By JOHN AARON MARK MACARAEG
MANILA — Hazel Grace or Bebang to her friends, 16 years old, travelled all the way from Talaingod, Davao del Norte to join the Global Climate Strike’s week-long protests at the University of the Philippines in Diliman.
Her community, which lies in the Pantaron mountain ranges, has been home to rich wildlife including the endangered Philippine Eagle. Because of its untouched natural resources, mining and agro-industrial companies have been carrying out projects that have flattened the mountains. These have already resulted in the displacement of over thousands of families of Lumad, Manobo, Mansaka, and Monday. Up to now, they are continuing the struggle their ancestral domain.
“We, the youth, must not relax and be contented that the world awaiting us in the future would be already decimated and lifeless,” Bebang read in a declaration to fellow youth during the kick-off event of Global Climate Strike in the Philippines.
Bebang and her classmates from Salugpongan Ta ‘Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center, Inc. (STTICLCI) were joined by millions around the world who marched and shouted to save their home—our planet.
Youth like Bebang are protesting to call on the adults to listen to them, and to act now.
Just this week, Greta Thunberg, along with 14 other youths, filed a formal complaint under the United Nation convention of the rights of child.
It was based on claim that five countries — Argentina, the Marshall Islands, France, Germany and the US — failed to address the climate crisis that violates the international convention for children.
“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” Thunberg said in front of the national representatives present during the UN Climate Action Summit.
The 16-year old Swedish girl have become the face of the global movement FridaysForFuture and followed by 163 countries on going on strike for week-long Climate Strike.
With only her backpack and a placard bearing “Skolstrejk för klimatet” or “School Strike for Climate,” Thunberg would skip school for camping and protesting outside Sweden’s parliament and decided to do this until her country would vow to reduce carbon emission as per the Paris Agreement.
“Our house is on fire. I am here to say, our house is on fire,” the teenage-activist said last year when she started gaining popularity for her advocacy as she demand people “to tackle global warming, and not run away from it.”
Thunberg’s pronouncements were not mere metaphors. Last August, aside from the climate warming, it has just become known to the public that the Amazon Rainforest was burning but it was already on fire as early as January and right now, it still is.
The Indonesian government has decided to move its national capital from Jakarta to Borneo because of the present capital’s huge environmental problem. The government’s move was based on the Jakarta’s worsening quality and continuous sinking; it has gone down to almost five meters since it started sinking on the 1970s.
Philippine environment under Duterte
In the Philippines, environmental groups criticized President Rodrigo Duterte’s policies that have destroyed the environment.
According to figures released by Kalikasan Peoples Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE), the current administration has sold out P773-billion worth of Philippines’ sovereign mineral, water, wildlife, and marine resources.
In his fourth State of the Nation Address, Duterte only talked about the rehabilitation project for Manila Bay and Boracay Island. The Duterte administration only addressed the 200,432 hectares of Manila Bay and Boracay combined out of the 5.22 million hectares worth of environmental problems in the country.
The Australian-Canadian mining company Oceanagold, for example, has not left Nueva Vizcaya despite the clamor of the community to stop mining operations.
China, meanwhile, continues to put up structures in the West Philippine Sea that resulted in the destruction of coral reef ecosystem worth roughly P33 billion in the area.
Defenders under attack
Bebang and her fellow Manobo defending their environment and their ancestral domain have been subjected to abuses and harassment.
Duterte himself labeled Bebang’s school and other Lumad schools as training grounds for New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas. The Department of Education ordered the closure of Lumad schools on the basis of “intelligence reports” that these schools are communist fronts.
The attacks have forced Bebang and her classmates to seek refuge in UP Diliman and continue their struggle.
“Our mere thirst for knowledge on how we can better protect the environment terrified them,” Bebang said.
“Wanting to educate ourselves is our way of fighting those who threaten the environment we vowed to protect,” Bebang said. “And fleeing here in the city does not mean we are backing down, but rather continuing it.”
A recent report published by Global Witness shows that there were 165 cases of killings on environmental activists and defenders.
Thirty of 165 victims came from the Philippines, replacing Brazil as the deadliest country for environmental defenders.
Just last weekend, on the eve of the Global Climate Strike, a reliable source tipped off Kalikasan PNE and Center for Environmental Concerns – Philippines (CEC-Philippines) that elements of the Philippine National Police would be raiding their office.
Leon Dulce, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE, said in a statement, “ We have been ardent campaigners against destructive mines, dams, plantations, and land reclamations. We have exposed the violent attacks against Filipino environmental defenders. Is it a crime to defend the environment and our fellow defenders?”
Their source said that the PNP will be raiding the office based on a court warrant and that the office was a front for recruiting New People’s Army (NPA) members.
“The Duterte regime must be held accountable for its unabated promotion of fossil fuels and destructive mining and other extractive projects that not only harm the environment, but to communities and defenders asserting their rights to their land and natural resources,” Dulce said.
Indeed, aside from the planet being plundered, its defenders are being attacked as well. And its children, the youth, are claiming their birthright to enjoy living on it. It is now time for the adults to listen to Bebang, Greta, and the youth shouting to “act now.” As Greta has said, “failing them will never be an option.”