Destructive projects in Negros’ protected areas
In August 2022, plans of the 79th IB to bomb Mt. Mandalagan, a mountain which is part of the protected North Negros National Park (NNNP), were preempted. The military said the bombing is a “test run” but people were aware that its objective was to drive away people in the area, as well as units of the New People’s Army who have been defending the remaining forests in the island from plunder. This was to give way for the environmentally plunderous and destructive infrastructure and eco-tourism projects of the big bourgeoisie.
The NNNP is a mountainous area covering more than 80,400 hectares of land in Negros Occidental. It was declared a forest area in 1940 and a protected area in 2005. It covers 10% of the island, which includes parts of the cities of Talisay, Silay, Victorias, Cadiz, Sagay and San Carlos and towns of Murcia, Don Salvador Benedicto, EB Magalona, Toboso and Calatrava.
At its backbone is Mt. Mandalagan and Mt. Silay which are considered the biggest watershed of the province. It has four water systems which are source of potable water for 17 cities and towns, including Metro Bacolod.
The indigenous Ati and Bukidnon reside and live harmoniously in the NNNP. They rely on its forests for livelihood, food and medicine. Apart from them, thousands of Negrosanons reside and farm in more than 40,000 hectares of the area.
The NNNP is recognized as the shield against destruction brought by climate change and calamities like extreme typhoons, rain and wind. It also serves as an important biodiversity area and home of various flora and fauna.
Like many other natural resources in the country, the big compradors and their foreign capitalist partners and local bureaucrats are racing to exploit the area. During the early parts of the 1900 up to the 1980s, the American company Insular Lumber Company (ILCO) denuded its forests. At this time, the ILCO was known as the world’s biggest logging company.
Fast forward to the present, the bourgeoisie and their partners continue to plunder the NNNP. The latest among these are projects on eco-tourism, road networks and plans to construct a geothermal plant and open magnetite mining operations.
On the pretext of the pandemic in 2020, the Department of Public Works and Highways began road construction from Calatrava to Silay City which cut through the heart of the NNNP. The project was awarded to Trimluv Builders and Supply, a construction company which is involved in another destructive project—the Jalaur River Multi-purpose Project in the neighboring island of Panay. The contract for the construction of the 3.7 kilometer road is worth ₱125 million.
Environmental groups, including the San Carlos Diocese, fiercely resist the project. They said this would mean the clearing of the forests, destruction of the natural terrain, eviction of wild animals and the widescale ecological destruction and loss of its benefits.
The project is packaged as a farm-to-market road which will purportedly benefit farmers. But it is clear that this is but an initial step for bigger and more destructive projects the bourgeoisie and their partners plan to construct inside the protected area.
Don Salvador Benedicto is branded as the “summer capital” of Negros Occidental because of its relatively cool climate. The local government opened the town’s 500 hectares to foreign and local investments in 2014 despite two-thirds of its area is inside the NNNP.
This gave way to the clearing of forests and construction of resorts, concrete roads and other illegal structures by non-residents in the area. Similar structures were also erected in Patag, Silay City and Gawahon, Victorias City.
Driven by real estate speculation, land values rose owing to the area’s increasing popularity. Increasing number of developers are salivating to enter the NNNP to construct commercial vacation homes for foreign tourists. More and more spaces are cleared inside the NNNP for these structures.
To remove the obstacles to these projects, communities around the NNNP are being subjected to militarization. On June 22, 2022, the 79th IB staged a fake encouter in Sitio Tinibyangan, Barangay Minapasuk, Calatrava to drive away about 50 individuals.
This was followed with strafing on July 6, 2022 where two children were wounded at Sitio Banwa Minatay, Barangay Marcelo of the same town.
Recently, San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminanza, one of those who oppose the destruction and plunder of the NNNP, became a target of military intimidation.