I had started on this series on the environment – from urban development to climate change – because the early press releases on today’s debate declared that the topics would be about disaster preparedness, climate change adaptation, health care, education, and fighting corruption. Since last Sunday though, I’ve heard otherwise, and if the grapevine is correct it will be a free-for-all (yet again!) as far as topics are concerned.
Also, if my news is correct, today’s #PiliPinasDebates2016 will include a section where candidates will be required to raise either a yes or no paddle with regards issues, instead of, oh I don’t know, giving them time to explain where they stand on each issue. I hope a candidate decides to raise both paddles, or just refuses to raise the paddles, because choosing a president should not be based on yes or no answers, but on clear platforms and programs.
Still, I have high hopes for today’s debate, mostly because it is Luchi Cruz-Valdez moderating it. Here’s hoping she can put her foot down, demand answers from candidates, instead of allowing them to go off on their tangents, not answer questions, and use the podium to make grand pronouncements and motherhood statements that will sound good because scripted.
The goal for media is, has been, to be able to get candidates to go off-script, in the process revealing that much of what we’re hearing is scripted, and are nothing but words we want to hear. But we shouldn’t be waiting to hear what we want, but what nation needs at this point.
Case in point: no candidate has discussed the environment at length and off-script (and spin!). Media has not spent enough time talking about it, and certainly the environment has not hogged our headlines. Here, media can only be complicit in the dominant conversations we’re having in relation to elections. And sadly, the less time we spend talking about the environment, the less time we have to fix things already, to take steps towards addressing climate change and decreasing our carbon footprint, to work on reassessing and reviewing our laws on mining and energy.
The truth is though, there is nothing entertaining about the state of the environment, and the concerns are serious. Not only are we looking at a new normal of the strongest storms, the longest droughts, the hottest days, in the Philippines we are also looking at urban development on overdrive, a garbage problem that is unsolved, a growing population in cities that does not have the infrastructure to sustain us, and a government that is inutile in the face of these dangerous times.
When we say serious, we do mean survival.
Roxas and Haiyan
The position of Interior Secretary is a powerful one. For the politically ambitious, it you in touch with all local government units and officials and allows you that kind of mileage for later use; for the real public servant, one’s incompetence and decisiveness spells the difference between a community’s survival and its death.
There is no talking about Mar Roxas that will no be about the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG). But in direct relation to that – sadly for Roxas – would be Typhoon Haiyan.
And it was not when he was there, and how long he was there; it’s what was he doing while he was there? Because sure his people can spin it and say he was hard at work. But also what is undeniable fact is this: as Interior Secretary Roxas decided that people needed to go back to their barangays, be ticked off a list (purportedly a voters’ list), before they could be given relief goods.
This, after survivors of the worse storm to ever make landfall, faced with the destruction of their communities and no phone signals or electricity, naturally decided to start walking towards the city centers. They walked miles, they walked without food and water, they saw the dead on the streets. And when they get to Tacloban where Roxas was, they were told there was no relief goods here, there is no comfort here – go back home, wherever that home might be.
With Roxas you realize that what any nation needs is not just a man with a plan, not even a man with a program for disaster preparedness and long-term solutions. What we need is one who has enough care and compassion for the needs of the majority, and who can rise to the occasion of disasters enough to forget his bourgeois self.
Binay’s city that works
In a 2007 interview, Rene Saguisag told the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ): “Makati truly works. Because of him, or partly because of him, or despite him, this place is jumping. Give the guy credit that he really has leadership ability.”
The conversation has of course been spun out of control, where talk of Makati always only becomes about corruption charges and the division between rich and poor. Fact: the class division exists everywhere: in Roxas’s Cubao and Capiz, in Rodrigo Duterte’s Davao, in Grace Poe’s … fictional FPJ world, and in her real life in America. One is hard put to discuss services for the poor though, and other candidate has been able to provide free health service and education for all. And no, those services are not about the Ayalas and the rich in Forbes.
Yet as far as climate change and the environment are concerned, it is also the city of Makati under Binay that has been declared by the World Bank as one of few cities in the world with Sound Practice in Climate Resiliency (2008 report). And if you’ve lived or worked in Makati, you’d know that to be true yes?
The tendency for critics is to spin this and say that it is because of the Ayalas and the rich that Makati is the city that it is. But in fact only a leadership that is decisive and has a vision for climate resilience and the environment would imagine free parks in public spaces in lieu of another mall, that would insist on underground walkways that connect buildings so that people can start walking, that would see that even the poorer communities need to be empower to organize themselves and deal with problems of garbage and congestion.
For all the noise that’s generated about Binay in relation to corruption, if you sit and read and listen, you’d be hard put to find another candidate who has this track record of service. But then media tells us that does not matter anymore.
Duterte of Davao, Grace of elsewhere
Two things about Duterte: it would be good if he stopped blaming America for climate change, and stop insisting that our carbon footprint is nothing. Our ecological footprint has been larger than what we, as nation, can fix at this point.
It is great that there is a very strong anti-mining policy in Davao, but one wonders if he can do the same for the rest of the country. Mining is more serious than saying you’ll kill people off, and any president will be faced with mining contracts that are currently in effect. Which is to ask: isn’t Duterte merely picking on the poorer criminals really? Because the criminals against the environment will not only be powerful wealthy companies, but ones with the (para-)military behind them. One does wonder if Duterte has proof that he has handled those criminals before.
Grace meanwhile has said all the correct things about the environment as per her script. But this is the thing with a script.
Without any reality to back it up, it’s nothing but words.
Published in The Manila Times, March 20 2016.