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Kalbaryo-Reclamation

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.

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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

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We all know the news about the suicide of a UPM freshie, Kristel, because of her forced leave of absence. While the majority have condoled and expressed anger over an increasingly elitist education system, there are those who have focused on the victim’s individual weaknesses, claiming that generations of poor students before her were able to get on by.

In everything there are always internal and external factors. Obviously the externality of a harsh, elitist education system and policy is a significant driver. But before we judge Kristel to be made of weaker stuff, we should know her socio-historical context first.

She was the eldest of her siblings and the only one in her family able to make it to college. As early as 2001, her family’s signs of desperate poverty are already apparent: her mother wrote to the Phil Star tabloid asking for any opportunity to make Kristel a child star.

It turns out, she was a performing student through her elementary and high school days despite their poverty: . That is saying something of her quality that does not smack of ‘weakness.’

Her parents demonstrate themselves as a strong life support: they are with her even in appealing, on bended knees, for her continuity in enrollment, loan, and every step a destitute Iska can take to get on by. The UPM admin refused all of that.

These are only glimpses. A deeper analysis is needed to find out what made other poor students of stronger mettle. But one thing was clearly demonstrated in this sad little episode of UP: the system failed Kristel. And it was surely this system that served as a critical tipping point, her professors in behavioral science attested.

It is something we can and should have addressed. If we removed the social context that tipped her, she might have had a better chance. I don’t have beef with people introspecting on how to build their loved ones’ character in the face of adversity. But I believe it is far more important to resolve an education system that presents suicide as an extreme option.

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.

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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.

See you in court, Dinky

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has turned its back to the people.

Over 3,000 hungry Typhoon Pablo survivors under the group Barug Katawhan stormed the DSWD-Davao office today to systematically confiscate the 10,000 sacks of rice unconditionally promised by DSWD secretary Dinky Soliman when the group held a 10-hour road block last year in what arguably is the first real protest action of climate change-affected communities. The first barricade came after

DSWD and the mainstream media chose to describe it as a “riot” that “ransacked” the office for their selfish purposes, much akin to desperate criminals. They defend their negligence to promptly provide months-delayed aid by citing Barug Katawhan’s refusal to provide a beneficaries’ list. Dinky claims that most of their cash for work operations and other humanitarian work were suspended due to the shenanigans of Barug Katawhan. Dinky repeatedly questioned again and again how the survivors are able to mount protests when they should have spent the expenditures the actions entailed for food instead.

Dinky’s statements, and especially her response to the issue of selective distribution and corruption by her agency, perhaps perfectly encapsulate the DSWD’s process of responding to humanitarian crises:

  1. When a typhoon hits and disaster occurs, make sure that the government’s relief operations strictly avoid areas with a strong presence of militant trade unions, peasant, human rights and environment groups.
  2. When forced by a 7,000 person-strong road barricade forces you to do your mandated job, give them spoiled rice and expired canned goods instead.
  3. Make sure to threaten criminal charges against the hungry survivors so they would refuse to give their names in a beneficiaries’ list. This gives us a technical basis for not releasing any relief goods to the victims. Throw in a 9-point red tape process for good measure.
  4. Never, and we mean NEVER, entertain the notion that the Filipino people’s resilience from disasters is a human right that must be asserted when it cannot be provided for by the state through negligence or systematic abandonment.

Dinky wants us to think that the proper conduct of disaster victims is to wait patiently for the government’s charitable act of giving aid, never mind that they are growing hungry because of the welfare secretary’s political biases (funny, how Dinky was even the first to accuse Barug Katawhan of politicizing this issue). Never mind that the people have inalienable rights to food and social services that seem to disappear when you become a typhoon victim who just so happened to be politically unfavorable for the DSWD secretary.

The organized confiscation of "what are rightfully theirs." Photo by People's Lens

The organized confiscation of “what are rightfully theirs.” Photo by People’s Lens

But as BALSA Mindanao’s Francis Morales so sharply put it, the “angry and hungry” people are justified to “take what is rightfully theirs.” In this democracy, no matter how nominal it is, it is the responsibility of the state to provide for the people, and it is the people’s responsibility to hold the state accountable to it. If it won’t do its job, it is our job to jolt them to action.

The fact remains that DSWD intends to file a case against the very people they neglected to serve.  The foolhardy Dinky will take us to task when it is her disrespect of the rights and dignity of the people, and her agency’s track record of corruption and mispriorities that “ransacked” whatever’s left of our rights and welfare that should be slammed and condemned.

The people will see you in court then, Dinky. We’ll see who rots in jail.

Props go to the #ReaksyonTV5 for their grilling of my #1 senatoriable, Teddy Casiño. The panel led by program anchor Luchi Cruz-Valdez included PCIJ’s Mei Magsino and Philippine Star EIC Amy Pamintuan, an ensemble who kept the pressure level high all throughout the discussion.

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After going through the usual questions on his alleged linkages to the revolutionary New People’s Army and their Permits to Campaign, the panel did what other interviewers usually failed to do: talk about the issues. For the benefit of those who weren’t able to watch, here are a few notes on the points discussed:

  • The panel asked Teddy what he thinks about the taunting thrown his way by no less than President Benigno Aquino III himself on his 2.6 percent vote conversion showing in the then latest surveys. They also asked him what he thought of his 24th place showing in the said surveys.Teddy pointed out that even Aquino started with a much lower voter preference rating when he started to run for the presidency, and only experienced a meteoric rise to fame due to his larger-than-life parents Cory and Ninoy. Teddy said he was confident the ratings would improve dramatically during the campaign period as he shares his platforms, advocacies and analyses.

  • Teddy furthered that despite not having artistic fame or well-entrenched political dynasties, it is the Bayanihan kind of movement of dedicated and enthusiastic advocates that fuels his campaign. These supporters are completely different in motivation and commitment as opposed to professional operators and voting bases with which trapos spend millions on.

  • The panel pointed out the public perception of the Left as a fighter (a whiner, even) but with no concrete solutions presented. Teddy dispelled this by pointing out that the Left brings a concrete program of alternative policies and programs every time they engage in issue-based campaigns. He pointed out how media and critics tend to focus on the more ‘exciting’ critical exchanges and, of course, the standoffs in protest actions. Teddy presented three main programs of action: enacting genuine land reform and agricultural support, building Filipino industries to generate permanent jobs alongside meaningful wage increases, and the lowering of prices of utilities.

  • The panel also brought up the issue of the Left’s beef with Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in PH. Teddy pointed out that the Makabayan only wants to defend the constitutionally guaranteed right of Filipino industries to be given priority, harking back to the golden age of industrialization during the 1950s.The discussion here became very interesting. The panelists pointed out that the advocacy for industrialization was indeed during the 1950s but belonged there, while utilities and industries receiving an influx of FDI became more efficient and productive. Teddy refuted this idea, sharing the sentiments of local livestock producers being threatened by the entry of a Thai agri-industry giant given a six-year tax holiday and duty-free importation rights.

    Local producers challenged government to grant the tax holiday and other economic privileges, which they said would result in the domestic livestock industry becoming more productive and generating more revenue than that of the Thai firm. This concrete example was a golden pitch for greater state support for domestic industries, but it would have been stronger if Teddy was able to explain why the country would benefit from greater domestic capital flow as opposed to the vicious cycle of FDI and export capital.

  • Teddy explained the exorbitant price increases as just one of the resulting impacts of completely privatized and liberalized public utilities and industries to answer the point on more efficient services from the private sector. It would have been a more convincing argument if he cited data on price increase trends post-deregulation of the oil and other utilities, but I guess this is hard to recall in the heat of the discourse.

  • The panelists pointed out how militants have taken to increasingly violent actions. Teddy rooted the growing conflict in the growing desperation of the masses as government agencies such as the National Anti-Poverty Commission, Department of Agrarian Reform and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources continue to ignore the worsening plight of the poor.

  • On the question of inter-conflict among the Left, particularly between the Makabayan bloc and the Akbayan, Teddy focused on the question of Akbayan’s continuing claim of legitimate representation of the marginalized and under-represented. Indeed, most of Akbayan’s officials have been appointed to high government positions. This makes them a political party in power that can no longer claim themselves to be marginalized, as opposed to Makabayan being a coalition of clearly oppressed sectors of society.

  • I personally wanted to hear more of the policy and analysis differences between Makabayan and Akbayan. Akbayan’s apologism to the Aquino government has resulted in seriously flawed and compromising policy positions, such as their shooting down of the Student Rights and Welfare Bill and their defense of the Cybercrime Law.

  • Panelists pointed out the growing opinion that the Party-list system was a failed system that only wasted government funds, which Teddy clarified was a direct result of dynasties, big business interests and trapos hi-jacking the system. He agreed that the system is seriously flawed, but that the repeal of the system would only result in the further marginalization of the exploited masses.

Overall, it was nice to finally hear talk of the economy and other big-ticket issues that government must be addressing. It was truly a feat for Teddy to be on top of the discourse where all three panelists were machine-gunning questions all at the same time. Electoral discourses should take a leaf or two out of this interview. Tama talaga si Teddy: it is high time to bring in a higher level of campaigning in the 2013 elections.

In the interest of full disclosure, let me point out that I am one of Teddy’s full-time volunteer new media officers. All views are mine, not our movement’s.

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.#