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Who’ll pick up the tab?

/ 12:54 AM October 05, 2013

The past few months were notable for the bad news that hogged the headlines.

One—noteworthy for the amount of money it involved and the big names it has so far implicated—was the pork barrel scandal. Predictably, the scandal has moved the chattering classes to circle the wagons against the thieves of taxpayers’ money. But while it is indeed an issue of taxpayers’ money, it is equally true that it is an issue of money taken away from poor farmers and fishers who were used as a ruse to steal us blind.

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Another issue was the torrential rain that inundated Metro Manila, killed many, and plucked more than half a million residents from their flooded homes. If you think that it was bad enough, you can find consolation in the fact that this year, we haven’t seen something closely resembling the scale of “Ondoy,” “Pepeng,” “Sendong,” or “Pablo”—yet.

As a member of Oxfam, an organization that responds to disaster, I have had a ringside view of the catastrophic impacts of disaster on people in poverty. I have hundreds of heartrending images of the toll of disaster in my memory, but few are more deeply distressing than that of Tonton, a 10-year-old son of a seaweed farmer, whom I met in the middle of the sea in Surigao del Sur in the wake of Typhoon Pablo. Tonton was trying to salvage any seaweed saplings he could find in the sea as though they were shards of expensive Chinaware.

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The typhoon went on to claim the lives of over 1,200 people, damage 200,000 homes, and level off hundreds of hectares of rice, corn, banana, and coconut farms. It never ceases to astonish me how so many losses could have been avoided if families like Tonton’s had the wherewithal to weather the storms.

Whenever I think about the money lost to corruption—today it is pork barrel, yesterday it was the fertilizer fund scam—I think of the money that could have been invested on systems that would help poor farmers and fishers unleash their productive potentials, enabling them to grow in these uncertain times. To me, the bigger scandal of corruption has less to do with stolen money per se—although I absolutely agree that that is a crime—than with the denial of opportunities for the poor to crawl out of the quagmire of poverty. Such a denial renders the poor more vulnerable than they already are: For example, they have to pawn valuable assets like boats and farm implements to get back on their feet after a disaster hits them, leaving them with little else to rebuild their shattered lives.

But what scares me even more is the prevailing scientific opinion carried in the new report prepared by 255 experts from universities and research institutions in 38 countries for the International Panel on Climate Change. The report’s summary is now publicly available at <http://www.climatechange2013.org/images/uploads/WGIAR5-SPM_Approved27Sep2013.pdf>. A copy of the draft report probably landed on President Aquino’s desk as early as June this year for his perusal and comments.

In the report, scientists say that “the last three decades have been successively warmer … than any preceding decade since 1850 and the warmest in 1,400 years,” and that global temperature will warm up further to 1.4-2.6C if carbon emissions proceed at the current pace.

The scenarios contemplated by the experts send shivers down the spine. If you think that the procession of extreme weather events that hit us in the last four years was bad enough, imagine when they become the new normal. There will be a spike in the incidence of infectious diseases, pestilence that will ravage our crops, and changes in our seas, coasts and landscapes in a way that will render them beyond our recognition.

Adapting to change requires money, lots of money, and with that comes both good news and bad news.

The good news is that in Copenhagen four years ago, developed countries pledged to support poor countries to lower their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change in the amount of $100 billion by 2020. Developed countries committed $30 billion in the way of Fast Start Financing (FSF) for 2010-2012, which was supposed to come as new and additional money on top of whatever amount of aid money they pledged prior to 2009.

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But as shown in Oxfam’s global study, “The Climate Fiscal Cliff” published in late 2012, only 33 percent of the fund was actually new; the rest was already pledged before the Copenhagen Accord. Only 24 percent can be considered an addition to the 0.7 percent of Gross National Income pledged by developed countries for Official Development Assistance. A measly 21 percent of the FSF went to adaptation, and the more significant part of the money went to mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions.

That’s not even the bad news. The bad news is that nearly 60 percent of the FSF came in the form of loans, which rubs salt on the wounds of developing countries like the Philippines. It is as if the developed countries slammed their car against our own, and they have the gall to offer us a loan to repair our car. This is unacceptable.

But I’m not very worried about demanding that developed countries fulfill their financial obligations. That job is in the steady, able hands of our international negotiators led by Secretary Lucille Sering and Commissioner Yeb Sano of the Philippine Climate Change Commission, who have worked tirelessly to strike a fair, ambitious, and legally binding deal in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations. That’s good news to me.

Another bit of good news is that we now have a law called the People’s Survival Fund (PSF), a special trust account designed to address the gap in adaptation financing in the amount of P1 billion. I am privileged to have taken part in the formulation of the PSF Law and its implementing rules and regulations. One thing that I can bet both my arms on is this: Its governance architecture is as stout and robust as to forestall the designs of such enterprising minds as those that cooked up the pork barrel scam.

But since March the draft implementing rules and regulations of the PSF have been languishing on the President’s desk. So we are now in a situation where: developed countries who created the climate mess are unable to deliver on their pledges, a national government can’t dig into its own pocket to pick up the tab, and poor people, the least responsible for and the worst hit by the problem, are waiting in the sidelines. I think this is bad news for now, which the President can change with one mighty stroke of a pen.

As I travel around the municipalities in Mindanao, I am astonished to see local governments doing innovative things to prepare for the unavoidable impacts of climate change and disasters even with minimum resources. That’s certainly good news to me. But they need help. Making the money flow from the PSF purse is a good first step.

Dante Dalabajan is the manager of Oxfam’s Building Resilient and Adaptive Communities and Institutions in Mindanao (BINDS) project. He is a former policy and research officer of Oxfam’s economic justice program and has 17 years of experience in public policy research and advocacy and campaigns.

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TAGS: `pepeng’, carbon emissions, fertilizer fund scam, International Panel on Climate Change, Ondoy, pork barrel scam, Sendong, typhoon Pablo
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