FATE must have tested me last Friday, April 21, for I found myself physically located in a piece of earth where two public personalities I am not fond of were scheduled to appear.
On that day, I was at UP Los Baños, for the celebration of the 107th founding anniversary and alumni homecoming of my alma mater, the UPLB College of Forestry and Natural Resources (UPLB-CFNR) as one of its coral jubilarians, having obtained my BS Forestry degree in 1982.
Environment Secretary Gina Lopez was supposed to be the guest speaker. As part of the celebration, a seminar on responsible mining was also held in the morning, giving particular emphasis on forestry’s contribution to the mining sector. I was expecting Ms Lopez to attend the seminar.
On the other side of campus, I also learned that Vice President Leni Robredo was set to make an appearance as an invited speaker. I had no idea what she would talk about, but I was not expecting anything earth-shaking nor even remotely of value.
The choice of which event I would attend was easy. I would rather listen to Gina Lopez perorate on her anti-mining stance, and engage the forestry profession from her declared bias. I was already preparing for the worst, where I was imagining her demeaning our science, and I standing up to remind her to behave. A grand confrontation was already playing in my mind. Unfortunately, or for those who did not want to be stressed, fortunately, Gina Lopez did not come, and instead sent Undersecretary Marlo Mendoza, who is also a faculty member on leave from the UPLB-CFNR, my former student, and a forester himself.
Meanwhile, Leni Robredo appeared, and in her usual way, as per news reports, gave a speech that was full of logical holes and no -sequiturs. I would have loved engaging her in front of UPLB faculty and students, demanding from her some logic to back up her claim that the reason why she ran for Vice President was that she wanted to stop the Marcoses from making a political comeback. This is a bold-faced factual aberration. The Marcoses have already made their comeback. Prior to her election to the House of Representatives, and even while she was in it, she was not known to be an anti-Marcos crusader. Her being an alumna of UP Diliman does not automatically make her an anti-Marcos activist. Having worked for a public interest legal assistance group does not make her a human rights lawyer, more so if she did not even litigate a case.
I chose to attend the UPLB-CFNR event not only because I was expected to be there, but also because I felt that between Gina Lopez and Leni Robredo, I can always take reason as a better justification. It would have been fun to tear apart Robredo’s lack of logic, but that would not have added anything to the supply of reason in a country in so much need of it.
Gina Lopez represents a challenge to a more significant part of my being, as a graduate of a discipline whose scientific grounds she was assaulting. When she defined that “a watershed is a watershed is a watershed,” then I knew that the country will benefit more if I engage her. When she pushes for using mangrove species that usually thrive on brackish water where freshwater meets sea water to reforest the Liguasan, which is a freshwater marshland, then I know that to debunk her would be a service to science.
Gina Lopez also tests the limits of my understanding of community-based forestry and of political security, which is borne by years of actual immersion in field conditions, as a political scientist, and not just a forester, when she boldly invited the communist New People’s Army to become partners in resource development and protection.
She has to be reminded that it is not as easy as she makes it appear. It is not just a matter of asking the NPA to attend a team-building activity, where they would be treated to a session in yoga, and will be asked to sing “I believe I can fly.” There are serious political repercussions.
Gina Lopez should have attended the seminar so that she would have been engaged by the papers that were presented that provided perspectives on responsible mining, which is the other side of the scarred earth and miserable lives she has glossily presented in social media and in her many public speeches. Forester Bibiano Ranes presented the success story of the nickel mining in Rio Tuba in Palawan, and gave visually-engaging pieces of evidence of how forestry can help in rehabilitating mined-out areas. Dr. Edwino Fernando, a botanist, gave a compelling presentation on how mining and biodiversity can be harmonized. The Mining and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources provided the policy and regulatory framework for how to make responsible mining work, if only we invest political will in it.
It is a matter of pushing reason to win over passion to its side in protecting the environment, instead of passion silencing reason the way Gina Lopez does it to a point that it becomes popular and fashionable.