Like a thief in the night, China…

Like a thief in the night, China… Featured

Almost every morning during these COVID-19 lockdown weeks, I have been posting on Facebook the front page of the digital version of the Inquirer.

For the computer illiterate, the Inquirer digital version is exactly what the day’s newspaper looks like, and you can flip the pages with your finger on the touchscreen of your gadget. It is best to read on a tablet while you are having your breakfast coffee. You have to be a subscriber to access the entire issue.

Oh, but I must say that there is nothing like the smell of the news and the day’s Sudoku on real paper. Alas, there has been no delivery for more than a month now.

When the Inquirer came out with the editorial “Betraying Homonhon” last Tuesday, I wanted to immediately share the stand-alone online version, but it was not yet uploaded so I took a screenshot of the Opinion page and posted it. An hour later, the free online version was up.

Why was I riled enough to post the editorial for many to read right away? It was because while we were cloistered in our homes, a Chinese-operated vessel was creeping into Homonhon Island in Guiuan, Eastern Samar, to haul away chromite ore from a mining site operated by Techiron Resources Inc. That, despite the lockdown in the province and other parts of the country.

Well, elsewhere, the Chinese have extracted black sand and marine resources, seized Philippine territory—plus the hearts, minds, guts, and balls of some of our elected leaders.

Homonhon is the island in our archipelago where, some historians argue, one Fernão de Magalhães/Fernando de Magallanes/Ferdinand Magellan first set foot (not on Limasawa Island) and marked the beginning of Spanish colonization and the advent of Christianity in the Philippines, something that the locals commemorate. An event whose tragic outcome Yoyoy Villame had delightfully immortalized in song.

Fast forward to 2020, almost 500 years since, the little island is at odds with present-day extractors, modern-day explorers, and despoilers of the environment from nearby.

According to CBCP News of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, the government had “allow[ed] a Chinese-manned vessel to load mineral ores despite the province-wide quarantine.” This sparked citizens’ appeals for the closure of mining operations on the island.

MV VW Peace, a Panamanian-registered vessel with a crew of 13 Chinese and four from Myanmar, arrived in Homonhon on April 4 to load about 7,000 tons of chromite ore. The loading was at first delayed but was later resumed when the Department of Environment and Natural Resources reversed its first decision to suspend operations. Why so enamored with China? We know the answer.

Another petition from the Philippine-Misereor Partnership Inc. and the Visayas State University decried the effect of mining on forest diversity and the ocean surrounding the island. Misereor is the development arm of the Catholic bishops of Germany.

“The mines would affect the forest, fauna diversity and also influence the productivity of the ocean around the island (considering the ridge-to-reef effect) which is the main source of livelihood of the residents of Homonhon… Not only would we lose valuable species, but (mining would) also affect the environment and the lives of the people. This petition now aims to hasten the bill or law that proposes to declare the island as a critical habitat and which could and possibly prohibit any mining activities.”

Here we are waiting to exhale, cocooned in our private abodes, riding out the COVID-19 long-drawn pandemic that visited our planet while out there, an island community must battle foreign, plague-carrying intruders.

What a timely sneak of thieves in the night. But this is not the first time on the island or elsewhere. The password for entry: China.

Moving indeed is the music video “Dakila Ka, Bayani Ka” from the Department of Education, dedicated to our heroic health workers and other frontliners serving here and abroad during these dark times. It is performed by about a dozen Filipino artists/musicians, most of them under quarantine. The music and images brought tears to my eyes especially because of nurses and doctors in the family, my late father among them.000
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