When Irma Pal of MetroPost asked me by text last Sunday what I consider Governor Emilio C. Macias II ’s legacy as a public official, I immediately replied that improvement of health services in the province of Negros Oriental was his contribution to the welfare of the people of this province . I think many will not disagree with me on this judgment.
But there is another aspect of Dodo’s life that is perhaps not well known to many people. This is his involvement in the dialogue on the environment of Negros Oriental. Unlike many other public officials who are unwilling or afraid to join the discussion on environmental issues and therefore silent on these things, Dodo Macias chose to confront controversial issues head on. The result was that such issues became matters of public debates participated in by concerned citizens. This way, issues of public concern are given a wide hearing as expected in a democratic society.
It was my privilege to be an active discussant with Dodo, along with other concerned citizens, in environmental controversies on issues of environmental conservation versus development. For some of these issues, we often found ourselves in opposite positions. But despite our differences in views about such issues, we had remained friends.
I would like to recall at least a couple of examples to show that Dodo changed his mind about environmental issues if presented with good scientific evidence contrary to his own ideas.
The first example dates back to the mid-1980s when there was an attempt to build a road through the lowland rainforest from Sibulan to the small Lake Danao in the Twin Lakes area. If that road was constructed, hundreds of hectares of tropical rainforest would have been denuded, resulting in erosion, sedimentation and pollution of Lake Danao. I also pointed out to him that building that road would make the forest around the two lakes accessible to tree cutters and wildlife hunters, with destruction of biodiversity. Besides, the Hanay-hanay road had already provided access to legitimate visitors, and there was no need to build another road. Dodo must have listened to my advice, and the road construction was stopped.
The other example occurred in the early 2000s when he was serving as a Congressman. What happened was that somebody in the Philippine National Oil Company must have lobbied with him to present a bill to Congress that would have sliced off more than 5,000 hectares of the 8,000+ hectare Balinsasayao Twin Lakes Natural Park to allow a mineral survey operation. What was strange is that the Department of Environment in Dumaguete had agreed to the proposed reduction! We at Silliman mounted a campaign to oppose the bill on certain grounds. First, the disturbance caused by mining would render the affected areas susceptible to erosion during times of heavy rainfall or during episodes of earthquakes. Second, the area of the Park is already too small for the many important species of biodiversity in the Park. These species would require a large forest area to ensure their long-term survival. The Park actually requires an area bigger than 8,000 hectares in order to serve the conservation requirements of the endemic species of biodiversity. Third, Negros Island has lost the bulk of its rainforest except for the remaining 30,000 hectares, which included the Twin Lakes Natural Park. Dodo finally saw the merit of our stand not to reduce the original 8,000+ hectares. The Park now earns income from tourism partly because its original size has been maintained.
But the manner by which he communicated to me his final decision is certainly worthy of mention. We met in the old Manila domestic airport one early morning to catch the first Air Philippines flight to Dumaguete. He came to where I was sitting and told me in an apologetic manner that he had withdrawn his bill because he realized we were right. That was a kind gesture from a man with political authority to listen to good, scientific arguments why a piece of tropical rainforest in a province with very little forest remnants, after being devastated by commercial loggers and illegal tree cutters, should not be subjected to development (mining) activities.
Governor Emilio C. Macias II is dead at a relatively active age of 76 years, but his good deeds live on to benefit the coming generations of Negrenses.