Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. VII, No. 11      April 22- 28, 2007      Quezon City, Philippines











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Filipino Poor to Suffer Most from Brownouts, Climate Change

"It's the 'little people' in the Philippines who suffer most from heat spells and extreme weather conditions caused by climate change: those who do not have access to electricity, let alone the luxury of air conditioning and other amenities or travel to cooler climates.”


Baby Sta. Cruz, 45, has a rheumatic heart disease and the extreme heat worsens her condition. To avoid any harm the hot temperature could cause her, she takes a bath often. With the soaring temperatures nowadays, she takes a shower at least thrice a day.

An electric fan already set to the maximum speed is not enough to relieve the heat. She also has with her a wet towel she uses to cool down her exposed body parts.

Unfortunately, an environmental activist group warned that the recent incidents of extreme heat and power shortages in Luzon are just the beginning of more climate change-related phenomena that would affect the Filipino poor the most.

"We should brace for more extreme heat spells and its effects on our power, water, and agricultural systems, and on the millions of Filipinos living below the poverty line," warned Clemente Bautista, Kalikasan Peoples Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) national coordinator.

Pollution is seen by environmental activists as among the factors that aggravate the problem of extreme heat which is caused by climate change                  BULATLAT PHOTO

Because of the extreme heat, the state-owned National Power Corp. (Napocor) said that a surge in demand for electricity caused a power shortage last April 18. The power outage hit large parts of Luzon, further reducing the power supply.

Poorest hit hardest

On April 17, temperatures shot up to 36.8 degrees Centigrade, the hottest recorded so far this year by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA). The weather forecasting agency also warned that hotter weather spells would persist until next month.

"It's the 'little people' in the Philippines who suffer most from heat spells and extreme weather conditions caused by climate change: those who do not have access to electricity, let alone the luxury of air conditioning and other amenities or travel to cooler climates, for example,” said Bautista, “Those who can no longer afford to pay such high power rates, or have no access to safe, cheap, potable water services. Those who can not afford hospitalization and medical expenses from asthma or other respiratory diseases which are aggravated by the country's worsening air pollution problem in addition to the extreme heat."

Bautista added that it is ironic that millions of poor people suffer when they are not the main contributors to global warming.  It is the “dirty industries and filthy-rich transnational companies whose executives can easily afford to avoid the heat spells here who are the culprits.”

Kalikasan PNE said that in the Philippines, 49 percent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are from the energy sector primarily from oil industries, power generation and manufacturing industries, many of which are monopolized by foreign transnational companies such as Petron, Shell and Caltex in the oil industry and Mirant (U.S.), Enron Power Corporation (U.S.), Far East Livingston (Singapore) in the energy sector with its coal and oil based power plants.

"Worldwide, climate change primarily threatens the lives of the poor from underdeveloped and Third World countries when in fact the United States is the biggest processor and unregulated user of oil and petroleum products all over the world and the number one polluter of Green House Gases (GHG), emitting more than 25 percent of all the GHGs," said the environmental activist leader.


Despite the threat of global warming, Bautista said the Arroyo administration has "not passed or implemented effective policies and programs to reduce the GHG pollution from industrial sources."

Even with the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1999, Bautista said, air pollution particularly in the urban areas continues to worsen with the unregulated use of fuel in industries, which will only aggravate the extreme weather conditions.

"In fact, in the Arroyo administration's strategic energy plan, the contribution of coal power plants to energy production will also increase the volume of pollutants coming from the energy sector," said Bautista.

The group also said that dead rivers full of debris and poisonous industrial waste, faulty and inadequate sewers, and lack of cheap potable water systems are making the extreme heats spells hitting Metro Manila even more unbearable for ordinary Filipinos.

Kalikasan PNE, along with party list groups Bayan Muna, Kabataan, and Suara Bangamoro, and scientists organization Samahan ng mga Nagtataguyod ng Agham at Teknolohiya Para sa Sambayanan (AGHAM), dramatized this call by holding an estero (creek) clean-up along the Lagarian creek near Barangay Pinagkaisahan and EDSA Avenue corner Kamuning Road in Quezon City.

Bautista said that almost all major rivers in Metro Manila are now biologically-dead, the most infamous of which is the Pasig River. Nationwide, he said 50 of 421 rivers―or one out of eight― are biologically-dead, or incapable of sustaining life, and are hazardous if used as drinking, recreation, or irrigation sources.

“Thus, even if we are literally surrounded by water, Filipinos can not readily use these sources to seek relief from the scorching summer heat,” he said. “In fact, only 65 percent of the population is able to source water for domestic consumption, a large portion of which remains unsafe for drinking.”  

Bautista also called attention to the health hazards posed by the lack of adequate sewerage systems in the cities, unabated industrial waste and the lack of an effective garbage collection system.

The group said that only 13 percent of the population in Metro Manila is connected to centralized sewerage systems while around 25 percent of Metro Manila's garbage ends up clogging rivers, esteros and drainage canals, and waterways.

Disappearing Forests

In urban areas, the conspicuous lack of green spaces and tree cover also aggravates the unbearable heat, Bautista said.

However, outside the cities, fast disappearing forest cover all throughout the Philippines is a more alarming cause for concern, he said. According to the last inventory of the Forest Management Bureau in 2002, forest cover has dipped to only 16 percent of the Philippine's land area. Added to this, 124 out of 154 watershed areas designated by the DENR are already in critical state. 

In spite of this, the Arroyo administration continues to promote the wanton extraction of fast disappearing forest reserves.

"The government has one by one lifted log bans and farmed out commercial logging permits in the form of Timber Licensing Agreements (TLAs) and 23 Integrated Forest Management Agreement (IFMA) permits from January 2001 to 2004. IFMAs allow their holders, including private industrial tree plantations, the right to timber and all other forest products in their territories," Bautista explained.   

Bautista said that this rapid trend of denudation would spell more bad news for the country in the long run.

"Forests, next to oceans, act as a carbon sink that can mitigate global warming. They help generate a liveable air environment by absorbing carbon dioxide emissions, pollutive chemicals in the atmosphere and particulates and release oxygen back into the atmosphere," Bautista said.   

"The Philippines has an ecosystem that is archipelagic, generally mountainous and sloping, so we really should maintain an ideal forest cover of around 54 percent of the total land area or more to help prevent occurrences of flash floods, exacerbated landslides, and biodiversity loss," he said.

No government plans

Bautista said that it is the "people (who) are suffering from national government and local government officials' lack of a comprehensive water management system and the absence of comprehensive rehabilitation and management plans to revive our dying or dead rivers.”

He called on the voters not to vote for those officials who can afford to beat the heat by staying inside their air-conditioned cars and rooms or go on vacation to cooler climates when majority of the poor have to suffer from the lack of such basic necessities, such as safe and affordable drinking water. Bulatlat




© 2007 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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