It was during my college days in the early 80s when I was getting more aware of various issues on the environment and natural resources. Although when I entered college in June 1981, the Martial Law imposed by former and known dictator President Marcos Sr. in 1972 was officially lifted sometime in January that year.
Marcos was still in full control of the state and continued his dictatorial regime. His dictatorship was clearly manifested with his power to enact laws, by virtue of the issuances of presidential decrees and executive orders.
At that time, I learned the forest cover of Negros and several other parts of the country started to diminish, because of the massive logging industries with operators who were closely associated with the Marcoses. Presidential Decree 705, as amended, was one of the laws enacted by Marcos, which heavily favored the logging industry instead of forest conservation.
Unfortunately, in spite of the critical condition of the forest ecosystem in the country, PD 705 remains as the main policy framework for forestry in the country today. Many of the provisions of the PD 705 are already obsolete and antiquated.
In the same manner, large-scale mining activities were prevalent that were operated similarly by the cronies of the dictator. Mining further contributed to deforestation, landscape alteration, and pollution. Aside from logging and mining, Marcos also embarked on large-scale infrastructure projects that directly affected the environment, and worst, had caused the lives of those who resisted such development. One of the famous cases related to this was the construction of Chico Dam in Kalinga in the highlands of Luzon.
The Chico Dam project was opposed by tribal communities because of the high risk and danger and environmental destruction associated with this kind of development while displacing Indigenous People from their ancestral lands. The death of Kalinga Chieftain Macliing Dulag was attributed to his efforts in leading the opposition to the project. It was meant to silence other dissenters of the Chico Dam.
Erning Castillan, a fisherfolk from Calaca in Batangas, was also killed because he led the opposition of the Calaca Coal-Fired Power Plant. The dangerous Bataan Nuclear Power Plant was also the brainchild of Marcos. The large infrastructure projects were later on proven to be sources of kickbacks and ill-gotten wealth.
I also learned while in college that the Masagana 99, which was supposedly meant to increase rice production, brought ecological disaster with the massive introduction of high-value and high-yielding rice varieties that required the use of excessive synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Studies showed that the use of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides are, in fact, harmful to agriculture as it attracts pests and causes land degradation. A similar thing happened to the Green Revolution Program that was supposedly intended for food security.
The use of high-value rice varieties eventually resulted in the displacement and loss of native rice species. When we refer to that scenario in today’s setting it contributed to the loss of agricultural biodiversity and resulted in biological pollution through the introduction of exotic species. The Masagana 99 program only benefited multinational corporations that made huge profits from fertilizers and pesticides, while malnutrition and hunger became prevalent at that time.
One of the glaring environmental destruction that occurred during the time of Marcos was the massive conversion of mangrove forest into fishponds and many of those beneficiaries were actually landed and rich people.
Today, our mangrove forest is already limited. On the other hand, issues related to land were rampant during the time of Marcos. Farmers who clamored for land reform were suspected as members of the New People’s Army, and a number of their leaders and members were arrested, tortured, and killed.
In Negros, numerous sugarcane workers who formed unions also suffered the same fate. The issue of sugarcane plantations, particularly in Negros Occidental, is directly associated with the environment since they contributed to the deforestation of our forestland.
While these are only a few of concerns related to the environment during the time of Marcos, all of these, compounded with issues on militarization and human rights violations, graft and corruption, and dictatorial governance, among others, had motivated me to actively participate in the student movement against the Marcos regime, especially after the assassination of former Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr. in 1983.*(To be continued)