SONA 2016: Mixed reactions to Duterte’s environmental plans

Jee Y. Geronimo

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SONA 2016: Mixed reactions to Duterte’s environmental plans
What do advocates have to say about President Rodrigo Duterte's statements on different environmental issues during his first State of the Nation Address?


MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte’s first State of the Nation Address (SONA) drew mixed reactions from green groups who have been waiting for more concrete environmental plans from the President since he assumed office.

Aside from his special mention of Environment Secretary Gina Lopez, Duterte also highlighted in his SONA on Monday, July 25, plans on climate change, disaster response, waste disposal, and mining and other environmental-sensitive activities.

What do advocates have to say about Duterte’s statements?

Climate change

The Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (iCSC) on Monday hailed Duterte’s take on global warming as “by far the most progressive pronouncement by a Philippine president regarding climate change at the State of the Nation Address.”

“President Duterte’s prioritization of climate change strengthens our standing in the international community. We are hopeful President Duterte will become a voice of leadership demanding greater, faster and more concerted global action to protect the vulnerable in the Philippines and other parts of the world,” iCSC executive director Red Constantino said in a statement.

He urged the President to adopt and “unleash” the power of decentralized renewable energy, instead of sticking to “centralized, wasteful, polluting coal power controlled by a few companies.”

“Clean energy is now far cheaper and is the unequivocal reliable choice of the future,” he said.

Constantino also lauded the “economic rewards” of renewable energy: billions of pesos in investments, and creation of more jobs.

But the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ) is worried about Duterte’s 
“qualifier” when he talked about addressing global warming: “It must not stymie our industrialization.”

“Is President Duterte advocating unhampered industrialization? We hope not. Industrialization must be pursued within the bounds of sustainable, rights-based and climate-friendly development pathways, and not the other way around. We believe there are ways to achieve development that is equitable and is in harmony with the welfare of the planet – that is the only kind of development that is in the interest of our people,” the PMCJ said in a statement Tuesday, July 26.

The group also expressed its dismay over Duterte “falling for this dirty lie, this outdated and false information that coal is cheap,” when renewable energy is “not only clean and healthy” but has a financial cost that “already achieved parity with coal.”

“The cost of coal is more than the financial cost of mining coal and building and running coal plants. Even the most state-of-art in coal energy technology has huge harmful consequences to people’s health and environment that cannot be fully compensated for financially,” the group warned.


Duterte on Monday revealed he has already instructed the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to review all permits granted to mining, logging, and other environmental-sensitive activities, and to “amend, suspend, or revoke permits” if warranted.

Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) on Tuesday said it would contribute to the ongoing mining audit by submitting evidence that will show the violations of mining companies and their human rights abuses in mining communities.

The group also recommended that both Duterte and Lopez take the following concrete actions to “fast-track the implementation of changes at the DENR”:

  • Establish a technical working group to study the policy issues and legislative measures that will operationalize the passage of a new mining law, including the requirement of a legislative franchise for mining operations.
  • Issue a DENR administrative order clarifying the timeline, parameters, and decision-making process of the ongoing mining audit. 
  • Review all pending cases, complaints and petitions at the regional and national Mine Adjudication Boards to make sure suspension orders or cancellations of mining permits and contracts stand on strong legal basis.

Waste disposal

Meanwhile, the EcoWaste Coalition urged Duterte to “seriously reconsider” his plan to explore the adoption of appropriate waste-to-energy facilities.

The group warned that incinerating waste will have many negative environmental, health, and social consequences.

“A shift to thermal [waste-to-energy], a quick-fix ‘solution’, will undermine the nation’s efforts to sustainably deal with its garbage through recycling, composting and other Zero Waste strategies that are embodied in RA 9003,” EcoWaste Coalition national coordinator Aileen Lucero said in a joint statement with other groups on Tuesday.

Environmental activist Von Hernandez of Greenpeace agreed: “Incinerators masquerading as [waste-to-energy] are false and expensive solutions to the garbage problem. The government has to be extra cautious about endorsing such magic bullet technologies, especially when the solution to the garbage problem lies in the full implementation of Republic Act 9003, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act.”

Anne Larracas of Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives said waste-to-energy facilities are “old technologies repackaged to escape the stigma of pollution and contamination to communities.”

Partnership for Clean Air president Rene Pineda, meanwhile, vowed that their group will “fight all attempts to legalize” these facilities which he said are unacceptable and in violation of the country’s Clean Air Act.

These groups that are against waste-to-energy schemes urged the government to implement Zero Waste strategies instead, “including the inclusion of the informal waste workers into the formal waste management programs where they can enjoy decent and secure employment.” –

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Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.