October 11, 2021
“We need decisive action now to avert climate catastrophe”. This is United Nations’ (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ message to world leaders in a preparatory roundtable discussion for the upcoming Climate Change Conference (COP26). In the 76th UN General Debate on October 6, 2021, leaders from different Pacific nations echoed his call and warned that setbacks in fighting the triple planetary crisis will jeopardize the world as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on.
The Philippines is among the countries highly vulnerable to natural and ecological disasters. The World Risk Report 2020 included the country in the top 10 most affected by natural hazards and top 10 countries that lack adaptive capacities for these.
Years of struggle by the people’s movement gave birth to generations of rights defenders working for the environment and climate justice. They have been pushing strong legislation to institute climate change adaptation, ecological protection and conservation, and environmental development for decades. Their green campaigns curb big business mining and plantations as well as destructive large infrastructure projects. For this, they have been subjected to human rights violations including by State security forces aided by repressive legislation.
According to Global Witness reports, the Philippines has in recent years consistently been among the deadliest countries for environmental defenders with over 43 reported killings of environmental activists. This is evident in the paranoia of the Duterte government’s counterinsurgency program which vilifies and redtags progressive organizations that challenge anti-people neoliberal policies and programs. Such policies support large-scale corporate extractive operations in mountainous and forest areas which destroy ecosystems and displace indigenous peoples’ communities and settlers.
The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 will further intensify attacks against environmental and rights defenders because it will be used to designate critical and dissenting voices as “terrorists” on the pretext of fighting “communist groups”. The truth, however, is that the state forces protecting big business interests are the ones sowing terror in countryside and rural communities.
The government’s Build-Build-Build infrastructure program (BBB) also contributes to setbacks in environmental protection. This infrastructure frenzy peddles a false notion of development where grandiose infrastructure projects are given focus at the expense of the environment and the people.
Such projects include the reclamation of Manila Bay coastal areas in Noveleta, Kawit, Bacoor, and Cavite City in Cavite province which, according to PAMALAKAYA, will demolish mussel farms and displace more than 15,000 fisherfolk and coastal residents; the 2500-hectare reclamation project in Brgy. Taliptip, Bulacan which evicted over 700 fishing families to give way for the construction of the Bulacan Aerotropolis; the long-time disputed Kaliwa dam which will submerge large portions of indigenous peoples ancestral lands in Sierra Madre evicting at least 5,000 Dumagat, displacing 126 endemic fauna species, and endangering at least 100,000 residents due to the increased risk of climate-related disasters; and the Gened dam that will affect 22 barangays of indigenous Isnag people.
The construction of dams causes massive destruction and deforestation while worsening the vulnerability of nearby communities. The reclamation projects on the other hand will compromise food production areas, undermine food security, and deprive food frontliners of their livelihood. Added to this is the Manila bay “dolomite beach” which was denounced by many environmentalists as “sham” rehabilitation and a total waste of public funds.
All these costly programs contribute to nothing in the fight against climate change. Instead, they aggravate the ecological crisis and make the people’s aspiration for a sustainable and developed future more out of reach.
In light of the UN member states’ recognition of the Right to a Safe, Clean, Healthy, and Sustainable Environment, the urgent action that the government and development partners should take is to respect the rights and heed the voices of environmental defenders and consider the alternatives that they propose in crafting laws and regulations. #