It was rather curious what an official of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Region 11 – the area worst hit by Typhoon Pablo (international name Bopha) – said about the cause of the huge impact the typhoon created on Compostela Valley Province and Davao Oriental last week. DENR regional director Joselyn Marcus Fragada said the blame was not on illegal logging and mining activities but on climate change, which has suddenly placed Mindanao in the path of typhoons. Not only that, typhoons have also become more powerful, giving Mindanao a double whammy of destruction.
Now there is no denying that climate change is upon us and that it is wreaking havoc on our weather. Such weather disturbances used to be an extreme rarity this far south, but in a span of less than one year, Tropical Storm Sendong and Typhoon Pablo hit Mindanao, the southern tip of the Philippines. The first one could have been a fluke, but having another one in a year’s time means the “new normal” is indeed upon us.
In the same breath, however, Fragada also said there is a need to plant more trees and to give more teeth to the campaign against illegal logging and the cutting of trees. In saying so, he practically admitted that logging did indeed contribute to the destruction and loss of life in ComVal and Davao Oriental. So what is it, then? The answer appears to be that both these factors, not just climate change, contributed to what nature wrought in Mindanao.
Besides, what is causing climate change but man’s unceasing abuse of nature, including indiscriminate logging? Ultimately, we have ourselves to blame for the recent calamity. Fragada had said the worst enemy is nature, but he should also add that its biggest accomplice is man.
Push HIV/AIDS education to the forefront
A number of AIDS advocates have challenged President Benigno Aquino and his cabinet to undergo an HIV test in order to remove the stigma that such tests still have in this country. If the president himself and his secretaries go through the test, they reason, then the whole country will see that there is no shame in the exercise and will follow suit. The reason being cited is the rise in HIV and AIDS cases in the country, which has made the Philippines one of only a few countries in the world where such cases are rising. The aforementioned AIDS advocates blame this on the low rate of testing being done, which itself is caused by fear among the people of how they will be seen by others if they do get tested.
This in itself is one huge problem, because one who does not know he or she has HIV/AIDS could unwittingly spread the virus to unsuspecting partners, who could do the same to others. It is an exponential growth that has already happened: this was how HIV so easily and so quickly spread in its first few years. Now that HIV is well documented and better understood, more and more people are having themselves tested so that they would at least know where they stand.
In a way, then, the advocates are right: if the President himself goes through an HIV test, then that would give a positive signal to the people, and that in turn could lead more of us to have ourselves tested as well. But in giving such a challenge to the President and his cabinet, the advocates are breaking a long-standing rule: never force anyone to undertake an HIV/AIDS test. That is a private matter, and no amount of advocacy can overturn one’s right to keeping one’s private affairs private. The advocates themselves said as much when they said, in the same breath, that mandatory testing is illegal and ineffective, and that forcing people, particularly those in the LGBT community, to undergo HIV testing would only push them to go underground and will expose them to graver forms of abuse.
Perhaps instead of issuing challenges to government officials, the entire nation could agree together to push HIV/AIDS education to the forefront. Filipinos have long mistakenly thought that we are safe from the virus; the rising number of cases has dispelled that, and it is now time to act so that the upward trend does not continue.
Jon Joaquin is the managing editor of the largest circulation newspaper in Mindanao, the Mindanao Daily Mirror in Davao City.