MANILA — Several environment groups expressed disappointment over President Rodrigo Duterte’s 5th State of the Nation Address on Monday, which they said was not able to discuss the various crises the country is facing.
“The President’s SONA was disappointing, to say the least,” said Greenpeace Country Director Lea Guerrero in a statement.
“At this time during the pandemic, what the Filipino people, particularly the youth, need is a clear plan for a recovery after this pandemic that will lead us to a better normal. However, we didn’t hear any mention of a coherent policy agenda for recovery and beyond, particularly as it concerns the environment.”
Guerrero said that while Duterte claimed protecting the environment is a non-negotiable priority, they have not seen any “actual practice” or improvement in the last four years.
“The COVID pandemic is happening against a backdrop of environmental destruction and the climate crisis that has been going on long before this pandemic, and--unless things change for the better--will persist and worsen well into the future,” she said.
The COVID-19 virus, which has resulted in the deaths of 650,000 people worldwide, is said to have a zoonotic or animal source. Many experts have said that the rise in new zoonotic diseases is linked to increasing environmental degradation.
Greenpeace described the Duterte administration’s environmental agenda as “narrow,” as it holds "up the Boracay clean-up--a drastic military solution devoid of any stakeholder consultation--as a showcase of its environmental programs.”
Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) also expressed dismay that the only mention of the environment was the Boracay Island clean-up.
“A quick fact check would reveal that the island's ecological disruption actually worsened post-rehab," the group said in a statement.
"According to the Friends of Flying Foxes Boracay conservation group, a July 12, 2020 roost survey revealed that there were no longer any sightings of the island's endangered and endemic Golden Crowned Flying Fox and Large Flying Fox populations,” Kalikasan PNE claimed, explaining the importance of flying foxes.
“This means that the rehab program has failed to arrest the encroachment of tourism infrastructure into the island's forests and wetlands,” the group said, calling the rehabilitation effort a “greenwash.”
The group also enumerated how the country’s environmental situation has worsened in the last four years of the Duterte administration:
- From 5th to 4th place among countries 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;
- 2nd among the top countries with the most air pollution-related deaths in the world, according to the World Health Organization; and,
- 3rd biggest contributor of marine plastics pollution in the world.
Kalikasan PNE decried the loss of sovereign natural resources in the West Philippine Sea, and the killings of 157 environmental defenders.
“Duterte's environment chief, General Roy Cimatu, has announced the reversal of mine closures and suspensions instituted by his predecessor, the late former secretary Regina Lopez, after announcing their aggressive pursuit of mining and dredging as economic recovery strategies,” the group said.
It also cited alleged “destructive projects”, including the controversial New Manila International Airport and the Kaliwa Dam.
“These are sins of omission in Pres. Duterte's SONA that we condemn in the highest terms. We need a 'Better Normal' program for a just, green recovery that will address the multiple, inter-linked ecological crises we currently face,” the group said.
The Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED) also found the SONA wanting due to the silence on the reopening of mines and the lack of pronouncements for the expansion of renewable energy projects.
“The President seemed content with his motherhood statement, but environmentalists and renewable energy advocates would not be satisfied. They were looking for reassurance that Duterte is still on the side of the environment through a reaffirmation of his directive to Cusi in the previous SONA, as well as a declaration of support for coal divestment. There was no concrete discussion on that matter,” said Avril De Torres, Research, Policy, and Law Program Head of CEED.
De Torres said mining will just make the country more vulnerable to climate change while causing erosion, land and water contamination, flooding due to deforestation, and biodiversity loss.
“We have more coal power plants in the pipeline and a resurgence of air pollution brought about by increased activity as the quarantine is relaxed, and yet the President could only talk about Boracay. Air quality is another problem that is all the more pressing as our health care systems are overwhelmed with Covid-19 cases,” added De Torres.
Pollution has long been a problem of Philippine cities, especially in Metro Manila. Pollution has also been linked to higher cases of COVID-19, based on limited studies.
Gerry Arances, Convenor of Power for People Coalition (P4P), lamented Duterte's lack of reaffirmation on renewable energy.
He said it would have been timely since a lot of consumers complained of high electricity costs during the lockdown.
“Renewable energy also empowers consumers because it can reduce their dependence on the monopolistic grid, helps protect the environment, and costs less," Arances said.
"In recognizing the power of renewable energy to deliver power where coal-based power can’t, we cannot understand why the President cannot make the logical conclusion that renewable energy can do more than coal to benefit the country’s recovery from Covid-19.”