CEBO, Philippines – When I arrived back from our II OFM JPIC International Congress, news of the mudslide disaster on Feb. 17 that affected several villages in St. Bernard, Southern Leyte, Philippines has been in the headlines the past few days. As of the latest count, 220 bodies have been recovered but it is believed that more than a thousand are feared to have suffered the same fate.
The magnitude of the St. Bernard tragedy underscores the extent of the self-interested, irresponsible, and cruel destruction of the environment caused by wanton big-scale logging and mining operations by foreign big capitalists and their local partners, since the American colonial period up to the present. The erstwhile forests and mountainous areas of Southern Leyte, Philippines have, in fact, been completely logged over since the 1970s, making these vulnerable to landslides and mudslides, especially in the face of large volumes of rainfall as had happened right before the latest mudslides. Over the past two decades, the island of Leyte has seen one environmental catastrophe after another, including the Ormoc tragedy of 1991.
Despite the repeated national clamor to put a stop to the wanton destruction of the environment, especially after the massive landslides in north Quezon and Aurora in 2004, the present regime has brazenly acted as representative of the biggest plunderers and ravagers of the nation’s natural resources. Since 2004, the Philippine government has vigorously promoted and campaigned for the expansion and intensification of mining operations by big foreign companies in the Philippines. It has even mobilized its armed forces to give protection to these companies and suppress protests and resistance to their operations.
With this latest tragedy, a general needs assessment of the affected villages and families has been conducted by our OFM-JPIC Commission in the Philippines, with advice from people’s organizations in the Eastern Visayas region, particularly with the Leyte Center for Development, Inc. (LCDE) – a respectable disaster relief and rehabilitation institution based in Leyte Province.
Thus, in the spirit of solidarity and compassion for the victims who come from the poor sector of our people, we appeal for your generosity and support for immediate and long-term needs of the victims and survivors.
Russ Testa reports that the Provincial Council is looking into the request, and hopes to have strategy for moving forward. In the least, Russ says, “We need to keep the people of the Philippines and the friars and Church supporting them in our prayers and thoughts.” Calvin’s full letter and details of needs is available using the link below.