The Ecological Challenge for Change Coalition (Eco-Challenge) released to the public a matrix on the environmental track records of frontrunner senatorial aspirants, revealing that Makabayan senatorial bet Neri Colmenares had the best track record of all candidates, getting green marks across all seven identified issues of concern—big mining, reclamation, dams, plantations, dirty energy and climate, environmental defenders rights, and charter change.

The worst track record belonged to Hugpong candidate and former Special Assistant to the President Bong Go, whose supervision of Malacanang’s operations as President Rodrigo Duterte’s closest aide have led to many problematic actions across all seven concerns.

Candidates were assessed based on their track records in policymaking or enforcement, policy pronouncements, direct or family interests in environmentally critical projects or programs, and campaign money trails.

Colmenares made significant policy advocacies such as the People’s Mining Bill and the Coal Power Plant Moratorium Resolution, and has led investigations and legal actions on reclamation projects, dam and water projects. The human rights lawyer also served as legal counsel to various environmental defenders such as indigenous Lumad activists from Mindanao.

Bong Go’s track record include the staying of closure and suspension order against large-scale mines, the centralization of reclamation approval powers to their office, and promoting the onerous dam deals with China, among others.

Reclamation interests rule the day
The matrix also showed that the biggest concentration of candidates affiliated with destructive business interests were in the Hugpong ng Pagbabago Slate, with 6 of 13 or 46% of senatoriables under the ruling administration coalition having personal or family stakes in reclamation, plantation, and mining interests, among others.

Land reclamation was the biggest business interest among the Hugpong candidates. The political clans of current and former senators Jinggoy Estrada, JV Ejercito, and Bong Revilla shared between them 2,344 hectares of reclamation projects in Manila Bay. Meanwhile, the 12,923-hectare Aurora Pacific Economic Zone (APECO) brokered by the clan of Senator Sonny Angara posed risks of land conversion including reclamation in its coastal areas.

Senator Cynthia Villar’s family is affiliated with mining companies TVI Resources and Development Philippines Inc. and St. Augustine Gold and Copper Limited, which has five large-scale mining exploration, development, and extraction operations covering 47,138 hectares in various locations in Mindanao.

Maguindanao Representative Zajid Mangudadatu’s clan, meanwhile, is known to own hundreds if not thousands of hectares of palm oil plantations in their province. All Hugpong candidates also benefit from campaign contributions of the Floreindo clan, which have big plantation interests such as the Lapanday plantations.

The opposition coalition Otso Diretso, meanwhile, had two out of eight or 25% of their candidates whose family has big plantation interests, namely Hacienda Luisita and Araneta for Senator Bam Aquino and former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, respectively. Both Aquino and Roxas also benefitted from campaign contributions of big mining magnates of San Roque Metals Inc to the Liberal Party during the 2016 elections.

Roxas himself declared in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth $120 million worth of shares in seven big mines during his run for the presidency then.

Voters have faced these issues of displacement, loss of livelihood and basic needs, and chronic poverty stemming from the worsening degradation of our environment and natural resources. They are highly motivated to deliver a ‘green vote.’ The coalition thus hopes the matrix would help the voting public in making a more informed decision in selecting the next cycle of public servants in the Senate.#