Sunday, March 3, 2013

Mercury, the poison; not Mercury, the druggist

Pamoso ang Mercury Drug Corporation, ang pinakamalaking network ng tindahan ng gamot sa Pilipinas. Isa rin ito sa pinakamatandang parmasyutika sa bansa. Isang mayamang pamilyang Filipino-Chinese ang may-ari ng Mercury Drug, at sumikat ang kumpanyang ito sa kaniyang slogan na "Gamot ay laging bago."
Totoo ito. Noong nasa Senado pa ako, pinaupo ako ng yumaong Sen. Blas F. Ople bilang isa sa mga hurado sa isang gawad-timpalak para sa mga kumpanyang pinakamahusay ang pamamahala at isa sa mga finalist ang Mercury Drug Corporation.
Isa sa mga nakasama ko bilang hurado ang editor-in-chief ngayon ng Philippine Daily Inquirer, si Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc. Kapwa namin ibinoto ni Bb. Magsanoc ang Mercury Drug Corporation dahil sa kalidad ng serbisyo at produkto at maayos na pagtrato nito sa mga empleyado. Pinangangalagaan ng kumpanya ang kapakanan, higit lalo ang kalusugan, ng mga kawani nito.
Kung ang pangangalaga sana ng ating mga pinuno sa ating mga Romblomanon ay sing-husay ng pangangalaga ng Mercury Drug Corporation sa mga kawani nito, disin sana'y hindi ko na susulatin ang kuwentong ito.
But the fact that some of our local leaders are only not taking good care of us the way they should, but also expose us to the dangers of mercury, the poison, and mining, the  rapist of our land and mortgagor of our children's future, is reason sufficient and logical for me to write--however repetitive--about the truly tragic situation we are in.
And what is truly tragic in our current circumstances?
We are being poisoned, yes. Slowly, but surely, with organic mercury through the deliberate incompetence and monumental uncaring attitude of some of our leaders, starting with Rep. Budoy Madrona down to the barangay captains who allow organic mercury to be dumped as sludge and waste into our rivers and streams.
I should have added to this the charge of ignorance, but I need proof because most of our leaders are highly-educated. Which means to say their actuations should not be equated with idiocy. Not yet.
You mask ask: Pray, tell, Nicon, why did Rep. Madrona's name crop up in this episode? Or, for that matter, Gov. Firmalo's? Don't you know they are anti-mining? Don't you know that Rep. Madrona had filed a bill in Congress declaring Romblon a no-miner's land? And didn't Gov. Firmalo issue an executive order banning all forms of metallic mining in Romblon? Weren't these enough proof they are true-blue anti-mining souls?
Of course, yes, and I know. But I remember, while writing this piece, Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian Nobel laureate for literature, who wrote: "A tiger need not proclaim his tigritude" as an admonition to his fellow countrymen for making so much noise about their "Negritude".
Indeed, a tiger need not shout that he is a tiger, in the same manner that an anti-mining activist, or any activist for that matter, need not proclaim that he is so. He only has to live it.
And living it means condemning in words and deed the poisoning happening in Magdiwang, right in the national integrated protected areas of Sibuyan. Listen to this:
"When released into the environment, mercury is capable of traveling wide distances and transforming into the more toxic organic form which accumulates in seafood. Finally, once present in the environment in any form, mercury can no longer be destroyed, and instead accumulates in various environmental media and form."
Ano raw? Kapag pinakawalan sa kapaligiran, kaya ng mercury na tumawid ng malalayong distansiya at nagiging higit na nakalalasong organiko na naiipon sa mga pagkaing-dagat. Kapag ito ay nasa kalikasan na sa alinmang anyo, hindi na mabubura ang mercury, at sa halip ay naiipon na lamang sa iba't-ibang bahagi ng kapaligiran.
Who said this? Sinong Ponsio Pilato ang nagsabi nito?
Si Richard Gutierez. Ang artista? Hindi, kundi si Abogado Richard Gutierrez, isang paham na maestro at doktor sa batas na siyang kasalukuyang executive director ng Ban Toxics, at partner sa grupong Health Care Without Harm. Si Abogado Gutierrez and nagsabi nito bilang bahagi ng kaniyang ulat sa mahal nating gobernador noon pang Enero 14, 2011.
Ganito ang kuwento. Inanyayahan ni Gob. Firmalo si Gutierrez na maging tagapagsalita sa isang konsultasyon sa mercury at small-scale mining noong Enero 7-8, 2011 sa Romblon.
Bilang bahagi ng konsultasyon, nagsagawa ng mercury vapor testing ang Ban Toxics sa ilang barangay sa Magdiwang, gaya ng Dulangan, Tagkayo, Ipil, Mabulo, at Espana, kabilang ang Poblacion. Ang test ay isinagawa sa mga kabahayan, minahan, eskuwelahan, at sa mga ilog.
Matapos ang test, gumawa ng report ang Ban Toxics at isinumite kay Gob. Firmalo. Walang nakakaalam, sa aking palagay, kung ilan at sino ang nakabasa ng report.
Hindi siguro ito nabasa ng Romblon Sun o ng The Romblon Times, dahil kung nabasa ito ng mga mamamahayag, malamang na nailathala na ito. Baka headline pa.
Hindi rin siguro ito nabasa ng Simbahan, kasi kung nabasa nila ito, malamang naipahayag na ito sa mga pulpito at sa kanilang mga pangangaral. Ang Simbahan sa Romblon ang tanging may natitirang kredibilidad pagdating sa pagsasatinig ng mga isyung sosyal.
Nasa posisyon sana ang Romblon State University na isa pang tatayo upang dagdagan ang kamulatan at kaalamang pambayan, dahil bilang akademya at pugad ng mga nagiisip na intelektwal, ito ay may sapat na kapabilidad. Subalit nalulunod naman ang unibersidad sa sariling mantika ng internal na pagkakampi-kampi, sigalot, at pag-iinggitan, bukod sa ito'y kinubkob na rin ng pamumulitika, kaya sa halip na maging balwarte ng mataas na antas ng diskusyon at pagpapalitan ng kuro-kuro, nakakulong na ang RSU sa bakal na kulambo.
Kung kaya't malamang na hindi siguro nabasa ang report ng mga guro at profesor, dahil kung alam nila ang nilalaman ng report, baka nagliyab na ang ating mga paaralan sa debate kung papaanong unti-unting nalalason ang Romblon.
How about the government officials, particularly of the LGUs of Sibuyan, and of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources? Have they read the report? Most likely? I don't know. If they had, then most surely they would have conducted information drives and study sessions and warned the people of the imminent danger posed by small-scale mining using mercury. But there wasn't such thing happening as far as I can remember, so most likely . . . never mind.
How about Rep. Madrona? Does he have a copy of the report? How about Magdiwang Mayor Baring Manzala? Did he read the report? If he did, and now I will grant that he really has a copy and has read it, what did he do? File it and pray that some rats chew up the six-page report so no one would know about its existence?
Who else, aside from the governor, has a copy of the report and had read it?
I do. I have a copy of the report and I have read it. To obtain a copy, email me at The first one to request will receive a P10 mobile phone load. Don't forget to include in your request your mobile phone number.
I thank my source, ever vigilant and astonishingly brilliant, for sending me a copy of the report. My source is an authentic Romblomanon, articulate and assertive, and very much in tune with the socio-economic and political developments in the province. Without this source, whose identity I have promised to treat in strict confidence, this opinion column will not have materialized.
What does the report contains? Bomba. It is explosive, as you can read from the headline of The Romblon Times.
Sa mga ngayon lang makakabasa ng The Romblon Times, masuwerte kayo. Kung galit naman kayo sa diyaryo dahil may kompyuter kayo na naka-WiFi, basahin na lang ang blog ko sa
Hindi ninyo mababasa ang report sa website ng Lalawigan ng Romblon. Hindi pa kasi ito tapos. Hayahay.
Seriously now, the report is already a year-old and I grant that there had been changes and new developments, as Gov. Firmalo admitted in my interview of him for this story, which may render some parts of the report out-dated, or irrelevant. But this is not the point.
The point is why was the report not publicly disseminated when its contents impact on the health and well-being of Romblomanons? Why was there not a deliberate effort to share and discuss the report with all Romblomanons so they will know that small-scale mining, with the aid of mercury, is wreaking havoc on the people of Romblon, not the least the environment?
I am just asking questions, but I am also reminded of Conrado de Quiros' famous words: "Never mind the trees. Save the writer."
In this case, I will say it the other way: "Always mind the trees. Without trees, there will be no writers."


trini said...

Sir: to my knowledge, this report was cited numerous times in Romblon Sun. This study was always cited by the Governor himself as one of the basis for his moratorium. (Quote: WHEREAS, illegal small-scale mining activities in some of the villages in Sibuyan Island have resulted to environmental threats, such as mercury contamination in rivers and fields as per findings of the Blacksmith Institute in partnership with the World Bank. As such, the inhabitants of some illegal small-scale mining areas as well as non-miners have experienced health problems due to mercury exposure. This was further supported by a study conducted by the NGO Ban Toxics! which measured high levels of mercury in various places in Magdiwang and San Fernando municipalities. Due to the principle of bioaccumulation, mercury accumulates in animals faster than they can get rid of it. As such, people are exposed to the highest concentrations of Mercury because of their consumption of meat and fish. This is cause for concern, as too much mercury exposure can lead to various physical conditions as well as to loss of IQ and memory"). This study was disseminated. Furthermore, it was presented at a press conference in manila to various media groups.

trini said...

The update also is that after the Ban Toxics study was carried out, as a response the Governor coordinated with UP-PGH and the Institute for Poison Control. They came in May and carried out more indepth monitoring. As per their report, the water and food of Sibuyan were not affected by the mercury content. It was the air that was cause for concern. But even only 5 months after the moratorium was set into place, the levels of mercury in the air had gone down. Ban Toxics came back in 2012 and carried out an anti-mercury campaign in Tablas and Sibuyan with the help of the Provincial Government. They also did a follow-up study for mercury levels in Sibuyan and found that the levels had gone down substantially. You can confirm this with Atty. Gutierrez of Ban Toxics. The Provincial Government has been supporting the anti-illegal mining composite team (PNP, Army, ENRO) in Sibuyan since 2011, which have gone against the illegal miners. Also, the composite team and the province have conducted IEC (information educational campaigns) in all barangays of Magdiwang re mercury usage and illegal mining.

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