Two years ago, I left for Germany because of my passion in saving the environment. At that time, I believed so much in the ability of the youth to create ripples of change that could help in finding solutions to pressing problems facing the world-melting of the polar ice caps, extinctions of wild life, deforestation-and in my case, mitigating soil erosion in my hometown, Polomolok, South Cotabato, home of Dole, Philippines Inc., the world’s biggest producer of fresh fruits and vegetables.
I joined the competition that time sponsored by Bayer and the United Nations Environment Programme because I wanted to go to Europe, never did it occur to me that I’d be enmeshed with my project and be more involved with the environmental issues Polomolok is confronting due to the presence of the big multinational company.
I cannot deny the benefits the people are getting from Dole. Cannery, a barangay that got its name from the fact the it is the cannery for pineapples harvested from the vast plantation surrounding it, is now lobbying to become a municipality because of the revenue it has amassed making it a good candidate as a second class municipality. Almost all the people living in the place are employees of Dole. In fact, my parents who are both teachers, decided to settle and raise their children in Cannery because of the opportunities awaiting them during that time. Some of my high school classmates are now employees of the company. Despite these good that Dole has brought to the place since it first started its operations in the 60s, the environmental degradation it is causing Polomolok as well as the municipalities of Tupi and Tamapakan is increasing at an alarming rate which may cancel all the gains of Polomolok for having the company conduct it operations in the area.
The pineapple plantation being predominantly monocrop is placing too much pressure on the soil; soil erosion being one of the problems, aside of course from the resulting high acidity of the soil which will leave the soil virtually unusable in the event Dole Philippines decide to bring its operation elsewhere. The problem of soil erosion is observable in the area beside Dole Cannery Central Elementary School and Polomolok National High School; both are my alma mater. The width of the creek is growing at such a rapid rate that both schools have to build retaining walls along areas that used to be green grounds. Moreover, some houses were abandoned because of the dangers of flash floods. Whenever it rains heavily, the runoff carries with it portion of the topsoil and exposes the more vulnerable and less fertile subsoil. This process that is occurring for years is now slowly felt by the residents and the company. However, nothing substantial has really been done.
With the global financial crises and the slowdown in the demand for fresh products, the place will be hard hit if Dole halts its operation. I heard from a relative that two months ago the working days were temporarily cut by the company. This resulted to salary cuts, an event they fear was just a dress rehearsal for a more gloomy days ahead, or worse, Dole abandoning its operation.
The soil being unsuitable for rice plantation because of very high chemical level and thin top soil will be of no use to people. Here the people are confronted with the delicate balance between the environment and the people being tipped. Polomolok will be a sad case of an environmental disaster if these concerns are not carefully studied and given appropriate solution.
This Earth Day, I am reminded of that project I conducted almost two years ago. It was already a start but I stopped midway because I also had to face other life’s concerns. I seldom visited my hometown and I have no idea what have become of the trees we planted along the creeks or the students who listened to my lectures regarding soil erosion. Mine was a case of an aborted ripple that was supposed to cause tidal waves but disappeared in the middle of my oceans of concerns.
Still my passion for the environment has not waned; probably I am just awaiting for that day when I finally get tired pursuing all my banal pursuits.