PRESS RELEASE
08 August 2018

Only 1 of 9 pronouncements on environmental protection and sustainability made during President Rodrigo Duterte’s State of the Nation Address were found to be accurate during a forum discussing the State of the Philippine Environment held today at the Philippine Normal University.

“From the reversal of mining closure and suspension orders to the attempts to privatize and commercialize biodiversity-rich protected areas, a lot of concretely destructive programs and policies by Duterte belied his rosy SONA statements. Two years of Duterte’s shock and awe tactics with no effective abatement of business-as-usual natural resource plunder and environmental destruction to back it up is unacceptable and must be held accountable,” said Leon Dulce, national coordinator of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE), one of the speakers of the gathering.

In his most recent SONA, Duterte warned the mining industry to shape up and expect ‘radical reforms’ and exhorted agencies to ‘uphold inter-generational responsibility’ and biodiversity protection in the mining industry. The Center for Environmental Concerns – Philippines (CEC-Phils), the forum’s lead organizer, pointed out however that Duterte’s own Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) is set to allow the reopening of 24 of the 28 supposedly closed or suspended mines. Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu has also recently lifted the two year-old moratorium against mining exploration projects.

“Out of the 18 provinces that are known to be the Philippine eagle’s habitat, 16 provinces still have approved mining permits as of June 2018. This fact alone belies Duterte’s tough talk on mining. For example, the still approved Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) of TVI Resource Development Philippines, Inc. is within the Siocon Resource Reserve, which also hosts the Philippine Eagle and its prey,” said Owen Migraso, Executive Director of CEC-Phils.

Aside from mining, the forum speakers also noted how Duterte’s SONA pronouncements on various environmental issues differed with that of the actual trends and the policies that the administration is pursuing, such as Boracay, West Philippine Sea, and the National Land Use plan among others (see table below for more complete and detailed listing).

The only accurate claim, the groups said, was the statement on pursuing rehabilitation and enforcement of environmental laws in other tourism areas. But the groups issued a caveat.

“The inept and brutal handling of Boracay has thankfully not yet been implemented in other ecotourism areas investigated by government—for now. The Duterte administration must learn the lessons from its stunt in Boracay: it cannot do rehabilitation by brute force and by setting aside tourism workers’ concerns, while tacitly allowing new resorts and mega casinos which would worsen the decades-old problem of neglect and unchecked commercialization,” Dulce said.

Other resource persons were also invited to share their insights and experiences. Among them was Fr. Anacleto Ignacio of anti-reclamation alliance AKAP KA – Manila Bay; Shirley Bacon, a fisher from Taliptip, Bulacan who would be among those set to be affected by the proposed Aerotropolis reclamation project of San Miguel Corporation; biologist Chuckie Calzado of AGHAM, who joined the independent scientific investigation mission to Boracay last July that was blocked by the police; and Fernando Hicap of fishers’ group Pamalakaya which has protested Chinese incursions and harassment of Filipino fishermen at the West Philippine Sea.

“Many other issues remained unaddressed by Duterte such as reclamation, deforestation promoted by Integrated Forest Management Agreements (IFMA), and worsening pollution such as plastic wastes,” added Migraso.

The event ended with a pledge to the environment whereby the participants promised to help in the campaign for the protection of the Philippines’ seas and resources against plunder.

“We call on the public to strengthen the clamor for Duterte’s accountability over his undelivered promises and empty shock doctrine tactics,” Dulce concluded. #

Table 1. Comparison of Duterte’s environment-related pronouncements to actual programs

Issue

Duterte SONA statement

Actual situation

West PH Sea

“Our improved relationship with China, however, does not mean that we will waver in our commitment to defend our interests in the West Philippine Sea. This is why we engage China through bilateral and multilateral platforms such as the ASEAN-China and the PhilippinesChina Bilateral Consultation Mechanism.

Opening lines of communication and amicably managing differences have led to positive developments that include renewed access of Filipino fishermen in the areas in dispute in the Philippines — West Philippine Sea. Participation in the ASEAN-China dialogue has also resulted to the draft framework for the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea which intends to resolve disputes by peaceful means.”

Fisherfolk in West Philippine Sea are constantly subjected to harassment and extortion from Chinese coastguard and navy personnel.

Claims of 50-100 silent protests to China through supposedly discrete channels are not resulting in anything concrete in terms of de-escalating militarization and restoring destroyed coral reef ecosystems.

Mining

“My policy in the utilization of these resources is non-negotiable: the protection of the environment must be top priority and extracted resources must be used for the benefit of the Filipino people, not just a select few.”

“To the mining industry, I say this once again and maybe for the last time, do not destroy the environment or compromise our resources; repair what you have mismanaged. Try to change [your] management radically because this time you will have restrictive policies. The prohibition of open pit mining is one… Expect reforms, radical ones. I cannot intend to quarrel with anybody, with the moneyed, but for as long as I am here I said: you will just have to contend with me.”

The Mining Industry Coordinating Council is set to reverse the closure or suspension of 24 out of 28 erring large-scale mines. The DENR has also lifted its 2-year mining exploration ban. These policy regressions in the context of an unchanged national mining policy framework hinged on the Mining Act of 1995—which resulted in the violation of at least 68%  of all operating mines during the time of DENR’s audit—spells disaster for our people and environment.

Open pit mining prohibition does not cover existing open pit mining projects and can be reversed in the same way as the closure and suspension orders went. This is the case until there is no national policy that institutionalizes open pit mining prohibition.

The long-proposed comprehensive mining law, the People’s Mining Bill, is indefinitely put on hold in Congress at the moment. The only mining-related policies that are progressing are the Legislative Franchise for Mining bill and the TRAIN 2 provisions on mining taxation. These do not address the core problems of an import-dependent, export-oriented mining trade policy with lax regulations.

Boracay

“Boracay Island, widely regarded as one of our country’s treasures and admired worldwide for its natural beauty, has sadly become the representation of the government’s negligence, including mine.

I could not allow this decay to continue; decisive action has long been overdue. Recognizing that we are mere stewards of our natural resources, and I said enough is enough.

We intend to restore its environmental integrity, alongside measures to alleviate those whose livelihood were momentarily affected. Environmental protection and ensuring the health of our people cannot be overemphasized; thus, our actions in Boracay mark the beginning of a new national effort.”

Amid all the Congressional and Senate investigations, no concrete plan for rehabilitation has been presented. Independent scientific investigations and humanitarian missions have been prevented by the lockdown in Boracay.

Thus there is no way to verify if appropriate rehab measures are being undertaken, if the needed rehab measures actually require full closure of the island, and if pre-existing threats to the island’s carrying capacity such as suspectedly continuing tourism infrastructure construction and development for mega casinos have indeed been effectively stopped.

Thousands of workers and their families continue to suffer from the de facto Martial Law over Boracay and the lack of social protections to those who lost their jobs and livelihood.

Tourism

“This is just [the beginning]. For the other tourist destinations needing urgent rehabilitation and enforcement of environmental and other laws shall soon follow. I urge our local government units to proactively enforce our laws and not wait for us to swoop down on your areas just to do your duty and work. At some other time, I would have to discuss sa local government units.”

Government interventions in other ecotourism areas are indeed ongoing such as in Palawan, Bohol, Mindoro, etc., and none have fortunately resulted in the Boracay style of lockdown so far.

Charter Change

“I have no illusions of occupying this office one day longer than what the Constitution under which I was elected permits; or under whatever Constitution there might be.

Four administrations before me have tried to amend the Constitution to be able to introduce amendments and reservations to the charter — revisions rather to the charter. But none of them has successfully done for one reason or another.

I therefore consider it a distinct honor and privilege to have received earlier from the Consultative Committee that I created, the draft Federal Constitution that will truly embody the ideals and aspirations of all the Filipino people.

I thank all the members of the Committee, especially those who came out from their retirement, for their valuable services in crafting this draft Federal Constitution. I would like to extend my particular gratitude to Former Chief Justice Reynato Puno and Former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel, Jr.

I am confident that the Filipino people will stand behind us as we introduce this new fundamental law that will not only strengthen our democratic institutions, but will also create an environment where every Filipino—regardless of social status, religion, or ideology—will have an equal opportunity to grow and create a future that he or she can proudly bequeath to the succeeding generations.”

The insertion of the phrase ‘Congress may, by law, change the requirements for lease of alienable lands’ in Article XV Section 3 (d) allowed Duterte’s super majority to railroad policies that can relax the 60-percent requirement for Filipino ownership and the restriction of which public domain lands can be declared as alienable.

Reclaimed lands were added as a land classification that can be declared alienable, which effectively allows wetlands and coastal and foreshore areas to be owned by private interests.

Opening up forests, mineralized lands, reclaimable foreshore and wetland areas, and even national parks to private and foreign ownership will accelerate the depletion of our natural resources. Even protected areas will be fully opened to corporate control.

Cha-cha provisions that constitute a de facto dictatorship and a federal bureaucracy open to abuse by political dynasties had dire consequences for the country’s ecosystems and natural resources.

Political dynasties in Northern Luzon, Southern Tagalog, Eastern Visayas, and Mindanao are the main political conduits of extractive and destructive industries. Imagine if these powerful clans are given rein over local legislation and even in entering into contracts and agreements with big mines, plantations, and power projects, for instance.

National Land Use Plan

“What has happened to Boracay is just an indication of the long-overdue need to rationalize, in a holistic and sustainable manner, the utilization, management, and development of our lands. I therefore urge the Senate to urgently pass the National Land Use Act [applause] to put in place a national land use policy that will address our competing land requirements for food, housing, businesses, and environmental conservation.”

A national land use policy would be a welcome policy development to ensure the delineation of protected areas, agricultural areas, and other competing land classifications. The economic provisions in the proposed federal charter change, however, runs counter to the objectives of strengthening the protection of certain land types as it would allow Congress to reclassify previously inalienable and Filipino-exclusive lands into alienable and 100% foreign-owned lands.

Biodiversity protection

“I exhort all concerned agencies and local government units to uphold the concept of inter-generational responsibility in [the exploration] and utilization of our mineral wealth, the protection and preservation of our biodiversity, anchored on the right to a balanced and healthy ecology.”

Various attempts to open up biodiversity-rich protected areas to privatization and commercialization have been pursued by the Duterte government, such as the Special-use Agreements in Protected Areas (SAPAs) and tourism economic or enterprise zones, and more. Again, the economic provisions of the federal charter change proposal allows the entry of private and 100% foreign interests into biodiversity corridors.

DRRM and Climate Change

“To help safeguard the present and the future generations, we have to earnestly undertake initiatives to reduce our vulnerabilities to natural hazards, and bolster our resilience to the impact of natural disasters and climate change.

As I had stated last year, we must learn from the experiences from the Super-typhoon Yolanda, and other mega disasters, and from global best practices. We need a truly empowered department characterized by a unity of command, science-based approach and full-time focus on natural hazards and disasters, and the wherewithal to take charge of the disaster risk reduction; preparedness and response; with better recovery and faster rehabilitation.

Hence, we, in the Cabinet, have approved for immediate endorsement to Congress the passage of a law creating the “Department of Disaster Management,” an inter-agency — just like FEMA. Well, I don’t know if it’s — it’s an effective agency in the United’s government.

An inter-agency crafted and a high-priority measure aimed at genuinely strengthening our country’s capacity for [resilience] to natural disasters. I fervently appeal to Congress to pass this bill with utmost urgency. Our people’s safety requirements cannot wait. Ours is a rich and beautiful country, indeed. Add to that a great number of people equipped with technical expertise and professionalism, and you have a country poised to soar and take its place among the world’s economic and financial eagles.

On paper, anticipatory aspects of disaster risk management such as disaster risk reduction and preparedness are significantly reflected.

However, the reference to the FEMA model is actually a backward, reactive bureaucracy that focuses on disaster response. Worse, social and economic programs for key sections of society such as farmers, workers, and other vulnerable sectors is actually worsening chronic poverty and thus their vulnerability to disasters. Self-rated poverty increased from 29 to 34% from March to June 2018. Inflation rates continue to worsen, further increasing from a five year-high 5.2% to 5.7%.

The continuing degradation of ecosystems from ridge to reef also further exacerbates the vulnerability of communities and runs counter to the objectives of the formation of the Dept of Disaster Management.

Human rights

“Your concern is human rights, mine is human lives.”

The human lives of environmental defenders have not been respected, with 2017 being the bloodiest year in the past 17 years in terms of environment-related killings with at least 48 cases.