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Equity, economy and environment

Filed under: Impact Articles |

By Rene E. Ofreneo, Ph.D

TYPHOONS Ondoy and Pepeng in 2009 bared fully two major environmental threats to our population and economy.

First, the unprecedented high level of rainfall unleashed by these storms, which resulted in the destructive floods in Metro Manila and other parts of Luzon, is directly attributable to the phenomenon of global warming or climate change (CC). The Philippines happens to be in the global short list of countries that are most vulnerable to CC. In fact, CC is also responsible for the long-running cycle of El Niño/La Niña (drought/excessive rain) weather aberrations, which have hurt our agricultural sector in the last two decades. With the global deadlock on the needed carbon emission reduction, expect more CC-related catastrophes to hit the country, including sea rises that are likely to inundate many coastal communities and towns of the archipelago.

Secondly, the twin storms bared the sad state of the Philippine environment—neglected and badly degraded. There are no forests to halt the downward flow of the rushing flood water to the low lands, on one hand, and prevent landslides, hillslides and mudslides in the high lands, on the other. In most of the cities and urban areas, the flow of flood water towards the seas is impeded by silted river systems, clogged/missing esteros, undeveloped/malfunctioning/missing drainage systems and undisposed solid wastes in many places. The floods in Metro Manila also revealed the failure of past and present local government units as well as of the different National Administrations in crafting and enforcing a national land use policy, a critical component of which is an urban zoning and development program. For instance, the Marikina Valley was supposed to remain a valley (not a major residential/commercial area), a spillway in Paranaque was supposed to be built in the l980s to prevent floods in Metro Manila, and, yes, the Laguna Lake was supposed to be decongested of fish pens, commercial buildings, resorts and houses.

What then can we learn from the Ondoy-Pepeng episodes?
There are many. But for a group of concerned clergy, laity, civil society advocates and academics, the triple challenges of coherence, justice and inclusion are key concerns that must not be neglected in any policy formulation related to climate change mitigation/adaptation and environmental renewal. This is the raison d’etre for the formation of the Climate Change Congress of the Philippines (CCCP), with Archbishop Antonio Ledesma serving as a Lead Convenor. Echoing the latest papal encyclical “Caritas en Veritate”, Archbishop Ledesma calls for people’s unity to insure “inter-generational justice”. Obviously, a failure by the present generation to mitigate climate change and rehabilitate the environment means catastrophe for the next generation, just as the present generation is suffering today from the environmental abuses of the past.

Two key coherence-justice-inclusion issues raised by the CCCP are as follows:

One, both environmental threats (CC and degradation) are people’s issues. People’s lives, homes and livelihoods are the most affected by these threats. The people should not only be informed about what the government is doing about these threats but should also, and more importantly, be involved in the crafting of appropriate responses. It is ironic, for instance, that the houses of many urban poor victims of Ondoy and Pepeng are now being demolished without notice, without consultation and without any clear accompanying program of relocation-cum-employment. Such a program of demolition, justified in the name of environmental protection, is a non-solution to the environmental stress and will only aggravate the environmental and social tensions in the country.

Two, the twin environmental threats are inextricably linked to the larger issue of what development model must be pursued by the country. Since its acquisition of Independence in 1946, the Philippines has been sacrificing the environment and extracting natural resources in an irresponsible manner to finance development. From the 1950s to the mid-1970s, it used its timber and mineral exports (copper, gold, iron, silver, etc.) to finance its importation of oil, machinery, industrial raw materials and non-essential goods. From the mid-1970s to the present, the failure of an export-oriented program dependent on a few exports (garments, electronics) to take off means continuing deforestation, destructive mining, decimation of the country’s mangroves and coral reefs, poisoning of the air, river, land and water systems (through chemical agriculture, industrial effluents and unchecked proliferation of smoke-spewing vehicles), and the conversion of the watershed areas, hillsides, beach fronts, parks and even irrigated lands into exclusive private resorts, golf courses and housing/real estate/infra projects for the moneyed elite and foreign investors.

This unjust and environmentally-destructive development model must stop and must be overhauled. Instead, the government must put in place, with the participation of all sectors of society, a program of sustainable development in all areas of the economy. For example, the Philippines, through its organic farming advocates, has already accumulated so much experiences (despite some bureaucratic reluctance and even opposition in the beginning) in sustainable agriculture that helps renew the soil, creates more jobs, lessens dependence on food imports and rebuilds the forests. Why not a no-nonsense national program of sustainable agriculture? This program, of course, will require completion of the agrarian reform program, the transformation of small farmers into modern eco-agribusiness producers and the abandonment of the policy of agricultural import liberalization.

In services, there are examples of the unlimited potentials of a green economy model, e.g., eco-tourism in Palawan and Bohol. The challenge is how to integrate environment in the business planning of every service industry and make environment as its selling point.

In industry, a green economy model means more investments on environmentally-friendly but value-adding and job-creating projects such as green transport facilities, green buildings, mass transport, recyling and renewable industries and so on. A happy outcome of such effort should be the abandonment of the low-technology-cheap-labor policy in favor of higher-technology-higher-labor-productivity arrangement, which is only possible through a mutual recognition by both labor and management of their responsibility to each other and to the larger society. In short, a shift to a green economy is a formula for industrial peace and higher level of industrial development.

Clearly, addressing the twin threats of climate change and environmental degradation can also be an opportunity to unite the people in renewing the environment and the economy. Is Philippine society prepared for such a renewal? The CCCP’s answer: Oras Na, or as the young generation put it, Now Na.

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