Beacons of hope in troubled times
These days negative examples of clean and competent governance dominate the news. Yet we do not lack for people who exemplify the finest tradition in service to the people. These people serve as beacons of hope in these troubled times, if only the media can give them an eighth of the space they give to the villains.
Two of these beacons are Commissioner Naderev (“Yeb”) Sano of the Climate Change Commission and Milo Tanchuling, the much-beloved former Secretary General of the Freedom from Debt Coalition who passed away a few days ago.
Yeb in Warsaw
The Philippines’ lead negotiator in the recently concluded climate talks in Warsaw, Poland, Yeb became the face not only of our country but of the developing world, with the inspiring speech he delivered at the beginning of the “Conference of Parties” (COP 19) in the aftermath of Supertyphoon Yolanda, aka Haiyan. Yeb minced no words, saying that Yolanda was a deadly Pacific brew created mainly by the uncontrolled emissions of greenhouse gases of rich industrialized countries of the North. His appeal to the big climate polluters to make COP 19 a historic meeting by finally agreeing to make radical emissions cuts resonated throughout the developing world. His going on a hunger strike to reinforce his point about the utter necessity of a meaningful binding agreement of emissions cuts and solid commitments of financial support on the part of the rich countries inspired many people, especially young people, in Warsaw and elsewhere, to join his fast.
That members of 16 other delegations also fasted with him becomes understandable if one hears his eloquent words with Yolanda’s terrible fury in the background. It is worth quoting large parts of this landmark speech in full:
“To anyone who continues to deny the reality that is climate change, I dare you to get off your ivory tower and away from the comfort of you armchair. I dare you to go to the islands of the Pacific, the islands of the Caribbean and the islands of the Indian ocean and see the impacts of rising sea levels; to the mountainous regions of the Himalayas and the Andes to see communities confronting glacial floods; to the Arctic where communities grapple with the fast dwindling polar ice caps; to the large deltas of the Mekong, the Ganges, the Amazon, and the Nile where lives and livelihoods are drowned, to the hills of Central America that confronts similar monstrous hurricanes; to the vast savannas of Africa where climate change has likewise become a matter of life and death as food and water becomes scarce. Not to forget the massive hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico and the eastern seaboard of North America. And if that is not enough, you may want to pay a visit to the Philippines right now.
“The science has given us a picture that has become much more in focus. The IPCC report on climate change and extreme events underscored the risks associated with changes in the patterns as well as frequency of extreme weather events. Science tells us that simply, climate change will mean more intense tropical storms. As the Earth warms up, that would include the oceans. The energy that is stored in the waters off the Philippines will increase the intensity of typhoons and the trend we now see is that more destructive storms will be the new norm.
“This will have profound implications on many of our communities, especially who struggle against the twin challenges of the development crisis and the climate change crisis. Typhoons such as Yolanda (Haiyan) and its impacts represent a sobering reminder to the international community that we cannot afford to procrastinate on climate action. Warsaw must deliver on enhancing ambition and should muster the political will to address climate change.
In Doha, we asked “If not us then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?” …It may have fell on deaf ears. But here in Warsaw, we may very well ask these same forthright questions. “If not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here in Warsaw, where?
“What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness. We can stop this madness. Right here in Warsaw.”
The political gridlock between the rich North and the Group of 77 and China did not yield the breakthrough that Yeb was demanding. But his dramatic intervention probably contributed to COP 19’s one achievement: an 11th hour deal that created a loss and damage facility that developing countries would be able to make financial claims to for destructive climate-change-related impacts like those wrought by Yolanda.
Milo: the Genuine Face of Civil Society
The other beacon that shines brightly, Milo Tanchuling, former Secretary General of the Freedom from Debt Coalition, passed away three days ago.
Milo’s example is very relevant these days when the Napoles scandal, with its horrible cast of fake NGOs and fake NGO operators working hand in glove with corrupt politicos, has given non-governmental organizations a bad name. This is most unfair since for every Janet Lim Napoles, there are most likely 10 civil society workers serving the people in dedicated and honest ways. Milo exemplified the genuine spirit of civil society.
As Secretary General of the Freedom from Debt Coalition, Milo was a leader of the effort to reduce our country’s unfair debt obligations to the big international banks, a massive burden that was harming the country’s efforts to develop. He was a strong voice in opposition to the Automatic Appropriations Law, which requires that first cut of the national budget (now 20 per cent of it) go to servicing the country’s debt to the banks. He was active as well in the fight against the EPIRA law, which privatized energy generation and transmission and has resulted in ever-rising increases in electricity prices, much to the detriment of the welfare of struggling consumers. He was also in the frontlines of the struggle against unfair trade, the World Trade Organization, and global warming, and before that he was an innovative organizer of peasants and farmers.
Milo may not have been known to the wider public, but this engaging and humble man was popular and much loved in civil society circles, which were greatly saddened by his falling a victim of cancer at a relatively young age. The trajectory of commitment and service to the people that Milo followed, instead of what would undoubtedly have been a successful career in law, poitics, or business, was summed up well by Lidy Nacpil, one of Milo’s longstanding associates in civil society: “Milo was 51 years old. He spent more than 30 years of his life as an activist and leader in Philippine movements and struggles for freedom, for justice, to build a new and better world. He started during his student days in the University of the Philippines, working with farmer’s movements as community organizer. He spent many years working for rural communities and advancing the struggles for agrarian reform and rural development as part of fighting for an alternative development path for our people.”
These are trying times, but amidst the gloom, there are gems that shine, people who dispel the darkness. Commissioner Sano and Milo Tanchuling are two such gems, and there are more like them out there.
*Walden Bello represents Akbayan (Citizens’ Action Party) in the House of Representatives.
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