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green–minded politico
by Rimaliza Opiña

The Philippines’ experiences in dealing and coping with manmade and natural disasters have figured prominently in the news.

Other than the Filipinos’ penchance to smile even in the face of disaster, the country’s lack of preparation in coping with disasters brought about by extreme changes in weather often becomes the highlight of the news.

The series of disasters affecting even the richest nations on Earth brought to fore what awaits mankind at the turn of the millennium.

Since former US vice president Al Gore gained prominence for his advocacy about how the world would suffer from the effects of radical changes brought about by the effects of global warming, “Climate Change” became a byword in almost every household.

But a 2010 Pulse Asia survey showed there is more to global warming than the climate’s mood swings.

The survey showed only 52 percent of Filipinos know what the term “Climate Change” actually means, while 48 percent has little or almost no knowledge at all about the issue.

This little knowledge became a springboard for some politicians. Some used it to craft laws that helped address environmental degradation, while others simply used it to propel their campaign.

Among the newest laws that dwell on preserving the environment and dealt on adapting to climatic changes are the Organic Agriculture Act and the law that created a disaster reduction and risk management council from the national government down to the barangay level. The Supreme Court promulgated a remedy that any individual or group could avail of in the bid of protecting destructions done on the environment.

The Writ of Kalikasan has become a welcome reprieve for those seeking reforms and doable actions to a public saddled with doubt with how supposed guardians of the environment have allegedly failed to protect our natural resources.

Locally, several local governments have passed ordinances banning or regulating the use of plastics; and in some municipalities couples who wish to wed are made to plant a tree first before they are issued a marriage certificate.

But according to environmental groups that have been monitoring and analyzing the “green agenda” of the men and women running for public office, only a few of the candidates are knowledgeable of matters that involve the environment.

Environmental concerns in CAR

“They suddenly became environmentalists,” said Maribelle Bisnar, president of the newly created Pine Cone Movement, Inc.

Judging from the platforms of local and national candidates, Bisnar said so far, she has not seen a candidate who showed genuine concern for the environment.

A candidates’ forum recently organized by the Philippine Information Agency and its partners from the private sector showed there were many who not only lacked knowledge but were totally unaware of environmental issues in the region, as well as the rapidly urbanizing city of Baguio.

Santos Mero, deputy secretary general of the militant Cordillera Peoples Alliance, a group known for its anti-large-scale mining advocacy, summed up the top three environmental concerns in the Cordillera: imbalance in biodiversity due to encroachment of forests, illegal logging, and depletion of vital water resources due to renewed interest in building dams and development of mini hydroelectric power plants.

For Clarence Baguilat, regional executive director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, proper solid waste disposal system, protection of watersheds from encroachment, and conservation of remaining forests are among the major ecological issues confronting the Cordillera.

In a forum at the University of the Philippines Baguio, he said a holistic solution to these problems should not be passed on elected leaders and government agencies alone. But he admits they play a big and crucial role in implementing policies of other government agencies.

In Baguio City for instance, Baguilat said the dwellings of settlers in forest and watersheds should have been demolished so that mushrooming of structures would have been prevented. He admitted differences in policies and interpretation of some laws prevented how government agencies implement their mandate.

Analysts say the public has yet to see and hear a candidate’s platform about how the government should cope with issues that specifically mentioned that several areas in the Cordillera are vulnerable to the effects of Climate Change.

A 2009 survey by the Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia (EEPSEA) showed Benguet is second among 74 provinces vulnerable to climate hazards like tropical cyclones, floods, and landslides.

The EEPSEA research also showed that even Abra (ninth), Mountain Province (15th), Kalinga and Apayao (25th), and Ifugao (38th) will be experiencing frequent typhoons, droughts, and landslides.

For environmental experts, these vulnerabilities entail costs.

In the Cordillera as well as in other areas with farming as a major source of livelihood, these vulnerabilities threaten food security according to a 2009 study of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) on the impact of Climate Change on agriculture and the costs of adaptation.

Examining the candidates’ green agenda

Albeit some candidates have proposed for a moratorium in construction especially in Baguio where urbanization remains uncontrolled, Mero said the current candidate’s knowledge of environmental concerns are superficial.

“Based on their platforms, only a few focused on the environment,” Mero said, pointing out that environmental conservation, especially among local leaders, is limited to tree planting.

Agriculture is extremely vulnerable to Climate Change. According to the IFPRI, higher temperatures eventually reduce yields of desirable crops while encouraging weed and pest proliferation. It said while there may be gains in some crops in some regions of the world, “the overall impacts of Climate Change on agriculture are expected to be negative, threatening global food security.”

Mero said no candidate has shown a long-term plan in addressing environmental concerns. Government’s agenda of allowing exploration of natural resources such as mining, geothermal energy, and natural gas extraction may have beneficial effects in the short term but in the future, the negative impact would have taken its toll on the environment, and the results are irreversible.

Separately, Baguilat said government’s National Greening Program could hardly be applied in Baguio. Lack of space and overcrowding of trees where tree planting are usually done deter its implementation, he said. In other areas in the region, planting in ancestral domains are viewed as a form of encroachment.

Baguilat said the government has lesser control in areas regarded as private properties, hence many mountains have been cleared and converted into vegetable farms.

Maribelle Ongpin, also of the Pine Cone Movement Inc., said none of the candidates in CAR extensively discussed about a comprehensive land use plan.

She said this is one reason why an imbalance in areas where development may be done went unregulated. Ongpin said a land use plan would have defined a blueprint for development, which will be implemented for the long term regardless of who sits as elected official.

For urban planner Sheree Nolasco, candidate’s green agenda is wanting in specifics.

She said the candidates failed to detail how they intend to implement their projects that they claim would lead to conservation and protection.

“They say we should plant trees, where? We should save the forests, how?” Nolasco said so far, candidates only echo what their fellow candidates say. “It is not just about green concepts, there should be suggestions on how to make them happen.”

How the candidates can help

The Commission on Elections has enjoined candidates to help the environment. It passed a resolution encouraging candidates to use election paraphernalia that are friendly to the environment.

But Regional Director Jose Nick Mendros, in a forum called recently by the Baguio Heritage Society, said candidates are not under obligation of following this resolution, but said it would greatly help in reducing the amount of waste produced during the election.

The lack of vision and knowledge by the candidates has turned some members of civil society skeptical.

Bisnar even thinks the candidates are knowledgeable enough, but she fears they might turn a blind eye to excesses done on the environment, when elected.

She has not lost hope however, but said the community should be treated as a partner of the government. Instead of treating them merely as passive recipients, people should be involved and consulted.

Bisnar said the public should also be taught about their duties as citizens so they learn to value the responsibility entrusted to them.
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King’s College of the Philippines
Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company
MMS Development Training Center Corporation
Texas Instruments
University of Baguio
University of the Cordilleras
University of the Cordilleras

Abanao Square
Baguio Central University
Baguio Multicultural Institute
Brent School International
Congressman Ronald M. Cosalan
Mayor Mauricio G. Domogan
Pines City Colleges
Pines City Colleges
Regional Development Council – CAR
University of the Philippines Baguio

Assumption Medical Diagnostic Center, Inc.
Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center
Benguet State University
Berkeley School
BSBT College, Inc.
Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources – CAR
Commission on Higher Education – CAR
Congressman Maximo B. Dalog
Congressman Ronald M. Cosalan
Councilor Philian Louise Weygan–Allan
Curamed Pharmacy
Department of Environment and Natural Resources – CAR
Department of Trade and Industry – CAR
Easter College
Fabulo Beauty and Image Salon
Far East Pacific Commercial
Filipino–Japanese Foundation of Northern Luzon, Inc.
GMS Technology
HealthForce 1 Nursing Review Center
John Hay Management Corporation
Kalapaw Restaurant
La Funeraria Paz, Inc.
Mother Earth Deli Basket
Overseas Workers Welfare Administration – CAR
Police Regional Office–Cor
Sangguniang Panlalawigan Office
STI Baguio


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