once so rich in biodiversity, in fact the richest on earth per unit area in terms of endemic flora and fauna.

The massive exploitation did not end at the shorelines. We also had lost the “center of the center of marine life on earth” (as once described by the UN-FAO) when we allowed foreign computerized fishing vessels to rake our archipelago and treated our seas as dumping ground of toxic garbage from industrialized countries.

The worst of times happened in a land that portrayed itself as a country where no one is above the law, that all must bow down to the majesty of the law because we follow the rule of law and not of men. Well, our ecosystems, be forest, land or sea, are well protected by existing laws and legislative measures against massive exploitation, yet, these untouchable powerful loggers, many of them becoming mayors, congressmen, governors and even senators, had tremendous rakings sharing these to law enforcers making a mockery of the rule of law.

During those dark days of environmental degradations, unknown to many, it was also the best of times with regards to people’s struggle to bring back the rule of law through the people’s direct actions called human barricades. It started on November 30, 1991, when 300 of us from Task Force Macajalar with the ecological people (farmers, fisherfolk and indigenous people) decided to lie down on the street fronting Searsolin and dared the logging trucks with their armed escorts to run over us before they can pass.

As you all know, some 50 ten-wheeler logging trucks were passing Cagayan de Oro at dawn from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. while the city people were deeply asleep. These trucks were carrying illegally cut logs as these were cut in the 200,00 hectare -- Kalatungan Range or in Bukidnon and Cagayan de Oro where logging operations were prohibited as these were cut 1,000 meters above sea level or in slope with more than 50% gradient. There were check-points indeed but we were informed that each logging truck could be allowed to pass after paying five thousand pesos per truck.

After one week of human barricade, no less than then DENR Secretary Alcala came to dialogue with us and I personally informed him of the illegal nature of logging then. In fairness, he immediately ordered the stoppage of logging operations which lasted only for three months, manifesting the power of these logging companies.

The barricades against logging continued for ten years. I remember in 1995, an M2K2 grenade was thrown to us at 4 o’clock in the morning. Miraculously, the grenade did not explode. At 7 a.m. that day, a PNP military expert got hold of the grenade and was so surprised to see a tooth-pick like bamboo blocking the “striker” to hit the “primer” which caused the non-explosion of the grenade. We shouted then, “God is good.” The barricaders retorted, “all the time.”

Yes, we then affirmed the biblical line, “If you have faith even as small as a mustard seed, you tell the mountain to move from here to there, it will move.” Our version, “if you have even a little faith in protecting God’s vanishing creation, and you tell the grenade not to explode, it will not explode.”

Sometime in 1999, no less than President Joseph Estrada came to dialogue with us. This time the number of barricaders went as high as 6,000 farmers, fisherfolks, women and indigenous people. And everything turned out well after that. He ordered the stoppage of illegal logging.

Yes, best of times, more so, spiritually. I remember, we had a fisherfolk-leader named Mr. Antonio Salcedo, lying in his death bed as he had bone cancer. He was looking for us as we could not visit him anymore as we were busy barricading logging trucks. He called the doctor to release him because he wanted to join us. When told that he should stay as he was already dying, he told the doctor that yes he knew of his impending death but what if God will ask him what did he do to protect His creation. He told the doctor that he must join the barricaders because he said “protecting God’s vanishing creation is the highest form of worship.” Five days later, Nong Tonyo died but it was our firm belief that he ended up in God’s loving embrace.

That, after all the harassments, the cases filed against us by the powerful loggers and threats to life, it was still the best of times for indeed, if God is with us, who can be against us? Be in the loving embrace of God, and it will always be the best of times.
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