Earth Day: Unity Eco-Walk vs threats to the environment and people’s rights

The Unity Eco-Walk highlights the importance of unity in defending the environment and the people's rights.

The Climate Change Network for Community-based Initiatives (CCNCI), together with other environmental groups and advocates, commemorated Earth Day by holding a Unity Eco-Walk inside the University of the Philippines campus to show their strong resolve to defend human rights including the people’s sovereign rights over the environment and natural resources being threatened by the government-initiated charter change.

The theme of this year’s event, Defend our Environment, Defend our Rights, also highlights the importance of unity in defending the environment and the people’s rights amidst the current administration’s slide into authoritarianism. Close to a hundred people participated in the said activity.

In implementing the rights-based approach with the Third World Health Aid, CCNCI and its member organizations are undertaking community-based initiatives to address climate change in the most vulnerable areas in the country. For CCNCI, addressing poverty and social inequities is the best way to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Hence, it is active in actions aimed at advancing the rights of the people as it promotes environmental protection.

Biggest Threat

In a statement, the Eco-Walk organizers said that aside from large-scale mining, big plantations, and other extractive activities, the biggest threat to the environment and natural resources is the proposed charter change provision of 100% foreign ownership over public lands, waters, minerals, energy, agriculture, fisheries, biodiversity, and other natural resources reserved to benefit Filipinos.

They cited as an example the country's experience under the Mining Act of 1995 that allows full foreign ownership on mining operations that resulted in no concrete economic gains while 68 percent of all operating mines are involved in various violations.

The current Constitution limits foreign participation in the exploitation, development, and utilization of natural resources and operation of public utilities, among others.

The governance provisions in charter change also amount to a de facto dictatorship with vast appointing and legislative powers concentrated in the presidency.

The current administration can extend its term limits and revamp government institutions that serve as checks and balances in governance. We are faced with the prospect of having the same old traditional politicians engaged in plunder and violence against environmental defenders in an indefinite stay in power,” said the organizers.

Deadliest country in Asia

With 41 land and environment-related killings in 2017, The Philippines was declared the deadliest country in Asia for land and environmental defenders, according to a study released by the international advocacy group Global Witness. Local environmental advocates attributed the spike in the killings to President Duterte’s crackdown against dissenters and critics aimed at systematically uprooting communities standing against the entry of mining operations and agribusiness ventures into their lands.

After the unity walk, the participants split into different groups to take part in various environmental education activities such as bird watching, native trees walk, and museum (Institute of Biology) walk to let them realize what is at stake if Filipinos let the government open up the country's forests and natural resources to foreign corporations whose main concern is to accumulate profit at the expense of the people’s welfare and interest.

Climate change awareness

CCNCI conducted an urban gardening workshop for children to introduce them early to environmental advocacy. During the workshop, the children’s awareness of climate change was reinforced through stories based on the experiences of farmers and indigenous peoples who are directly bearing the brunt of the rise in temperature and how they cope up with it.

Aside from CCNCI, the Eco-Walk organizers included Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment and the LUNTIAN Coalition, AGHAM – Advocates of Science and Technology for the People, Center for Environmental Concerns – Philippines, College of Science Student Council, March for Science Alliance, Miriam Public Education and Awareness Campaign for the Environment, Nilad, Philippine Native Plants Conservation Society Inc., UP Manila University Student Council – Science and Environment Committee, and Wild Bird Club of the Philippines.

March for Science

A week ago, the above-mentioned organizations joined the global March for Science as they called out the government for its continued lack of resource allocation for scientific research and development and its lack of trust in the capability of local scientists to conduct meaningful research, especially in this time of climate change.

They called on Filipino scientists, engineers, and technicians to stand and work together for the genuine development of Filipino science and technology that is responsive to the needs of the people and in defense of the national patrimony and sovereignty.