By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – The year 2010 should have been an opportunity for the new administration to implement fundamental reforms to protect the environment and national patrimony, especially since during the former administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the state of the environment of the country has gone from bad to worse.
Environmental groups called on President Benigno S. Aquino III to repeal all the environmentally destructive laws, policies, and acts that were passed and implemented during the Arroyo administration such as the Mining Act of 1995, and the approved contracts and environment compliance certificate (ECC) of controversial projects such as the Rapu-rapu polymetallic mining project. It also urged the new administration to investigate and prosecute the environmental crimes committed by the previous administration.
But none of the said challenges were taken into consideration by the current administration. The Aquino government is even enticing foreign investors to build more coal-fired power plants in the country. Coal is identified as the single major source of carbon emission and air pollution in the world. Its effects would greatly affect the health of people living within the perimeter of the coal-fired power plant.
The policy of the Aquino government on mining remains the same, according to Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE). The group criticized Aquino for appointing Ramon Paje, who they branded a mining bureaucrat, as secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Paje is a former executive director of the Mining Development Council (MDC) and presidential adviser on mining. These positions made him one of the top architects of the liberalization of the mining industry under the previous Arroyo administration.
The mining liberalization continues to worsen the landlessness of poor and indigenous peoples in the country. Data from Kalikasan-PNE show that in the first half of 2010, the total area covered by mining concession is more than a million hectares, covering three percent of the total land area of the country. Kalikasan-PNE finds it alarming that there are thousands of mining applications that are being processed by the government, with 2,827 applications as of the third quarter of 2010.
While the Aquino administration seems determined to pursue the policy of attracting more foreign investments in extractive industries such as mining, it pays lip service to mitigating the effects of climate change.
The effects of climate change manifest not only in the environment’s degradation. Global warming also affects energy, agriculture, health, water and marine resources, said Dr. Teresita R. Perez, director of the Ateneo De Manila University’s Department of Environmental Sciences.
Perez said, in a conference on climate change, the downstream effects of climate change would make an already bad situation worse. Extreme changes in the weather and the rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would reduce the harvests of farmers, cause habitat degradation and species loss, epidemics and diseases, kill corals, and disrupt carbonate chemistry making shell and bone formation difficult.
These effects are aggravated by the environmental crisis brought about by large scale plunder of the environment. In an interview with bulatlat.com, Dr. Giovanni Tapang, chairman of Agham (Science and Technology for the People, not the party list group) said the large scale plunder of the environment benefits only a small segment of society while generating large scale effects on society. “The rapid destruction of the environment is a direct result of the rapid, unchecked appropriation of the world’s resources for the benefit of a few.”
Tapang added that climate change also aggravates environmental hazards. “In the Philippines, disasters, whether climate-induced or not, add up to the already impoverished situation of the majority of Filipino families who are living below the poverty line. The harmful effects of climate change and the disasters it induces bear heavily on the most vulnerable or marginalized segments of the Philippine population, especially the poor peasants.”
Rosario Bella Guzman, executive editor of Ibon Foundation blamed the anarchic system of production –meaning production planning not based on people’s needs –and unsustainable balance of consumption as mainly responsible for global warming.
Industrial countries like the United States are the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters. The current greenhouse gas or carbon dioxide emission in the atmosphere is 388.59 parts per million (ppm) according to the CO2Now.org (http://co2now.org/). This should be reduced to 350 ppm, the safe limit for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to prevent global warming.
The law that was passed supposedly to protect the country from the effects climate change, the Climate Change Act of 2009 (CCA), has gaps and limitations and is based on a “flawed context and framework,” said Finesa Cosico, an agriculturist and member of Agham.
The CCA mirrors the over-all twisted policy direction of the government, falling short of essential elements in adaptation and mitigation strategies, and ineffective in building a climate resilient nation, Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC) said.
While the CCA aims to address the vulnerability of poor communities to climate change, it, however contradicts the government’s existing laws, policies, and development projects. “It has been totally unacceptable and even unimaginable how the government intends to put a stop to deforestation and the destruction of ecosystems on one side, and then promote large-scale mining on the other,” said Cheamson Boongaling of CEC citing RA 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.
Former senator and environmentalist Ana Maria Consuelo “Jamby” Madrigal said,“You cannot talk about addressing climate change and, at the same time, push for policies such as the Japan- Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA).You cannot talk about mitigating the impact of climate change while upholding 100 percent foreign ownership of our mines and natural resources. You cannot talk about climate change, if our environment is being destroyed and our riches are not benefitting the people because of mining. Our minerals are being shipped in airplanes, without monitoring, to countries such as Japan and we would buy back the processed goods.”
Tapang said in confronting the climate crisis, the government has to first satisfy basic human needs, economic and social development, adequate energy and infrastructure.