environment 5: ormoc & security


Junie Kalaw

The Philippine environmental crisis took what is possibly its heaviest and cruelest toll on human life in Ormoc City. According to eyewitness reports by survivors, the waters had come abruptly, almost in the wink if an eye, sweeping everything in its path, a veritable deluge which the camera conveyed as so many bloated bodies floating like so many discarded dolls.

In the comparably torrential rush to absolve itself, the government attributed the denudation of forests in the Ormoc area to logging activities harking as far back as the 1950s, declaring that there hadn’t been any logging in the area in recent years. Media caused more disturbance by reporting intimations from sources within the government itself that politicians, military officials, and Department of Natural Resources (DENR) officials were, in some as yet indeterminate sense, culpable. The partisan character of government’s response once more evaded the fact that ecological responsibility is shared beyond the time-frames of electoral politics; similarly, the readiness of certain quarters within government to blame their cohorts indicates a tendency to pass the buck. But this is the way that government mocks the people’s suffering. We would have been surprised if it got around to pointing out how the geothermal facility in Ormoc contributed to the disaster, for that would have come too close to its plans for Mount Apo in Mindanao.

Our concept of security needs reorienting. We erode fertile topsoil at the rate of one billion cubic meters a year, enough land to produce 10 million sacks of rice. There are 13 badly eroded provinces in the country today that qualify as unrealized security risks. If conditions in one or two areas decline enough to reprise Ormoc next monsoon, will the new administrationsimilarly wash its hands of responsibility?

Disaster relief operations in the country are usually undertaken by the military, who admittedly may be relied upon to fulfill this function. During such occasions, they are said to be diverted from their normal task of overseeing the country’s security. The frequent occurrence, however, of environmental disasters today compels us to ask if the current definition of “normal” military duties requires updating, having been drawn from an old and narrow perspective of national security. Isn’t it time that this old concept be amended to include ecological security, with the army tasked to protect our forests: the navy, our coral reefs and fishing grounds, and the air force our atmosphere?

For far too long, in all countries that have not had the fortune of having a long history of neutrality, the military has competed for resources that have promoted violence instead of peace, its concern being to maintain and modernize its armature, which amounts to a potential for violence. It will be argued, of course, that peace is precisely what is expected to bring about to the extent of adopting a functional rationality in the extreme case of war. However, it may in turn be argued that the concept of war has already changed substantially, as when the government itself speaks of the need to do war against ignorance or poverty, or when an industrial society exports toxic waste to secure its own people’s health, or strains another country’s standards of safety for its own profit.

The idea of ecological security entails the use of information as a weapon and shifts the focus from human targets to natural structures. Securing the integrity of natural structures then becomes a limit beyond which the military becomes obsolete because it will have transformed itself from being an instrument of genocide into a facilitator of the life process

10 November 1991