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Environment advocates cite top conflict drivers in CASER focus group

BUTUAN CITY, May 25 — Advocates have underscored environment-related causes of armed conflict during a series of focus group discussions (FGDs) held recently by the government Reciprocal Working Committee on Socio-Economic Reforms (RWC-SER).

The FGDs were part of the Government of the Philippines (GPH) peace panel’s efforts to draw feedback from various stakeholders on the ongoing peace process with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP).

Headed by panel member Ednar Dayanghirang, the RWC-SER conducted three FGDs that focused on the environment –- specifically on Environmental Risks and Resource Access and Utilization. Joining him were RWC members Fr. Albert Alejo and Prof. Fernando Aldaba.

In one FGD, participants maintained that rampant and irresponsible mining activities causing death and destruction to environment lead to armed conflict. They also pointed out that large-scale mining operations encroach on lands of indigenous peoples (IPs) sometimes “with the help of government forces.”

According to one participant, mining's toxic wastes are detrimental not only to the environment, but also to the communities that depend on the environment for livelihood. “Mine tailings that go to rivers affect those who need it for their livelihood, such as fisherfolk and farmers,” he said.

Another issue tackled in the FGDs was the disaster preparedness of local governments, especially those in the eastern part of the country like the Bicol region. “These areas, the corridor of poverty, are usually hit by storms and are among the poorest in the country. These are also where the insurgents breed,” explained one participant.

Another participant said solving these problems would need creativity. He added that reforms should not only focus on government actions but also on changing the culture of today’s Filipinos.

Other FGDs conducted by RWC-SER covered issues related to IPs, urban land reform, fisheries and forest reform, inclusive growth, agrarian reform, industrial policy and agricultural development, and social protection.

Inputs from these were used by the Committee in drafting the government’s version of the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-economic Reforms (CASER) which will be exchanged for review with the NDFP version two weeks before the first bilateral meeting in June.

CASER is one of three key agreements that the GPH and the NDFP agreed to complete within a time frame of 18 months to three years. The other two are the Comprehensive Agreement on Political-Constitutional Reforms (CAPCR), and the Agreement on End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces. (PNA) DCT/LAM/BS/mec

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