Pioneering national biodiversity conservation organization Haribon is calling on the public to factor in the environment in deciding who to vote for on May 13, Election Day. But while at this, we are saddened in showing this reality: environmental and conservation issues have been neglected in these elections, especially with those running for positions, who bear the burden of enlightening the electorate, having little to show as far as the environment is concerned.
On Election Day, the people will choose 12 senators, 233 members of congress and 58 party-list groups, on top of governors and mayors and still other local officials. In total, 18,053 elective posts are in contention all over the country. This number of public servants who all profess to serve have the potential as allies in solving many of the nation’s problems, among them the continuing threats to the diversity of life in this part of the world. But a review of the candidates for the highest category of public office, our Senate, presents some key challenges.
Based on Haribon Foundation’s review of the 33 senatorial candidates, we see that majority of those running have not exhibited great concern for environmental issues and further do not present commendable plans toward nature conservation in their platforms.
This conclusion is derived from sources available to us concerning each senatorial candidate’s track record and platform, and our direct experience in working with the Senate as an institution for our advocacies.
Of the 33 candidates, only six have given attention to environmental concerns in their careers. And while they can be considered as having shown a “Strong” advocacy, only two of them, both reelectionists, have closely worked with Civil Society Organizations, including Haribon, in pushing legislation such as those for the protection of our forests (i.e., Forest Resources Bill) and in standing up against projects deemed not beneficial for our forests and indigenous peoples (i.e., Laiban Dam).
We believe that candidates truly worthy of public office should have given due attention to environmental concerns at some point in the past of their careers, and having six out of 33 is a cause for concern. But if this is not applicable, then we trust that candidates can make up by presenting to do something in the future—through their platforms. For this criteria, the numbers are slightly higher, but still not impressive.
Of the 33 candidates, 13 have the environment on their agenda or at least threw in some gaze in the direction of environmental issues. But of these 13, only five consistently present platforms that appear to us as having some degree of substance. This five include a candidate who has led one of the Philippines’ most biodiversity-rich province in its environmental campaigns. Unfortunately, the majority of those that mentioned the environment in their platforms are focused on just a single issue—climate change.
At Haribon Foundation, we focus on a more targeted approach to environmental advocacy.
While we recognize that climate change is indeed a crucial environmental concern, it is equally important not to overlook national environmental issues that form important components of the field of ecology. Specifically, we urge those running for senator, who have the resources to conduct deeper research, to look into concerns such as forest, coral reefs, freshwater and other habitat loss that lead to the extinction of species in ecosystems where we get the food we eat, the water we drink, and the very air we breathe.
The danger with the current trend among politicians to focus only on “climate change” is that sticking to this issue tends to oversimplify our environmental problems. “Climate change” becomes a sort of catchphrase that politicians can employ, without them fulfilling the need to elaborate.
The result of this deficiency shows. We see that what stands for environmental platforms for a majority of candidates are reiterations of common phrases to the tune of “preventing global warming”—statements that lack nuance and are indicative of being half-baked plans or platforms.
But the onus of putting in nature conservation into the political agenda lies heavily on the candidates who at least have adequate resources that they can use if they do want to go deeper into conservation issues and share this with their constituents.
Especially in our time, politicians’ commitment is needed for at least two reasons manifesting themselves recently: with the many issues that the common Filipino now face, it is no wonder that the environment ends up being the least of their priorities.
In 2010, a Social Weather Stations survey showed that the environment was hardly lodged in the public consciousness a year after the tragedy of Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng was felt in the national capital. Surveys often ask questions relating only to “socio-economic” concerns where the issue of “Poverty” often ranks highest and where “the Environment” is sometimes out of sight, despite the fact that having intact ecosystems provide services that fulfill our basic needs. Having public officials who have stronger advocacies for the environment will greatly help in changing this situation and raising public awareness on environmental concerns, provided they conduct serious research.
Secondly, the past months have shown us a number of issues that require a more consistent environmental consciousness for us to really appreciate: the ship-groundings in Tubbataha by American and later Chinese vessels, the illegal acquisition of the endemic Palawan pangolin; and just recently the reported damage to coral reefs by a submarine made for tourists in Cebu.
There are a host of complex issues that candidates can study and bring to the table for discussion and debate. Currently, this is not happening.
With this, we urge our informed members and the public at large first to vote critically for the sake of nature, and then to be ever more vigilant in making sure that elected leaders deliver on their campaign promises and come up with concrete action toward biodiversity conservation.
For our part, Haribon, as a membership organization, continues to conduct activities informing its members, supporters and donors—who are voters too—of the concepts of biodiversity and why it is important. We regularly conduct discussions of relevant environmental issues with our members, conduct research, and go directly to the field in our project sites for the fulfillment of our mission.
With more government officials who can show a deep commitment to nature and biodiversity conservation, this task can be multiplied, and the destruction of our ecosystems just might not end up being a foregone conclusion for our children and children’s children. But our leaders, those already in their posts and those vying to enter, must first truly be champions of the environment.