The Duterte era: A state of nature under attack



A complex array of multiple crises slowly brewing for four years breached the tipping point and inundated the Philippines in just the last four and a half months.

This is the story of our nation as we approach the upcoming State of the Nation Address of President Rodrigo Duterte. The COVID-19 pandemic triggered cascading consequences to long-standing problems in our country that has been hidden from plain sight by the shock and awe antics of President Duterte up to this point.

Oceanagold’s mining operations in Didipio, Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya have dried up the sources of water, polluted the environment and crippled the livelihood of farmers. (Photo by John Aaron Mark Macaraeg / Bulatlat)

The environment, in particular, has remained under the radar despite long facing increasing pressures these past four years under President Duterte:

1. We have risen from the fifth spot to fourth in terms of long-term climate vulnerability according to GermanWatch’s climate risk index, with annual average damages brought about by climate-related disasters rising from USD 2.8 billion to 3.1 billion.

2. We have consistently placed second among the top countries with the most air pollution-related deaths in the world, according to the World Health Organization.

3. We have lost an estimated P990.3 billion worth of our sovereign natural resources including annual damages incurred in the West Philippine Sea, wholesale export of minerals to foreign economies, losses to the illegal wildlife trade, and sovereign guarantees in large dam and water projects.

4. The Philippines became the world’s deadliest country for land and environmental defenders for the first time in this time period, with 157 defenders murdered largely by suspected government armed forces—a number 36 percent larger than the total cases recorded during the two previous administrations.

Trapped in extreme poverty by the ‘resource curse’ of imperialism, and rendered vulnerable to contagion and catastrophe, the Philippines was just waiting for a crisis like COVID-19 to happen to make the cookie crumble.

With intact ecosystems dwindling, biodiversity collapsing, pollution worsening, and sources of livelihood depleting, we are extremely susceptible to emerging zoonotic diseases like COVID-19 as our health erodes alongside the planet’s.

But instead of stepping up to the plate, the Duterte administration has abandoned all pretenses of greenwashing.

The historic closure of big mines under the late former environment secretary Gina Lopez has been recently announced by current environment secretary and ex-general Roy Cimatu himself as already reversed.

Mining and dredging, apparently, is now considered a strategy for economic recovery in response to COVID-19. Duterte himself recently said that he will “open the borders” to the influx of dirty coal to boost economic activity.

Yet this promise of sacrificing the environment to alleviate the economy does not trickle down to us Filipinos. IBON Foundation points out that the government has only spent P5,617.00 per family—or just P 77.00 per day—for COVID-19 social amelioration.

The Duterte regime has also stepped up its authoritarian rule to suppress the growing criticism and dissent over this widely unpopular policy fast-tracking amid the utter failure to effectively respond to the pandemic.

Instead of pouring thousands of health workers into the streets, we are seeing police and military troops being deployed instead to enforce the world’s longest and harshest COVID-19 lockdown sans real public health solutions.

Duterte’s ‘yes men’ in Congress railroaded the Antiterrorism Law, which legal luminaries have described as ‘worse than martial law’, threatens to further inflame an already atrocious human rights situation faced by Filipino environmental defenders.

Likewise, they have descended upon TV network giant ABS-CBN, also a known champion of environmental causes, by denying the renewal of its franchise for clearly political and self-serving motivations.

We are in such desperate times when nature—and its defenders—are clearly under attack, on this eleventh hour of planetary emergency, climate crisis, and the sixth mass extinction event.

If we do not fight back, no one will be left to fight for us and the future generations. If we do not push back, the world that sustain our very lives will be pushed to the brink by tyrants and demagogues like Duterte.

Indeed, in these dark times under the Duterte era, it is our duty to win back the world from the clutches of tyranny and plunder. It is our duty to resist. (

Leon Dulce is the national coordinator of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment. You can reach him at

Kalibutan is a group blog of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment. For comments, email Kalikasan PNE is a convening organization of the Citizens’ Urgent Response to End COVID-19 (CURE COVID), a national people’s initiative of various communities and sectors in response to the pandemic crisis and its impacts on their health and livelihood.

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