“The Duterte administration is full of contradictions, but the positive outweighs the negative.”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – “Change has indeed come.”
A coalition of environmentalist groups cannot help but echo President Duterte’s election campaign slogan, as they gave his administration largely passing marks on his first 100 days in office.
In a press conference today, Oct. 6, the broad coalition Eco-Challenge for Change said they have seen reforms started in 10 out of 14 of their environmental demands, such as addressing foreign militarism, mining, agriculture, peace talks and environmental governance. On the other hand, the group said there has been no change in policies in energy, logging and in addressing the killings and attacks on environmentalists.
“We, in the Ecological Challenge for Change (Eco-Challenge), commend the Duterte administration for walking the talk on environmental reforms, but there is still much to be done,” the group’s statement said. Eco-Challenge comprises of 40 environmentalist and people’s organizations which posed a comprehensive environmental program of action at the start of the Duterte administration.
The coalition gave a “gold” rating for Duterte’s staunch stand towards an independent foreign policy and his pronouncements to review the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca), which allows the return of US military bases in “agreed locations.” Duterte had also stated he wants US troops out of Mindanao, and that the ongoing PH-US war games “will be the last.”
With the President’s assertion of sovereignty and independence, the coalition said the country can finally stand up against abuses by other countries, such as the dumping of toxic, residual wastes from Canada, and the destruction of the Tubbataha coral reef by an American warship.
“In the same breath that we stand up for the international court ruling over the West Philippine Sea to protect our marine resource patrimony, the administration should look into the long-standing track record of environmental impacts by US military exercises and bases,” the coalition said.
The environmentalist groups vowed to push their demands with the Duterte administration.
“In major issues that affect the people, (Duterte) listens. But in certain issues which he already has set beliefs, we need to push and explain more. Such as in energy policy reforms, addressing human rights issues, not just on drug-related extrajudicial killings, but also on killings and trumped-up charges of environmental defenders,” said Leon Dulce of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, one of the coalition convenors.
Positive efforts in mining, land reform, peace talks
Eco-challenge gave a “silver” rating for the steps being taken by progressive Cabinet officials, such as Environment Secretary Regina Paz Lopez and Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano.
One such reform is the mining audit led by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), which led to the suspension of 10 large-scale mining operations, with another 30 potentially facing suspension. The group lauded the mining audit’s use of valuation for baseline data and strict compliance with the environmental compliance certificate. Local environmentalist groups were also able to participate in the audit, in spite of opposition by mining companies.
The groups, however, said that government is yet to issue a permanent closure on any mining company, nor has ordered any to give indemnification for mining-affected communities.
In agrarian reform, the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (Parc) headed by Duterte declared a two-year moratorium on land use conversion, as recommended by Agrarian reform Secretary Mariano. The latter had also vowed that he will not allow any farmer to be ejected, and that he will hasten the distribution of land to the tiller, such as in Hacienda Luisita.
“One silver lining in agrarian reform and environment is that there is now opportunity for food producers to have access to the primary resource in production – the land,” said Shen Maglinte of the Sibol ng Agham at Teknolohiya (Sibat).
Maglinte said that with farmers having control over the land, they will have the means and motivation to increase soil productivity and food production towards building the country’s food security.
He, however, lamented that the Department of Agriculture has not veered away from the track of the martial law-era “Green revolution,” or high-cost, chemical-intensive farming. It has even turned to “Blue revolution,” or the use of genetically-modified organism (GMO) crops, which have not been scientifically proven as safe for consumption.
“After land distribution, there should be basic services – financial and technical support for farmers to accelerate production. Sadly, our Department of Agriculture does not seem to have a clear plan on this,” Maglinte said. Sibat advocates sustainable agriculture, which uses low-cost, environmentally sound farming systems.
Maglinte also cited how the Duterte administration had pushed for the peace talks between government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), which will tackle socio-economic reforms including agrarian reform.
Independent foreign policy and toxic waste
Anna Kapunan of Ban Toxics said the President’s strong words for Philippine sovereignty should also translate to protecting the environment, such as in asserting that Canada take back its 103 container vans of residual trash.
In June, Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 1 Judge Tita Bughao Alisuag had ordered the inter-agency task force to send back the first batch of 50 container vans to Canada, with the cost shouldered by the importer. The Bureau of Customs had agreed to expedite the repatriation of the waste, as the Justice department is set to file a motion for the execution of the order.
Kapunan said they hope that the court decision can set the precedent on the ruling for the remaining batch.
“We hope we can also assert ourselves in the Basel Convention, and file a diplomatic protest,” Kapunan said. Canada is not obliged to follow the Manila court decision, but government can assert through diplomatic efforts, she said. The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) can file a diplomatic protest upon recommendation from the DENR.
Ban Toxics had filed a complaint about the Canadian waste with the Basel Convention, but were told that only an authorized government agency can do so.
Kapunan added that the government also needs to sign the Amendments to the Basel Ban Convention, and the Minamata Convention on Mercury.
Same straight path on cheap, dirty energy, logging, killings
The group gave a “black” rating on the Department of Energy’s push to construct more coal-fired power plants and increase the country’s dependence on cheap, dirty energy.
Feny Cosico, secretary general of the Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (Agham), said that Duterte’s inauguration of a coal plant in Misamis Oriental “gives a signal to build more dirty plants” to answer the power crisis. She said 30 percent of the country’s energy comes from coal plants.
“The Department of Energy (DOE) boasts of renewable energy resources, but there is no action on how to develop these,” Cosico said. Instead, the DOE and some senators want to run the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP), which sits on a fault line.
“The country has no capacity to run and manage (the BNPP). There will be bigger repercussions if we open the plant and it is mismanaged,” she said.
On the cases of slain activists, the groups noted that there has been no progress on the highlighted cases of the Kananga 3 massacre, the Lianga massacre, the killing of Engineer Fidela Salvador and the Kidapawan dispersal.
Under Duterte, five environmental activists and four peasants have been killed.
On disasters and climate change, the coalition gave a “bronze” rating, as positive efforts were overshadowed by negative trends.
They noted how Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo has led an “efficient disaster reponse” to Typhoon Ferdie and Gener which battered Batanes. The DA had also alloted P27 million ($560,000) as contingency fund for those who will be affected by the La Niña phenomenon.
On the other hand, no government official from the Aquino administration has been charged for criminal neglect of typhoon Yolanda and El Niño victims.
Owen Magraso of the Center for Environmental Concerns said government has a “skewed priority on rehabilitation” of Yolanda survivors, as it preferred to first finish private-led projects, such as the construction of a coastal embankment. Meanwhile, there remains a backlog in housing and livelihood assistance.
“The Duterte administration is full of contradictions, but the positive outweighs the negative,” said Kalikasan PNE’s national coordinator Clemente Bautista. He said the coalition will continue to engage government to ensure the protection of the environment and safeguard the people’s rights.
“We will continue our people’s movements to help the Duterte administration in monitoring environmental concerns, holding environmentally destructive and pollutive projects accountable, and supporting programs and policy reforms,” said the coalition.
“Much has been done in the first 100 days, and even more can be done in the next 100 days and five years. It is a challenge to the Duterte administration,” Dulce said.