Heeding the Call to Care for our Common Home through Church Eco-ConvergencePosted on November 18, 2020
Globally, calls for greater commitment of countries to address climate change have become stronger. The Paris Agreement on Climate Change expresses the urgency for collective efforts to curb poverty and environment deterioration. This call reverberated to environment groups, civil society organizations, peoples’ organizations, education and business sectors, faith-based organizations, and communities at-risk.
In response, the Catholic Church led by Pope Francis, called on the people “care for our common home” through the Laudato Si. This encyclical of the Pope pointed to consumerism and irresponsible development as main reasons behind the massive environmental degradation, and the increased risk of communities to climate change impacts. In the Philippines, the Catholic Church has been urging the general public and the government to take action since its issuance of the Pastoral Letter on Ecology in 1988, “What is Happening to Our Beautiful Land.” The said pastoral letter provide guidance for programs and projects on environment to enable them to be more integrated, strategic, and effective.
The Philippines is among the countries most vulnerable to natural disasters and the adverse impacts of climate change. Owing primarily to its geographical location and climatological conditions, the country frequently experiences extreme weather events, most of which result to loss of lives, injuries, damage to properties, and disruption of socio-economic activities. In response, the Philippine Government has enacted several laws such as the R.A. 9729 (Climate Change Act of 2009) and R.A. 10121 (Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act) to strengthen its resilience to climate change and natural disasters.
There are many mining and coal-fired power plants in the Philippines. Based on the latest data from the Department of Energy, there is a total of 50 coal power plants1 in the Philippines. Of the total, 24 are in Luzon, 14 in Visayas, and 12 in Mindanao. These industries are the main problems being faced by indigenous peoples and rural poor communities in the provinces of Quezon, Palawan, Negros Occidental, Eastern Samar, Capiz, Antique, Bataan, La Union, Mount Province, Apayao, Cebu, Zambales, Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Sur, Benguet, Masbate, Camarines Norte, Zamboanga del Norte, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino, Compostela Valley, Isabela, Dinagat Island, Albay and Iloilo. Since 2017, the country recorded a steady increase in the metallic mineral production. Parallel to this is the increase in the funds for Social Development Management Program (SDMP) as well as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs which are intended to improve the quality of life of the host communities for these mining operations. However, in many cases, the benefits derived from these SDMP and CSR programs pale in comparison to the negative impacts of mining.
Mining coal and other extractive industries have long been the major contributors to ecological deterioration, displacement of communities, and unfair labor practices. Aside from most evident impact of forest denudation brought about by these activities, other adverse effects include but are not limited to disturbance in the watershed, coastal ecosystems, and conflicts in ancestral domain claims. Issues on land conversion for residential and commercial put additional pressure on forests and biodiversity. The Sierra Madre is the longest mountain range in the Philippines, covering ten (10) provinces (Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino, Nueva Ecija, Aurora, Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Quezon) in Luzon. It is considered as the backbone of communities by naturally sheltering them from typhoons from the Pacific Ocean.
The lack of consensus among the environmental stakeholders compromises the effectiveness of initiatives to address the socio-economic and environmental issues at hand. These include lobbying for the national and local governments to enact and implement policies to protect biodiversity; defend the rights indigenous peoples’ rights and other vulnerable and marginalized groups; and utilize natural resources in a sustainable manner.
The weak law enforcement and the lack of political will of the government to challenge anti-poor and anti-environment economic policies sponsored by multi-national conglomerates and political figures have pushed more communities and families to the extreme recesses of poverty and climate vulnerabilities. Many of the marginalized communities have relied on and religious organizations, especially the Catholic Church, for support.
Given these, it is crucial for the Catholic Church through the National Secretariat for Social Action(NASSA)/Caritas Philippines to heed the call and strengthen environment and climate actions. Established in 1966, the NASSA/Caritas Philippines is mandated to accompany the poor and marginalized in the just and legitimate struggle for social justice and transformation. It is the humanitarian, development and advocacy arm of the Catholic Church in the Philippines. It has a network of 95 Diocesan Social Action Centers (DSACs) under the Social Action Network (SAN), and membership to the different environment networks.
On October 7, 2019, the partnership agreement between the FPE, represented by Executive Director Oliver Agoncillo, and the NASSA/Caritas Philippines, represented by Fr. Edwin A. Gariguez, was official inked at the FPE Office in Quezon City.
Church-CSO Empowerment for Environmental Sustainability
As one of the leading institutions advocating for biodiversity and sustainable development, the Foundation for the Philippines Environment (FPE) partnered with NASSA/Caritas Philippines for its advocacy on environmental protection and management. This partnership agreement for the implementation of the Church-CSO Empowerment for Environmental Sustainability (ECO-CONVERGENCE) Project was sealed on October 7, 2019.
The Eco-Convergence is a two-year project that reinforces the existing Climate Change and Adaptation (CCA) initiatives and environment protection advocacies through the conduct of the following activities: 1) Formation of Church-CSO national and regional eco-convergence hubs for sustained environmental campaigns; 2) Establishment of national program on Laudato Si; 3) Church-CSO campaigns and advocacies on divestment; and 4) Sustained support on the legislation of the Rights of Nature Bill and its movement. With its wide reach through its large network of 95 dioceses nationwide, and partners, the NASSA/Caritas was selected to lead the Project. Among its partners are the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ), Philippine Misereor Partnership, Inc. (PMPI), Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM), Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM) Philippines, and Center for Ecology and Energy Development (CEED).
Through the Project, strategic regional hubs have been set up in three (3) project sites based on the following criteria: 1) Environmental threats are rampant; 2) the Diocese Social Action Center (DSAC) is supportive; and 3) the partnership building, program implementation, monitoring and evaluation, and resource mobilization is reliable.
The three regional hubs are: 1) Diocese of Bayombong in Nueva Vizcaya, where Sierra Madre is located and partly destructed by the on-going mining operations in Barangay Didipio; 2) Diocese of San Carlos in Negros Occidental, where the community is threatened by establishment of coal-fired power plant; and 3) Diocese of Dipolog in Zamboanga del Norte, where the community is threatened by mining and quarrying. These regional hubs serve as venues for the communities to collaboratively push for concrete environment reforms from grassroots to the national levels.
The Diocese of San Carlos, led by Bishop Gerardo Alminaza, led a rally to oppose the 300-megawatt (MW) coal-fired power plant project proposed by San Miguel Corporation. Last June 2020, the City Mayor announced that the project might be cancelled due several reasons, including the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). For the Diocese of San Carlos and the clean energy advocates, this pronouncement was a step towards ensuring clean air for communities. However, unless the cancellation is formalized by City Council, the Diocese of San Carlos and its partners will remain vigilant.
Several strategies have been adopted to help ensure concerted efforts on environmental protection and management. The establishment of the national and regional eco-convergence hubs, and the setting up of ecology desks in the dioceses help ensure the increase in collaboration of actions, and exchanges of information among within the network. It also provides collective and unified messages and policies aligned with Laudato Si.
The Laudato Si Program that was created in partnership with the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) commissions seeks to provide the Diocese Social Action Centers (DSACs) its partner CSOs and schools, with sufficient materials for formation programs and awareness building. These formation programs and awareness building initiatives are intended to contribute to behavioral changes (on ecological protection and conservation) among the students and youth, professionals, communities, government, as well as businesses.
Another strategy is to attain sustainability is the church’s call for Philippine banks (e.g. BDO, BPI, Metrobank) to divest investments of coal plants, waste-to-energy and destructive extractive activities. Currently, the assets of Dioceses, CSOs, and other partners are being divested from such extractive industries. Without large banks financing such activities, operations and investments from these may eventually be put to a stop. In turn, it will create a business climate that is more favorable to the environment and communities, especially to the indigenous peoples.
The strategic lobbying and advocacy work for the passage of Rights of Nature (RoN) bill that will warrant recognition, protection and sustainable cultivation of the country’s rich biodiversity and natural resources, and the respect to ancestral domains and natural habitats. Patterned to the initiatives by Ecuador and Bolivia, the Rights of Nature bill stipulates a mechanism for just compensation for environmental damages, which would be allocated for the restoration of damaged areas. To date, the draft is being pushed by Senator Risa Hontiveros and Congressman Kit Belmonte in the Senate and House of Representatives, respectively. Its passage shall empower communities to rightfully claim what is theirs and the nature’s rights over business interests and greedy political agenda.
Mitigation coupled with full and comprehensive recognition and enforcement of the rights of nature and other related environmental laws will effectively protect biodiversity, efficiently regulate the use of re-sources, and sustainably cultivate the ridges-to-reefs ecosystems. It is imperative that ecological governance shall be implemented using the lens of the host communities and the indigenous peoples.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, some activities were postponed and moved to next year for health and safety reasons. Beyond this, the NASSA/Caritas Philippines, the CBCP commissions and its national CSO partners are committed to provide the long-term accompaniment to the DSACs and the local CSO/PO/ NGO partners to ensure on-going capacity building, provision of the needed technical, operational and financial support, and other assistance may be required in the future.
Photo by: NASSA/Caritas Philippines
For more stories, please click this link to read the FPE 2020 Annual Report