Envi groups weigh in on PNoy’s legacy, challenges Duterte admin

By Paul Christian Yang-ed

Environmental advocacy groups Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC), Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE), and Eco Challenge for Change assessed the State of the Philippine Environment during and after the six-year term of previous president Benigno “Noy-Noy” Aquino III, in a forum held at PH400, Palma Hall Building, on July 18, 2016. The same groups also talked about the prospects and challenges facing the Philippine environment under the Duterte administration.

Plunder and Neglect

Owen Migraso, CEC resource person, made the rundown on the disasters that the Aquino administration faced as well as the environmental policies it enacted. Migraso noted that disasters such as the Habagat floods of August 2012–2013, Supertyphoons Pablo and Yolanda, Mass Exodus of Lumad “bakwit”, the grounding of the USS Guardian on the Tubbataha Reef, as well as the El Niño-related Kidapawan Incident, were tied to pre-existing vulnerabilities like landlessness, over-exploitation of natural resources, and militarization. He also cited over P1 Billion funds under the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) that remained unused by the end of Aquino’s term as well as the reports of wasted undistributed relief goods. Also mentioned was the killings of over fifty (50) environmental activists within Aquino’s term that landed the Philippines as the 2nd most dangerous country in the world for environmental advocates according to Global Witness Watch.

In terms of policy, Migraso scored the previous administration over its Executive Order №23 that, although stopped the issuances of new logging permits, still allowed pre-existing commercial logging and mines with timber rights to continue unabated. He also mentioned the failure of the National Greening Program, falling short of its target 1.5 billion trees, as well as the issues of corruption and weak implementation hounding it. He also criticized the ‘No-Build Zone Policy’ that allegedly displaced coastal and river-dwelling communities near their source of income while favoring large commercial centers’ interests to gain cheap land, as well as the lack of thorough scientific studies on the proposed tide embankment project in Tacloban that is supposed to be meant to protect the people from future storm surges.

On the other hand, Migraso commended mass actions conducted by concerned citizens and affected communities in response to the pallid and plunderous environmental policies of the previous president such as the seeking of Writs of Kalikasan, conducting Investigative and Solidarity Missions, forging partnerships and mass campaigns such as “People’s Surge” and “Stop Lumad Killings”, and the lobbying for the People’s Mining Bill in Congress.

Insight from the Academe

Dr. Tess Perez from Ateneo’s Department of Environmental Science also shared her assessment of the State of the Philippine Environment under the Aquino regime. She noted the community opposition to the Lobo mining project in Batangas which is very near the biodiverse and sensitive Verde Island Passage. Dr. Perez also said that there remains a lack of studies on inland water bodies which get polluted first compared to marine pollution studies. She also said that policies for protecting these inland waters was lacking under the previous president. Legal loopholes in environmental policies still persisted although the Writ of Kalikasan proved to be a strong legal armor for environmental activists, she added. She also remarked that the terminator genes in genetically-modified crops that had been sold to peasants by transnational companies continued to bind the farmers to poverty, debt, and dependence on the company for productivity.

Duterte: Positives and Negatives

Meanwhile Clemente Bautista of Kalikasan-PNE bared the challenges ahead for environmental advocacy groups and for the Duterte administration. Bautista also made a recap of Duterte’s own past environmental policies as a local official and stands on environmental issues during his campaign before getting elected. According to him, among the “positive” things he did was forbidding mining in Davao in 2013, forbidding aerial spraying of pesticides in plantations in 2007, and providing aid to the lumad “bakwits” and victims of the Kidapawan shooting incident. Additionally, Bautista said that Duterte promised to return the household wastes from Canada that had been illegally exported to the Philippines in 2013. Bautista also told the audience that Duterte promised that the country’s minerals will be used for national industrialization and will be processed here so that it will no longer be exported abroad as cheap raw material.

While welcoming Duterte’s pronouncements and past policies, Bautista pointed out that Duterte was a supporter of coal power plants and his friends’ plantations, as well as his “wrong” stand on the issue of palm oil plantations and extrajudicial killings. As president, while Duterte appointed known anti-mining advocate Regina “Gina” Lopez as Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) secretary and has announced plans to remove and chase after corrupt bureaucrats, However, Bautista lamented that Duterte still approves of building new coal power plants as well as continuing past contracts under the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) scheme and the “liberalization” of mining. While there are progressives in Duterte’s cabinet, Bautista also said that oligarchs and pro-large scale mining figures were placed in key cabinet positions such as the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Department of Energy (DOE), and National Economic Development Authority (NEDA).

Regarding the environment sector’s strategy on Duterte, Bautista discussed fourteen (14) demands crafted by the Eco Challenge for Change, a coalition of 41 environmental advocacy groups and like-minded organizations. Some of the demands include the stoppage of illegal and destructive mining in environmentally-critical areas, prosecution of negligent officials responsible for the handling of past disasters as well as corrupt DENR officials, cancellation of reclamation permits, release of environmental activists who are detained on trumped up charges, and the appointment of more progressives in the DENR.

The primary drivers

CEC Executive Director Frances Quimpo emphasized that what ought to be done should not be merely “environment for environment’s sake” but should take a holistic view and must consider the interconnectedness of everything. Therefore, she added that everyone must also do something to change the current political and economic policies that contribute to environmental crises and disasters. “Ano ba ang malaking driver ng destruction? Primary drivers ang mga malalaking bansang kapitalista…itinutulak nila ang responsabilidad [ng pagbawas ng Greenhouse Gas Emissions] sa mga mahihirap na bansa dahil ayaw nilang mabawasan ang kanilang profit,” she said. In a closing speech, she added, “Marami sa mga vulnerable mahihirap, walang choice, walang capacity, bukod pa sa pasakit na mga economic policy.

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