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The Philippine Church’s Environmental Advocacy

Fr. Amado L. Picardal, CSsR, SThD

Along the Way

OVER 25 years ago, the CBCP came out with a pastoral letter en- titled “What is happening to our beautiful land.” This was the first time that a bishops’ conference, anywhere in the world, addressed the threat of environmental degradation and climate change. It called on the Church to take action to preserve the integrity of creation.

“As people of the covenant we are called to protect endangered ecosystems, like our forests, man- groves, coral reefs and to establish just human communities in our land. More and more we must recognize that the commitment to work for justice and to preserve the

integrity of creation are two insepa- rable dimension in our Christian vocation to work for the coming of the kingdom of God in our times.”

A year before the pastoral letter was drafted, the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) and Peoples’ Organization (Pag- bugtaw sa Kamatuoran) in San Fernando, Bukidnon successfully campaigned against the logging companies with the help of the Scarboro Missionaries and the Redemptorist Mission Team with the support of Bishop Gaudencio Rosales and the local clergy. Poor farmers and members of BECs barricaded the highways with their bodies and did not allow

logging trucks to pass until the Aquino Government finally de- clared a total log ban in the prov- ince of Bukidnon. The BECs and grassroots communities entered into partnership with the De- partment of Energy and Natural Resources in implementing the log ban and in the reforestation program. Around the same time, the townspeople and BECs of Midsalip also carried out similar actions against logging companies with the support of Columban Missionaries.

The CBCP pastoral letter cited the various efforts of grassroots communities including the BECs of San Fernando and Midsalip as signs of hope:

We are also encouraged by the growth in environmental awareness among many Filipinos. Small ef- forts which teach contour plowing, erosion control, organic farming and tree planting can blossom into a major movement of genuine care for our Earth. We are happy that there have been successes. Both Chico dam project was suspended and the Bataan nuclear plant mothballed after massive resistance. This year the people of San Fernando, Bukid- non and Midsalip, Zamboanga del Sur defended what remains of their forest with their own bodies. At the Santa Cruz mission in South Cotabato serious efforts are underway to reforest bald hills and develop ecologically sound ways of farming. The diocese of Pagadian has chosen the Eucharist and ecology as its pastoral focus for this year. These are all signs for us that the Spirit of God, who breathed over the water, and originally brought life out of chaos is no prompting men and women both inside and outside the Church to dedicate their lives in enhancing and protecting the integrity of Creation.Pope Francis’ encyclical Lau- dato Si, which cites the CBCP pastoral letter, is an affirmation of the pioneering efforts of the Church in the Philippines—in- cluding the BECs—to defend the environment over the years. Bishops, priests, religious, and lay people in various parts of the country have been at the forefront in the struggle against logging, mining and coal-fired power-plant projects, etc.As we respond to Pope Francis’ “urgent challenge to protect our common home”, each diocese, parish, BEC, lay organization, movement, and association needs to study the encyclical more and come up with plans to continually concretize the Church’s commitment to the environment. For many it will require creative militant ac- tion to stop the destruction of the environment by greedy capitalists abetted by corrupt government officials. For all of us, it will mean adopting a more simple and green lifestyle, rejecting consumerism. This requires reducing our “carbon footprints.” This implies less dependence on private trans- portation, using public modes of transportation not dependent on fossil fuels, lots of walking, biking, etc. It also means avoid- ing wasteful consumption and implement waste-management, developing a greener environ- ment (cleaning-up, gardening, tree-planting, etc.).

We can also adopt a more natural diet, less meat-consumption, and eating more vegetables, and fruits. This also means constructing, reno- vating, and building houses with natural ventilation, lighting, less dependence on electrical appli- ances or using alternative power sources – such as solar energy.Since the Philippines is most vulnerable to the disastrous effects of climate change such as floods, super-typhoons, droughts, and pollution, the Church must also advocate disaster preparedness and management.Continuous education about the environmental crisis and the obligation of each one to act must be integrated into the program of evangelization and catechesis at the parish and BEC levels.

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