Experts: Choose Leaders with Clear Environment Platforms

by Dr. Weena Gera and Jason Baguia

Urban growth and environment experts called on voters to evaluate the development and ecological agendas of candidates as they choose who to vote in the Philippine national elections on May 9.

The country needs leaders who are sensitive to the need for better urban growth management and sustainable practices in the face of climate change, the experts said at the public forum called Sayran, Barugan! on 20 March 2016.

The event co-hosted by University of the Philippines Cebu and TV 5 at the school’s main campus in Cebu City served as a prelude to the second leg of 2016 presidential debates organized by the Commission on Elections. The event was part of UP’s aim to facilitate intelligent discourse for a broad audience and shape an informed electorate.

Incoming leaders should promote climate smart development, said Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos, Vice President of Oceana Philippines and a UP Diliman alumna.

Voters must choose leaders with a sustainability mindset, Ramos said, noting that the presidential candidates – Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, Vice President Jejomar Binay, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Sen. Grace Poe and former interior secretary Manuel Roxas II — were vague in their statements on the environment.

In her presentation dubbed The Agenda of Climate, Environment and Disaster Preparedness for the Philippines amidst its Acute Vulnerability, Ramos cited the government’s failure to enforce “world-class environmental laws,” to end abusive practices such as illegal commercial fishing and “fossil fuel-obsessed lifestyles.”

She lamented that while the Philippines is a global center of marine biodiversity it has food security issues and the world’s poorest fisherfolk.

Ramos urged voters to study the discourse taking place in elections and look where local and national candidates stand on the environment.

In addition, the next administration needs to create a Metro Development Authority for Metro Cebu to deal with multi-growth center development control and land use planning, said Dr. Primitivo Cal, Executive Director of UP PLANADES and former Dean of both UP College – Cebu and the UP School of Urban and Regional Planning (SURP).

Institutional and investment requirements would even the distribution of urban growth outside of Metro Manila, he said.

In his presentation titled The Urban Resilience Agenda: Urban Planning and Infrastructure, Cal highlighted water shortage, saltwater intrusion, and flooding from poor drainage, septage, sewerage and solid waste management systems in Metro Cebu.

Three other experts also shared insights in the open forum: Dr. Edna Co, Executive Director of UP Center for Integrative and Development Studies (UP CIDS) and former Dean of UP National College of Public Administration and Governance (UP NCPAG); Dr. Kristoffer Berse faculty member at the UP NCPAG and policy consultant to the Climate Change Commission, and Prof. Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya an award-winning author and noted geopolitical analyst from the Centre for Research on Globalization and currently Visiting Professor at the Social Science Cluster of UP Cebu.

Questions discussed included:

  • whether building flyovers is part of the urban planning solution;
  • the implications of the country’s existing mining law and the viability of the proposed Alternative Mining Bill on protected areas and ancestral domains;
  • the exploitation of the lumads;
  • the proposed sea park at SM Seaside in Cebu and the status of the Cordova Reclamation project on the sustainable use of resources, as well as the pervasive illegal sand mining activity going on in Leyte.

The speakers and panelists exhorted voters to pay attention to the following considerations in voting for a president:

  • On urban development: choose a president who looks for progressive solutions, including urban planning beyond only building flyovers or widening roads. Such a leader would also even out development in urban and rural areas, redistribute land, and invest in rural infrastructure.
  • On project implementation: choose a leader who can translate their promises into reality; leaders who can implement and inspire others to be better at implementing.
  • On natural resources: choose government leaders who are accountable for sustainably managing agricultural and marine resources, and who have a heart for the welfare of fisher folk, while scrutinizing fishing companies and commercial fishermen.
  • On climate change: choose leaders who partner with citizens to enforce the law.
  • On legislation: choose leaders who are capable of resolving conflicting laws – not those who would generate jobs today and bring profit to a few, but threaten the future generations.

The talk ended with a call for the audience to do their share in promoting good governance:

  • Be familiar with laws that support citizens. There are many remedies, but there are few environmental lawyers and few arre aware of these laws.
    • If you ask for public information and encounter evasions, refer to the Anti-Red Tape Act.
    • Know the Citizens Charter (RA 9485) that details government contact persons and how long they should reply.
    • Get involved in the Environmental Impact Assessment System, which requires projects for public consultations.
  • Stand against the reclamation of coastal areas, habitats, and environment.
    • Individuals are jailed for violating this but some government officials who earn from the projects are not.
    • Reclamation is illegal. To alter the boundaries of a locality, a national law by Congress and plebiscite by the people are required before implementation, yet some local government officials have railroaded such projects.
    • Local governments want reclamation to increase their internal revenue allotment, which is based on land area. Reclamation, however, destroys the environment.

The talk was attended by top officials of the UP System and UP Cebu led by President Alfredo E. Pascual and Dean Liza Corro in an audience estimated at around 1,000 persons.