Philippine environmental defenders converged in 2019 Green SONA
Green Convergence together with the Energy Development Corporation (EDC) and the Forest Foundation Philippines, and with the support of Partnership for Clean Air, Palawan State University, Palawan NGO Network, Inc. (PNNI), and the Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC) held the 2019 State of Nature Assessment (#GreenSONA): Pilipinas, #ParaisongNanganganib at the Hue Hotel, Puerto Princesa City on August 27, 2019. An environmental tour in three learning sites in Puerto Princesa City, namely, Bacungan Mangrove River, Puerto Princesa City Landfill, and PNNI Office was conducted after the event on August 28, 2019.
The Green SONA commenced with the National Anthem and Invocation led by singers from the Palawan State University. An opening number featuring songs in Cuyonon and Filipino languages were also performed by the group. Their performances were shortly followed by an orientation to the Green SONA by Green Convergence President Angelina P. Galang, Ph.D. In her message, she emphasized that “We are literally paraiso. And therefore we should protect the integrity of this ecology for the sustenance of our life, livelihood and development. Unfortunately, through the years, in the name of modernization, we have assaulted precisely these characteristics.”
The first part of the annual assessment of the national environment dealt with its threats. Kimberly Alvarez, Policy Advocacy Officer of Kaisahan tungo sa Kaunlaran ng Kanayunan at Repormang Pansakahan or Solidarity Towards Countryside Development and Agrarian Reform (also known as Kaisahan) discussed the negative implications brought about by the lack of land use policy in the country. She mentioned, “Existing land use policies are sectoral and overlapping, leading to inefficient use and management. Sobrang luma na ng [land] laws natin. Kailangang iupdate [sila] na suitable sa context natin.”
Alavarez’ report was followed by Atty. Jennifer Lao Ramos’ presentation on the impacts of reclamation activities to marine biodiversity. She stressed that reclamation should not be the operative word used for the activity, and it must be “dump and fill.” She cited the planned aerotropolis in Bulacan as an example, “205 million cubic meters of filling materials will be used to make the aerotropolis in Bulacan. 20 million dump trucks ‘yan. Ito rin ay [equivalent sa] 1900 Chocolate Hills, at 1500 lang ang Chocolate Hills sa Bohol.”
Father Pete Montallana, Executive Director of Save Sierra Madre Network, on the other hand, was the one to talk about the dangers with large dams, with focus on the controversial Kaliwa Dam to be built in the Sierra Madre Mountain Range region. He reminded the audience that, “Mahalagang makita po natin na hindi ang dams ang nagkicreate ng tubig. Ang forests ang nagkicreate ng tubig. Ang Kaliwa Dam ay magpapalubog ng 300 hectares of forests. We need na ang carbon emission ay mahigop ng forests.”
The session then moved to talk about an important local issue in Palawan that can affect the environment in a national scale. Atty. Gerthie Mayo-Anda, Executive Director of the Environmental Legal Assistance Center on the division of Palawan into three separate provinces emphasized, “Sabi ng SEP Law [Strategic Environment Plan for Palawan o RA 7611], kailangang may environmental research. ‘Yong paghahati ba ng Palawan na isang patakaran, pinag-aralan ba ng PCSD [o Palawan Council for Sustainable Development]? Hindi. Wala silang pinag-aralan…The fact that no cost-benefit analysis, no surveys, no studies, mapanganib ‘yon.” She further exclaimed that the division will turn Palawan into a lost ecological frontier.
An open forum was held after the first four speakers delivered their talks.
For the second part of the assessment, the environmentalists then evaluated the status of government programs related to the environment. Prominent Executive Director of PNNI, Atty. Bobby Chan was tasked to talk on the status of the enforcement of the Expanded National Green Program and Forest Laws in the Philippines. He reminded the participants that any policy will not be successful if the personal interests of a few overwhelm the interests of the public. He connected his presentation with the division of Palawan and said, “This division is not about economic shares or better governance. It’s about promoting one person’s political dynasty! On this, all arguments for it must fail. To stop this dastardly design, we have to vote no on May 2020! Because no division means no dynasty.”
Energy Development Corporation’s Assistant Vice President Miko de Vera shared the advocacy of his company to promote renewable sources for the country’s energy needs. Unfortunately, many barriers have to be overcome. He pointed out that, “The good news is, in many parts of the world, coal plants are being shut down. The bad news is, in the Philippines, we’re going for the opposite direction.”
Finally, for the last report on the state of the Philippine environment, Living Laudato Si Executive Director Rodne Galicha encouraged the audience that should divest from companies and institutions that contribute to the further destruction of the environment. He noted that, “Ecological protection is a moral responsibility…May karapatan ang kalikasan dahil ito ay karugtong ng mga karapatan ng mga tao…Industrialization is obselete. Sustainability, the revolution is the new trend.”
Similar to the first part of the assessment, an open forum followed the speeches of the speakers. After this, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) MIMAROPA Regional Executive Director Henry Adornado, Ph.D. was asked to react to the reports and assessments delivered by the speakers, as well as the questions raised by the members of the audience. He assured everyone that, “In every management plan that we do, we [will] ensure that NGOs are invited.”
Upon the presentation of Imelda Sarmiento, Green Convergence Philippine Native Trees Program Head, of the Children’s Book Project featuring the Philippine native trees, Green Convergence Vice President delivered the resolutions of the annual Green SONA. It was immediately followed by a closing message by Atty. Louie Cascara, Legal Counsel of Palawan State University who spoke in behalf of the University President Ramon Docto, Ph.D
Green SONA 2019 was hosted by Victoria Segovia, a member of the Board of Trustees of Green Convergence, and Cris Ecaldre, a Faculty member at the Palawan State University. Green SONA is an annual gathering of the members of civil society organizations, the academe, the Church, the media, the indigenous communities, and other sectors to assess the state of the Philippine environment.
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