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Archive for the ‘Kalikasan’ Category

Ruby and Seniang: A tale of two typhoons

Seniang by Imari Garcia Babali

Typhoon Seniang impacts in Eastern Visayas. Photo by Imari Garcia Babali.

When Super Typhoon Ruby (international name Hagupit) approached the Philippines early this December, the Aquino administration made clear its determination to tell the public and the world at large that it has learned its lessons from the tragedy and travesty of 2013’s Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).

Saying he “will not be patient” with excuses after Ruby, President Noynoy Aquino mobilized the various agencies under the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) in what was lauded by United Nations Development Program administrator Helen Clark as “highly effective precautionary measures.”

Of course, this is disputable as Yolanda survivors under the People Surge Alliance monitored and reported serious problems in the conduct of preemptive evacuation and relief delivery—or lack thereof. Nevertheless, Clark said the national government’s Ruby response was a “clear reflection of the careful planning and strengthened institutional capacity of the relevant authorities.”

So where was this success story when Typhoon Seniang (Jangmi) deluged parts of Mindanao and Visayas in massive floods days before New Year’s Eve?

Seniang started as a low pressure area monitored by weather agency PAGASA as early as Christmas day, and developed into a tropical depression early in December 28. Seniang exhibited relatively weaker wind speeds, but like Ruby moved slowly at 11 kph (even slower than Ruby which registered speeds at 18 kph) and poured heavy rainfall that doubled in amount the following day.

That recipe proved deadly, with the official death toll already surpassing Ruby’s at 53 as of the afternoon of December 31—what a way to greet the New Year. NDRRMC officials are quick to posit the idea that the holiday lull has a lot to do with the high casualties in Seniang, pinning blame on residents who supposedly refused to spend the New Year in evacuation centers.

Given the alternative, however, I cannot blame the determination of the people, especially of Yolanda and Ruby survivors, to refuse evacuation. According to People Surge, recent typhoon survivors suffered for their early evacuation, as no food, water, and sufficient space could be found in designated evacuation centers from Eastern Visayas to Bicol.

What must be pointed out is that ill-preparedness plagued not only residents but likewise, and more critically, the government itself. Of course, our state weather scientists continued to make early predictions and warnings, but gone was the bravado exhibited by national and local governments during Ruby.

I was in Tacloban City even prior to Christmas, and did not hear a peep from local government. No showy press conferences. No Mar Roxas, Dinky Soliman or Voltaire Gazmin flying in like the self-styled God-given gifts that they were during Ruby. We suffered the days-long torrent of rains and the subsequent floods and landslides on our own, relying on our own monitoring and preparations.

From Ruby to Seniang, electricity was consistently disrupted and roads and bridges were consistently rendered impassable.   The office space in which I was staying harboured still-unrepaired damages caused by Ruby, and we spent the night bailing water out of one of the rooms where the roof was still dislodged that allowed rain water to pour in with impunity.


December 31, 2014 frontpage of Inquirer.

Imagine my indignation when I first glanced on the front page of the Inquirer on the morning of New Year’s Eve, seeing President Aquino with the so-called ‘DongYan’ celebrity couple in their wedding. The photo captured the president’s priorities perfectly.

The sleeper that is Seniang quickly dissipated any pretention of the government that it is well on the road towards disaster resilience. The tale of these two typhoons is a painful reminder to us how, at the core of the disaster problem, the long-running vulnerabilities of communities across the Philippines remain unaddressed as solutions presented by the duly-mandated government remain cosmetic at best, and corruption-driven at worst.

This is a tale that we should heed well going into 2015. At the middle of January, the holy pontiff Pope Francis will visit Tacloban City, and he will see a battered, weary people who have lived and breathed this tale, hungry for help, justice and change. The Pope will then be releasing a rare encyclical afterwards on the issue of climate change and the environment, exhorting the 1.2 billion Catholics around the world to take action on the growing crisis of global warming.

The typhoon survivors continue to demand justice. The Holy Father will journey to their ravaged lands to inspire them. Let us take the cue from them: it’s time we write a new tale of hope and justice for the Filipino people.#


Making a case for the urban poor in the Black Bittern episode

From the original Facebook post that went viral

From the original Facebook post that went viral

I would love to be positive about the stricter wildlife protection rules in UP and the increased awareness on wildlife protection in the public, especially in the social media sphere, as a result of the Black Bittern killing in the UP Lagoon.

But beyond the concerned citizens that reported the incident and pursued the issue to ensure enforcement, some quarters are quick to dismiss the angle of the urban poor foragers; some are even wont to vilify the perpetrators.

That is exactly the reason why this is also an invitation to reflect on urban poor issues in the Philippines, not just a lesson learned on animal welfare. What social conditions enculturated them to browse for food instead of just buy them? Bakit nila kailangan ng inuman–kung kaya naghahanap sila ng pulutan, kung yun ang kaso dito?

Bakit wala silang kaalam-alam sa batas hinggil sa proteksyon ng mga hayop? Bakit wala silang kaalam-alam sa importansya ng mga ibon sa ekosistema in the first place?

Did we bother to ask these questions? Or were we contented with the fact that, whichever way authorities will decide, these animal killers will be dealt with accordingly? Going on a theoretical limb: what if it was a disaster survivor that caught any fauna for their desperate subsistence? Do the rules apply still?

The ‘urban poor’ lens, to me, is an important facet of studying–and changing–humanity’s relationship with its environment. It is the very reason why small-scale miners are always being vilified as the prime polluters in the mountains, or why the small fisherfolk are always to blame for the depletion of marine resources.

It is also the reason why we are grossly misinformed of the pros and cons of subsistent swidden agriculture, or misattribute small loggers with the massive deforestation we have faced and continue to face. Why are the small people always the most convenient culprits to blame, to make an example of? What about the big business polluters and plunderers? Where are our outcries against OceanaGold mining corporation in Nueva Vizcaya, where hornbills and other rare fauna are being displaced by their continuous operations?

Ang nakakainis pa, may nabasa pa akong komento na pinipintas ang kilusang estudyante ngayon. Bakit daw walang ‘Occupy Central in Hong Kong’ style ng pagkilos ngayon para sa ganitong mga isyu, puro hooliganism nalang daw? I’m sorry, those are apples and oranges, among so many things wrong about such a presumptuous statement.

Whenever we get these ‘small victories’ for wildlife conservation and protection, I cannot help but be frustrated how it always plays out like this. In the end, it is always the people in the margins that continue to be condemned in the margins, even in such issues as the environment.

Note: these views are entirely personal and does not reflect the views of my organization.

Manila Bay’s beauty beyond the sunset


Parishioners, residents and green groups held a processional protest against impending reclamation projects in Manila Bay. Photo from Kalikasan PNE

Paranaque residents, parishioners and other concerned groups observed Viernes Dolores last March 22 with a Kalbaryo (Way of the Cross) processional protest, with prayers and performances of environmental poetry and music in opposition to plans of reclaiming environmentally-critical foreshore areas in Manila Bay into a sprawling business complex.

Prior to this, a silent human chain was organized by 3,000 people across Roxas Boulevard to witness the beautiful sunset that made the bay an iconic landmark – and as a symbol of the broad unity of people opposed to the Manila Solar City reclamation project. Regular coastal cleanups have also been done in Freedom Island, the 175-hectare bird sanctuary smack in the middle of the project area, in an effort to significantly remove the clutter from one of the Metro’s last green areas.

The aesthetic value alone of Manila Bay could inspire such creative gestures of stewardship over Manila Bay. But its beauty goes beyond the picturesque views and bird watching hotspots: advocates have long explained the significant role of the Manila Bay ecosystem to lives in the area connected all the way up to the global big picture.

Just days ago, the Las Pinas-Paranaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area (LPPCHEA) where the country’s only urban bird sanctuary can be found became the sixth site in the Philippines to join the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance, signifying its global significance to biodiversity. Indeed, LPPCHEA is home to at least 5,000 migratory and resident birds on a given day, including 47 rare species such as the Chinese Egret and the Philippine Duck.

A verdant mangrove forest sprawling in the waters of Manila Bay is the last of its kind in the National Capital Region. Photo from Kalikasan PNE

A verdant mangrove forest sprawling in the waters of Manila Bay is the last of its kind in the National Capital Region. Photo from Kalikasan PNE

Birds aren’t just eye candy for nature lovers. According to the Iowa University’s Nature Mapping Program, these animals are important links in the food chains and webs of the ecosystems they traverse. They are agents of life, dispersing seeds, pollens and other bio-mass that help propagate plants and other organisms vital to a healthy environment. They also serve as natural pest controls, regulating insect populations by feeding on them.

Birds are also important biological indicators, playing a major role in analyzing and creating awareness about the lethal qualities of DDT and other pesticides in “Silent Spring”, the famed book that started the world-wide environmental movement written by biologist Rachel Carson. Indeed, to see LPPCHEA’s bird population to have dwindled to its current state from a healthy average of around 28,000 back in the 70s is indicative of the level of impact so-called development projects in the capital have on our quality of life.

While infamous for its scores of floating garbage and bouts of red tide and fish kills, large parts of Manila Bay are still teeming with sea life. Home to diverse marine ecosystems of coral reefs and sea grasses, it remains as one of the most important suppliers of fisheries in the country. Just last year, a butanding (Whale Shark) was sighted in Manila Bay indicating the possibility of more favorable feeding conditions, such as a spurt in alamang (krill) and dilis (anchovy) populations. Marine scientists pointed out that butanding feeding visits in Manila Bay were more common back then.

Any news of an increasingly productive Manila Bay is definitely welcome news. Fisheries accounts for 80 percent of the Filipino’s average animal protein intake and, more importantly, the livelihood of one out of ten Filipinos. According to the environment group Kalikasan, Manila Bay plays a crucial role as a link in various marine ecosystems (including the LPPCHEA bird sanctuary) that sustain fisheries production in the country. That fisherfolk have reported a drop in fish catch from a high average of 15 kilos to a measly 1 to 3 kilos a day, and largely due to reclamation activity, is reason enough to cheer for a solitary butanding sighting.

The real beauty of Manila Bay lies in the unseen: despite the pollution and abuse from development aggression, it remains a highly important source of life interconnected to various ecosystems across the country.

In the People’s Resolution on Reclamation formulated by about 200 fisherfolk leaders, experts, lawyers and environmental advocates, they cited the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO) to have called land reclamation as one of the most irreversible forms of environmental degradation. With this as context, they pointed out that 38,272 hectares or one-tenth of our country’s coastal and marine habitats will be covered by various reclamation projects under the National Reclamation Plan. 70 percent or a third of these will be done solely in Manila Bay.

The famed Manila Bay sunset is just one of a plethora of reasons why people oppose reclamation pojects that would affect its integrity. Photo by Kalikasan PNE

The famed Manila Bay sunset is just one of a plethora of reasons why people oppose reclamation pojects that would affect its integrity. Photo by Kalikasan PNE

That unique and romantic sunset view that cannot be seen in any other country isn’t the only poignancy that is threatened to be lost if these reclamation projects push through. I can think of a few more proudly Pinoy experiences that can possibly be affected:

  • Cebu’s famous seafood feast Sutukil (a portmanteau of Visayan words Sugba or grilling, Tula or stewing, and Kinilaw or ceviche) I was lucky enough to experience during a workshop in Cebu may remain a once in a lifetime experience if the seafood prices rise further due to depletion, something the Cordova Reclamation Project will surely aggravate if it pushes through.
  • We have our own seafood fare in Metro Manila called the Dampa seafood markets and restaurants, where you can buy the freshest catch of the day from fishing villages and have them cooked the way you want it. The abundance of these Dampa markets are likewise threatened.
  • LPPCHEA’s bird sanctuary has the potential of becoming an international bird watching attraction. The 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation in the United States revealed how 71.8 million Americans took up bird watching as a hobby in 2011. This is in US alone. Imagine bringing that traffic into the Philippines. We’re better off developing ecotourism facilities than reclamation projects.

Beyond creature comforts, we must consider above all the welfare and dignity of our fisherfolks, inextricably linked to the need for a healthy coastal and marine ecosystem. UN FAO considers them to be among the poorest of the poor in the Philippines. It is their development that we must put into foremost consideration. After all, isn’t human dignity the most beautiful thing to witness anywhere in the world? #

Leon Dulce is the campaign coordinator of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment and a grassroots new media trainer for the Computer Professionals’ Union. He casually blogs and tweets in his spare time. Originally published in the OY! Project.

Mining Plunder and Politics

This is the unedited version of my latest article from the OY! Project.


The 18th anniversary of RA 7942 or the Mining Act of 1995’s passage was greeted with protests by environment groups last March 3 with pronouncements of an ‘all-out war’ of environmental activists, indigenous peoples, religious groups and other progressive groups against the current mining regime.


Indeed, recent major events have heightened the growing criticism and outcry against the national mining policy continuing under the Aquino government.


A public forum conducted last February 15 by the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, Advocates of Science & Technology for the People and Center for Environmental Concerns-Philippines presented findings of separate environmental investigation missions or EIMs conducted in Itogon, Benguet and Sofronio Española, Palawan to verify the socio-economic and environmental impacts of large-scale mining operations in those areas.


Laboratory findings conducted confirmed that there was massive heavy metal poisoning that led to the biological death of the Balog River due to the tailings dam failure in the Philex Mining Corporation’s Padcal gold and copper mine project in Benguet. Meanwhile, the report on the effects of Citinickel’s nickel mining revealed levels of nickel contamination 250 times greater than the acceptable standard. Farmers and fisherfolk also reported significantly reduced fish catches and harvests.


Meanwhile, the collapse of a large-scale coal mine in Semirara, Antique that led to the death of five miners and five more missing was a grisly reminder to the public of the grave occupational hazards that large-scale miners are unable to address for its workers. But as early as 2009, a national consultation on coal mining      already reported environmental and health problems the Semirara coal mine has brought to adjacent communities.


Amidst all this, Pres. Benigno Aquino III, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources immediately thereafter, granted an environmental compliance certificate to Xstrata-SMI’s Tampakan Project in South Cotabato despite extensive opposition from communities and the progressive scientific community.


This has been the story of large-scale mining under the auspices of RA 7942 – which was and still is purported by its proponents as among the best mining policies in the world that strikes a balance between environmental protection and economic development.


The Politics of Destructive Mining

But we know better. The Mining Act was authored by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo when she was still a senator in the early 90s through the guidance of the International Monetary Fund-World Bank and the Asian Development Bank’s structural adjustment programs towards the goal of globalization.


This means that our national mining policy aims to completely liberalize or open up the country’s mining industry for foreign investment and dominance. A mining industry dominated by foreign transnational corporations is extractive in nature, focused on harnessing raw minerals for the cheapest price in the fastest time possible to fuel their respective economies, not our own.


It is also historically unsustainable, with no violator ever paying due negative external costs and with no roadmap whatsoever for the forging of domestic downstream industries that would make our economy self-reliant. For instance, there have been at least 21 mine tailings dam failures recorded involving these large-scale mining operations in the past 25 years, and little or none of these have been sufficiently addressed.


Why has this atrocious mining practice persisted? A political system dominated by big businessmen and landlords who are themselves moneyed by mining is one important factor – and there is no better example than the current Aquino administration.


In the 2010 elections, it was revealed that Aquino’s electoral campaign received significant contributions from mining magnate Zamora (P5 million) and former environment secretary and known pro-mining consultant Fulgencio Factoran Jr. (P20 million). Two years into his presidency, we are already seeing the fruits of the mining lobby’s investments: mining companies were exempted from the Executive Order No. 23 or the log ban.  We also saw the passage of Executive Order No. 79 or the mining EO, which green groups assailed for overriding local mining bans and accelerating the process of liberalizing the industry.


The Politics of People’s Mining

It is said that the 2013 mid-term elections is a referendum on the direction the Aquino government has taken. Clearly, Aquino’s policies on mining have exacted extensive damage on the integrity of our critical ecosystems and grassroots communities. All those instrumental to Aquino’s mining regime deserve our protest votes against them.


We must scrutinize the track record and platforms of every candidate based on standards of a People’s Mining Policy. The Defend Patrimony Alliance have long pushed for a policy agenda on mining that involves reorienting the industry from a liberalized to a domestic-oriented development pathway, pushing for more stringent environmental and socio-economic regulations and penalties for violators, and a genuinely democratic management and utilization of our mineral resources, especially for the mining-affected communities.


But the people’s mining as a platform agenda in the current electoral arena is, unfortunately, lacking. There is Edward Hagedorn, running as an independent senatoriable with a pro-environment platform and a track record in opposing mining projects in Puerto Princesa, has given little detail on his plans to address large-scale mining legislative-wise and on a national scale. Akbayan’s Risa Hontiveros, while consistent in pushing for the Alternative Minerals Management Bill, continues to be silent on the EO 79.



From Teddy Casino’s Facebook Page

The consistent voice so far is Makabayan’s lone senatorial bet Teddy Casiño, the principal author of the People’s Mining Bill in Congress directly formulated from Defend Patrimony’s policy agenda.  Casiño has a long-standing track record since in addressing the issue of mining way back in 2002 as one of the original signatories of the Dapitan Initiative, a declaration pushing for the scrapping of the Mining Act of 1995 and the formulation of an alternative ‘People’s Mining Act.’


Beyond these, we hear too little about the plans of our future leaders on mining, especially from the dominant coalitions of LP and UNA. If these candidates refuse to talk and much less walk the public’s cry for a People’s Mining, make sure to leave them out of your ballots. We owe that much to our future generations.#


Leon Dulce is the campaign coordinator of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment and a grassroots new media trainer for the Computer Professionals’ Union. He casually blogs and tweets in his spare time.



Tubbataha: Justice beyond financial compensation

Unedited version of my article in The Philippine Online Chronicles’ OY! Project. Enjoy!


SAVE TUBBATAHA. Environmental activists displayed colorful marine-themed placards calling for immediate redresses in the destruction of over 4,000 sqm of mature corals in the Tubbataha Reef National Park. Photo by Leon Dulce

SAVE TUBBATAHA. Environmental activists displayed colorful marine-themed placards calling for immediate redresses in the destruction of over 4,000 sqm of mature corals in the Tubbataha Reef National Park. Photo by Leon Dulce

The grim numbers of Tubbataha are slowly sinking in.

The estimated damage on coral reefs in the Tubbataha Reef Natural Park caused by the minesweeper USS Guardian is now pegged at an extent of 4,500 square meters, which rise to as high as 10 meters. This level of coral maturity required 2,500 years of growth. Its destruction will affect the home of more than 350 species of corals, 600 species of fish, 2 species of sea turtles, 12 species of marine mammals, 56 species of invertebrates and 7 types of birds. An estimate of at least 600 kilos worth of annual fish catch is expected to be lost.

These data were discussed at length in a gathering of environmentalists, scientists, fisherfolks, lawyers, women’s groups and other sectoral organizations held in Quezon City last February 23. The ecological, socio-economic and political impacts of the minesweeper USS Guardian’s grounding on the Tubbataha Reef National Park were assessed to form a broad unity that will claim economic and social justice for the maritime disaster.

The implications of the incident are expected to go beyond the patch of corals that may seem minuscule to the uninformed. Frances Quimpo, executive director of the Center for Environmental Concerns – Philippines (CEC Phils), said scientific studies demonstrate the integral role of Tubbataha Reef to seed the entire Sulu Sea with coral and fish larvae.

The Reef is in the very heart of the Coral Triangle, a globally critical and biodiversity-rich area that covers marine ecosystems in Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste. Its disruption spells disaster especially for our local small fisherfolks who are considered the nation’s poorest in 2006 and 2009 with a poverty incidence ranging from 23.9 to 66.7 percent according to the National Statistics Coordination Board.


From left: Marine ecologist Dr. Rex Montebon, fisherfolk leader Pedro Gonzales, women’s rights activist Joms Salvador and physicist Dr. Giovanni Tapang presenting scientific, socio-economic and political assessments of the Tubbataha grounding incident. Photo by Leon Dulce


Tubbataha also a problem of sovereignty, patrimony

The women’s group Gabriela called the incident “the Rape of Tubbataha” for its clear violations of our country’s national patrimony and sovereign rights as a free nation. Aside from violating several sections of Republic Act 10067 or the Tubbataha Reefs National Park Act of 2009, the disaster was the latest of long-standing unpunished environmental and social crimes that military forces of the United States have done with impunity in the Philippines.

The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), among other onerous bilateral agreements with the US government, was pinpointed as the underlying policy that allowed for such grave abuses from their warships and troops.

Green groups have previously noted how past military exercises involving naval maneuverings and live fire exercises under the VFA have already caused the destruction of coral reefs, the pollution of ecosystems and even the death of civilians. In 2004, US naval ships indiscriminately discharged sewage waste and oil in Subic Bay, a feat repeated by the tanker MT Glenn Guardian when it dumped 189,500 liters of hazardous domestic waste and 760 liters of toxic bilge water again into Subic.

Renato Reyes Jr., secretary general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, noted how routine port calls of frigates, submarines and other US naval warships are presently being made almost on a monthly basis due to the VFA and in line with their rebalancing of forces from West Asia to the Asia-Pacific to challenge the regional dominance of China.

Dr. Giovanni Tapang, chairperson of the AGHAM-Advocates of Science & Technology for the People warned that there may be more to the incident than just an accident, noting reports that billions of barrels of crude oil may be lying underneath Tubbataha. In fact, 15,000 hectares of Tubbataha were originally covered by oil exploration efforts.

Justice beyond financial compensation

In response to the grounding incident, involved US personnel offered no explanation for their trip to Tubbataha and their hostile response to park managers and Philippine Coastguard personnel who attempted to get near the grounded USS Guardian. Instead, they merely expressed their apologies and willingness to pay for financial compensation.

The Aquino government displayed a clear reluctance to answer this issue. Clearly, such responses from both the US and Philippine governments will not sit well with the Filipino people.

The forum organizers led by CEC Phils, Gabriela, the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment and the Center for Women’s Resources, united in the demand for “justice beyond financial compensation”, calling for the prosecution of liable officials and the payment of all charges necessary to restore Tubbataha Reef to its pristine state prior to the grounding.

Participants of the confab led the formation of Task Force Tubbataha (TFT), an alliance convened by environment, women and other sectoral groups pushing for the due prosecution of liable entities in the Tubbataha grounding and the revocation of the VFA. Among the proposals of the TFT’s initial conveners include the following:

  • The formation of a multi-disciplinary Technical Working Group that will assess the extent of reef damage, including a baseline inventory of the different types and characteristics of the affected coral reefs, the economic valuation of their ecosystem services, and even the socio-economic indicators of surrounding communities affected by the impacts of the grounding incident;
  • Immediately conduct an independent and impartial investigation into the incident to verify the motives, errors and culpability of the erring US personnel as well as the negligence of local public officials mandated to address this issue;
  • Exhaust all legal actions possible to compel government agencies to enforce laws on our environment and sovereignty, hold accountable all erring US personnel and agencies and reverse onerous bilateral agreements such as the VFA and the Mutual Defense Treaty.

The TFT said they are prepared to bring the issue even up to the United Nations. Earlier, Bayan Muna Partylist Representative Teddy Casiño and Kabataan Partylist Representative Raymond Palatino filed House Resolution 3012 condemning the incident and calling for immediate redresses. These efforts must come together in a massive coordinated effort to win this landmark fight that would not only rehabilitate a World Heritage Site, but may very well bring back the dignity of the Philippines as a nation.#

Leon Dulce is the campaign coordinator of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment and a grassroots new media trainer for the Computer Professionals’ Union. He casually blogs and tweets in his spare time.

Elections 2013: Vouching for a “green vote”

This is the semi-unedited version of my pilot article on The Philippine Online Chronicles’ OY! (Online Youth) Project. It is the POC’s way of amplifying the voice of the youth as we speak of our issues, concerns and everything in between. Enjoy!

Eco-warriors pushing for the Philippine Environment Agenda. From Kalikasan PNE

Eco-warriors pushing for the Philippine Environment Agenda. From Kalikasan PNE

In 2012, the Philippines faced one environmental disaster after another. We remember the constant threat of the National Reclamation Plan’s impending conversion of 38,000 hectares of foreshore areas critical to our nation’s coastal health into business and entertainment complexes. During the first week of August, uncharacteristically strong Habagat monsoon rains caused 20.69 million tons of toxic tailings from the Philex Mining Corporation’s Padcal Mine to spill into the Balog ang Agno River, the most massive mining disaster the country has seen in decades.

In October, the MT Glenn Guardian tanker, a contracted servicing ship of the US Navy, dumped 189,500 liters of hazardous domestic waste and 760 liters of toxic bilge water which exceeded DENR safety standards over 700 times into Subic Bay. By December, Typhoon Pablo ravaged Southern Mindanao, causing an unprecedented P42.2 billion worth of damages to agriculture and infrastructure and the death of 1,067 people. Considered the strongest tropical cyclone to ever hit Mindanao, massive deforestation caused by large-scale mining, legal logging and agri-industrial plantations greatly increased the vulnerabilities of communities to climate change-driven Typhoon Pablo.

At the very beginning of 2013, we were immediately greeted by another incident involving the US Navy as the minesweeper USS Guardian ran aground and destroyed a 4,000 square meter section of Tubbataha Reef, the heart of Sulu Sea and the entire Pacific Coral Triangle. Its resulting losses in terms of fisheries productivity, tourism revenue and ecosystem functions is now valued at USD1.368 billion worth of fisheries basing on estimates cited by Bayan Muna Representative Teddy Casiño.

Despite this massive scale of damage, none of these disasters have been sufficiently addressed to date. This is precisely because our government lacks in policy backbone and political will to effectively protect and manage our environment and natural resources, and to strictly hold accountable polluters and plunderers. A perfect case in point: Philex is made to pay a P1 billion fine based on a mere P50.00 per ton of waste rate as prescribed by the Mining Act of 1995. Meanwhile, it has rendered the Balog River biologically dead.

In 2012 alone, the so-called ‘daang matuwid’ or virtuous path of the current administration of President Benigno Aquino III has indeed revealed itself to be no different from this mold.

Voters: will you keep Mother Nature in mind?

Every environmental advocate bears this context in mind as we approach 2013 national elections here in the Philippines. As it is that time again when the Enriles, Angaras and Aquinos of the Philippines are once again playing the game of thrones, it is the perfect opportunity to demand our current and future crop of leaders to address the country’s most urgent environmental problems.

We must ask candidates two simple questions: what is your track record in addressing key environmental issues prior to running in the 2013 elections? And what are your pronounced stands and plans of action on these long-standing problems?

This initiative to pursue an environmental electoral agenda began during the 2004 elections when the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment came together with different organizations to form a comprehensive platform that will serve as a tool both for voter education and for engaging candidates. This People’s Environmental Agenda (PEA) was formulated from the most pressing environmental concerns faced by the Philippines then, and was updated and further refined in the succeeding election years of 2007 and 2010.

The PEA analyzed the track record and stands of candidates on the following points:

  • Respecting the rights of peasants, workers, fisher folks and indigenous people – the natural nurturers of the earth – to access and control over our natural resources;

  • Moving towards an independent and self-sufficient economy that ensures the sustainable utilization of resources while meeting the needs of the people;

  • Developing domestic industries towards national progress, while minimizing environmental and socio-economic impacts to protect our national patrimony from the plunder of transnational corporations and foreign economies;

  • Genuinely rehabilitating and protecting the environment by repealing and pushing for alternatives to anti-environment, and anti-people laws and policies such as the Mining Act of 1995 and the National Reclamation Plan, among others;

  • Attaining peace based on justice by reversing policies on militarization that has resulted in rampant human rights violations, extrajudicial killings and political repression of environmental advocates and other citizens; and

  • Ensuring ‘green’ governance in all stages of their political careers, from an electoral campaign carrying a pro-environment platform free from the influence of anti-environment lobbyists to a stint in public service active in enacting meaningful environmental and social reforms.

Candidates: do you deserve the Environment Vote?

Towards these ends, we must enjoin the public to ask candidates the most critical and urgent questions:

  • Do you support the current set of mining policies enacted and enforced by the Aquino administration, namely the Mining Act of 1995 and the Executive Order 79?

  • Will you push for the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement that has led to the dumping of toxic and hazardous wastes in Subic Bay, the destruction of Tubbataha Reef and other cases of impunity by the United States’ military forces?

  • Do you support the implementation of the National Reclamation Plan which threatens to displace millions of fisher folks and destroy important coastal ecosystems?

  • Will you call for the pull out of military and paramilitary forces from militarizing communities affected by destructive projects such as mines, large dams and agri-industrial plantations?

  • Will you pursue the current trend of building more coal-fired power plants and other dirty and destructive energy projects?

  • Do you think the Aquino government’s response to Typhoon Sendong and Pablo sufficiently addresses the rights of the Mindanao people to resiliency from disasters and other climate change impacts?

Pushing for an Environment Vote is an effective tool in ensuring well-informed ‘green’ votes. It is a means of engaging our future leaders and fellow citizens to take action on the most urgent problems that the people and the environment face.

A steep, uphill battle, you think? Better start learning mountaineering.#

The 2013 Elections and the Power of We

The theme of the 2012 Blog Action Day “Power of We” comes in a crucial moment in the Philippines’ history. We are in the midst of the 2013 national electoral campaign season, a point of both collective reflection and of change-making action. Though it is probably another circus of guns, goons and gold much like its previous instances, this coming election is of critical importance for many reasons that we all should heed.

First, the party-list system for the congressional representation of marginalized and underrepresented sectors is under fierce contestation between the public and the vested interests. We have all heard of the commendable efforts of the Commission on Elections to weed out party-list fronts for the wealthy and the dynasty aspirants. This is being met with criticism from traditional politicians, but we all know better.

But on the other hand, the COMELEC has hinted on the possibility that  party-lists that have proven their track records in promoting pro-people policies could be disqualified in the coming elections.
We can take it if COMELEC refers to Akbayan, a party-list whose nominees and officers have various positions of power in government that it looks like it’s the political party of President Noynoy Aquino’s cabinet. By all means, strip them down along with other pseudo-party-lists such as the Black and White Movement (all full of the King’s men!).

But if it becomes used to shoot down progressive and militant party-list groups such as patriotic party Bayan Muna and grassroots people’s party Anakpawis on the basis of mere technicality interpretations, it becomes a tool to hamper efforts to democratize a political institution that has never really democratically represented the majority of the people.

Second, and related to the party-list issue, the 2013 elections is the first time a progressive green party will actually attempt to participate in the national elections. The Kalikasan Green Party of the Philippines or Kalikasan Party-list aims to bring the issues of mining-affected communities, climate and disaster refugees and other vulnerable sectors affected by environmental destruction to congress.

We can make history if we are able to win a representation in Congress for the indigenous people, urban poor, peasants and workers who are exposed daily to various environmental problems. And our green representative(s) can be a formidable force in opposing such ecologically destructive policies as the Mining Act of 1995, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law and the National Reclamation Plan.

Lastly, the 2013 elections could be the best year to expose the polarization between the corrupt dynasties and traditional politics on one hand, and the genuinely alternative politics of change on the other.

Let’s face the truth: there is virtually no difference between the corrupt senatoriables of dominant and opposing political party coalitions UNA and the Liberal Party connection. How can we expect a divergence from the current government track of human rights violations and other fascist tendencies, plunderous neoliberal economic policies and environmental and social service policies with no teeth?

But this political crisis is also an opportunity: the genuine democratic alternatives stand out from the rest. In fact, we have a lone independent and genuinely oppositionist candidate for the senate running on the platform of battling consumer price problems and pushing for good governance, and bearing a track record in congress on progressive legislation on the environment, human rights and social welfare.

He has neither a dynasty nor a powerful clan. He has been a consistent leader of the Philippine mass movement ever since he was a youthful activist in the country’s premiere state university.

His name is Teddy Casino. And he, like you and me, believes in the Power of We. In the 2013 elections, we will try to make a huge difference in Philippine history. We will defeat the foes of democracy, one disqualified party-list at a time. We will pioneer environmental advocacy in the halls of Congress. And we will fight tooth and nail to bring Teddy Casino’s senate bid to victory.

We will take back the government this coming 2013 running on the Power of We.###

P.S. Here’s my Senator Teddy Casino’s filing for candidacy. Some truly inspiring stuff.