PALAWAN, THE ENDANGERED PARADISE
Professor Roland G. Simbulan
20 June 2002
Photos of Palawan in this page contributed by Ann M. Recinto.
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Palawan has long been eyed as a site for joint U.S.-Philippine military exercises. In fact, it has been the site of low-profile Balikatan exercises using U.S. Seals teams. Other units of the US armed forces such as the US Special Operations Forces have conducted Combined Special Training Exercises (CSOFOR-CTX) and Civil Military Operations (CCMO) in Palawan. So far, these military exercises have been small-scale and low-profile.
Lately, there have been suggestions by Philippine officials to hold large scale military exercises in Palawan and the corral reefs and islets of the Kalayaan Island Group (Spratlys). They want to invite the US forces currently stationed in Basilan and Zamboanga peninsula to conduct the war games in the nation’s last frontier! A local politician of Palawan who made such an atrocious proposal even described it as a “pro-environment activity” suggesting that the Balikatan exercises “would scare off forays poachers” who encroach on Philippines waters west of Palawan.
But Palawan is not just our nation’s last frontier that will be ravaged, damaged and poisoned by live-fire military exercises, test-fire explosions, amphibious naval maneuvers and beach assaults and toxic contamination from military ordnance and chemicals.
Palawan is one of the few remaining homes to the diverse variety of flora and fauna, including the rare and endangered 800 plant, 90 bird, 30 mammal, 19 amphibian and 10 reptile species. According to Conservation International, it is the variety of habitats and ecosystems in Palawan that makes the Philippines one of the “17 earth’s biologically wealthiest nations.” Now, all this is in danger of being poisoned, razed to the ground and annihilated by live-fire bullets and explosions from joint military exercises. Those who have visited the Coron, Busuanga and Culion Islands of Palawan will tell you that, yes, this is more than paradise on earth!
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Last May, 2002, the U.S. Department of Defense submitted to the Republican members of Congress a proposal to lift all environmental restrictions and safeguards on U.S. military exercises and activities in the United States and overseas. Whatever will become of this proposal, it indicates the roughshod and gung-ho attitude of the Bush administration when it comes to the environment especially when it is ranged with the US Department of Defense’s “war against terrorism.” Bush’s “war on terrorism” will soon also be converted into A WAR AGAINST THE ENVIRONMENT!
Of course, the principal sacrificial lambs of joint military exercises or war games will be the usual dislocation of farmers and the poisoning of their farmlands with toxic chemicals and unexploded ammunition as what has happened in venues of past joint military exercises in Luzon and Visayas. For, God-forbid, it would result in the further extinction of Palawan’s dwindling indigenous peoples living in interior Palawan, the Tagbanuas, the Bataks, Tau’ng Bato, Kalamiananen, Agutaynen, Palawan, Kuyonen, among others. Today, these indigenous peoples of Palawan, together with the various non-government organizations securing its rainforests and bio-diversity despite the intrusions of tourism, are the remaining guardians of beautiful Palawan.
We cannot imagine what will happen to Palawan’s biological diversity, subterranean rivers, centuries-old giant mangroves and rainforests if the large-scale Balikatan military exercises were held there.
Let us defend Palawan, the last beautiful frontier of the Philippines.
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* Article by Roland G Simbulan – For a full professional background of Professor Roland G. Simbulan (Click Here)