Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Samar being robbed of gains again?

Samar being robbed of gains again?

By Ricky J. Bautista

The province of Samar, which formed part of the third largest island in the country, one of the richest biodiversity centers in the country; one that has the largest and last remaining contiguous patch of virgin forest is not supposed to be one of the poorest municipalities in the Philippines.

We are not supposed to be because we live in a land of exotic sights and beauty few have ever seen. But in contrary, the people in this “Land of Plenty” have long been impoverished, deprived and denied of everything we desperately need in this time of global crisis.

Let’s discuss this slowly. Well, I am optimistic that some of you will agree that the list of government neglect to our people can be described as very “long like a winding road,” and too familiar to us all why.

Firstly, the tourists and investors are complaining that our provincial roads are “swamps” when it rains and “dustbins” when the sun shines. In year 2001 and 2002 alone, the provincial government of Samar spent some P56 Million on cement, but where are the projects? The COA report said the fund was misused. And I knew you knew it as this was made public.

Our provincial hospital is in miserable condition, and expenditures on public health do not conform to the budget. There’s very little money for medicine, and even so, that is being stolen. Yet we spent millions on Christmas lights and decors and keep on manicuring the park every year.

More than half of our children never finish elementary education because there was no clear accounting of how the Special Education Fund is being spent. Majority of our teachers are municipal paid, underpaid and overworked. Our children cannot study hard due to lack of textbooks. The Day Care centers in the barangay seldom get support from the LGU. Yet we tend to spent millions of the people’s money on electric fans and raffle them away.

Our farmers cannot produce enough to feed their families because 96% of our lowland farms are not irrigated – despite the fact that Samar has so many springs, rivers, and streams.

Our young men and women cannot find work because one of the biggest sources of employment in a poor province like Samar is public works – and the funds for public works are rarely used for public works. And maybe, just maybe, the report of the World Bank on conspiracy between the DPWH, the contractors and our local officials, also applies here.

As for the squandering of our taxes, we are not only talking about public funds that are lost to graft and corruption. The province of Samar has hundreds of millions a year in development fund. That is supposed to be the people’s money, should be spend for the people and by the people, especially the poor. But, sad to say, the poor people of Samar are not consulted on how this money should be spent. That’s why a lot of it lost to graft and corruption. And the few being left is spent on projects that do not truly benefit the poor.

In some places, they are practicing a system of allocating development fund that protects it from graft and ensures that the projects actually benefit the poor. They call it the Cost-Sharing Scheme. Under this system, the barangay officials will ask their constituents what project they think will benefit the whole barangay. The barangay and the province will share the cost of the project. And the people in the barangay will implement the project themselves. If the municipal government joins the Cost-Sharing, which is recommended, the budget for the project will be tripled.

If this happens, the people in the barangay get the projects they need, get more money for the project, and they earn extra income by providing labor for the project. This resolves our problem on unemployment, graft practices, unnecessary projects and the “SOP” on projects.

The benefits do not stop there because money in the hands of the poor is spent on goods and services that are provided by local merchants and traders – and goes on to stimulate the local economy especially now that a “global economic crisis” is being felt everywhere. While the money that is lost to graft benefits only the corrupt officials, and is used to invest in their Lending business and other enterprises outside Samar – like buying condominiums in Manila – and stimulates only the economy in those places.

Here’s an everyday problem of the poor. I don’t know if our officials are thinking on how to address the problem that some of our poor people and their children have denied access of sanitary toilets especially those people living in the uplands? Some of them eats only twice a day – a coffee and pandesal around 9 a.m. and a budget meal on around 4-5 in the afternoon because of the crisis.

Yet, no one from our leaders admitted these facts. No one has showed solution to end this messy plagued. No one suffered the consequences in committing graft and corruption and no one dared to go against this system in this province, not even one of our trusted public officials. Instead, they learned to ride on the system. As the saying goes, “if you cannot beat them, join them.”

Our environment also suffers neglect from our government. For 50 years rewind, the island of Samar was ravaged by giant logging and mining firms. Our forests disappeared, rivers were poisoned, timber and mineral riches were looted, leaving us licking the environment wounds inflicted by alien corporate avarice and again, neglect!

Back in 1980’s, the memory of the destructive effects of mining is still fresh in the minds and hearts of every Samarnons. The land is still feeling the effects of the wounds left by Bagacay Mines who strip-mined for copper part of the Hinabangan town, in Samar. The people of Bagacay, who once enjoyed the brief benefits of jobs offered by the mining company, are now left with a gaping hole in their backyard, robbed of the development options they now need because the land lays dead.

At one time, Samar Island was partitioned into a jigsaw puzzle of mining concessions proposed by at least 41 large-scale mining companies. In another robbery, with the destruction wrought by the massive illegal logging of forests in the late 70’s and 80’s, the full force of nature fatally stricken us with heavy rains surged down treeless hilltops swelling mighty rivers and submerging homes, farms, schools and churches. Samarnons were roused from that deep collective stupor called apathy in 1988 (or is it in 1989?).

Our government never acted heartily in favor of our beloved Samar. Not until a series of an echoing howling of protests by Samarnons that quickly raised the specter of an ecological catastrophe over the loss of the island’s forest cover. From there, an alliance emerged from the deluge. Civil society groups in Samar, swayed by torrents of appeals from thousands of Samarnons made former Pres. Fidel Ramos to declare this island Samar Island Forest Reserve in 1996. This was our first victory.

Then in year 2003, another cry of the Samarnons did not go unheeded. When people across the island – students, elected officials, vendors, priests, media, public workers, men and women -- came together in a historic show of solidarity to support the establishment of the Samar Island Natural Park and oppose destructive mining and logging in the island, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signed her PP 442, declaring the 333, 300 hectares of our island’s remaining forests as a “Protected Area.” This is again another victory for us.

But those victories remained in papers only. Corporate mammoths on mining and logging companies, who were put to sleep by the present moratorium, is now kept on stirring a desperate attempt to continue their mining and tree-cutting business. With this, let’s keep our eyes wide open.

Just recently, the 30 thousand board feet of buried logs previously left by the San Jose Timber Corporation is again being retrieved by an influential individual for other places consumption. Without our knowledge, they slipped through behind our doors and get those belong to us. The approval of DENR Secretary Jose Lito Atienza to retrieve these logs and gave it to others is another form of robbing us, digging and holing our places, taking our precious woods to the satisfaction of only one stranger. He should, instead, consult first the Samarnons and the civil groups who fought – by tears and blood -- for these in the past before easily inking a piece of paper that will again rape our forests and hurt us. Even so, he should instead order his men to retrieve these logs, if it is true that this can be more damaging if remain buried, for the consumption of Samar – to our provincial roads and bridges, school classrooms, day care centers, churches, government entities like our provincial hospitals. I am sure we badly need these lumbers for it cannot only save us our development fund, but also save the needs of our poor people who use these structures.

We felt being robbed again when they invited only thirty participants for a dialogue when in fact we are thousands that represents our beloved island. Obviously, we cannot say no for that piece of paper signed by Atienza as we were law abiding citizens. We can do nothing but to ask how about us? I hate to ask this question about “how much” is involved in this system because I hate to think it that way, as others surely think it is.

I don’t know till when my province will suffer this repetitious robbery of our long decade gains. I love this province and the people who live here. I am hurt when I hear somebody is corrupting the public funds intended for the poor. And I knew there are a lot of you out there who also love our beloved province and protects her from any kinds of robbing attempts. I encouraged you to voice out too.

Come on, lets continue to stood still and claim our rights, even so they are claiming their corporate rights. Let us take our pen mightier this time. Let us shout to the world, that Samar no longer want to be robbed again. No, never again!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...