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Nature and its defenders under attack

/ 04:03 AM August 11, 2020

A complex array of multiple crises slowly brewing for four years breached the tipping point and inundated the Philippines in just the last four and a half months. The COVID-19 pandemic triggered cascading consequences to long-standing problems in our country that has been hidden from plain sight by the shock and awe antics of the Duterte administration up to this point.The environment, in particular, has remained under the radar despite facing increasing pressures these past four years under President Duterte:

1) We have risen from the fifth spot to fourth in terms of long-term climate vulnerability according to GermanWatch’s climate risk index, with annual average damages brought about by climate-related disasters rising from $2.8 billion to $3.1 billion.2) We have consistently placed third among the top countries with the most air pollution-related deaths in the world, according to the World Health Organization.

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3) We have lost an estimated P990.3 billion worth of our sovereign natural resources, including annual damages incurred in the West Philippine Sea, wholesale export of minerals to foreign economies, losses to the illegal wildlife trade, and sovereign guarantees in large dam and water projects.4) The Philippines became the world’s deadliest country for land and environmental defenders for the first time in this time period, with 157 defenders murdered largely by suspected state forces — a number 36 percent larger than the total cases recorded during the two previous administrations.

Trapped in extreme poverty by the “resource curse” of imperialism, and rendered vulnerable to contagion and catastrophe, the Philippines was just waiting for a crisis like COVID-19 to happen to make the cookie crumble. With intact ecosystems dwindling, biodiversity collapsing, pollution worsening, and sources of livelihood depleting, we are extremely susceptible to emerging zoonotic diseases like COVID-19 as our health erodes alongside the planet’s.

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But, instead of stepping up to the plate, the Duterte administration has abandoned all pretenses of greenwashing.

The historic closure of big mines under former environment secretary Gina Lopez has been recently announced by current environment secretary and ex-general Roy Cimatu himself as already reversed.

Mining and dredging, apparently, are now considered a strategy for economic recovery in response to COVID-19. President Duterte himself recently said that he will “open the borders” to the influx of dirty coal to boost economic activity.

Yet this promise of sacrificing the environment to alleviate the economy does not trickle down to ordinary Filipinos. The IBON Foundation points out that the government has only spent P5,617 per family — or just P53 per family for the past 106 days since the lockdown — for the first tranche of the COVID-19 social amelioration.

The Duterte regime has also stepped up its authoritarian rule to suppress growing public criticism and dissent over the failure to effectively respond to the pandemic. Instead of pouring thousands of health workers into the streets, we are seeing police and military troops being deployed to enforce the world’s longest and harshest COVID-19 lockdown sans real public health solutions.

Mr. Duterte’s “yes men” in Congress railroaded the anti-terrorism law, which legal luminaries have described as “worse than martial law” and which threatens to further inflame the already atrocious human rights situation faced by Filipino environmental defenders. Likewise, they ganged up on TV network giant ABS-CBN, also a known champion of environmental causes, by denying the renewal of its franchise for clearly political and self-serving motivations.

We are in such desperate times when nature — and its defenders — are clearly under attack, on this eleventh hour of planetary emergency, climate crisis, and the sixth mass extinction event.

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If we do not fight back, no one will be left to fight for us and for future generations. If we do not push back, the world that sustains our very lives will be pushed to the brink by tyrants and demagogues like Mr. Duterte. Indeed, in these dark times, it is our duty to win back the world from the clutches of tyranny and plunder. It is our duty to resist.

Leon Dulce ([email protected]) is the national coordinator of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment.

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TAGS: Authoritarianism, Commentary, environmentalists, Leon Dulce, PH climate vulnerability, Rodrigo Duterte
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