Loren Legarda: The Environment Champion We Need

August 22, 2021

In these times of great environment and humanitarian crises, there is no way but to look for a leader who thinks of solutions for deliverance.

In the Philippines, perhaps the most successful environment politician in the history of the country is three term Senator, now Antique congresswoman and Deputy Speaker, Loren Legarda, an acknowledged environment and climate champion on the world stage, passionate author of most of our environment and climate legislation.

She has been tackling the issues besetting the environment even as a young broadcast journalist. She did stories on what troubled the Pasig River, the Tullahan River, Laguna Lake, and Manila Bay early in the 1980s in ABS-CBN, perhaps her own awakening on environment issues that led to more than a decade-long journey of crafting over dozens of legislation from her three-term stint in the Senate and now as Antique Congresswoman, the first for the province.


Why she ran for senator

As a young child growing up in flood-prone Malabon, she wandered through the garden chasing butterflies and dragonflies with her playmates. Her first read was Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in grade school at The Assumption. She painted and wrote poetry on nature as a child. In her reportorial days, she knew that the environment she once enjoyed was facing decay. Early on, she began challenging people in and out of the government to do something about it.

It was probably one of the most compelling reasons why she decided to run for the Senate in 1998. She knew she could convert her immense popularity, work ethic, and knowledge as a media personality into something even more useful as an environmental advocate, though she realized at the outset that it was easier to produce an environmental documentary than pass environmental legislation, because most of her colleagues had little interest in the subject then, and possibly because of political dynamics.


 Male-dominated worlds

But her toughness as a journalist with mostly male colleagues brought her into the halls of a bicameral Congress with yet again mostly male colleagues.

“Environmental measures were initially met with apathy and resistance from some quarters but I was unfazed and relentless. Colleagues would argue then that climate change is a purely environmental issue, that climate change will occur regardless of intended efforts to address it; that creating a permanent entity to coordinate policies and programs will not contribute to the solution and may be a total waste of government’s money; that a local climate change adaptation fund is unnecessary because there are calamity funds anyway,” she said.

“Despite these, I convinced Congress that the law is urgently needed to survive and thrive in the era of climate change.”


Pioneering laws

After decades of study and hard work, from the award-winning journalist who once called people’s attention to environmental issues, Legarda is now hailed as an environmental champion, not just in the Philippines but also globally, because of her pioneering legislation, including getting the Senate to pass unanimous concurrence in the accession to the Paris Agreement in March 2017– an embodiment of a legacy.

In 1998, Legarda was the principal sponsor of RA 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, which was passed into law two years later in July 2000. The law requires every household, barangay, city or municipality to ensure the proper segregation, collection, and disposal of solid waste and mandates the establishment of a materials recovery facility (MRF).

“It is only appropriate that we protect the very environment which we have relied so heavily on for food, water, shelter, and basic needs. I have been campaigning for its full implementation, but the progress has been painfully slow and the pandemic has further opened the gaps on the already low compliance rate of this two-decade-old law,” she said.

This was followed by the passage of the Philippine Clean Air Act in 1999 that bans incineration or the burning of municipal, biomedical and hazardous waste. It sets emission standards for all motor vehicles and pollutant limitations for industry.

In 2004, RA 9275 Philippine Clean Water Act was passed into law, which penalizes acts of polluting water resources, such as disposing of or introducing pollutants in rivers or injecting or allowing them to enter the soil and pollute groundwater.

In 2008, Legarda co-authored RA 9513, the Renewable Energy Act to promote the development of renewable energy resources such as biomass, solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, and ocean energy sources, to reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.

In 2010, the United Nations lauded the passage of RA 10121 Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act,  a policy shift from a reactionary to a proactive stance in addressing disasters.

For a country prone to natural disasters, an annual fund of P1 billion intended for local government units (LGUs) and accredited local community organizations to implement climate change adaptation projects was allocated under RA 10174 People’s Survival Fund Act that Legarda principally sponsored.

In 2018, Legarda was principal author of RA 11038, Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act (2018) that mandates the creation of a Protected Area Management Plan for each of the 94 areas, which will be executed by a Protected Area Management Board composed of local government units, environment officials, indigenous peoples’ representatives, academe, and civil society.

For all that, Legarda has received numerous leadership and environment awards and recognition, probably even more than the 30 or more awards she got as an award-winning broadcast journalist.

For her unfaltering crusade for the environment, the World Economic Forum in Davos named Legarda as one of the “Global Leaders for Tomorrow” in year 2000.

In 2001 in Turin, Italy, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) honored her as a UNEP Laureate and included her name in the Global 500 Roll of Honour for being in the frontline of global environment action.

In May 2009, Legarda addressed the Bhutan National Sensitization Workshop on Disaster Risk Reduction in her first official country mission as the Asia-Pacific Regional Champion for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation of the United Nations.

She encouraged the delegates to incorporate and articulate disaster risk reduction as a pillar and an integral part of their laudable development concept of Gross National Happiness. She highlighted the need to make disaster risk reduction a primary strategy for sustainable development and adapting to climate change.

In July 2009, Legarda led the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (formerly UNISDR) High-Level Advocacy Mission to the Republic of Maldives that sealed an agreement between Maldives and UNDRR to define a comprehensive disaster risk reduction strategy for the island-nation and find means for the UN and other partners to help the country implement this strategy.

In 2014, Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe invited her as the lone Philippine delegate to the World Assembly for Women in Tokyo, Japan and in 2015, Legarda was co-head of the Philippine delegation to the Third United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (3WCDRR) in Sendai, Japan.

In 2016, she was co-head of the Philippine delegation to the High Level Signing of the Paris Agreement in New York. The following year, she headed the Philippine delegation to the 23rd Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 23) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany. She also headed the delegation to COP 25 in Madrid, Spain in December 2019.

In March 2017, she acquired the Senate’s unanimous concurrence in the accession to the Paris Agreement.

“The Paris Agreement is an embodiment of a legacy. This will go down in history as one of our shining achievements. The 17th Congress can be regarded as the legislative assembly that championed climate action, environmental protection, and sustainable development.”

In April 2017, Legarda announced on Earth Day (April 22) that the Paris Agreement on Climate Change will enter into force for the Philippines.

“Earth Day will once again be historic for the Philippines as it will mark the commencement of the Paris Agreement’s legal force and effect in our country. It will also mark a great start to our journey towards a resilient and sustainable future,” said Legarda, Chair of the Senate Committee on Climate Change and UNDRR Global Champion for Resilience.

In March 2018, she was also Head of the Philippine Delegation to the 138th Assembly of the Inter Parliamentary Union in Geneva, Switzerland.  

At another forum, she delivered the keynote speech at the Forum on the Human Impact of Climate Change in Geneva where she reiterated her call for a new brand of politics and governance to address the growing disaster risks.

She imparted a doctrine she introduced at the Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction, the LEGARDA DOCTRINE – a new development thinking, a more holistic development philosophy, a kind of development that is founded on sustainable and equitable socio-economic development, ecosystems protection, cultural resilience, and good governance, which must be adopted by world leaders.

She was appointed as the Asia Pacific Regional Champion for Disaster Risk Reduction, a title designated by the UNDRR on someone from the region who embodies its mission and ideals in advocating and advancing disaster risk reduction.

Legarda is at present the UNDRR Global Champion for Resilience, the UNFCCC National Adaptation Plan Champion, a Commissioner of the Global Commission on Adaptation, the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) Ambassador for Parliaments, and the Women Political Leaders Global Ambassador for Disaster Risk Reduction, Climate Change and Environment.


Proof of climate danger

Legarda said the extreme weather conditions the world is experiencing right now is proof that the danger of climate change is real.

“We’ve been experiencing stronger tropical cyclones, which have resulted in massive flash floods, landslides and storm surges; more intense droughts and dry spells; and erratic rainfall patterns. And if there’s anything that each disaster has taught us, it is the realization that we are all vulnerable,” she said.

“This is just one degree of warming. If we do not take action, the Earth could be three to four degrees Celsius warmer by 2100.  An uninhabitable planet will spell poverty and suffering for millions worldwide,” she added.

“The threat of strong typhoons constantly brings back the fear of another Ondoy, Pepeng or Yolanda taking place again.  These super typhoons had left more than a thousand people killed and millions offamilies whose safety, livelihood and properties were affected by massive flooding and landslides. There will always be typhoons and its impact will probably be far worse than what we have experienced thus far. Yet our people should feel confident that even in the worst of situations, they would have a fair chance of survival,” Legarda said.


What else can be done?

In the House of Representatives, the former three-term senator continues to search for solutions to the growing social, economic, and development challenges caused by environmental degradation and disasters worsened by climate change, amid the pandemic.

“I filed other bills, such as the Philippine Circular Economy Act, which aims to promote a sustainable lifestyle by using and reusing resources more efficiently to prevent depletion and to rely less on the extraction of natural resources; and the Philippine Ecosystem and Natural Capital Accounting System Act to enable government planners to have a full understanding of the natural capital available and expendable in the pursuit of national goals, among others,” she said.

Legarda lamented that the number of environmental and climate change laws, however, was no guarantee for effective action.

There is an urgent need to imbibe the principles behind them and translate these into action in our daily lives, she said.


Vulnerable, yes; incapable, no

For the past three decades, Legarda has sounded the alarm that nature is in retreat, that we are in an existential crisis due to our increasingly warming planet, and that we need to radically change the way we measure progress and happiness.

“Every day, we are reminded of how vulnerable we are as Filipinos. We may be vulnerable, yet not incapable of taking action. The road towards resilience may be tough, but with the right attitude and a strong resolve, we will be able to weather the many challenges of our declining ecosystem,” Legarda said.

“We have the capacity and the opportunity to resuscitate our ailing environment as our nation continues to tread on this better path of sustainability, inclusive growth and resilience. I have always advocated for this cause, and I will never falter for the sake of our vulnerable country, especially for the marginalized. Building resilience must be at the heart of the country’s social protection program because the climate crisis magnifies threats to health, livelihood, our economy, and the well-being of our people. We cannot let this climate crisis keep the poor forever poor. We have to protect our environment for us to protect our people and our generations to come,” she concluded.***


Source: Philippine Star, main section, feature, page 7