by Joseph Purugganan
In scorching 36.8 degree weather, the hottest day of the year so far in the city, sectors and communities most vulnerable to the effects of climate change gathered along the banks of the Marikina River on the eve of Earth Day to share personal stories of survival and coping with disasters; and to discuss and put forward proposals on how to address the worsening climate crisis.
Close to 500 women and men representing farmers, fishers, women, indigenous peoples, workers, urban poor and youth gathered in Marikina City last April 21, 2010 in a conference dubbed “Make-Shift for Climate Justice:“Pagbabago para sa Katarungan sa Klima”.
Organized by the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ) the conference was an expression of solidarity from social movements in the Philippines with the World’s Peoples Conference on Climate Change and Mother Earth’s Rights held in the historic city of Cochabamba in Bolivia. The global conference, which was participated in by close to 35,000 people from 135 countries was organized by Bolivian President Evo Morales in response to the failure of the global climate talks to “defend the rights of Mother Earth”.
Drawing inspiration from the Bolivian initiative, the parallel conference in Manila aimed to draw up a list of proposals or urgent people’s demands addressed to the Philippine government on what issues should be prioritized in the national climate policy.
Struggle for Justice
The conference kicked off with a protest action led by indigenous peoples from Nueva Vizcaya in Northern Luzon, together with water advocates and NGO representatives in front of the National Water Regulatory Board (NWRB) in Quezon City. Calling on the government to uphold the people’s basic right to water, the IP leaders urged the regulatory board to withhold the issuance of water permits for mining projects that exacerbate the water crisis and climate change. Instead they demanded that the government address the proper management and conservation of our fresh water resources, primarily for community and agricultural use.
The struggle of indigenous communities over mining and access to water is just one of many local struggles that punctuate the debate on climate change in the Philippines. At the conference we heard the struggle of urban poor communities displaced by floods; of fisherfolks campaigning against a project supported by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) that could undermine the livelihood of coastal communities; we also heard of workers losing jobs because of the disasters; and farmers battling conversion of agricultural lands to biofuel production.
Addressing the question of climate justice, sectoral leaders came onstage to share their own perspectives and definitions. Allan Alam, an indigenous movement leader from Lake Sebu in Mindanao spoke about his community’s struggle against coal mining. Ruperto Aleroza of Kilusang Mangingisda (Fisherfolk Movement) asserted that the struggle for the rights of fisherfolk over the management and control of resources is a fight for climate justice. He added that there can be no justice if there is no recognition of the rights of the basic sectors. Lourdes Labadan spoke about the injustice of urban dwellers over substandard housing. For Teody Navea representing the labour sector, climate justice is about changing the system and defining a more sustainable development path.
Their message is clear – communities most affected by climate change are at the forefront of the struggle for climate justice in the Philippines.
Shifting the Balance of Power
The demands of the basic sectors for justice-economic, social and climate justice-however are glaringly absent in the global climate negotiations. Instead the negotiations have become more about protecting the interest of rich, industrialized nations and their corporate backers.
What happened in the 15th Conference of Parties (COP 15) in Copenhagen is a clear testament to this imbalance. The forging of the Copenhagen Accord, a political agreement brokered by the United States through an undemocratic and non-transparent process now threatens to become the basis of the continuing negotiations. The Accord has been criticized not just on the ground of process, but for allowing rich countries to side-step their commitments in the negotiations and falling short of what is urgently needed in order to avert the worsening climate crisis.
Shifting the balance of power in the climate negotiations towards the interest of the most affected sectors is thus a top political agenda underpinning both the people’s conference in Cochabamba and the parallel event in the Philippines.
At the national level, the Accord has also triggered debates within government and civil society on the direction of the global climate talks. A month after the Copenhagen summit, Secretary Heherson Alvarez, the Presidential Adviser on Climate Change, wrote a letter to the UNFCCC Secretariat expressing Philippine support to the Copenhagen Accord. After drawing criticisms from other government agencies involved in the climate change issue as well as from civil society organizations Secretary Alvarez back-tracked from associating the Philippines to the Accord and called instead for more consultations on the matter before arriving at a national position on whether or not to associate with the Accord.
The divergent views on the Accord have exposed divisions within government on the direction of the climate negotiations and the country’s climate policy framework.
In late October 2009, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed into law the Philippine Climate Change Act of 2009 that would enable the country to better respond to disasters spawned by climate change. Republic Act 9729 seeks to mainstream climate change into the formulation of government policy by setting up a National Framework Strategy and Program on Climate Change. It also created the Climate Change Commission that will coordinate, monitor and evaluate the government’s programs and actions to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.
The newly constituted Climate Change Commission is headed by the President with former Presidential Adviser on Climate Change Heherson Alvarez, former Undersecretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Lucille Sering and Naderev Saño from civil society (World Wide Fund for Nature or WWF) as commissioners.
Speaking at the people’s conference in Manila, Commissioner Saño discussed the initiatives of the commission in developing the National Framework Strategy on Climate Change which would serve as a guide to government in addressing the issue of climate change. According to Commissioner Saño “the framework strategy outlines the priorities in responding to the challenges of climate change like drought and storms. It should define our needs on disaster preparedness as well as the (steps that should be taken in order to) move (the country) to sustainable development”.
The Commission however has faced criticisms on the process of formulating the national framework. Some sectors including PMCJ have raised concerns over the lack of broad participation from various sectors in these consultations and the disparate and incoherent approach in formulating the document. Perhaps to address those criticisms, Commissioner Saño emphasized that “the framework should be formed based on a multi-sectoral, consultative and participatory process”. He asserted, “this is a national undertaking that should recognize the need for genuine participation”.
Amplifying Grassroots Voices
The Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (formerly known as Climex) was formed in June 2009 as a platform for social movements engagement in the climate change issue. In the context of the Philippines where a number of civil society-led networks and groups are already engaged on the issue of climate change, PMCJ defines its specific role as a movement to amplify grassroots voices in the climate discourse. This entails creating spaces for sharing and discussion among sectoral groups and communities on climate change, and facilitating coordinated actions in support of existing struggles on the ground. This also means building capacities to engage the government at both local and national levels on climate policy.
Among the arenas and processes identified by PMCJ for engagement with government are the so called “climate proofing” of the Medium Term Philippine Development Plan (2011-2016), the drafting of the implementing rules and regulations of the newly enacted Disaster Risk Reduction Law, and the processes and policies of the new Climate Change Commission.
PMCJ also aims to support and build the people’s resistance against critical projects on coal, water (including specific projects on large dams), mining, and energy projects as well as projects and policies pushing for conversion of agricultural lands for biofuel production.