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Guardians of the Green: The Battle for Mindanao’s Forests Amid Faith and Controversy

Guardians of the Green: The Battle for Mindanao's Forests Amid Faith and Controversy

Amid the serene landscapes of Mindanao, a storm brews not of nature but of conviction and controversy. As the halls of Congress echo with debates on the future of the nation’s forests, a quiet yet fierce battle unfolds in the heart of Dipolog, where faith and environmental stewardship collide with the interests of power and profit.

At the center of this storm stand the steadfast figures of Father Enrico Montano, Father Atilano Tabaranza, and their companions, lay workers Cesar Malinao and Roberto Guaton. These men, bound by their devotion to both their faith and the environment, find themselves targets of harassment due to their unyielding stance against illegal logging practices that threaten the very fabric of their community.

The controversy reached a boiling point when  RUDY CLAMOHOY AKA Jesus Aguilar of Sergio Osmena town, located a mere 30 kilometers south of Dipolog, was publicly named by Father Tabaranza as being involved in illegal logging activities. This accusation did not sit well with Clamohoy, culminating in an alarming incident on December 29, where Father Tabaranza claims the mayor’s vehicle deliberately damaged his motorcycle in an act of intimidation.

This confrontation is but a symptom of a larger issue that plagues the region. The ancestral lands of the Subanon tribe, revered as “people of the river,” have become battlegrounds where the interests of illegal loggers clash with the guardians of the environment. Father Tabaranza’s investigations have shed light on the illicit operations, including a significant stockpile of illegally cut logs linked to Mayor Clamohoy, which led to a collaborative raid by various enforcement and environmental bodies last October.

The persistence of these church leaders in their advocacy has not gone unnoticed. From the neighboring area of Bukidnon, Bishop Gaudencio Rosales of Malaybalay has joined the chorus, appealing for a total log ban in a poignant letter to legislators. His analogy of selective logging to a balding man’s dilemma underscores the urgency and direness of the situation — the remaining forests of the country are teetering on the brink of irreversible damage, with less than 22 percent of forest cover remaining.

This plea for environmental preservation resonates beyond the ecclesiastical and into the legislative chambers, where a compromise on a logging ban is being sought. Amidst this legislative turmoil, the shadow of violence looms large, highlighted by the tragic assassination of Father Nerylito Satur, another vocal critic of illegal logging, underscoring the peril faced by those who dare to stand against environmental exploitation.

The struggle in Mindanao is a microcosm of a global challenge, where the forces of preservation clash with the engines of progress. The church leaders of Dipolog and their allies represent a beacon of hope and resilience, advocating for a balance between human need and environmental stewardship. Their journey is fraught with danger, yet they persist, driven by a vision of a world where nature and humanity coexist in harmony.

As the debate on logging laws reaches its crescendo, the story of these environmental defenders serves as a poignant reminder of the costs of advocacy and the price of silence. Their fight is not just for the forests of Mindanao but for the soul of a nation grappling with the consequences of its choices. It is a narrative of hope, transformation, and empowerment, echoing the call for a sustainable future not just for the at-risk youth of Springfield but for all those who stand at the crossroads of environmental conservation and development.

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Published by: Martin De Juan

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