By KAREN ANN MACALALAD
MANILA – For the first 100 days of the incoming Duterte administration, environmentalist groups propose a 14-point agenda asking the new president to suspend large-scale mining, impose a moratorium on building coal plants and solve the issues of toxic wastes.
In a press conference on June 22, the Eco-Challenge for Change, a newly-formed coalition of 32 green groups, vowed to monitor President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, and work with him to push pro-environment policies that will benefit communities.
“We see the transition period between the outgoing and the new Duterte administration as crucial to measure and analyze if the new administration will live up to its premise of instituting meaningful changes towards ecological revival and natural resource conservation in the country,” said the coalition.
One of their major calls is the repeal of the 21-year-old Mining Act of 1995, or Republic Act 7942.
“The Philippine Mining Act of 1995 should be scrapped as this allows the destruction of the environment, especially the ancestral lands of indigenous people,” said Kakay Tolentino of the Scrap the Mining Act Alliance and Bai-Indigenous Women’s Network-Philippines spokesperson.
Tolentino cited the current expansion and drilling of mining company OceanaGold Philippines, Inc. that had damaged the water source of a community in Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya. Residents of Dipidio village, a land rich with copper and gold, have barricaded since June 13 to denounce the company’s activity.
Duterte should also revoke Executive Order 79, issued by his predecessor President Aquino in 2012, which reinforced provisions of the Mining Act and allows the influx of large mining companies in the country, she added.
Meanwhile, the government must push for renewable energy projects in place of coal plants, the coalition stated. Duterte had earlier expressed his support for coal plants, but the coalition said government should cancel the 25 coal power projects approved by Aquino, given the hazards these pose to public health.
Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, said that recently, the Batangas City approved the construction of a coal plant in their area. This adds to the 31-year old Calaca Coal Power Plant, which has been blamed for the respiratory diseases experienced by the locals.
The coalition said Duterte also needs to address toxic waste issues, by ordering a nationwide ban on chemical aerial spraying, and to return back to Canada the 2,500 tons of toxic wastes that were dumped in the country.
“The administration must file a diplomatic protest and forbid the disposal of the other country’s garbage [in our own],” said Anna Kapunan, chemical management coordinator of BAN Toxics.
The following are also in the 15-point agenda: promotion of sustainable agriculture practices, immediate recovery assistance to disaster victims, cancellation of reclamation projects, and prohibition of joint military operations in sensitive ecosystems.
The formation recommended the creation of the Department of Fisheries, implementation of logging ban, resumption of peace talks, and review of proposed legislations on mining, fisheries, energy, forestry, reclamation, toxics, pollution, climate change, disasters, and foreign militarism.
Public officials and perpetrators of corruption, human rights violations and environment neglect, should be made accountable, the coalition said.
The Philippines ranked as second most dangerous place in the world for green activists, Bautista said referring to the Global Witness report. Brazil topped the list with 50 environmentalists killed in 2015, while the Philippines has 33 reported killings. Overall, 185 deaths were recorded, with three being killed per week.
On June 29, the Eco-Challenge for Change will be joining other sectoral groups in the People’s Summit to present its environment agenda. They are also open to discuss with the incoming president the long-term reforms beyond his 100 days that will result to significant changes, Bautista said.
Editors’ note: This story was updated. We earlier reported that the Eco-Challenge Coalition had a 15-point agenda, and it was signed by 27 environmentalist groups. Kalikasan-PNE said the agenda was finalized into 14 points, and signed by 32 groups.
Please also read: Kalibutan column | Our Unity for an Eco-Challenge for Change