[OPINION] Jefferson Estela, changing the climate for strikes in the Philippines

26 years ago, the Supreme Court recognized the doctrine of intergenerational responsibility, which states that future generations have the right to a balanced and healthful ecology. Today, the future has arrived and is fighting for their world.

Jefferson Estela, a 21-year-old architecture student, joined this fight after the onslaught of super-typhoon Yolanda in Tacloban. While volunteering for an architectural firm, he realized the value of his field in designing and building resilient structures for vulnerable communities. However, he also saw an issue that needed to be addressed.

“It’s not enough to do these things because it should also coincide with informing these communities about why these disasters happen and why we need to protect the environment,” he said. 

The anatomy of a strike

Inspired by the actions of Greta Thunberg and other climate youth strikers worldwide, Estela and 4 other youth leaders convened in late 2018 to bring the movement to the Philippines. However, the group had to deal with the negative public perception of strikes in the country.

“In the Philippines, when we say strike or rally, it has a bad connotation. We have this backwards thinking that rallies are bad, while in other countries, people are joining because it’s their way of saying there’s something wrong with the governance in their areas,” he said.

Estela emphasized the value of strikes in democracy, adding that “It’s a public declaration of pressuring our leaders and institutions to solve this crisis. This is what gives the push forward or follow-through for the government leaders to act.”

Last May 24, more than 1000 participants across 15 cities and towns around the Philippines joined the first nationwide youth climate strike, which Estela co-organized. From Laoag to General Santos, the strikers called for the phase-out of coal and other fossil fuels, a just transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050, and climate justice for indigenous peoples and other vulnerable groups, among others.

Per Estela, the strike was successful in conveying its core messages for climate action, which received support from the members of Congress and student leaders around the Philippines. Establishing relationships with the latter, according to him, is necessary for mobilizing more youth. 

“We are building this connection and rapport that student leaders are not just doing advocacy works in the campus. They should be pushing climate-related advocacies for communities,” he added.

However, Estela also acknowledged the difficulty in giving their strike a non-political tone due to both the negative public perception of strikes and the "aggressive" messaging by some of his group’s partners, which he hopes to address in future strikes. 

“When we present it to the people, we need to change our approach because otherwise, it will just be the same people, same peers, same faces that we see every strike. We won’t be able to mobilize the people because they will see it as too aggressive,” he said.

Beyond the strike 

While strikes can help raise awareness on a wider scale, Estela understands the need to go beyond streets and signages to show the urgency of climate action and remove the negative reputation of strikers in the Philippines. 

He is involved in lobbying for legislation for strengthening climate change policies and protecting the welfare of the youth. The Youth Strike for Climate Philippines, as his group is now known, is also organizing a series of learning workshops on climate science and justice, in partnership with student organizations nationwide. This would help in mobilizing more youth for future events and laying the foundation for empowering the leaders of tomorrow in sustainable actions.

This is important, considering the general lack of proper understanding among government officials when it comes to climate change. 

“LGUs still do not understand what climate change is. They are misusing or not utilizing their funds for climate-related projects. How can we trust the government if they themselves do not know what to do?” Estela said.

The group will hold another nationwide strike on September 20, joining thousands worldwide in demanding more urgent climate action. The group will also call for a declaration of a climate emergency across the country, albeit with a catch.

“We cannot declare a climate emergency just for the sake of declaring. If we are going to declare, we make sure people would really act to solve this crisis. We need to make sure they will make solutions to mitigate these problems,” he said. 

Estela hopes that the May climate strike showed to the youth that they have the power to help solve the climate crisis and join his group in September.

“It’s about time for the youth to stand up and act now. We can maximize that force to create positive change. We need to show them the importance of each and every one’s participation since this is about our future,” he said. – Rappler.com 


John Leo Algo is the Program Manager of Climate Action for Sustainability Initiative (KASALI) and Science Policy Advisor of Living Laudato Si Philippines. He earned his MS Atmospheric Science degree at the Ateneo de Manila University.