MANILA — Green advocates on Friday gave President Rodrigo Duterte a failing grade for his environmental policies, accusing of him not fulfilling campaign promises and betraying the legacy left behind by the late environment secretary Gina Lopez.
“Claiming to be a green President during the campaign in 2016, his promises on regulating mining, land use and protecting the rivers and forests have not been achieved — promises that would have lessened the impacts of COVID-19 to the rural poor and indigenous peoples, if they were delivered,” the group Green Thumb Coalition (GTC) said in a statement read during an online press conference organized by the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ) ahead of the President’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday.
Jaybee Garganera of the GTC and Alyansa Tigil Mina faulted the Duterte administration for its failure to implement environmental laws, regulate the industry to reduce environmental impact, pass green laws, and prepare the Philippines to face the effect of climate change and disasters.
In his first SONA in July 2016, Duterte ordered the DENR to review all permits granted to mining, logging and other environmentally-sensitive activities and even directed the military to support the fight against illegal logging and illegal mining.
He particularly mentioned known environmental advocate Gina Lopez whom he asked to be his DENR secretary on her visit to Davao City shortly after his election into office.
Lopez would go on to close and suspend 28 mines as part of her audit for 41 large-scale mines in the country until the Commission on Appointments rejected her appointment less than a year later.
Five years after taking office, the group noted that Duterte has walked back on all that he stood for with respect to mining.
“Duterte has totally reversed the gains and victories against irresponsible and destructive mining, with the issuance of EO 130, or the responsible mining policy of this administration. This after he reversed the mining suspension and closure orders by former DENR Sec. Gina Lopez,” GTC said.
Executive Order 130, signed by Duterte in April this year, lifted the moratorium on mineral agreements under Executive Order 79 signed by former President Benigno Aquino III in 2012 which requires that there first be a new law rationalizing existing revenue sharing schemes and mechanisms from mining operations.
EO 130 said the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Act (RA 10963) already doubled the excise tax on minerals, mineral products and quarry resources to justify the lifting of the moratorium.
It argued it hopes to reap significant economic benefits and the mining industry can support government projects such as the much-touted Build, Build, Build program and the Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa Program.
But for green advocates, Duterte betrayed Lopez’s legacy.
“Si Gina Lopez pinakita na sa atin na ang ating kalikasan na bulnerable na nang husto. Anong ginawa ng Duterte administration? Tinanggal si Gina Lopez upang ang mga mayayaman sa Pilipinas ay magtamasa ng sobra-sobrang yaman sa pagkalkal ng mga bundok ng ating bansa,” Fr. Pete Montellano of the Save Sierra Madre Network and Stop Kaliwa Dam network said.
“Yan po ang napakasamang ginawa ng Duterte administration kaya mahalaga pong singilin natin ang kanyang mga ginawa kasi ang kinabukasan ng ating bansa ay nakasalalay dito sa hindi pagpansin niya sa dapat pinaglilingkuran niya — ang sambayanang Pilipino. Hindi ang sambayanang iilang mayayaman at ang sambayanang Tsina, ang CCP (Central Communist Party) sa Tsina ang kanyang pinaglilingkuran,” he added.
Montellano warned against the lack of studies behind the Kaliwa Dam project and called for stricter scrutiny of the Build, Build, Build projects which, he said, lacked transparency but all of us will have to pay for.
The Kaliwa Dam is a 60-meter high dam in Infanta, Quezon expected to augment water supply in Metro Manila but which critics claim will displace hundreds of indigenous peoples in Rizal and Quezon, and endanger plants species and hundreds of hectares of watershed.
Recently, a lawmaker claimed it will cause potential flooding in Metro Manila should the dam collapse, citing recent incidents in China.
The project is expected to be completed in 2025.
Environmental advocates also slammed Duterte over his failure to comply with commitments with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
The group said that instead of cancelling all coal and fossil fuels from the country’s energy pipelines and shifting to renewable energy, the country continues to rely on coal, with Quezon becoming the coal energy capital of the Philippines, according to Fr. Warren Puno of the Ministry of Ecology of the Diocese of Lucena and convenor of the Quezon for Environment group.
The group noted Duterte initially ordered the Department of Energy to expedite the shift to renewable energy but he eventually signed an executive order creating an Energy Investment Coordinating Council that would expedite the construction of coal-fired power plants in the country.
Executive Order 30, signed by Duterte in June 2017, cited the “urgent need to construct additional power plants to provide sufficient available electricity capacity” to promote rapid economic growth in an “open and competitive power market environment.”
Puno said members of the religious like him feel the need to intervene and advocate against coal-fired power plants because it is the poor who will bear the brunt of the effects of climate change.
“Kaya ang Simbahan ay malaki ang malasakit at lumalaban dito sa injustices sa climate change na ito dahil sa bandang huli, ang mga mahihirap na yaman ng Simbahan ang tunay na naaapektuhan ng extreme weather conditions,” he said.
For its part, the Nuclear and Coal-Free Bataan Movement (NCFBM), which also advocates for a shift to renewable energy, lamented the killing of one of its own members on the first day of the Duterte presidency in July 2016.
Community leader and anti-coal activist Gloria Capitan had led the campaign against coal stockpile and coal plants operating in Mariveles, Bataan.
“Green groups are also sickened by the continuing harassment and killings of environmental defenders, particularly women and indigenous peoples. In 2020, the Philippines remain to be one of the most dangerous countries for environmental activists who face harassments, threats, and even murder for standing up for their rights to land, livelihoods and their culture,” GTC noted in its statement.
NCFBM's Derek Cabe said supposed development projects have not benefited their communities. She asked: “Para kanino at sino ang higit na nakikinabang?”
To his credit, Duterte oversaw the closure and rehabilitation of Boracay Island and led efforts to clean Manila Bay and Laguna de Bay.
Still, dissatisfied environmental advocates on Friday presented a man with Duterte’s face as mask in “handcuffs” as they called for accountability over his supposed inaction on the climate crisis.
“To the dismal failure of the Duterte regime in protecting and promoting environmental protection, green groups say goodbye and good riddance to the Duterte regime,” GTC said.
“We have learned the bitter lessons from the pandemic and the wrong choices we made in selecting incompetent and corrupt leaders. We will make sure that we won’t make the same mistakes. We will inform and mobilize our communities and reach out to the general public especially the youth, to use their votes wisely in the 2022 elections,” it added.
“We will work to prevent the continuation of a disastrous regime to lead the country.”