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, considered the strongest tropical cyclone to ever hit the region, ravaged southern Mindanao, causing an unprecedented P42.2 billion worth of damages to agriculture and infrastructure and the death of 1,067 people. Massive deforestation caused by large-scale mining, logging and agri-industrial plantations greatly increased the vulnerabilities of communities to climate change-driven Typhoon Pablo.
At the 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 of the entire Pacific Coral Triangle. The resulting losses in terms of fisheries productivity, tourism revenue and ecosystem functions are now valued at USD1.368 billion, based 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, the mess it made has rendered the Balog River biologically dead.
Voting for Mother Nature
Every environmental advocate bears this context in mind as we approach the 2013 national elections here in the Philippines. As it is that time again when the big names of Philippine politics 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? What is your pronounced stand and plans of action on long-standing environmental 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 would serve as a tool both for voter education and for engaging candidates. A 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.
Campaigning for the environment
Towards these ends, we must enjoin the public to go beyond dynastic politics and ask candidates some of 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 folk and destroy important coastal ecosystems?
Will you call for the pullout 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 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. #