Building a safer, resilient and sustainable world for the future generations

December 3, 2014

Privilege Speech of Senator Loren Legarda

“Building a safer, resilient and sustainable world

for the future generations”

3 December 2014 – Senate Session Hall


Mr. President,

I rise on a matter of personal and collective privilege to fight complacency and ignite action against a crisis that affects each and every person on this Earth.


I show you this map of sea surface temperatures from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration of the US (NOAA). The reddest parts of the oceans are the hottest parts of the sea surface. Note what country lies in the middle. Yes, that is our beloved Philippines.


What does this mean? It means three things:


One, basic atmospheric science tells us that hot water is the fuel of typhoons. Thus, last year, we were hit by the strongest typhoon in history to make landfall.


Second, where there is hot water, there is faster evaporation, and greater condensation and greater precipitation, or rain. Thus, we have experienced and will continue to experience intense rainfall and its consequential flooding.


Third, because heat expands matter, seawater is expanding around the Philippines, causing a rise in sea level.


This is just one of the impacts of the unraveling climate change.  In fact, we should no longer call it climate change. Rather, we should begin calling it the ‘climate crisis.’


Yet despite the ongoing crisis, the world is in a state of paralysis, doing the same thing over and over in the prevailing business-as-usual complacency. The political branches of almost all governments of the world are stuck in the mindset of economic development at all costs, even at the cost of the very sources of life  — land, air, and water. The climate change negotiations under the umbrella of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change are at a standstill, a case of paralysis by analysis.


It is in this light that a team of some of the world’s top international environmental lawyers, backed up by a crack team of scientists, is initiating an unprecedented legal action before the International Court of Justice. It seeks to hold to account all States and their Government duty-bound to take serious and sustained action to address and face the climate crisis.


Thus, we have filed Senate Resolution No. 1030 calling on the President of the Republic of the Philippines and the Secretary of Foreign Affairs to take the lead in passing a resolution in the 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in 2015, urging the International Court of Justice for an Advisory Opinion on the question:


Under International Law, what are the legal duties of States to protect humankind of today and the future from the climate crisis?


Let me repeat that:

Under International Law, what are the legal duties of States to protect humankind of today and the future from the climate crisis?


Under this legal procedure, all governments of the world will be asked to submit their comment. This exercise will force them to seriously think about the climate crisis. This move will also compel governments to take action to enable the human species to address or face the ever-worsening impacts of the climate crisis.


This movement is very creative. It is not just about filing a case in the International Court of Justice, or a piece of paper called a judicial decision. What makes this movement unique and unprecedented is that it requires every person who seeks to join, to effect changes in their lifestyle in order to reduce their carbon footprint and impact on natural resources.


The idea here is to have everyone working together. If we call on our government to set targets to reduce climate-disrupting gases, we must also set our own targets in reducing our personal carbon footprint. If we want to trigger action, change must first come within us.


Only then will members of the movement, mainly children and the young all over the world, be empowered to petition their governments and their UN Ambassadors to support the initiative in the UN General Assembly and in the International Court of Justice.


Mr. President, this is a global mobilization of unprecedented proportions, by the youth of this Earth who have the most at stake in what we do, or fail to do, today.



Crisis is Opportunity


In Chinese the character for ‘crisis’ is made up of two characters: “Danger and opportunity”.


We all know the dangers. What is the opportunity?


The opportunity may be found in a line once uttered by one of the great geniuses of the 20th century: We cannot solve a problem using the same mindset that created the problem in the first place. If burning of oil and coal is the main cause of the problem, the solution is to cut it down as much as possible.


There lies the opportunity, Mr. President.  The mindset of motor vehicles, cars, and more cars is also the catalyst for the array of problems that we see today, among them: severe traffic congestion, the poisoning of the very air we breathe, intense flooding, social alienation, the high cost of transportation, extreme urban poverty, and acute psychological stress.


How do we solve the problem of traffic? The solution does not seem to be the widening of roads or the construction of more flyovers, because over time, new roads would just be filled with new cars.


The solution is simple, simple but brilliant: A Road Diet. We need to constrict our roads so that we will be forced to use public space more efficiently.  Consider these facts:


1.    A person standing up occupies only 1/8 of a square meter. Sitting down he occupies ¼ of a square meter.


2.    Whereas only 2 per cent of our people own motor vehicles, all of the roads are given to motor vehicles. The 98 million Filipinos who do not have motor vehicles do not even have a place to walk, to bike, or the option of good public transportation.


Mr. President, this is injustice of the highest order.  In Constitutional Law, this is a violation of the guarantee to equal protection of the laws.


I wish to cite a related initiative, the Bayanihan sa Daan, which maintains that our roads should be shared among pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. It promotes a paradigm shift from the motor vehicle-based transportation system to a multi-modal system, wherein people are not dependent on their own motorized vehicles every time they go out, instead, they can choose different modes of transportation depending on their needs—walking or biking for short distances, and safe, reliable, inexpensive and convenient public transportation system for long distance trips.


A legal petition has been filed in the Supreme Court of the Philippines to divide the roads by half: Half for motor vehicles, mainly for good public transportation, and half for cyclists and people.  By the way, this is already a law: under  Sec. 9, Executive Order No. 774 and Administrative Order No. 254 of 2009.


Those who think this is impossible, let it be said here and now that this initiative has in fact already been done in the City of Iloilo. Along the Diversion Road of Iloilo, more than one-half of the roads are devoted to pedestrian walkways and beautiful bicycle lanes. This is a product of the vision and the work of one man who is here today, our distinguished Senate President.


Mr. President, this idea may be radical, no, it is revolutionary. But then Mr. President, local government officials working with their people are already showing how this can be done.


Vigan has a totally pedestrianized street in Calle Crisologo; Marikina is the first city to build bike lanes as a permanent fixture of its roads, Pasig already has 4 car-less roads and is the first to experiment the innovative Filipino-style Tricycle Rapid Transport (TRT) and road sharing of the East Bank Road; Cebu has started the Green Loop Experiment, and lastly, but certainly not the least, the City of Iloilo. Iloilo has shown the meaning of road sharing and has put up the Esplanade along the now-clean Iloilo River.


Members of the Bayanihan sa Daan Team are here today, Mr. President, to show their support to the Senate and to urge us to facilitate the passage of the Sustainable Transport bills filed by many of our colleagues.


These men and women are truly thought leaders. But more than thinkers they are also men and women of action. After all, thought without action is like a bow without an arrow, useless without the other.


Mr. President, we need a revolution, a peaceful turnaround of the mind, armed only with the sword of reason, the firepower of the Law, and the violence of an idea whose time has come.


Thank you, Mr. President.