As the current government administration enters its fourth year, the climate and environmental state of our nation has never faced more serious threats. The COVID-19 pandemic has provided a recent temporary relief for our environment, as pollution of land, air, and water has decreased with a lockdown-induced reduction of all human activities. However, this should instead be viewed as a reminder of the consequences of shortsighted, profit-driven, destructive activities on planetary and human health, a reminder that we must not return to the ‘normal’ we knew.
It is disappointing to observe that characteristics of the previous ‘normal’ still prevail in many government programs, projects, and activities. While there is no such thing as a perfect solution, some of the proposed solutions to address urgent economic, social, and environmental issues have the potential to cause more harm than good. Rehabilitation efforts on Boracay and Manila Bay, the construction of the Kaliwa Dam, and the continuing development of New Clark City are among the several examples of how Filipinos must look deeper beyond the perceived benefits of these endeavors and understand the costs of ignoring the rights and welfare of marginalized sectors, ecosystem and biodiversity resilience, and their immediate and long- term impacts on our national development.
Time and again, the ecological relationship between human beings and the environment that is integral to the Philippines’s economic, social, and cultural heritage and identity has been compromised to favor elitist interests. The implementation of what is considered to be model legislation on environmental protection and climate action remains uneven and inconsistent. Despite public pronouncements, renewable energy development is still lagging behind in favor of pollutive coal, which is nowhere near as low-cost as proponents state. Previous bans on mining activities have effectively been reversed with the promise of additional national revenues, despite the sector’s significant damage to local ecosystems and communities and low contribution to the country’s economic development.
Societal development without a development in human values is unjustified. If we want our nation and our world to avoid making the same mistakes that has marked our collective history, we must uphold the highest human right of all: the right to life. A healthy environment is integral to a high quality of life, which is not just defined by monetary wealth and technological advancements, but also by a culture of harmonious rather than antagonistic living with others, humans and non-humans alike. Human dignity is sustained through respect to life and where it comes from.
This era in our history calls us to stand up for the truth, to recognize the realities we are facing, and to unite and become more active in addressing the most difficult climate and environmental challenges of our time. We must demand inclusivity, transparency, and accountability in holistic approaches that public authorities and private entities utilize in their operations, to maintain ecological balance and integrity in pursuit of sustainable development. The resilience and survival of the Filipinos and all peoples in our common home mainly depend on “a healthful and balanced ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature”, a right to be protected and advanced under the Philippine Constitution.