PASTORAL BULLETIN NO. 10, Series of 2007
To: People of God in Legazpi, All Men and Women of Good Will and Faith
Re: ON THE MOST RECENT FISH KILL IN RAPU-RAPU
Hear this, you who trample upon the needy
and destroy the poor of the land!
The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Never will I forget a thing they have done! (Amos 8,4&7)
On the morning of 28 October 2007, Sunday, the people in Brgy. Poblacion, Rapu-Rapu awoke to the sight and stench of dead fish everywhere littering their shores. Their shock and questions grew into gnawing anxiety, then into panic, as, in waves, they beheld their worst fears coming true.
That day and the days that followed, several people fell sick after eating fish and other food from the sea. With the health concerns, came the realization: they could not fish. Based from previous experience, full recovery of the fishing industry on the island would take several months. For the 70% of the island’s population whose livelihood is dependent on fishing, there could be no worse economic disaster than this. They could not bring home food from the sea. Soon they would have no more money left to buy food from elsewhere.
Several sacks of rice were distributed by the municipality. Food relief trickled in from the provincial government, the Church and non-government organizations (NGOs). But they seemed to be never enough – both the food and the justice they are seeking.
They blamed the
The mining company, in statements made by its representatives, denied culpability of the recent fish kill, claimed sabotage, called it a hoax, and even threatened to sue anyone suspected to be responsible for their proposed hoax.
A team from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources – Environmental Management Bureau (DENR-EMB) made initial investigation and concluded, among other things, that:
1. The fish kill was limited only to Brgy. Poblacion, around 10 kilometers away from the mine site. Thus, it was too far away from the mine site.
2. No fish kill happened in the shorelines of Brgys. Carogcog, Sta. Barbara, Malobago, Pagcolbon and Binosawan. The Brgy. Chairmen of these five barangays issued certifications to the non-existence of any fish kill in their areas.
3. The quality of marine waters between the mine site and Brgy. Poblacion was found to be within DENR standards and showed no trace of cyanide contamination.
The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), which analyzed some fish kill samples, reported that the fish they had, died not of chemical contamination but probably because of strong sea currents.The conclusions submitted by the DENR-EMB and BFAR practically absolved
However, our consultations with the people of Rapu-Rapu and concerned individuals and organizations, revealed certain information that prompts us to seriously question the methods and motives of these government agencies’ findings and
1. The fish kill was not limited to Brgy. Poblacion only. Cases of food poisoning took place not only in Brgy. Poblacion but in other barangays as well. Eyewitness accounts from the other five barangays testified to fish kill sightings in their areas, too. Several residents from Brgy. Binosawan even claimed that the fish kill started in their place as early as 26 October 2007. In one instance, a resident from Brgy. Carogcog, who was interviewed by a team from the EMB, also testified that he saw dead fish littering the shorelines of his barangay. This detail never found its way to the EMB report.
2. The contention that Brgy. Poblacion is too far away from the mine site did not take into consideration the direction and speed of the wind and water current at the time of the fish kill. Seasoned fisherfolks and astute observers not only point out this fact, but also how the EMB conveniently took this fact aside.
3. Is the quality of all marine and inland waters between Brgy. Poblacion and the mine site really well within DENR standards? Can this conclusion pass the scrutiny of credible independent scientific experts? Then as now, we have been receiving disturbing reports of researchers being harassed by barangay and private security personnel, and prevented from taking water and soil samples, or even pictures, near the mine site, even when the studies are being done outside company property.
4. The BFAR theory of fish drowning in the strong sea currents and not of chemical contamination strains credulity not only at the first instance but especially when one takes into consideration the following:
a. The sea has always been rough in these parts at this time of year. But the fish kill incidents only happened when the mining company started its operations. This appears to be a valid case of post hoc ergo propter hoc. It happened after it, therefore, it happened on account of it.
b. Several residents of the island fell sick after eating fish and other sea food caught around the same time as the fish kill. A dog even died in Brgy. Poblacion after eating some dead fish by the seashore. If the food they ate did not contain some chemical contaminants, could strong sea currents then induce the fish and crustaceans to produce toxins in their body?
The ultimate measure of the reality and extent of the damage of the fish kill lies in its effect on the people. Most of the island’s residents are poor and dependent on fishing. Now their existence has been made even more precarious. They worry about their food for the day, their health, their livelihood and their uncertain future. A 73-year old resident cried out in the vernacular: “Fish is our life! Kill them at the sea, and you kill us here living on dry land!”
They feel betrayed by the authorities who, they see, not only failed to protect them, in favor of the powerful, but still managed to publicly question their misery. Their voices and reactions speak in so many ways of anger and desperation. A woman recounted how her fears crept into her dreams; she dreamt of seeing her elderly father eating his fish net for lack of food.
As Pastors, it pains us to see so much suffering, especially suffering caused by man’s inhumanity to man and to the environment. Our response, as members of the One Body of Christ, should be to help alleviate their suffering and find ways so it would not happen again.
1. We strongly support the move by the Sangguniang Bayan of Rapu-Rapu to finally declare a State of
2. We enjoin our faithful in the parishes, schools and ecclesial communities to organize relief efforts for the people of Rapu-Rapu. Our
3. We condemn the violence, harassment and illegal detentions which have been the response of certain local authorities to the peaceful protest gatherings which the people of Rapu-Rapu have been regularly staging ever since the most recent fish kill happened.
4. We appeal to our government officials to conduct thorough investigations and public hearings on the fish kill, even as we reiterate our position that Rapu-Rapu island is not suitable for large-scale mining and that the most just and proper response is the closure of the
5. We ask our faithful and all concerned citizens to join this call by supporting a signature campaign which will be addressed to our leaders, policy makers, and other concerned individuals and institutions.
As Pastors, it is our duty to teach and remind our faithful, and all men and women of good will, of certain moral imperatives to this case that are important in the formation of our individual consciences.
1. Stewardship of God’s creation is everybody’s responsibility. God’s offer to subdue the earth is not a license to wantonly exploit it but a charge to take care of it so everybody, including future generations, may benefit from its bounty. Stewardship has no room for apathy and indifference in the face of very real threats to the environment and to the lives and livelihood of the poor. All of us, thus, are environmentalists by divine vocation.
2. Truth-telling is necessary for genuine development to happen. Truth-telling is crucial to the promotion of justice. Social justice, in turn, is the foundation of any program that seeks to achieve sustainable development, genuine prosperity and lasting peace. The issue of mining in Rapu-Rapu has unfortunately been marred by assertion of half-truths, suppression of evidence, corruption of witnesses, harassment of truth-seekers, manipulation of scientific data and plain deception.
Those who know the truth but speak and act otherwise, either by invoking official documents that lie or succumbing to the influence of unscrupulous superiors or lobbyists, are guilty of being party to the cause of the suffering of the people of Rapu-Rapu.
3. Public office is at the service of the people. Any public official who considers his personal interests, or the confidence and predispositions of his political patrons or foreign investors, above the rights and wellbeing of his constituents, especially the poor, has misguided priorities and misplaced loyalty. He may, for some time, escape accountability from the people, but never from God. For the highest sovereign in a democracy is not the people, it is God.
As Pastors, we join ourselves with the aspirations and labors of the people of Rapu-Rapu, and all men and women who are committed to the protection of the environment and of the poor. Though we may feel the hardship of our task at hand, yet we do not lose hope for God is with us.
Let us continue to pray with greater fervor the Oratio Imperata, our Prayer for Deliverance against Calamities – natural and man-made. For God is not deaf to our cries and blind to our afflictions.
The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest
till it reaches its goal, nor will it withdraw
till the Most High responds, judges justly and affirms the right.
God indeed will not delay, and like a warrior, will not be still
till he breaks the backs of the merciless
and wreaks vengeance upon the proud;
till he destroys the haughty root and branch,
and smashes the scepter of the wicked;
till he requites mankind according to its deeds,
and repays men according to their thoughts;
till he defends the cause of his people,
and gladdens them by his mercy. (Sirach 35:17-24)
Sincerely in His service,
+LUCILO B. QUIAMBAO
With 73 signatures of the Clergy in the Diocese of Legazpi gathered in a Diocesan General Presbyteral Assembly.
20 November 2007