By KARL BEGNOTEA
The year that was, 2015, was replete with historic moments full of victories and challenges for the environmental movement. It holds lessons and inspirations that can serve as a compass through the trials that must be hurdled in 2016.
It marks the fifth year under the governance of the present Aquino administration, where the state of our ecosystems, natural resources, and communities have concretely fared no better. On the other hand, 2015 also saw communities and social movements dramatically raising the ante of their struggle to safeguard our environment and people.
Resisting Mining Plunder, Defending National Patrimony
This 2015 marked the 20th year since the ratification of the reviled Philippine Mining Act of 1995. Twenty years after, the Aquino government continued to serve as a conduit of the mining liberalization policy’s wholesale of our minerals, to the detriment of communities and ecosystems from the ridges to the reefs, and of our national economy.
Mining-threatened and affected communites saw through the various ruses of government to allegedly ‘balance’ economic and socio-environmental interests in the industry. The peak of protests were in 2015, as we saw biggest anti-Mining Act rallies from Northern Luzon to Southern Mindanao, followed by a series of thousands-strong mobilizations across the Philippines, throughout the year.
Around 5,000 Mindorenos staged an Independence Day rally against the impending mining project of Norwegian mine firm Intex. More than 2,000 Batanguenos gathered in the town of Lobo in an action opposing the approval of the MRL-Egerton mine project in their biodiversity-rich mountains. Both provinces are situated beside the famed Verde Isand Passage marine biodiversity corridor.
The dangerous link between mining and militarization were fully exposed in the #StopLumadKillings campaign that went viral on social media in September after the grisly murders by paramilitary groups in a Lumad school in Northeast Mindanao. Hundreds of Lumad went on a 600-strong Manilakbayan to Metro Manila demanding the pull out of military and paramilitary troops that terrorize their ancestral lands to clear the way for coal and metallic mines and agri-plantations.
The 700-strong ‘Martsa Amianan’ of North Luzon indigenous and peasant communities converged with the Manilakbayan and thousands of masses in the Mega-Manila sphere in an epic, 8,000-people protest caravan that overcame a Marcosian security crackdown and got within 50 meters away from the halls of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) economic leaders’ summit. The APEC is a major proponent of mining liberalization and other pollutive and plunderous economic programs in the Asia-Pacific region.
Beyond the numbers, the scaling-up and deepening maturation of the anti-mining liberalization movement in the Philippines can also be seen in this year’s concrete victories. Filipinos felled a mining giant, the Anglo-Swiss Glencore, as decades of various struggles from scientific investigations ultimately armed resistance culminated in the fourth-largest mining transnational corporation’s divestment from the Tampakan project in the SOCSKSARGEN region.
Davao City also became the 20th local government to declare a ban or moratorium on large-scale mining in their town, city, or province. This is especially significant in the time of Aquino’s Executive Order 79, which curtails the autonomy of local governments and communities in opposing and restricting the entry of large-scale mines.
Defying imperialist ‘CO2lonialism’, fighting for climate justice
The much-anticipated visit of the beloved Pope Francis in Manila and Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) ground zero in Tacloban set the stage for a year of heightened climate action.
We witnessed the Aquino administration’s climate hypocrisy come full circle, claiming to carry the banner of climate leadership while continuing to neglect communities affected by climate-driven disasters and leaving climate-disrupting coal and other fossil fuel power projects unfettered.
The people defied Aquino’s deceptive rhetoric and destructive conduct. Thousands mobilized in Batangas and Quezon provinces to oppose impending coal-fired power plant projects that will pollute their air, water, and the climate.
On the anniversary of the world’s historically largest typhoon, around 20,000 Yolanda survivors took to the streets of Tacloban once again to protest the continuing criminal neglect, corruption, and militarization inflicted by the Aquino government especially upon the interior areas of the typhoon-devastated areas.
Filipino climate and environmental activists made sure the voice of the climate-vulnerable frontlines reverberated across the country and the world during the 21st Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 21). More than 1,200 advocates joined hundreds of thousands across the world in climate marches to demand world leaders to deliver a binding climate agreement based on science and justice.
Climate movements around the world have been weathered with the bitter experiences of past COPs, and the deeper understanding of the systemic roots of the climate crisis. There is a growing global consensus that climate change is not only a scientific reality, but an injustice perpetuated by imperialist ‘CO2lonialism’ of powerful industrialized countries against the poor and vulnerable communities and nations of the world. Banners with the slogan “System Change, Not Climate Change!” are now an ubiquitous sight in climate actions everywhere.
At the COP 21’s conclusion, with a watered-down climate treaty inevitable, more than 1,000 bikers and walkers under the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, and the Bikers UNITE took to the streets of Manila as one of the first movements in the world to condemn the agreement that came ‘dead on arrival’, and to promise an escalation of climate struggles post-COP 21.
Revving-up the people’s struggles in 2016
It goes without saying that 2015 had plenty more significant developments, large or small, in our long-standing endeavor to ‘Save Planet A,’ so to speak. We should draw inspiration, vigor, and hopeful optimism from all of these lessons and successes.
We are again entering the national elections season this 2016. We must look at this year as another opportunity to bring to fore the urgent environmental concerns we continue to face, on one hand, without forgetting the need for a strategic and radical overhaul of the economic and political systems from the ecological and climate crises emanate.
If we environmental advocates continue with the fundamentals of 2015—to serve the people’s interests, to rely on the boundless energy and strength of the masses, and to strike at the core of the crises—there is no reason to not look forward to a revved-up new year!#
Karl Begnotea is a field biologist and a schools and communities organizing officer of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment.