Monday, July 23, 2007

Pastoral Statement on Oil Exploration in Bohol Strait

To our dear People of God and all men and women of good will.

Sometime in June to July 2007 a seismic survey was conducted in the seawaters of Panglao, Dauis, Maribojoc and Loon, Bohol. It is a procedure that determines the volume of oil deposit under the sea by the use of sounds and echoes. It was conducted by a foreign company named NorAsian Energy Ltd. (NAEL) with the approval of both the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). According to the contract awarded by our government to NAEL, the survey shall be followed by an extensive oil drilling program possibly next year.

For our part, we, the Clergy of the Diocese of Tagbilaran, have listened to the sentiments of our people, carefully studied the issues at hand and prayerfully reflected on them. Prodded by this we come out with this Pastoral Statement making a moral judgment on the seismic survey as well as provides moral guidance on the planned oil drilling project.

Our Moral Judgment on the Seismic Survey

1. We are appalled to learn that, given the nature of the seismic survey and its short and long term impact to human and marine life, the local communities and their officials as well as other groups who have a stake in the area were not duly consulted before the survey had been undertaken.

The DOE and NAEL simply disseminated information in their websites. As regards informing local people, they coursed it through the newly elected local officials on a very short notice. In view of this behavior, it is difficult not to conclude that right from the very start the DOE and NAEL did not intend a consultation but simply an information.

2. We are disappointed to learn that the seismic survey, conducted on an exploration site that had been officially declared by the national and local governments as a marine protected area (MPA), was suddenly granted by the DENR a Certificate of Non-Coverage (CNC), thereby exempting it from stringent measures required by the laws of the land that seek to preserve the nation’s ecosystem.

Needless to say, the exploration site boasts of numerous marine sanctuaries and coastal based resource management programs. It is also home to a thriving and world-famous eco-tourism industry that provides livelihood to hundreds of families and a source of pride of every Boholano. Millions of pesos have been spent by local government units (LGUs) and non-government organizations (NGOs) for the establishment and maintenance of these projects, not to mention the amount of creativity and energy that the local people have invested into them.

What has happened to our laws such as the Philippine Environment Impact System Act (PD 1586) and the Local Government Code of 1991 (Sections 26-27) to name a few? If we use the recently concluded seismic survey as a litmus test of committed and responsible governance, we dread to see the day when the integrity of our ecosystem will again be put in harm’s way and the pertinent laws be arbitrarily shelved off in favor of an energy-hungry nation.

3. We are saddened to know that, given the adverse effects that the survey had on the livelihood of those dependent on either commercial or small-scale fishing, the DOE and the NAEL did not seek the participation of the local people and draw a clear and dependable mechanism of just compensation.

Why is it that in almost every government sponsored or approved project that has the prospect of good return of investment (ROI) for foreign corporations, it is our poor and marginalized brother and sister Filipinos who are asked to sacrifice? Granting, without admitting, that it is their turn yet again to forego for the greater good, isn’t it right that they be guaranteed with a just compensation?

Our Moral Stance on the Oil Drilling Program

Beyond the seismic survey, the risks of an oil drilling program are far greater. Lest there be a repeat of the mistakes, we wish that the decisions and conduct of all stakeholders shall abide by the following moral principles:

1. Activities meant to improve the economy should “not (to) be left to the judgment of individuals or groups who possess too much economic power, nor of the political community alone…It is only right that, in matters of general interest, as many people as possible…should participate actively in decision-making” (Gaudium et spes, 65).

In this light, let us exhaust all peaceful means to prevent the oil drilling program from proceeding unless the DOE and NAEL shall disclose to the public the details of the service contract and other agreements, conduct consultations that are wide in scope, accessible to all stakeholders, honest and transparent to affected communities, and broadly participative in working out decisions.

2. The defense and preservation of the common good such as the natural and human environments should not be left to the dictates of market forces but to a strong juridical or legal framework based on “the need to respect the integrity and cycles of nature”(Sollicitudo rei socialis, 26; Centesimus annus, 40).

In this light, we call on public officials concerned to courageously apply the full force of our environmental laws to the oil drilling program even as we urge all NGOs and other groups to take the lead in exercising vigilance on this regard.

3. “The fulfillment of the needs of the poor” and their “active participation in economic life” is a moral criteria that “must pervade all plans and legislation for development” (Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, 314).

In this light, and in view of the greater risks to both human and marine life, it is a serious moral obligation for those who will derive profit from the natural resource to set up a mechanism of just compensation before the oil drilling begins and with the participation and approval of those who may bear the possible harm or loss because of human error or accidents.

4. But over and above these moral imperatives, the principle of equitable sharing of revenues should be observed. The history of oil exploration is replete with examples of individual and corporate greed and insensitivity to the people in the locality. A repeat of this sad experience is possible if Section 29 of the Local Government Code shall not be honored: “Local government units shall have an equitable share in the proceeds derived from the utilization and development of national wealth within their respective areas, including sharing the same with the inhabitants by way of direct benefits.”

This law is in perfect accord with the church’s moral teaching: “The economic prosperity of any people is to be assessed not so much from the sum total of goods and wealth produced as from the distribution of goods according to the norms of justice.” Justice demands that, “with the growth of the economy, there should occur a corresponding social development so that all citizens will benefit equitably from an increase in national wealth” (Mater et Magistra, 73-74).

In this light, let us do everything we can to prevent the oil drilling program unless a mechanism of equitable sharing of revenues shall be in place so that, instead of dole-outs or piecemeal projects dependent on the whims and so-called charity of the corporation or the allied politician, the revenues accrued to the inhabitants of the localities shall be guaranteed by law and shall empower them to take the path of integral development. While the bounty of God’s creation in the Bohol Strait is a national wealth, it is however first and foremost a local wealth. Inasmuch as the local people are its primary stewards, they ought to be the first beneficiaries.


Will the blue sea of Bohol Strait remain the pure essence of life-giving water to the present and future generations, or will it degenerate into a murky water of non-life, an ugly reminder of our indifference and irresponsibility? Let us listen to God saying: “Today I offer you a choice of life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life and then you and your descendants will live” (Deut 30:19-20).

The choice is ours. With Mary, the patroness of our diocese, at our side, it is time to act on behalf of life so that “all may have life and have it in its fullness” (Jn 10:10).

Most Rev.Leonardo Medroso, DD, JCD
Bishop of Tagbilaran 17 July 2007