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You think you own whatever land you land on. The earth is just a dead thing you can claim.” – Colors of the Wind from the Walt Disney’s “Pocahontas”

SEVENTY-THREE-YEAR OLD ELENA* woke early that morning—just as she always does—she stealthily tiptoed across their five-by-six meter room, which was their bedroom, dining and receiving room depending on the time of the day. She washed their takuri with water—leftover from the day before, and pours water in it.

After putting the teapot over some kindling, Elena watched as the navy blue sky slowly faded into a clear and cloudless azure sky. As their solitary Basilan rooster crowed, her grandsons—Elmer, 10 years old and 12-year old Robert* stretched in their banig trying to wipe the sleep off their eyes.

It was time again to prepare for a five-kilometer trek to fetch water from a natural spring by the side of Moñigue River. Elmer got two-gallon containers—a recycled container of a popular soy sauce while Robert, who was bigger, got the black container that could hold approximately five gallons of water. For her part, Elena packed four 1.5-liter plastic bottles in her sling bag.

Like her neighbors in Barangay Bayanga, they do this everyday. The spring had been their source of water for drinking and cooking since 1963, when Elena’s family migrated from Initao, Misamis Oriental.

The trail going to the spring can treacherous for those who are not used to it. But Elmer and Robert, like stags, effortlessly hopped from one boulder to another with their containers in tow. Since they do this every morning, the trek appears like a game of tag for the kids.

While Elena ambles by, trailing behind listening to the calming effect of the gurgling of the brook, whistling while she navigated the moss-covered eaves of a gorge 10 meters to where the gush of the mountain spring is.

“We have been doing this since we first transferred here. I choose to fetch water here because having a metered-water is very expensive,” Elena said in the dialect.

The spring water comes from the underground stream of a network of caves—spanning from Bayanga to Mambuaya—upland barangays of Cagayan de Oro City. Elena and most of her neighbors have become dependent on the natural spring water for their households.

Then one particularly noisy morning, sitting by their bamboo stairs, she saw people gathering at their barangay’s covered basketball court. She recognized some of her neighbors while some she had not seen before in their Barangay.

Some students of Bayanga National High School were toting placards. A man in a mint-green barong set-up some kind of a “sinehan” by the stage of the court. The sound system hissed, the heavy-set man took to the stage: “Maayong buntag sa inyong tanan. Nia kami karong adlawa arun ipasabot sa inyo kining usa ka proyekto…”

She listened to the speakers. Elena soon realized that the program was really a public consultation. Consultation for what, she asked. The heavy-set man’s voice ripped through the speakers talking about a processing plant that would be built near their community’s water source. He added that their plant would also be using some of their water.

Elena did not know how to react. Although uncertain, she had this nagging feeling—like an itch at the center portion of your back that you just can’t seem to reach—that something was amiss.

“I have to do something about this,” she muttered to herself.

Overnight ordinance

In January of 2008, the 15th City Council of Cagayan de Oro unanimously passed Ordinance 10885-2008—the ordinance effectively reclassified the land use of parcels of land with an aggregate area of 23,683 hectares. This area is located along the national highway of Barangays Mambuaya and Bayanga, from agricultural to agro-industrial.

The ordinance, intriguingly, had no preambulatory clauses, as mandated by City Council’s own house rules.

Under City Council Rule 20, Section 49, “all resolutions and ordinances shall contain a preamble expressed in and introduced by ‘whereas’ and explanatory notes, respectively.”

The ordinance bore neither preamble nor explanatory notes but instead started with “Be it ordained.”

Even the three-man opposition bloc of the City Council had voted for the passage of the ordinance.

Then, barely a week after the ordinance was passed, a Davao-based company—Alcantara and Sons Consolidated Resources Inc. (ACR)—suddenly came to fore, proposing to construct a 16-hectare P2 billion bioethanol plant, incongruously, in the same area that the ordinance reclassified. This plant, its representatives said, would be capable of producing 100,000 liters of bioethanol a day using cassava, which is grown commercially in nearby agricultural lands.

Opposition duped

Opposition Councilor Roger Abaday claimed the opposition group in the City Council was duped into passing the ordinance saying that at the time they were deliberating on reclassifying the area; there was no mention of a bioethanol plant to be constructed in the area.

The councilor said he voted for the measure when it was presented before the City Council early last year without knowing that a bioethanol plant had been reserved for the areas converted.

“I didn’t know that this was meant to accommodate this bioethanol plant. The ordinance did not say!” a visibly irked Abaday said.

He said there was a need to review the entire contents of the ordinance that reclassified the upland areas—long known as the watershed zone of the city.

“I condemn such stealth, deceptive tactics. Had we (opposition councilors) known the underlying motives behind the ordinance, we would have voted against it outright,” the councilor said.

Diversified goliath

According to its website (www.alsonspower.com), ACR is registered as a holding company in the Philippines Stocks Exchange and controlled by the Alcantara Group in the Philippines. It claims to be a major economic infrastructure development company in the country.

The company incorporated on December 24, 1974 under the name Victoria Gold Mining Corporation that was mainly engaged in oil, petroleum and other mineral products exploration.

In June of 1995, the company changed its corporate name to its present name—which marked their entry in the Alcantara Group. ACR’s primary business also changed into an investment holding company and designated oil exploration as its secondary business.

On October 10, 1996, ACR finalized its reorganization through a series of stock swaps, where consequently, some of the Alcantara Group’s established ventures became majority or minority-owned subsidiaries of ACR.

The company is now focusing on various business ventures—after a series of investments and divestments—such as energy and power, real estate development, product distribution and mining.

In the energy and power sector, ACR invested in two holding firms—Conal Holdings Corporation and Alsing Power Holdings, Inc. Alsons Power International Limited—a British Virgin Island-registered company—is an ACR owned subsidiary that handles the development of ACR’s power plant projects.

Alsons Land Corporation—another ACR subsidiary—handles ACR’s real estate development projects. It is primarily involved in the development of Eagle Ridge Golf and Residential Estate and Lima Technology Center.

Its product distribution business is handled through ACR’s Market Developers, Inc. While ACR’s mining ventures are managed by ACR Mining Corporation.

Recently, ACR partnered with Toyota Tsusho Corporation, one of the largest trading companies in Japan with a very diverse business spanning the industrial, commercial and consumer sectors.

Collectively, they are called Alto Power Management Corporation (Alto Corp), which has a vast experience from its contracts with various power projects in the country and in the Asia Pacific Region.

“The Company plays an essential role in the attraction of new investments to our clients’ host communities by assuring prospective investors of stable and reliable power supply,” their website’s main page reads.

They hold office mainly at their corporate address in Alsons Building, 2286, Chino Roces Extension, Makati City.

Tide of questions

The ACR bioethanol plant would be built in a contiguous site that spans areas that belong to the city’s watershed zone critically situated just below the city’s aquifer.

This turn of events prompted Lawyer Antoinette Royo-Faye—a resident of Bayanga—who is also a professor at Jesuit-owned Xavier University (Ateneo de Cagayan) to organize an alliance of professors, scientists, environmentalists and more importantly her neighbors in the upland barangay.

Kagayan Watershed Alliance (KAWAL) was borne out of what they called “development aggression” in their peaceful village.

The newly formed coalition then trooped to City Council’s committee on subdivisions and land estates chaired by Councilor Reynaldo Advincula on October 16, 2008.

KAWAL aired their fear that the proposed cassava processing bioethanol plant would mean the death of Cagayan de Oro River. They warned the committee that cyanotic acid—a by-product of cassava, which is also considered as a deadly poison—could just as easily spill into Cagayan de Oro River.

It could mean death to the city’s only source of life, KAWAL pleaded.

“We are not against bioethanol (production) but don’t put it on productive agricultural lands or by the river,” Maria Luisa Rubic, KAWAL spokesperson addressed the committee.

“The proposed location serves as habitat of endemic and endangered animal species vulnerable to coal heating, polluted waters, toxic fumes and foul odor, i.e. Tarsiers, Brahminny Kites and other local birds and fishes,” KAWAL’s statement reads.

Rubic said the proposed plant would also mean the loss of millions of pesos spent by City Hall to promote white water rafting—a popular tourist attraction that has put the city in tourist destination map in the world.

“We are not aware that the City Council even bothered to ascertain the views of primary and secondary stakeholders on how the project could affect them. Nor did it seek an assessment from experts or the scientific community on the implications of locating a toxic processing operation in an agricultural zone atop the city’s watershed system,” Rubic said.

Rubic said the public hearings conducted by the City Council in Bayanga were “poorly attended” by the residents because it was purposely held on a “water-ration day.” Bayanga and other hinterland villages in Cagayan de Oro have acute water shortage and have to be supplied with water twice or thrice a week, she added.

Councilor Emanuel Abejuela, member of the committee on subdivisions and land estates informed the coalition that the project of ACR was still in the initial stage.

“Giving authority to construct a plant doesn’t mean (it would be automatic). It will have to go through the proper process,” he had said.

Campaign snowballs

KAWAL’s first appearance in City Council snowballed and soon major academic institutions, civil societies, non-government organizations and peoples’ organizations in the city joined the coalition.

By this time, various organizations signified their willingness to advocate with KAWAL: Xavier University’s College of Agriculture (XUCA), Liceo de Cagayan University (LDCU) Save the River, Mindanao University of Science and Technology (MUST), Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center-Kasama sa Kalikasan/Friends of the Earth, Phils. (LRC-KsK/FoE), Archdiocese Good Governance Apostolate (AGGAP), white water rafting companies, barangay chairs of riverside barangays, Mindanao Media Advocates of Environmental Protection (MMAEP), Task Force Democracy (TFD), Task Force Macajalar (TFM), among others.

Gising Barangay Movement (GBM), an organization advocating for good governance and one of the first organizations to convene KAWAL, questioned City Council’s ordinance, which reclassified the land calling it “highly suspicious” and “irregular.”

The entry of ACR’s proposed plant, they observed as well timed considering ACR enter the picture virtually right after the ordinance was passed.

“The ordinance (has revised) the city’s land use plan without bothering with the technical and social requirements for such revision including a public hearing,” Manny Valdehuesa, GBM national convenor said.

Highly suspect Valdehuesa said was that the ordinance was hatched during the New Year holidays between 2007 and 2008.

“This is a time when no one was watching, the circumstances surrounding the enactment of this ordinance were highly suspicious and irregular,” Valdehuesa opined.

“It was enacted without consultation with the city planning or environment offices, the City Development Council (CDC) or the Regional Development Council (RDC 10). It took only a few minutes to introduce and approve this multi-billion project, and without a second or third reading,” he added.

One of the engineers, who took part in drafting the land classification measure in 2001 that led to the enactment of Ordinance 7959-2000, otherwise known as the Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP), agrees that the 24-hectare bioethanol plant runs roughshod over the law that classifies the city’s land use into distinct categories.

Engineer Greg Macabudbud—in a press briefing on January 31, 2009—said he could not recall the CLUP having classified the planned bioethanol plant site in Barangays Mambuaya and Bayanga as an agro-industrial area.

Macabudbud said CLUP classified land use into: general land use, urban, agricultural, forest, tourism and potential growth area.

On February 2, 2009, KAWAL enlisted the supports of Cagayan de Oro 2nd District Rep. Rufus Rodriguez and Akbayan Party-list Rep. Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel.

Rep. Rodriguez told KAWAL that he too oppose the location but not the project. He promised KAWAL that he will file a resolution that would direct the House’s committee on ecology to conduct a probe on the matter.

“Our party supports the promotion of the use of renewable sources of energy. Since this proposed plant will reportedly use coal in its boilers—known to be the dirtiest kind of fossil fuel—we are one with you in opposing it,” Hontiveros-Baraquel said.

Last February 10, 2009, an island-wide business group announced that they would not support ACR in its bid to put up a bioethanol processing plant in Cagayan de Oro if the company would not adhere to environmental laws.

“We will not support Alsons (ACR) if we find out that it is not practicing what we are advocating,” Ednar Dayanghirang, program manager of Sustainable Responsible Investments in Mindanao of the Mindanao Business Council, Inc. (MinBC) said.

Dayanghirang said that all types of commercial undertaking—big or small—must observe sustainable and responsible business practices wherever they operate.

MinBC is a Mindanao-wide organization of chambers of commerce and trade associations in Mindanao. Although ACR is a pioneer member of MinBC, Dayanghirang said the company is expected to uphold the organization’s advocacies, which include sustainable investments, or they will be forced to delist the company from its roster.

Environmental and social costs

October 17, 2008, a forum organized by the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro (ACDO) and Xavier University’s College of Agriculture (XUCA) in partnership with the Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment (Searice) and Third World Network (TWN) dubbed: “Forum on Biofuels,” held at Cronin Multi-purpose Hall, St. Augustine’s Cathedral, here.

The forum was also sponsored by the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC), Justice and Peace Desk—Diocese of Marbel and Lay Forum Philippines.

KAWAL found an international ally that Friday in its battle against the construction of ACR’s bioethanol plant.

The forum’s key speaker, Camilla Moreno—a researcher on land rights—was ironically from Brazil, one of the leading countries worldwide that exports biofuel (i.e. ethanol), told participants that biofuel production will not only be detrimental to the environment but will also threaten food security and rural livelihood.

Moreno is a researcher at Terra de Direitos, a Brazilian non-government organization working on land rights. She works on social and environmental impacts of biotechnology and agribusiness expansion in Brazil and Latin America.

She said 60 percent of the global food crisis is due to biofuel production.

First world countries, she added, are creating “artificial markets” for biofuel thus making subtropical countries—mostly underdeveloped countries like the Philippines—their producers.

Brazil has been producing ethanol for the last 30 years, she said.

“They make us their producers because our countries can have at least two harvests per year,” Moreno said.

She illustrated the irony in producing biofuel saying one would have to spend more fossil fuel in producing biofuel, such as biodiesel and ethanol, compared to the biofuel’s output in terms of energy.

“This is not new, and the pattern in the production in all countries producing ethanol is the same. They (US, UK, China) know how to use the state power instruments into making the local markets of third world countries enslaved with theirs,” Moreno said.

Moreno decried the fact that local governments are conditioning the public’s mind to accept the entry of bioethanol production as beneficial for the local economies.

“Third world countries should re-localize their economies so that they will not be overly dependent on the global market,” she said.

An award-winning scientist, who presented his study on bioethanol production, early last year concurred to what Moreno had said that massive land conversion could threaten food security.

In his study, Dr. Hartmut Prichel—1998 Nobel Prize winner for chemistry—warned that bioethanol proponents that converting agricultural lands to produce cassava or jathropha could lead to a large-scale hunger as farmers shift from planting food to biofuel crops.

“There is little energy to be gained from ethanol,” Prichel stated in his study.

Biofuel Act

Biofuel derived from cassava and other plants have become popular after prices of petroleum products soared to more than US$100 a barrel.

Here in the Philippines, Congress enacted Republic Act (RA) 9367—Biofuel Act of 2006—and was signed into law in July 24, 2006. This law directs the addition of biofuel in fossil-based petroleum fuel starting in 2009.

This biofuel program is Philippine government’s response to the worldwide clamor to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases into the earth’s atmosphere, where the main cause of global warming and climate change are now being experienced and expected to wreck havoc in the future unless the agreed reduction is positively addressed and implemented.

Under RA 9367, it is mandated that from 2009 to 2010, five percent by volume of bioethanol be added to gasoline and two percent of biodiesel is added to diesel fuel. It is targeted that by 2011, mixture should rise to 10 percent and five percent, respectively.

Monitoring and regulation of bioethanol plants here in the Philippines are tasked to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Environment Management Board (EMB), and (NWRB).

In the US, construction of biofuel plants are regulated under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act; the Clean Air Act; the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act; the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations under the Safe Drinking Water Act; and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

Good idea, bad location

Disappointed with City Council’s ambivalent stand, on October 21, 2008, KAWAL members trooped to Cagayan de Oro Mayor Constantino Jaraula’s office asking him to convince ACR—which had eyed their barangays for its bioethanol plant—to look for a plant site somewhere but the city’s watershed zone.

This time they went home at least with a promise—Mayor Jaraula told them he would look into how the proposed plant could affect a cave system underneath Bayanga and Mambuaya.

Mayor Jaraula pointed out that the proposed plant site of ACR is critically near the Moñigue Cave-Springs—a network of caves spanning six kilometers underneath Barangays Bayanga, Mambuaya and Dansolihon. Moñigue cave is known as a sanctuary of the endangered Philippine Tarsier (Tarsius Spectrum) in Cagayan de Oro.

If the processing plant includes design that calls for water extraction from the cave’s underground spring, Jaraula told them, ACR might have to find another plant site.

“We will not allow extraction of water from Moñigue Cave,” Jaraula beamed to KAWAL members that rainy Tuesday afternoon.

A week before, KAWAL members got disappointed with Councilor Abejuela’s proposal to set a meeting with ACR instead of repealing the ordinance.

Engr. Macabudbud saw no need for such a meeting. He said KAWAL wants the local legislative body to repeal the reclassification ordinance.

“It is now very clear to us that the reclassification ordinance—that was hastily passed—was intended to accommodate the proposed bioethanol plant,” Macabudbud said.

Royo-Faye clarified that KAWAL is not against bioethanol production, but only opposed of its proposed location.

“We have Phivedec (Philippine Veterans Development Corporation, located in Tagoloan, Misamis Oriental) just for that. Why do they (ACR) insist in building the processing plant where it can endanger a fragile ecosystem,” Royo-Faye said.

Jaraula, a day after their meeting, announced that ACR had already agreed to relocate the proposed 24-hectare bioethanol plant—away from Bayanga and Mambuaya.

Cost effective site

However, ACR never had the intention of honoring their agreement with Jaraula that the plant’s site be relocated elsewhere.

During its third and the only public hearing held in Bayanga’s covered court, George Milabo, ACR’s chief consultant assured that their plant will not harm the environment.

Milabo also reiterated that the plant would benefit the community since it could generate much-needed jobs.

Unlike other cassava processing plants, Milabo said ACR would be using dried cassava chips to make it environment-friendly.

Engr. Jerome Magkasi, ACR chief project officer, explained that they chose the Bayanga-Mambuaya area because it is nearest to the cassava plantations.

He said it took them at least three years to look for the most viable site for a bioethanol plant.

“The upland Barangays of Bayanga and Mambuaya are the best location for the plant. Nandito kasi ang concentration ng cassava planters so we would not have to haul the raw materials somewhere,” Magkasi said.

If ACR, he added, transfer its plant inside Phivedec; it would create a traffic problem in the city’s downtown area since they would have to haul raw materials from the upland Barangays to Phivedec. Once operational, ACR’s bioethanol plant would produce 100,000 liters per day.

“So you could just imagine the traffic congestion a convoy of container vans that would pass the city everyday would create,” Magkasi said.

Bencyrus Ellorin, spokesperson of local environmental watchdog Task Force Macajalar (TFM)—a member organization of KAWAL—after the public hearing said they will file a formal objection with the Environment Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (EMB-DENR 10) should they issue an ECC for the project despite many unanswered challenges to ACR’s environmental impact assessment (EIA) and environmental impact statement (EIS).

However, Alex Jimenez, chief of EIA—EMB 10 was unable to give the people of Bayanga and Mambuaya a definitive answer on whether they would issue an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) to ACR or not.

Battle royale

In June 4, 2009, ACR presented a revised technical features of its proposed bioethanol plant in a technical meeting called by EMB 10 but maintained that they will still construct the plant at the Bayanga-Mambuaya site—the original proposed plant site.

During that meeting, ACR representatives said the revisions were meant to address “issues about alleged environmental hazards posed by the bioethanol plant.”

Dr. Ed Alabastro, ACR’s technical consultant, said the company had decided they would push through with the project.

“We are presenting the revisions to our environmental impact statement (EIS) to be used as serving basis for continually improving the project’s technology and addressing issues and concerns of the community,” he said.

Stakeholders, including Barangay officials of Bayanga and Mambuaya were also invited in the meeting, aside from the review bodies assigned to study ACR’s ECC application.

The revisions of ACR’s EIS are the following, as presented in the meeting:

• The plant will use only dried cassava chips to ensure no foul smell would emanate from the plant.

• The plant will use minimal coal to feed their coal-fired boiler by using solid waste as fuel and the installation of anti-pollution facilities, thus addressing the issue of air pollution.

• By using dried cassava chips, slicing and drying under the sun for four to five days, the feedstock would be cyanide-free.

However, Valdehuesa would not accept ACR’s revision saying that the company has failed to address the root issue—the plant’s proposed site.

“Why are you discussing these technical details when you have not answered our paramount concern, which is the location of the plant?” Valdehuesa asked.

Royo-Faye said that ACR should have presented their EIS in a manner that ordinary persons could understand so as not to mislead them.

“How can we react to your proposal when we don’t even understand the information which is very technical? For example, you are saying that you will process the cassava chips through fermentation. You should make people understand how this process is done, that it will cause foul smell for days,” Royo-Faye said.

Later in the day, KAWAL issued a statement: “Any discussion on the technological aspects of the ECC application is less important than the issue of its location.”

“Claims to safety, assurances of responsible management or handling, or promises by company officials cannot justify locating that bio-ethanol plant outside the duly established industrial estate. Nor can it be justified in Bayanga/Mambuaya or anywhere atop or within the city’s watershed system,” the statement reads.

To ensure impartiality, Jimenez of EMB 10 created two review bodies to evaluate ACR’s ECC application.

“You can say that this project is unique because this is the only time that we are creating two review committees. One is an independent review committee composed of experts from academe and other sectors, and the other is the EIA review committee,” he said during the meeting.

When KAWAL heard reports that EMB 10 would issue ACR an ECC for the bioethanol plant, the coalition gathered their ranks to plan mass actions against ACR.

Bannering their original battle cry: “Good idea, bad location,” with renewed vigor, KAWAL huddled their member-organizations, institution, church and residents of Bayanga and Mambuaya.

KAWAL belied reports that residents of Bayanga are amenable to the proposed bioethanol plant. In a house to house survey conducted by KAWAL in 12 sitios in the barangay last June 18 to July 5, this year—in partnership with the Bayanga Ambassadors Team (BAT)—85 percent of its 350 respondents from the voting population have said “no” to the proposed plant, 13 percent of the respondents said “yes” while 1 percent said they were “neutral” on the issue.

Tani Macapanton, president of Cross and Crescent Consolidated Farms, located at Moñigue, Mambuaya, wrote in a letter, dated June 18, 2009 expressed their strong opposition against the proposed plant adding they were never included in the public consultations.

“Kami mga taga sitio Moñigue, Mambuaya, dakong supak sa Alsons bioethanol company kay makadaut sa lumulupyo, apektado ang (mga) residente tungod sa sakit ug wala maka-abot kanamo ang ilang konsultasyon,” Macapanton’s letter reads.

Datu Sungkuan, a Higaonon tribal leader in Basakanan, Bayanga said in his hand-written letter their tribe’s opposition—also claiming that they were never included in the series of public consultations held by the Environmental Management Board (EMB).

“Kami mga Higaonon sa Basakanan, nagmatuod nga dako nga supak sa pagtukod sa planta ng Alsons diri. Wala kami gikonsulta sa Alsons nga motukod sila sa planta ug nakabalo kami gikan sa mga silingan sa Bayanga,” Datu Sungkuan’s letter reads.

His letter also cited the imminent “pollution” of their water source—Moñigue River.

Datu Kuloba, a Higaonon tribal chieftain in Bayanga said in the press conference that they have had a bad experience with cassava-based processing in their area citing the presence of Philagro—a cassava-based processing plant.

“Baho man gani kaayo ang Philagro, unsa na lang kaha ang Alsons nga planta nga mas dako man kini kay sa Philagro,” he said.

Datu Kuloba said that even in the first consultation there was already a resounding 90 percent opposition to the proposed plant and this increased in the second consultation.

“Pag-abot sa ika-tulo nga konsultasyon daghan man gihapon mi supak, pero nagsurvey sekreto ang Alsons. Mangutana sila’g mga bata unsay ngalan sa ilang mga ginikanan dayon ilista dayon nila (Alsons) ‘uyon.’ Sakto ba gud kana,” he bared.

The Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro (ACDO) mobilized its 56 parishes by launching a signature campaign objecting the construction of a bioethanol plant in the watershed zone of the city.

Elena was among the hundreds of volunteers that went around chapels and neighboring communities handing out signature campaign petitions.

Suddenly, she found out that she had a way with people—she has an amiable face. She had no hang-ups, she was focused and determined to protect her community’s only source of water.

By July 14, 2009, ACDO had 6,000 petitioners signed their signature campaign and ACDO organizer said many are still coming in their social action desks of their parishes to sign the petition.

With the 6,000 signatures in tow, Kawal went to EMB 10 Office that same day to present the overwhelming opposition to the plant’s construction inside the watershed zone of the city.

Finally, Kawal had a taste of victory when EMB 10 Chief Sabdullah Abubacar told them he had already returned ACR’s ECC application and confirmed that ACR was not able to show that their operation would be zero-waste.

“I am also concerned with the safety of the Cagayan de Oro River,” Abubacar told Carl Cesar Rebuta, Cagayan de Oro team leader of LRC-KsK/FoE.

Musing beside crystal waters

Sitting on a boulder on the banks of Moñigue River, Elena listened to the gurgling of the river—it sounded as if it was singing—as the early morning July breeze swept the towering bamboo reeds—making swishing sounds.

As she watched her two grandsons, Elmer and Robert frolicking and playing tag—waiting for their containers to be full—Elena could not imagine how she, together with other concerned neighbors, could have taken on such a corporate goliath.

“Wala baya gyud ko magtuo nga mabuhat nako ‘tong paglibot-libot, pagpasabot sa mga tao nga ang kinaiyahan dapat nato irespeto kay mao kana ang tinubdan sa kinabuhi,” she said.

Elena has no illusions that ACR would not try again. She said so later in the day when we met at their covered court. Although, she admitted that the campaign for their source of water had brought out something new in her—a fighting spirit she never knew she had until the proposed bioethanol plant threatened their source of water.

The war to protect their only source of potable water may continue. ACR would try again albeit a different approach or with more money perhaps.

But Elena and her neighbors won this battle.

—-

* Real name of the family members have been withheld to protect them from possible reprisal from the company.

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