An Eco-Challenge for President Duterte

May 16, 2016

By Kalikasan PNE

With over 16 million votes garnered in the 2016 elections, presumptive president-elect and outgoing Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte captured the pulse of protest of the Filipino people.

We in the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment welcome the Duterte administration’s call for change. We challenge the new President to break free from the anti-environment and anti-people policies of the past Arroyo and Aquino administrations that have resulted in the massive destruction of our ecosystem, rapid depletion of our natural resources, and heightened repression and impunity against the people.

In the recently concluded Green Vote electoral platform campaign, we identified positive track records of Mayor Duterte on environmental protection. I personally witnessed how Mayor Duterte engaged and supported environmental activists in their cause against large-scale mining, toxic aerial spraying, and various land grabs of the ancestral lands of Lumads.

But with the pros come the cons. We know Mayor Duterte was an unapologetic supporter of Aboitiz coal-fired power plant project in Davao City. He also welcomed the establishment of vast tracts of agri-industrial plantations. Mayor Duterte rationalizes that these would bring progress to Davao City and would outweigh the negative environmental impacts, a justification used time and again for various forms of ‘development aggression’.

This time of transition period is especially of concern, where the Duterte camp begins to flesh out the strategic direction of the new presidency. We did not see any substantial policy platform on the environment during Duterte’s campaign trail up to the present.

There is already much anxiety and doubt among environmentalists upon learning who are closest in Duterte’s circle of power. Among Duterte’s economic team are corporate loggers and miners Tom Alacanara, Paul Dominguez and Carlos Dominguez, who are part owners of Sagittarius Mining Inc. (SMI). SMI owns the controversial and much reviled $5 billion gold-copper mining project in Tampakan, South Cotabato.

Carlos Dominguez, likely a candidate to the cabinet, was the president of the Lafayette Mining Philippines that caused massive fish kills and a health crisis in the island of Rapu-Rapu, Albay. Paul Dominguez and Tomas Alcantara are owners of Alsons Consolidated Resources (ACR), which has major stakes in large-scale mining, logging and power mostly located in Mindanao.

Worse, when the economic team of Duterte laid out their eight-point agenda, it reiterates that it will continue to give more privileges to foreign corporations to entice them to invest in the country. Economic charter change was also an immediate deliverable they promised.

Duterte’s first hundred days, or less, in Malacanang will show his mettle if he will stand for the people and the environment. We environmentalists challenge Duterte to make 12 immediate actions for the environment:

1. Order the stoppage of large-scale mining in environmentally critical and agricultural areas;
2. Order the banning of chemical aerial spraying nationwide;
3. Return the Canadian toxic waste illegally dumped into the Philippines;
4. Impose a moratorium on the expansion of agro-industrial plantations;
5. Reconsider the new regulations on GMO crop usage and reinstate the ban on its use until a sufficiently robust regulation is put in place;
6. Impose a moratorium on the construction of new coal-fired power plants;
7. Junk the already once failed Laguna Lake Expressway Dike Project reclamation;
8. Deliver immediate recovery assistance to all recent typhoon and El Nino victims and lay down a disaster risk management plan on the incoming El Nina phase;
9. Rescind the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and suspend joint military operations especially in sensitive ecosystems declared as ‘agreed locations’ such as Palawan;
10. Investigate the unsuccessful PHP5.9 billion reforestation program of DENR and prosecute corrupt high government officials in DENR.
11. Jail and immediately prosecute suspects in killings of environmental activists, particularly the cases of the Dr. Gerry Ortega assassination, Kananga Three massacre, and the Liangga killings.
12. Resume peace talks with rebel groups and prioritize discussion on the joint management of our remaining natural resources;

These are doable and achievable, and the Duterte administration can at least make public pronouncement with regards to these issues. Tough-talking Digong Duterte can and should rise above traditional politics and walk his talk, especially on these urgent environment issues. It’s time to draw the line: is change really coming for the people and the environment?

Reference: Clemente Bautista, 0905.432.5211