There has long been a history in UP Diliman of traditional politics carrying populist rhetoric come February’s election period. Yes, there already are trapos this early in the game, just wait until they first touch base in the bureaucracy. Yes, the election rhetoric of trapos are flavors of the month. And finally, yes, the trend of using “Go Green” as party mantra is the growing soundbite of choice these days.
It is unfortunate that something as important as environmental advocacy ends up being merely a cosmetic change, if not political ploy, when it comes to the university level. This stems from a narrow perspective where the middle class only sees their immediate environment and seeks to address its perceived causes only on that very local level — and stops only at that. On the other extreme, they tend to focus too much on the “intellectual arena” — in the international level more often than not where prolific debates are held, be it in conferences, summits or in media projections.
In both cases, we forget about the most direly affected stakeholders in the environmental issues – the people.
A Crash Course on Environmental Orientation
When we talk about the environmental crisis, it was historically seen in different levels of motivation. It began out of appreciation for nature’s beauty, which began in the US with the establishment of national parks such as Yosemite and Yellowstone. It evolved into a concern for public health, where public works began investing in sewage facilities. Post-World War II, concern against hazardous chemicals and toxic pollutants came to fore, as a reaction to the rise of chemical warfare and industrial production spurred by the military industry.
It became clear in the past decades that the environmental crisis is rooted in the capitalist mode of production — production motivated by profit. A system that pushed the extractive industries such as forestry and mining to the limits, that minimized the costs leading to dirty but cheap technologies that impacted on ecological and human health and safety, and imbibed a culture of consumption that necessitated disposable product containers and a sachet economy. Sustainable development, the latest framework in environmental protection that supposedly regulates production bearing in mind the future generations, originated from big business itself and has served as a means of rationalizing its slightly modified but still business-as-usual operations. We still experience environmental disasters such as the BP Oil Spill Tragedy thanks to the powerful nation-states coddling these corporations.
If the question on the environment is a question of economics, its answer should therefore address the economic concerns of the people. Inequity is built upon exploitation — of natural resource, and of labor — of which capitalism’s profit is derived from. Any environmental action should therefore address the exploitative socio-economic and political system in the long-term sense, and should mitigate its impacts on the people in the tactical sense.
Greenwashing, Intended or Otherwise
Enter UP. A quick scan of recent environmental efforts would indicate that a majority of them still run under the aforementioned dim views on environmental advocacy, to put it gently — mere green PR or greenwashing, to make it harshly blunt. For instance is the project of the UPD-University Student Council (USC) in 2008 called Eco-Active, in partnership with the UP Advertising Core. We give them the benefit of the doubt despite “advertising” and “eco-active” being strange bedfellows. Its activities included tree-planting, ban-the-styro formations and go-renewable marches with E-Jeeps, Ms. Earth candidates and the popular advocacy bike group, the Firefly Brigade.
Amidst all the flashy gimmickry, there was no hint of any participation whatsoever with such stress environmental campaigns in the Philippines as large-scale deforestation and mining, agriculture and fisheries production, climate change adaptation and climate justice, biodiversity conservation, and the like. Of course, except for those flashy gimmicks. Granted that these concerns are in the rural setting, genuine environmental advocacies link these struggles into the urban mass movement, such as education campaigns and community immersion programs.
Activist organizations such as the Anakbayan have regularly conducted basic mass integrations (BMIs) as part of their advocacy work, and the League of Youth for the Environment (LYFE) have in the past regularly conducted environmental youth camps, bringing student organizations to grassroots communities in Bulacan, Taal and the Cordilleras.
Let us also remember the one-way academic oval scheme in 2008 that pushed the livelihood of UP IKOT, TOKI and Katipunan jeepney dirvers further into peril with almost doubled fuel consumption due to increased travel time pushed by rerouting, all in the name of clean air. This was illogical seeing as the main source of emissions in the campus are the private vehicles of rich students, faculty and other UP denizens. It was done without sincere consultations of involved stakeholders, especially the transport sector itself. I remember debating with students in support of the one-way academic oval scheme: they went so far as to accuse drivers of inventing statistics of fuel consumption and daily income.
Election Advocacies: Genuine or Gimmick?
Recent election gimmickry include a circulation of fliers from the political alliance Alyansa’s chairperson candidate Mario Cerillo in 2009, appealing to pass copies of the statement around instead of throwing them to save on paper. Despite this, thousands of copies were printed and could be seen strewn around the campus grounds. The number 1 councilor during the 2009 elections was Kester Yu, a geology major who ran as an independent with an environmental platform. Going into the committee deliberations of the USC, Yu was deprived of the environmental committee head position, which subsequently ended his proposed plans of action.
As another election year goes into full gear, we should check for the real deal when it comes to environmental activism, other than being comprehensively progressive. In terms of track record, there is Agham Youth chairperson John Laurence Esguerra running for councilor and member Noel Bernardo running for chairperson in the College of Science Student Council under the local CS party, MATTER. Agham Youth has been a lead convenor of LYFE that was the main organizer of the Ban the Styro! campaign, and led the local movement of the internationally-linked climate action campaign, 350.org.
We must also carefully consider the proposed platforms of the candidates. We must ensure that their proposed plans of action are genuinely contributive to the general environmental movement, lest it be another case of greenwashing. Charles Bunag, USC councilor hopeful from the Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights in UP (STAND UP) brings the Justice for Leonard Co! campaign, calling to attention the need for the university’s active involvement in upholding the human rights of environmental workers and activists.
When climate change-powered typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng ravaged the Philippines, the Iskolars ng Bayan were up in arms to volunteer in relief and rehabilitation operations. Let us tap this spirit once again — this time in ensuring the genuine green vote in the upcoming UPD student council elections.