By CLEMENTE BAUTISTA JR.
Since Rodrigo Duterte won the presidency in May 2016, environmentalists including Kalikasan had been optimistic that the new administration will veer away from the anti-people and anti-environment path taken by the previous administrations.
During his term as a mayor of Davao city for 22 years, Rodrigo Duterte has shown positive achievements in carrying out environmental protection. In 2007 and 2015, Davao city under Duterte has passed a ban on chemical pesticide and mining, respectively. These positive records have been the basis of Kalikasan together with Eco-Challenge for Change (ECC) alliance in outlining the major ecological demands and actions as a challenge for Duterte to continue in a national scale.
The first 100 days of the new administration was a commendable start. Duterte appointed environmental activist Gina Lopez as secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and progressive individuals in leading agencies like Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), Department of Social Welfare and Development, and the National Anti-Poverty Commission.
DENR under Lopez has imposed a moratorium on approving new mining projects. Sec. Lopez has also conducted a mining audit, and consequently issued a “recommendation for suspension” to 20 erring mining companies. DENR has also halted the issuance of permits to new fish pens, and dismantled some operating fish pens in fast deteriorating Laguna de Bay. Adding to these is the DAR Department order No. 3 which imposes a two-year ban on the conversion of agricultural lands to other use.
The resumption of the peace process with the communist revolutionaries under the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-New People’s Army (NPA)-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) have provided hopes that the roots of armed resistance such as the environmental plunder and depletion of our natural resources will be addressed.
Duterte has also stated support to stop the militarization of displaced indigenous people and peasant communities to facilitate the return to their lands. He has also been vocal to end the Philippine dependence on United States and to terminate the onerous and pollution-prone Enhance Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). He has been maverick in his stand not to sign the pro-big polluters, pro-corporate Paris Climate Agreement. These, if implemented and translated into action, will not only favor the Filipino but also our country’s environment as well.
Yet after 100 days, these pronouncements have remained only as such and no concrete action was done by the current administration.
Almost half year into his term, the issue of human rights violations escalates not only due to his dreaded War on Drugs, but also victimizing environmental activists. Seven environmental activists — anti-mining and land-defenders — were killed.
Militarization persists in rural areas, especially in areas where there are operations or application for mining, agricultural plantation and commercial logging. Last December 12, seven farmers who are agrarian reform beneficiaries were shot by guards of Lapanday Food Corporation (LFC). This was after the agri-workers occupied 145 hectares of land, a portion of the banana plantation subjected to agrarian reform. They were again forcibly evicted at gunpoint in their properties on New Year’s eve by LFC security guards.
Erring companies that have supposedly been ‘recommended for suspension’ by the DENR continue to operate, such as in the case of Canadian OceanaGold and Australian Filminera operating in Nueva Vizcaya and Masbate provinces, respectively. Adding to these, thousands of hectares of fish pens owned by big foreign aquaculture corporations have continued their operation, and are even eying to own the common fishing area in Laguna Lake.
Oligarchs in the Duterte administration, such as logging and mining mogul Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, big real estate owner DPWH Secretary Mark Villar, and former honcho of big power player Aboitiz Department of Energy Secretary Alfredo Cusi, hold sway in implementing the environmentally destructive and community-displacing projects such as dirty coal power plants and the multi-billion peso Leyte Tide Embankment project. Alongside his rehabilitation of the plunderer family of Marcos, Duterte is supporting the revival of mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant.
Duterte never ceased in promoting some of the destructive projects that he held up to during the campaign period. He has opened 80,000 hectares of land to Malaysian investors for setting up palm oil plantations. New coal power plants were inaugurated and still projected to increase. Threat of destruction of shore areas and displacement of thousands of fisher folks due to reclamation are still imminent.
The peace process is on the brink of suspension, as the Duterte government failed to fulfill its commitment to release all the political prisoners in the country. Hundreds of political prisoners are still languishing in jail, even the ailing, elderly and women.
And worst of all, the Duterte administration has continued to subscribe to the same old, pro-foreign powers, pro-oligarch, anti-people and anti-environment globalization polices of the previous administrations.
In the first six months of the administration, no significant change has undergone. If there is, it is just for a show. Panggulat at pambulag lamang. The people is still waiting and wanting. The government remains the same: elitist, corrupt and pro-foreign powers.
In the first few months of 2017, President Duterte’s real character and true intentions will be fully known. Will he bring us the change that he promised? Does he really hate the oligarchs or does he represent them?
Whatever the result maybe, environmental advocates will continue to be critical and vigilant to this administration. Kalikasan will continue to close ranks with the people in asserting the rehabilitation of our ecosystem, protection of our environment, and opposing ecological destructive projects. More so, in seeking a systemic change, establishing government which is genuinely pro-people and pro-environment.
Clemente Bautista Jr. is the national coordinator of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, one of the convening organizations of the Green Vote 2016 election campaign.