Bishop Pabillo: Time for PH banks to withdraw from coal, invest in permanent solutions

Bishop Broderick Pabillo is the current Apostolic Administrator of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Manila. He is also among the individuals and organizations spearheading the Withdraw From Coal campaign. Edited versions of this article have been posted in Rappler, ABS-CBN, and GMA News. Photo above from Rappler.

“We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that…we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies,” said the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines in its Pastoral Letter on Ecology released in July last year, which called for “ecological conversion [and] hope in the face of climate emergency.” Almost a year later, we find ourselves in a situation where the groaning is just as true, and the need to listen to and address it just as urgent. 

The cause of the coronavirus pandemic has been linked by many experts to the disturbance of wildlife, as well as different forms of environmental exploitation — all of which point to our failure to protect our Common Home as lovingly as it was created. This is something that many of the Catholic faithful, in observing stewardship of Creation, and all who love the environment have reflected on in the past weeks and in light of the recent celebration of Earth Day.

It is heartwarming to know how much Filipinos, due to pollution, were unaware of the beauty of nature and are now savoring it. Unfortunately, communities next to coal-fired power plants who, unlike residents of areas where polluting activities have lessened, continue to breathe dirty air. Coal’s poison continues to burden these families, even as decades of exposure have already severely damaged their health and have now left them vulnerable to COVID-19.

There is much talk today of what must be done not only to immediately respond to the problems that the coronavirus has brought upon us, but also to ensure that decisions made today will help us move towards a future that is better for all. As the Holy Father Pope Francis said in his encyclical Laudato Si, no one “can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded.” For this kind of future then, there is no place for a dirty energy source like coal which torments both people and the environment.

Governments, civil society, and members of the private sector alike play important parts in ending coal’s reign, but one sector is in a unique position to drastically create meaningful change. From 2017 to the third quarter of 2019, thirteen Philippine banks provided over ₱319 million worth of financial services to coal developers. This amount is largely accountable for the potential increase of our country’s existing coal power by over 12 GW. With this, more communities across the country will have to suffer the dirty and deadly impact of power generation from coal, and those who already do so will be tied to decades more of distress.

Banks like BPI and BDO choose to use their financial power to sustain the lifeline of the coal industry instead of cutting it off. We hope this time of crisis moves them to withdraw from industries that harm our people and the planet, and instead aim to put in place permanent solutions that would better the quality of our people’s lives and equip them in facing crises in the future.

This is why we ask our banks to divest from coal. Last year, the CBCP in its Pastoral Letter on Ecology assured that every step will be made to keep the resources of the Catholic faithful from being used to aid the development of coal and fossil fuels, taking to heart Pope Francis’s counsel “that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal…needs to be progressively replaced without delay.” The Church, and all other depositors and investors who care for our environment and our fellow Filipinos, grieve knowing that the banks in whom we placed our trust are using our money to aggravate the suffering of the poorest and most vulnerable, destroying our Common Home, and fueling the rise of global temperatures.

But it is not too late. Philippine banks, with the many assets they have, must now choose to preserve human life and steer the transition towards technologies and resources that protect Creation, beginning by withdrawing from coal and instead investing in clean energy from renewables.

“We are connected to the Earth, just as our lives and the life of all other beings are interconnected with each other,” our dear Bishops said in the same letter. As we battle and strive to recover from this crisis, let us also seek to free ourselves and our fellow Filipinos from the curse of polluted air and the shackles of dirty energy. We can start this by shutting down coal. If Philippine banks, especially BPI and BDO, take the lead by phasing out their services and contributions to the coal industry, this is not impossible.