Which candidates are most aligned with CBCP eco-actions?

April 19, 2022

With less than a month to go before the 2022 elections, some [but not all] voters are carefully assessing every action taken, every word spoken, and every move made by the national and local candidates. There have been different sets of criteria used in televised debates, surveys, online polls, and any household discussion to determine which aspirants are deemed to be best suited for government positions.

With the green agenda continuing to be overlooked in most campaign-related platforms amidst worsening climate and environmental problems, there is a need for a new lens to determine just who are the best available candidates, especially for the Presidency and Vice-Presidency. 

In 2019, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) published a pastoral letter that emphasizes the urgency of addressing the climate emergency. This statement highlighted 13 ecological actions that Catholic dioceses and members in the country should take, ranging from an immediate transition to renewable energy to reducing consumption of plastics and paper. 

The pastoral letter is largely inspired by the Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’s encyclical published back in 2015 that presents the green agenda through a faith-based perspective. As a predominantly Catholic nation, it is appropriate to assess the six most prominent Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates based on these eco-actions.

Using this criteria, which of the candidates have the best green agenda that the Philippines needs?

Greenpeace collects ‘love letters’ for presidential candidates from young Filipino voters and the public. Photo by Basilio Sepe/Greenpeace

Seal of approval?

The assessment showed that the aspirants for either the Presidency or Vice-Presidency mostly have caveats on how their green platforms align with the CBCP eco-actions. The lone exception to this is on protecting watersheds and responsible use of freshwater, on which all Presidentiables had strong stances. 

For instance, while they all recognize the climate crisis as an urgent issue, some of them support the creation of a Department of Disaster Resilience, aiming to centralize disaster response in the nation and potentially lead climate governance. This move is against established principles of prioritizing local capacities for addressing disasters and climate governance not only focusing on calamities, but also reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to changing environmental conditions.

Key to lowering emissions is a just transition to renewable energy (RE), coupled with phasing out coal-fired power plants. For this eco-action, most candidates have questionable positions, as they are at least open to building new facilities of nuclear power, natural gas, or waste-to-energy. Promoting these goes against established scientific and economic reports that present how expanding RE like solar or wind energy is more beneficial, in terms of lowering electricity rates, reducing pollution, and creating more jobs. 

Some candidates are open to amending the Constitution to allow for more foreign investments in the country; others support a joint exploration of the West Philippine Sea with China. Given these potential policies if elected, their platforms are determined to be questionable at best related to eco-actions on protecting oceans and fisheries, and informing and empowering citizens for advocacy on the passages of green laws.  

Some hopefuls also have suspect platforms in terms of protecting biodiversity and ecosystems conservation, as many of them expressed support for an expansion of the mining sector or unbridled construction of dams that threaten wildlife. Unsurprisingly, none of the candidates have made any statement for promoting divestment of banks and corporations from environmentally-harmful activities, such as mining and coal. 

No aspirant for either position has also specifically mentioned integrating Laudato Si’ in Catholic educational institutions, which could be a means to popularize the climate crisis and environmental issues. There also has been a lack of direct statement on promoting simpler lifestyles, including minimizing the use of plastics and paper. These suggest that neither eco-action is a priority in the candidates’ agendas. 

Greenpeace collects ‘love letters’ for presidential candidates from young Filipino voters and the public. Photo by Basilio Sepe/Greenpeace

Given these trends, we as Filipinos have the right to be worried about the seriousness of our next leaders on addressing climate and environmental issues. The green agenda has taken a backseat to other issues in recent years, with previous and current officials justifying environmentally-harmful projects such as the Kaliwa Dam and the planned Bulacan Aerotropolis as necessary for national development.

Yet it is undeniable that sustainable development is impossible without taking care of our common home. We all have a right to a healthy environment, as universally recognized by the UN Human Rights Council through a recent resolution. As we have that right, we also have the responsibility to take care of it.

If the climate crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, and plastic pollution have not taught us that lesson, it is hard to imagine what may. Then again, most Filipinos prefer reacting rather than initiating, don’t they?

Nonetheless, the aspirants’ agendas in relation to the CBCP’s eco-actions are not the sole factor to be considered in choosing our next President, Vice-President, and other officials. They must also have other characteristics and skills, including the following: strong track records on governance; foresight and “big-picture” thinking; lack of pending or proven criminal offenses; honesty; strong political will; compassion and respect; and moral integrity. 

As we get closer to 9 May, it has been disappointing to see the same old dirty tricks dominate the election campaign season. Yet just like climate change impacts, these tactics have become even more extreme, with personalities, colors, propaganda, and misinformation dominating conversations in most circles.

We deserve better leaders than the ones we have now, currently in office or those running for it. Yet whatever happens after May 9, we still have the climate crisis and environmental decline to address. We need to invest in our sustainable future. That starts with voting wisely.

John Leo is the Deputy Executive Director for Programs and Campaigns of Living Laudato Si’ Philippines and a member of the interim Secretariat of Aksyon Klima Pilipinas. He has been representing Philippine civil society in global and regional UN conferences on climate and the environment since 2017. He is also a climate and environment journalist. 

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