Each candidate for president is talking about development and change. From those big concepts, they will reveal that what they mean by development is infrastructure and investments, towards job creation and poverty alleviation.
None of them though are talking about the construction of roads and better public transport as connected to air pollution. None of them are talking about urban development as interwoven with reducing our carbon footprint.
Not even Mar Roxas, who had tried and failed to deal properly and swiftly with the needs of Samar and Leyte post-Haiyan, has spoken of climate change as critical to his presidential platform. All he speaks of as “achievements” are disaster risk reduction and management programs that still depend on the local government units as first line of defense.
That just does not make sense when we all know now, given Haiyan, that in a time of disaster, these LGU officials will most probably be victims themselves. That does not make sense when you consider that a natural disaster is always a national tragedy, one that affects us all, and which the national government should take responsibility for.
Then again, part of matuwid-na-daan’s skill set is knowing how to evade criticism by pointing a finger at others. Never mind that often it is pointing a finger at precisely those who were victimized by government neglect.
Spinning climate change
Another skill of this government is to spin kapalpakan and get media and social media on its side. This is actually what happened last year, when we heard government celebrating its involvement in COP21 or the Climate Change Conference in Paris. The Philippines had submitted its “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” with 194 other countries, where each country outlined its program for reducing carbon emissions.
In a National Statement (15 Nov 2015) before going to Paris, the President though spun our participation: “Let me point out, however, that despite our fiscal limitations, and despite the fact that we have one of the smallest carbon footprints in the world, the Philippines continues to pursue vital reforms to address climate change.” He then went on to talk about a “massive re-greening program” and the “intensification of the anti-illegal logging campaign” like we don’t experience floods and landslides in this country, and took pride in “allotting 5% of the total budget for climate change.” The President also took pride in his government’s INDC as it commits the country “to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions conditionally by 70 percent by 2030. We are ready to do our part, if other nations demonstrate support in terms of finance, technology development, and capacity building.”
The President of course was nagpapabida – another matuwid-na-daan trait. In fact while he says the Philippines has one of the smallest carbon footprints in the world, he presents an irrelevant fact. According to the Global Footprint Network Report on the Philippines (2012): “The Philippines has been in ecological deficit since the mid-1960s, using more capacity to produce renewable resources and absorb CO2 emissions than is available domestically, and the size of that deficit has been increasing ever since. By 2008, residents of the Philippines were using more than twice the biological capacity of the country.”
So see, the first step in finding a President who cares about the environment and commits to the reduction of climate change? Find a President who will not deny that there is a problem.
Climate change as critical issue
Because already information is skewed in favor of forgetting that we even have a problem at all. When has it happened that climate change and environmental degradation appear as headlines in our papers? When was the last time you watched a real, honest-to-goodness assessment of what we are doing wrong as nation, and how we are making life in this country worse by the day?
In fact, our daily struggles in nation are bound to climate change and our ecological footprint. It is in the celebration of building infrastructure that cuts down mountains instead of working around these. It is the encouragement of investments such as condominiums and malls, which means cutting down trees and cementing over drainage systems, which means disregarding the various crises we face from pollution (noise, air, water) to congestion, from the lack of a waste disposal system to heavy traffic, to the lack of efficient and safe and green public transport.
But media does not want to talk about it, and certainly our politicians would rather not even discuss it. And yet we are on crisis mode when it comes to climate change, and you only need to keep track of the news to find that much of it is about precisely what we would rather not talk about.
The crazy psychotic weather, the threat of floods in the beginning of summer, the emergency situation of drought in provinces, the construction over every piece of land – all these are proof of climate change. The “legal” logging that “development” means, the violence being wreaked upon the lives of our indigenous peoples for their ancestral lands to be turned into mining and plantation sites, pollution of our waters due to mining and factories – all these make the problem of climate change worse.
COP21 and coal-fired power plants
We have let matuwid-na-daan get away with murdering precisely what it celebrated as its participation in COP21. After being a part of the smaller group of countries that are considered “most vulnerable,” government confirmed that it had approved 23 coal-fired power plant projects in various provinces, this, even as scientists have said that “coal emits more greenhouse gas than any other fossil fuel.” (Climate Action website, 23 Dec 2015)
This, while a a Southeast Asian country like Vietnam has committed to turning its back on coal plants, and a country like Laos, that is not even part of the most vulnerable countries, can have a detailed plan to affect fundamental change that would dramatically lessen its carbon footprint.
What does the Philippines have? A matuwid-na-daan government that makes promises it does not even plan to keep.
It is beyond me why there is a candidate who is shamelessly running on this same platform of government, with the same programs, and ultimately, the same kind of ignorance with regards climate change and the environment.
Thank you to Andrea Teran for pointing this article in the direction of COP21 and the crisis of government’s commitment to coal-fired power plants. Also still based on stuartsantiago.com’s environment series.
Published in The Manila Times, March 17 2016.