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Message of Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda as delivered on September 15, 2020 | Special Zoom Webinar to Celebrate September as MANA Mo (Maritime & Archipelagic Nation Awareness Month)

October 13, 2020

Dr. Claudio, good afternoon and warm ecological greetings.  I am honored to be with you as we discuss our maritime and archipelagic nation, one of the most biodiverse in the world. I was with you from the opening and I witnessed the interesting, comprehensive, and informative presentations of various Speakers. I just want to share with you my lifelong work lifelong work on environment, on climate change and disaster risk reduction and the reasons spate of disasters, including the pandemic, which we are still in..  Having authored 8 environment laws in the Senate from 1998 pre-pandemic, my experience has shown that implementation and enforcement clearly needs funding, a push and a shove, and much more. I hope that the Management Association of the Philippines can actually study all the laws and compel all the agencies of government to divide the country into region in which we are already geographically and politically divided so that we can actually, in our oversight function, see whether they are actually implementing all these laws and I will get to that.  I mightily gave that push and shove as you know when I became the Chair of the Senate Finance Committee in 2015, where we discussed budgets of all government agencies and to my horrendous surprise, many important laws were underenforced, not enforced and unfunded, including the Ecological Solid Waste Management Law. The extent to which budgets can be scrutinized, then and now, is critical to a transition to a better normal.

But more than the current budgets in which correcting the skew towards MORE budget has been a matter of mere insertions, I realized that we need to do to upend the way we treat economics entirely and in surprisingly easy ways is really to see it is not just a matter of putting in budgets, it is a matter complying with the soul and the heart of the law.

The pattern I saw with these laws at the turn of the millennium, many of which I authored, is that we moved the responsibility of environmental protection inevitably to the individual and the household level.  Ecological solid waste, for example, has to be segregated at source, recycled, and composted. So I ask the MAP and its members and officers. I ask all our Speakers today. Do you have a minimum of three trash bins in your bedroom, in your home, in your community, in your barangay? As simple as that, and if it’s not, then we have something to do, and much work to be done after this webinar.  We even gave citizens the right to sue even though they are not themselves directly injured.  You see, in our country, we clearly see that the dominant culture for the women to hold the purse and it gives us a clear approach to making all our resources count.  In many localities and barangays, we see it is the women who actually construct the MRF (Material Recovery Facility). It is the women who are actually at the forefront of Ecological Solid Waste just like perhaps what Mother Earth Foundation of Sonia Mendoza is doing. These obligations to make even waste materials count as assets. What do I mean? When you segregate waste at source, recycle, and compost, it does not got to the open sea, to the rivers, or even the estero and the brooks. And therefore, we are able to use it as food waste into organic waste for urban gardens and even food gardens. Incidentally, I also filed the Food Garden Act in the House of Representatives.

In the realm of the national economy, we have been operating not as a household that jealously guards resources and sparingly dispenses them.  I would admit that trickle down economics has proven in recent decades to be somewhat real in the sense that millions of people have been lifted out of poverty with rapid and sustained economic growth, including the Philippines.  But ignorance, as they say, is bliss.  When the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services released their report last year on the impending crashes in biodiversity, coming as it does on the heels of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it became obvious that experts are talking over each others heads. Drastic and dramatic efforts are needed to make sure these that these panels are able to communicate to economic planners or else all the gains in economic terms that we are traditionally used to will just run into an ecological spasm – meaning chains of extinctions and ecosystem collapses that affect food systems, our water provisions, our whole sustainable livelihood.

The pandemic has afforded us a ringside seat and a gigantic opportunity to reverse these trends.  We need to use this new lens in order to show that the pursuit of economic growth and poverty alleviation must not compromise life on our planet.

We can treat the national purse in the same way that we do our household, as we have forgotten that the root word in economics is still oikos or “home”.  But this time, this housekeeping has to be in a macro scale.  For this we need to generate data and use that data judiciously.  One of the reasons we do not have this data on hand is the cost their generation entails and the human resources and expertise we need rest only on a handful, and many of them already in this informative webinar.

How do we shortcircuit the generation of such data and their use in national decision-making?  I am inspired by the story one of my staff mentioned to me about a Subanen community who had a store of 600 cultivars of rice – agricultural biodiversity at its finest.  But rice seeds, as you know, palay, is also rice.  And during a particularly brutal drought, the community had to eat their store of cultivars, erasing seed varieties carefully selected over many generations.  It was easy to imagine that sending the community a stable food supply, bigas, over the period of the drought would have been hundreds of times less costly than a huge refrigerated seed vault.

Another very good example is tourism where we measure success in tourist arrivals and revenues.  In the failure to account for externalities, many of our prime sites have shown us that we are quite late somehow in reacting.  Unless we use metrics that include the environment, we will only be facing cycles of tourism boom and bust.  We must instead have a pandemic-resistant industry of small-scale, outdoor establishments that bring people closer to nature.

And on a basic needs front, we are failing to realize that the costs of delivering clean water to households in our large metropolis is only going to be higher and higher, demanding more and more of contribution from sources that otherwise rural needs for forests and irrigation.  The WAVES project, an ecosystem valuation exercise for Laguna Lake, showed us that 81% of the pollution of the lake is from domestic sources, going up to 90% for Manila Bay.  To date, no more than 20% of Metro Manila is seweraged. And this is where the law which I authored in my first term should be applied and that is the Clean Water Act in 2003. And it should be RA 9003 of 2001. Just implement strictly those two laws of ecological solid waste and clean water and all these discussions of the blue economy today will probably be a paper or soft copy because we have actually really retained and preserved our blue economy which has become murky brown or gray because of non-compliance to our already enacted environmental laws.

If we compared the costs of developing full sewerage coverage in Metro Manila, all that treated water can be used for industrial and household non-potable needs.  The longer we delay the building of these treatment systems, the higher the costs would be and the more we will be spending in cleaning up Manila Bay. It no longer matters whether concessionaires or government should be spending that money, as consumers will have to pay for it one way or the other.  What matters is that it be spent at the soonest possible time to prevent both higher costs and the collapse of Manila Bay and the tributaries and all river systems and lakes attached to it.

I am 100% certain that if we did such calculations in all government projects, and considered externalities and overall impacts rather than just project costs or traditional economic projections, we will have greener and bluer cities, more active sustainable transport, less pollution, not just in the air but even in our waterways and a more resilient greener healthier better quality of life.

There are micro-solutions for some of these problems.  A Payment for Ecosystem Services has been established in Mt. Kalatungan where hopefully, the fate of the Subanen’s cultivars can be avoided.  The payments to the indigenous community demonstrated to have successfully reforested their domains started five years ago and goes on till now.  This system of conservation of the mountain range has found support among the metropolitan area of Cagayan de Oro which suffered from massive flooding during Typhoon Sendong some years back.  This typhoon claimed hundreds of lives, nearly a thousand more missing and it is largely due to unfortunate location of a major settlement on a river delta coupled with inordinate amounts of water flowing through mountain ranges made almost bare by vast tracts of monoculture.  It is never easy to negotiate payments for intangibles, protections of mere parts of the forests when policies still favor high economic returns from traditional agricultural practices.  But the people in this area who did decide to pay for these ecological services have paid a previous price and are willing to break down the costs to avoid a similar high price in the future.

In the macro scale, the DENR’s NGP does attempts to measure its impacts on poverty and carbon.  We still have to see its design drill down to craft the strategies that would make the investment deliver more outcomes on biodiversity and bring species back from the brink.

But I promised you easy solutions, solutions that are made easier by the pandemic, as we see more clearly that we cannot get back to the old normal, and that is the gist of the Better Normal Bill passed in the House of Representatives and pending in the Senate where I used to be.

The solutions are easy only in the sense that they are housekeeping ones.  We need to go back to the basics and make the calculations and not break the bank with an expensive calculator.  In other words, our investment in gaining the knowledge to make these decisions has to be within bounds.  Traditional resource economics, despite it being a fairly new field, is costly.  But we can start with honing in on our most pressing and interrelated problems and make the calculations for those.

The intersection between natural resources and livelihoods is more pronounced.  Most rural poor rely on the natural resource base and I know because I am the Representative of a once regarded poor province, which is not actually poor because it is rich in natural resource base. In a slide used by Dr. Daily in a recent lecture, we are high on the scale where people’s needs and nature’s contributions intersect.  Which is also why we are one of the most vulnerable nations to the threats of climate change.  Hence any sweeping changes and high impact solutions must take into account the majority who rely directly on ecosystems for their survival.

Which brings me to Mana Mo.  The most interrelated and widely felt problems we have are related to water.  Our most heartbreaking disasters, Ondoy ten years ago, Yolanda and Sendong, were about water.  Manila Bay is about water.  Pasig River is about water. Laguna Lake is about water. Using a ridge to reef approach, our conservation efforts in the terrestrial realm are also very much water issues.

Let me first say that I am elated our President finally rejected attempts to undermine the Arbitral Award in the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea.  In his words, the award is “the triumph of reason over rashness, of law over disorder, of amity over ambition”.  But please allow me to point out that about eighty pages out of that 501 page arbitral decision was on the failure to protect and preserve the marine environment and actually cites studies that include valuation.

Beyond the damage in the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea, stewardship of our water resources, heavy guarding of our water cycle and an acceptance that we have to clean up the water we use in our cities because the Earth’s capacity to do so in these areas has been breached.  These measures and limits can be calculated using data that may already exist and supported by the work of our resource economists in this event.  Projects have already generated a great deal of data on resource economics and natural capital.  Data is generated everyday as we cross over to digital economics.  Scientists are churning out data that remain in the dustbins.  It is time to use what we have and carefully manage our resources to generate the data we urgently need to make better decisions in our economy.

I will be refiling the Philippine Economic-Environmental and Natural Resource Accounting bill which I originally filed as Senator way back in 2016. But I will update it so that it is more relevant, especially during this pandemic. The earth has schooled us in many many ways since then and I am partial to making this a truly practical and game changing law by incorporating it with the Environmental Impact Assessment System and the revisions of the laws covering that.  We are currently studying the way the Department of Environment and Natural Resources can implement its mandates without being schizophrenic about natural resource extraction and environmental protection and analyzing its very set-up.

And so, the PEENRA should not be merely an analysis of a sector.  This needs a whole of government approach and we are looking to starting this through the cabinet cluster on climate change so that the Departments of Agriculture, Budget and Management, Finance and Social Welfare should take into account ecological services and all pull together to prevent an ecosystem collapse. It cannot be one department protecting the environment; one department extracting and the same department protecting. It should be a whole of government approach just like DRR and CCAM must be mainstreamed and not just one department managing and talking about it.

During the pandemic, government saw fit to provide a Social Amelioration Package that would help the most vulnerable among us.   But even prior to this, we had the 4Ps program, that is as close to a guaranteed basic income as we have ever come.  If we continue on the path of bringing people out of poverty through economic growth, we will also continue on the path of rapid ecological decline.

What we may need to consider is a guaranteed basic income from nature.  We can assure this by redirecting our budgets to the costs for ensuring that nature continues to provide and that we survive the coming threats from climate and future pandemics. It is clear that while the pandemic has costs us so much, the issue of climate change and reaching the 1.5 degree Celsius, innovation will cost us much more than COVID-19.  Water and our being a Maritime and Archipelagic Nation has given us a handle on how to proceed.  As generations of women before us wove their stories and lessons into their textiles, another close advocacy, so too should we weave ecosystem services and natural capital into the fabric of every household and our national story. We ignore these lessons to our peril.

Now there are pitfalls.  When you place a monetary value on things in order for our economists and financial managers to realize their value, you are also falling into the trap of commodifying everything. And that is where the appreciation of the intricate interconnections in biodiversity and how nature works can come in, to show us that we are merely trying to persuade with these figures but we cannot know and cannot assign artificial value to life and the systems that support it.  Hence, PEENRA would need to include an aspect of recognition that nature has rights and it may be possible to legislate protections in recognition of those rights, and we see that during this pandemic. This way, we can pay attention to the fact that as we place price tags on things of unimaginable and incalculable value, we remain beholden to nature and we show our homage by recognizing that continued existence is a matter of right for natural ecosystems and systems and natural places.

Having said all these, I assure you that as your ally in the House of Representatives, as your Senator from 1998 who crafted and drafted and thought more than 8 environmental laws as principal author and sponsor, rest assured I will continue to champion resilient marine ecosystems, adaptable coastal communities, sustainable economic development for a safer, more secure, more equitable present time and future for the Filipino people now and beyond. Thank you Dr. Claudio for having me. Thank you all our esteemed Speakers for the informative webinar today. It was worthy of my three hours and a half in this busy work day. Thank you.