Green think-tank exposes gap between Duterte pronouncements in SONA vs reality

The Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED) on Tuesday called on President Rodrigo Duterte to address the inconsistency between his State of the Nation Address (SONA) pronouncements on the environment and the realities of environmental protection under his administration.

Duterte, in his address, declared that the responsible use of natural resources is one of his ‘non-negotiables’.

“Unless we are working on different definitions of the concepts of ‘responsible’ and ‘protection’ concerning the environment, there is a very big gap between what is happening on the ground, what his cabinet members are doing, and what President Duterte said in his SONA,” said Avril De Torres, Research, Policy, and Law Program Head of CEED.

The President did not reaffirm his directive to Department of Energy Secretary (DOE) Al Cusi to expedite the expansion of renewable energy in the country, a directive which rang hollow as the department instead opted for its “technology neutral” approach.

“The President seemed content with his motherhood statement, but environmentalists and renewable energy advocates would not be satisfied. They were looking for reassurance that Duterte is still on the side of the environment through a reaffirmation of his directive to Cusi in the previous SONA, as well as a declaration of support for coal divestment. There was no concrete discussion on that matter,” said De Torres.

The President was also silent on his administration’s advancement of the extractives industry amid a worsening climate crisis. 

“Prior to the SONA, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy Cimatu said that some mines closed by his predecessor Gina Lopez will be reopened after these companies were shuttered for violations of environmental regulations. The Office of the President itself is responsible for the possible reopening of one of these after it restored the Environmental Compliance Certificate of the Tampakan mining project,” explained De Torres.

Mining activities are known to exacerbate the vulnerabilities of the country’s most climate-change impacted communities by causing erosions, land and water contamination, flooding due to deforestation, and biodiversity loss. The 58,245-acre Tampakan open pit mine, in particular, is notorious for extreme environmental degradation and aggression of proponents against the area’s indigenous communities.

“We have more coal power plants in the pipeline and a resurgence of air pollution brought about by increased activity as the quarantine is relaxed, and yet the President could only talk about Boracay. Air quality is another problem that is all the more pressing as our health care systems are overwhelmed with Covid-19 cases,” added De Torres.

The environmentalist said that while the rehabilitation of highly commercialized areas are helpful for as long as measures to cushion impacts to livelihood of local communities are made, the administration cannot be content with simply having trophy projects to showcase environmental efforts.

“We are in a health crisis that, as recent scientific researches show, emerged largely due to environmentally abusive practices. It makes no sense that the government is mum on key ecological issues, especially when these press on our people on a daily basis and, if left unaddressed, spell an even dimmer future for Filipinos,” she said.