MANILA, Philippines – Since the filing of the certificates of candidacies for the 2022 elections in October 2021, two deadly storms have battered central and southern Philippines, leaving millions without homes and livelihood amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Typhoon Odette, known internationally as Rai, made nine landfalls from Siargao Island to Palawan province last December, shutting down power and communication lines in several areas. Four months later, Tropical Storm Agaton (Megi) unleashed heavy rains, triggering landslides that buried entire villages in Leyte province.
Combined, these two cyclones have killed more than 600 people and caused over P50 billion worth of damage to agriculture and infrastructure.
As presidential hopefuls barnstormed cities and provinces in the past 11 weeks, scientists from the United Nations-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released two reports that issued a grim, repeated warning: time is running out to stave off the worst impacts of the climate crisis, and rapid cuts to emissions are necessary.
Faced with supercharged typhoons and rising sea levels, the Philippines is among the nations most vulnerable to climate change. Yet the urgency to respond to this risk appears largely lost in the 2022 electoral agenda.
Climate and environmental issues are often left as footnotes to equally pressing concerns, from pandemic and economic recovery to poverty alleviation and eradication of corruption.
Environmental advocates, however, have stressed the need for a “green” leader for the next six years.
Rappler has compiled the climate and environmental agenda of six major presidential bets based on debates, speeches, interviews, and other publicly available platforms. These candidates were selected on the basis of their ranking in election surveys and the clarity of their pronouncements on environmental issues.
While climate change has begun shaping politics in other countries, it remains on the back burner for this year’s Philippine elections. Debates, interviews, and stump speeches rarely include plans on climate adaptation and mitigation despite the narrowing window to address runaway climate change, with its impacts already felt in many vulnerable communities.
Among those vying for the presidential seat, labor leader Leody de Guzman has the most progressive understanding and stance on climate change. He has consistently called for climate justice and demanded reparations from rich countries that are historically responsible for the climate emergency.
As part of her platforms for job generation, Vice President Leni Robredo bared plans to make the country a center of “climate industry” by creating green jobs through the promotion of climate-resilient agriculture and active transport. She also underscored the need to fix the country’s roadmap to meet its climate commitments and align with the global target of carbon neutrality by 2050.
Senator Panfilo Lacson pushes for better emissions testing of vehicles, citing rampant corruption at the Land Transportation Office. Transportation is one of the main sources of emissions in the country, alongside agriculture, industry, and energy.
Green groups observed that the majority of the presidential candidates showed a one-dimensional understanding of the breadth and urgency of the climate crisis. Climate change is often equated to typhoons alone, with some candidates sharing similar platforms when it comes to the construction of disaster-resilient housing and infrastructure. Senator Manny Pacquiao supports the creation of a “super agency” that would integrate disaster resilience and response and long-term climate policies.
“We are in a state of emergency, and yet most of our candidates don’t even seem concerned about the climate,” said Jon Bonifacio, national coordinator of the Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines in a statement in March. “We need and deserve better leaders who can commit to immediate climate action.”
Citing soaring electricity costs and power outages in many provinces, all presidential bets back the shift to renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal. De Guzman and Robredo both call for the retirement of coal-fired power plants, with the former pledging to phase out coal within two years if elected president.
Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., former senator and the late dictator’s son, heavily uses the imagery of wind turbines in his campaign, in a clear reference to the famed Bangui Wind Farm in his home turf Ilocos Norte. Viral posts on social media have claimed it as part of the “Marcos legacy,” but these have since been debunked, as the wind farm is a project of the NorthWind Power Development.
Despite supporting the transition to renewables, Lacson and Manila Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso remain open to fossil fuels, particularly the exploration of oil and gas in the West Philippine Sea. Robredo also considers liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a “practical option” in the energy transition. It is a position thumbed down by environmentalists, who stress that LNG is still a fossil fuel that could lock the country down in a carbon-intensive path.
On nuclear power, candidates are split. Marcos supports the revival of the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant – a project under his father’s dictatorship that was shelved due to corruption and safety concerns. Pacquiao, meanwhile, pitched floating nuclear power plants, also known as nuclear barges, to obtain cheaper power rates.
In April 2021, President Rodrigo Duterte lifted the nine-year moratorium on new mining agreements – a move which the government said would usher in more jobs and support big-ticket projects under the Build, Build, Build program. Anti-mining activists, however, said the move heightened threats against environment and land defenders. The Philippines remains the most dangerous country for environmental defenders in Asia, a position it has held for eight consecutive years.
If she wins the presidency, Robredo said she would repeal Duterte’s executive order, declare no-mining zones, and ensure that communities living in mining areas have a voice. Both she and De Guzman back the passage of the alternative minerals bill, which seeks to repeal the Mining Act of 1995 and implement stronger environmental safeguards in mining. The labor leader also recently marched against the lifting of the ban on open-pit mining in South Cotabato.
The other candidates expressed a friendlier stance, espousing the need for “responsible” or “sustainable” mining. Domagoso plans to foster a “mining-friendly policy” to generate jobs and attract foreign investments, while Lacson backs Duterte’s order, adding that environmental violations often involve small-scale mining operations.
“There is no legal definition of ‘responsible mining,’ so there are no policies or parameters to measure,” environmental group Alyansa Tigil Mina said in February.
Land and water resources
Protection and conservation of land and water resources are among the least discussed environmental concerns during the 2022 election season.
Majority of the presidential bets have lobbed general statements on environmental protection, but provided few plans. Both Domagoso and Pacquiao back the creation of new departments to this end, namely the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and the Department of Water, respectively.
Marcos pushes for reforestation and a stricter anti-illegal logging law. Logging, however, worsened during the Martial Law of his father, when the elder Marcos rewarded relatives, military officials, and cronies with timber license agreements. Research by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism showed that, during the Marcos dictatorship, the Philippines recorded one of the worst deforestation rates in the Asia-Pacific region, losing an average of 316,000 hectares of forest annually.
De Guzman and Robredo both push for the swift passage of the national land use law, while Domagoso said he would impose a moratorium on agricultural land conversion.
Other environmental issues that did not surface as much in this year’s election season include land reclamation, deforestation, illegal and unregulated fishing, plastic waste, and air pollution. Threats to environmental activists and defenders also got little attention from presidential bets.
Interviews and debates, including those organized by the Commission on Elections and by media organizations, also hardly touched on climate and environmental concerns.
Still, environmentalists remain hopeful that whoever wins the presidency would urgently act on the country’s biggest climate and environmental challenges.
“The next president has to be a climate president because we only have that window of time to address the climate crisis…. They have to realize that it has to be central to policy and not just a statement to appease the environmental sector, which is what they are doing right now,” said Lea Guerrero, director of Greenpeace Philippines.
It is a task that would require heavy lifting, she said, with the next administration already poised to buckle under the weight of an economic slump and a health crisis on top of a planetary emergency.
What this needs, said Guerrero, is a president ready to show “transformational” leadership that goes beyond addressing the country’s problems in silos.
“If we get a president that understands that all these issues are related – strong storms put us deeper into poverty and debt, for example – just connecting these and linking it to addressing climate issues is going to make a big impact [in] the long run,” she said.
These challenges require not only a leader that is knowledgeable on environmental issues, she said, but an administration that would uphold democracy and ensure public participation and good governance.
“It should be a government where civil society is active, that is not corrupt, and can distance itself from extractive corporations,” said Guerrero. “Unless we have that kind of atmosphere, it might be impossible to put through climate solutions and approaches which we think will address the crisis.” – Rappler.com
Reporting for this story was supported by Internews’ Earth Journalism Network (EJN).