If the 2022 State of the Nation Address (SONA) was any indication, advancing the green agenda would be an uphill battle.
Last July 25, President Bongbong Marcos delivered his first SONA, hitting the same familiar beats as his predecessors did. He pledged to lead the nation in its economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and resolve some of the other critical issues facing Filipinos today.
Among the highlights of this year’s SONA are his plans to address energy security and the climate crisis. One of Marcos’s primary agendas is to push for the transition to renewable energy to mitigate climate change impacts and lower electricity prices, a welcome endorsement after a decade-plus of poor implementation of the Renewable Energy Act (RA 9513).
However, Marcos also called for the expansion of the natural gas industry to diversify the nation’s energy mix and address growing energy demands. He even named among the priority agendas in Congress the enactment of laws for said industry. Ultimately, this call contradicts his other statement regarding energy security and the climate crisis.
What he and other proponents fail to answer is the fact that natural gas is still a fossil fuel that currently needs to be imported in large amounts, like coal. Extending the country’s dependence on fossil fuels, which are the primary source of pollution that causes climate change, undermines our capacity to deal with the impacts we have already experienced.
Furthermore, as we have experienced first-hand recently, prices of imported fuels are volatile during times of conflicts, health crisis, and other global issues. The current energy policy framework in the Philippines allows owners of power plants to pass on additional costs to consumers. This is where amendments to the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (RA 9136), another of his priority bills, must be properly done.
Related to energy security is Marcos’s openness to developing nuclear power, including reviving the infamous Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. Similar to natural gas, those pushing for this agenda have not answered concerns related to infrastructure safety, waste disposal, and extremely high costs that could once more be passed on to consumers.
Another notable statement on climate action is on investments in science and technology to enable government agencies to have more accurate weather forecasts and timely disaster alerts. This is a key component of the overall strategy to reduce risks and vulnerabilities, which becomes more relevant as we enter the typhoon season.
The President also mentioned as among the main legislative targets the passage of the National Land Use Act and the Department of Water Resources. The latter is deemed necessary by many experts to upgrade outdated water infrastructure, especially in major urban areas like Metro Manila. He encouraged the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Public Works and Highways to forge public-private partnerships in pursuit of this goal.
What these mean
What is noticeable is that many of the current President’s proposed programs are mostly aligned with those of his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte. On one hand, continuity is an aspect of governance that has been missing across many levels and may bode well for the implementation of measures to address climate and environmental issues. On the other hand, it can be argued that Duterte’s track record in green governance is middling at best, so positive outcomes out of continuity from that point needs to be taken with a grain of salt.
There was also a notable lack of statement regarding several critical environmental issues. These include climate and environmental justice, addressing plastic pollution, the planned growth of the mining sector, biodiversity and ecosystems protection, green jobs, and the well-being of indigenous peoples. The closest to a statement related to the indigenous peoples is the outfit of the Vice President during the event. While there is only so much that can be said given the time allowed in any SONA, these issues should never be overlooked.
All of those words sound promising, but we have heard them before. For decades, we are dealing with governance issues far too familiar to Filipinos. Despite the President’s statement that “companies who exploit our natural resources must follow the law,” we have already seen many cases of corporations ignoring the law and getting away with them to continue their exploitative operations. As they say, doing something is another matter from simply saying it.
Yet the bottomline is very simple and cannot be disputed: the state of the nation is not sound, no matter how hard Marcos or his marketing team tries to convince us. If it actually is sound, then why are we dealing with the same old problems over and over again?
Popularity does not always translate to being factual, moral, or of high quality. Just look at some of the politicians, celebrities, and norms in our society today. As Filipinos, we have earned the right to have extremely high expectations of our leaders and hold them accountable on their words and actions.
Whether on climate and environment action or any other issue, the same message stands: we as Filipinos must learn from the mistakes of our past. Our health, our development, our collective future rests on a healthy environment. This is a message we must constantly send to our leaders, especially for the remainder of the current decade.
Learning from the mistakes of our past…where do we even begin to uncover the layers of that irony? – Rappler.com
John Leo Algo is the Deputy Executive Director for Programs and Campaigns of Living Laudato Si’ Philippines. He has represented Philippine civil society in regional and global UN conferences on climate and the environment since 2017. He is a climate and environment journalist since 2016.
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