Filipino youth demand newly-elected officials for climate justice

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Almost a thousand Filipino youth across thirteen cities in the country took to the streets their demands for climate justice last Friday, May 24, as part of the global movement of climate youth strikes.

The rallies come shortly after the recently concluded Philippine midterm elections where over 18,000 national and local positions were filled for the incoming term of service.

In the youth strikes, the following national demands were brought to the fore for government leaders:

Phasing out coal and fossil fuel; Just transition to 100% Renewable Energy by 2050; Strengthening the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997 (RA 8371); Appropriate legislation & funding for climate research and development; Strengthening of the Climate Change Adaptation-Disaster Risk Reducation Management Policy; and Fast-tracking the Sustainable Transportation Act of 2017.

A day before the strike, Kabataan Partylist Representative Sarah Elago filed HR 2565 in Congress urging the lower house to signify its full commitment in support of the Youth Strike for Climate movement.

“As the hope of our nation and the inheritor of our tomorrow, the protection and defense of our environment are in our hands. We need to act; we must unite now,” the youngest member of the 17th Congress said.

The congresswoman said legislators need to be urged to support movements like this because these mobilize support and apply pressure to move priority bills into law.

Elago joined the march in Metro Manila alongside 200 other student advocates and young climate activists who paraded with their placards from Morayta to the Mendiola Peace Arch which ended with a Program.

“The survival of the next generation which we are a part of is non-negotiable. We are taking these concerns to the streets because we want people, especially the government, to recognize that climate change is one of the biggest problems that we are facing now which we need to act on,” said Manila Lead Convener Jefferson Estela.

Estela is part of the Youth Strike for Climate PH, the main organizer of the local climate strikes, which is a coalition of youth-led environment organizations, initiatives, and movements in the country.

Local strikes across cities

Indigenous youth from the Apu Palamguwan Cultural Education Center in Bendum, Bukidnon also voiced out their commitments for climate action as part of the #FridaysForFuture movement.

“Indigenous Peoples deeply value their ancestral domain because it is the root of their cultural identity and spirituality. This integral relationship is what allows them to manage their forests, produce their crops, and protect their waters in ways that contribute to climate change mitigation,” Amor Paredes, Program Manager of Environmental Science for Social Change in Bukidnon, said.

While indigenous people are considered to be at the forefront of environmental protection, Paredes said that they still continue to face threats on their land rights and still lack greater local and global recognition and support.

She added: “As a global movement for climate justice, it is imperative that we include the Indigenous Peoples. This is how we make real change happen.”

Meanwhile, Tacloban City Lead Convener KC Bacolod admitted that the rally was bittersweet as he recalled losing 5 of his friends to Super Typhoon Yolanda, the deadliest natural disaster to hit the country which claimed over 6,000 lives.

“God forbid, Yolanda may just be the start of many more Yolanda’s to come so that is why we need to stand as a unified voice and work alongside our local governments to demand for just, political action,” the 21-year-old climate activist said.

In a letter of solidarity addressed to Tacloban City Vice Mayor Sambo Yakaosin, the youth expressed:

“Tacloban has experienced the brunt of climate vulnerability. But as Tacloban has shown, our vulnerability was not just a weakness. It was also a strength. People have shown the ability and strength of rising back up and coming together for each other.”

“This is not just the fight of the planet, but the fight of humanity and survival,” Bacolod added. Several local youth strikes were also simultaneously organized in other cities including: Davao City, General Santos, Iloilo, Bacolod, Bulacan, Cebu City, Pampanga, Ilocos Norte, Koronadal, San Carlos City in Negros Occidental, and Antipolo.

Trained school strike organizers

While critics slam rallies as “added noise to the streets,” various environmental coalitions believe that occupying public space is just one of the tools to move public policy.

One such is 350.org, an international environmental non-profit which organized the East Asia School Strike Organizers Camp prior to the local youth strike. The camp sought to empower and train school strike organizers on climate justice and non-violent direct action.

Beatrice Tulagan, East Asia Regional Field Organizer of 350.org, said that it is crucial for environmental organizations to support and empower local activists, especially young people, so they can serve as a new generation of front-liners.

“From the beginning, we’re really focused on building a grassroots climate movement to sustain new advocates’ interests and engagement with climate change issues,” she said.

During the training, the school strike organizers who became the lead conveners in their respective cities were trained to articulate their agenda and demands and properly lobby to formal channels.

Former DENR Undersecretary and environmental lawyer Tony La Viña expressed that rallies are effective as long as the demands are clear.

“The demands must be specific. The protester must ask for a policy change, a decision government must make, or a behavior a private company must change. Otherwise, it is just noise,” the former dean of the Ateneo School of Government said in an interview.

Although springing from the global movement initiated by Greta Thunberg, the youth strikes here in the Philippines “grew organically” because of connections made in environmental conferences and seminars, organizers said.

“Grassroots movements and local initiatives are shaping a new wave of young activists for the planet. With the relentless energy and creativity that our generation has, we are simply refusing to accept defeat!” Bacolod Lead Convener Krishna Ariola shared.

A race against time

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its landmark report last year warned that we have 12 years left to cut carbon emissions before the effects of climate change will be Irreversible.

Threatened ecosystems, extreme weather events, climate-caused poverty, and unprecedented sea-level rises that would affect 10 million people by 2100 are the most glaring issues stated in the report.

According to the report, rapid and far-reaching transitions in land use practices and energy and transport systems would be needed to help keep global temperatures within 1.5C, which can only be achieved withcomprehensive environmental policies.

Jim Skea, a co-chair of the working group on mitigation, was quoted in the Guardian: “It can be done within laws of physics and chemistry. Then the final tick box is political will. We cannot answer that. Only our audience can – and that is the governments that receive it.”

The Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,600 islands, is reported by HSBC to bear the brunt of this human-induced impending catastrophe as it poses to be the third most climate change-vulnerable country in the world following India and Pakistan.

All hope is not lost, however, as proven by the massive climate movements led by next generation leaders across the world. The Philippines is definitely no stranger to heeding the call of the times.

“Our passion comes from both fear and hope. If we let ourselves be paralyzed by fear, we can never take the steps we need to catalyze change. And so we are powered on by hope. Amidst the bleak climate crisis and with an 11-year deadline looming all over us, we keep going by rising up,” Ariola said.

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