Chip’s bill and environmental sins | Inquirer Opinion
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Chip’s bill and environmental sins

“And a child will lead them…” The saying came to mind upon reading about Daniel “Chip” Gatmaitan, described as the “youngest lobbyist in Congress,” who has been storming the House of Representatives to push a bill calling for a ban on sodas, also known as “soft drinks,” in schools.

Chip was 7 and in Grade 1 when he began making the rounds of legislators’ offices, and he is now 8 years old and in Grade 2. According to a news report, Chip embarked on his lobbying project as part of a school requirement (of Multiple Intelligence International School) to do a “good deed.”

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Luckily for him, his father, lawyer Dan Gatmaitan, was friends with Rep. Arlene “Kaka” Bag-ao of the party-list Akbayan. But Bag-ao says she was more impressed with the boy’s knowledge of the issue he was espousing. “Chip cited studies and World Health Organization (WHO) reports. He knew his facts, he knew his arguments. I was amazed. He was 7 years old and already an articulate lobbyist,” the legislator said.

So convinced was Bag-ao of the rightness of Chip’s cause that she decided to sign on as author of House Bill 4268 or the “Healthy Beverage Options Act of 2011,” a measure she has nicknamed “the Chip bill.” Not only that, she also approached fellow Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello to sign on as co-author and then brought Chip to see Speaker Sonny Belmonte who was reportedly impressed by the boy. According to the report, Chip has even managed to get a counterpart bill filed in the Senate.

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True, much of the work that went into drafting the bill may have been done by Chip’s lawyer-father. But if Chip took the time to learn all he could about sugar-heavy sodas and their effect on the health of consumers, to the extent that he could discuss freely with a lawmaker, then it simply shows that he was sufficiently concerned about the issue and wanted to do something about it.

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Bag-ao has urged her colleagues to pass the bill at the soonest possible time, or at least while Chip is still a child “so he can benefit from it.”

What makes Chip’s action all the more salutary is that, like any normal child, he has surely found the sugar-and-caffeine mix of the fizzy soft drinks quite beguiling, if not habit-forming. Unless, starting from infancy, his parents had not instilled in him the habit of downing sodas and thus he has not developed a yen for them.

I wonder what Chip’s classmates and playmates have to say about banning soft drinks from schools. When my children were much younger, the school they went to, the Community of Learners, didn’t allow sodas to be sold in campus or students to bring them to school. As a mother, I faced quite a challenge shopping for appropriate juice packs or drinks, since the school also discouraged drinks heavy on sugar, as well as junk food. But they not only survived their school days, they flourished!

This simply reinforces the desirability of the “Chip bill.” When schools ban or discourage sodas from their campuses, then children will grow up with a taste for natural juices or water, which are certainly healthier, and will help them become healthier adults.

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On the environmental front, a group of advocates and fisherfolk has filed administrative and criminal cases against Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, the mayor of Cordova town, officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of the Interior and Local Government in relation to reclamation projects which they say are detrimental to the environment.

The story behind this case is long and convoluted, and just to add another kink to it, Governor Garcia is reported to be filing charges against lawyer Gloria Ramos, who is with the group and who has led other actions calling the governor to account, for “malicious prosecution.”

Originally, says Ramos, they had planned to file a writ of kalikasan “as the project would impact diverse and abundant sea grass, coral, and mangrove ecosystems, which will be destroyed and affect (people’s) livelihood not just in Cordova but also in the cities of Cebu, Mandaue, Talisay and even Consolacion.” But because of the inaction of other departments, they have filed instead an administrative case against the officials for neglecting their duties and violating the public’s environmental rights.

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Some years ago, Garcia was a respondent in a case concerning the dumping of coal ash on a property in the beach front of Balili. The environmentalists managed to gain a temporary environmental protection order to prevent the dumping in Balili. When the environmental group’s request for documents on the Balili case was ignored, the group filed a corruption case with the Office of the Ombudsman, but former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, two days before she resigned, dismissed the case. “When we appealed to the Supreme Court last year,” writes Ramos, “it was dismissed with unprecedented speed—within two days from filing.” This “record,” though, would soon be overtaken by the issuance of a TRO in former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s case.

As the experience with “Chip’s bill” shows, even a child, with the support of his parents, caring legislators and leaders, can move mountains, even against multinationals and a skeptical public. But when local leaders feel they have the power to ignore environmental rules and endanger the heritage of future generations, then it will take the concerted action of concerned citizens to protect their future, even it means going to court and risking the ire of the powerful.

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TAGS: cebu, cordova reclamation project, daniel ``chip’’ gatmaitan, environment, featured column, lobbying, opinion, soda ban
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