National Conference on Climate Change Adaptation in Watershed Context

November 10, 2009

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to thank you for your invitation for me to deliver the keynote speech for this important conference and for your warm welcome as well. Let me also congratulate you for your service to the Filipino people and to humanity.
I have always been eager and relentless in pursuing the role and responsibility of interacting with various stakeholders who work for the environment long before my appointment as the chairperson of the Senate Oversight Committee on Climate Change.
To me, one of the best things about espousing the advocacy of environmentalism and climate change adaptation is the opportunity to meet and talk with people who are passionate about protecting and improving our environment. Thank you, officers and members of officers and members of the Philippine Watershed Management Coalition.
The theme– “Sharing Experiences in Climate Change Adaptation in Watershed Context”— highlights the multifarious environmental challenges we are facing because of climate change.
One such challenge is on our watersheds. With climate change, exacerbated by poverty, weak policies, deforestation, urbanization and industrialization, extreme weather events, temperature rise, and excessive rainfall are expected to happen. Monsoons rains alone account for more than 60% of the total rainfall in the country and is associated with high intensity rains which are responsible for most of the soil erosion and sedimentation problems in the watersheds. These cause changes in our land cover and water quantity, quality and demand.
It is not surprising, therefore, that our watersheds today are degraded although it is unfortunate that the effects of degraded watersheds on the environment and the socio-economic situation of our people are serious and alarming.
Let us take Sultan Kudarat as an example. A villager of the Allah Valley areas elucidated the gravity of the situation eloquently. The villager said, “The changing weather has made farming harder for us. We lost all of our livelihoods. We can no longer depend on farming. The land is gone. Our children have stopped going to school, our food is not enough. In our village alone, more than a thousand hectares were lost.”
When we hear of the misery of our vulnerable people, we know we have to take concrete and appropriate action in order to alleviate their hardships. We know we must preserve and protect our watersheds. This is that forum where we can formulate and integrate our solutions to and ideas on watershed protection as well as our progress in attaining our goals.
We have watched and heard much of the adverse effects of climate change in Metro Manila and we have acted promptly when Ondoy submerged the metropolitan in floodwaters. But many of our people, especially in the North, the national government included, barely became aware that the villages of Lambayong and other Allah Valley areas here in Sultan Kudarat experienced major flash floods and massive soil erosion along the riverbanks which caused the displacement of many communities in 2008. Torrential rains easily caused the thinning of the tree cover in the mountainous areas of the Allah Valley and the subsequent over-flow of the Allah River. That disaster also flooded farmlands and harmed livelihoods.
I think the lack of a comprehensive national attention and action on that disaster is one of the reasons this conference is so important. Our experts and local government leaders are on the front lines in our efforts to safeguard our country’s watersheds.. With you, we can give people who are suffering the impact of climate change but have largely been unnoticed the chance to make their voices heard all the way to the national government and to various international fo a.
Climate Change is being experienced not only in Metro Manila but also right here in the Province of Sultan Kudarat. The Allah Valley disaster has exacerbated the poverty of its people. Because of that, there is as much urgency to implement the recently-enacted Climate Change Act in Sultan Kudarat, and in other parts of Mindanao as in Metro Manila.
One basic premise of this useful legislation is that locally-designed initiatives can provide an effective way to achieve local, national, and global sustainability objectives. It is my objective to put all local governments on top of the global climate agenda and send a message to our national leaders that climate change compels no less than a nationally-coordinated action.
My dear local government executives, officers and members of the Philippine Watershed ManagemenMy dear local government executives, officers and members of the Philippine Watershed Management Coalition (PWMC) throughout the country and other stakeholders, the Climate Change Act builds on a substantial work and advocacy of Your Honor. I am glad to share to you the responsibility and opportunity of decision-making in building capacity, and supporting the implementation of sustainable development policies and programs such as the Climate Change Act at the local level.
With the Climate Change Act, we have moved to adaptation plans. The theme of this conference is appropriate because it emphasizes and recognizes that a key solution to the problems being spawned by climate change is adaptation. And in the watershed context as well as in other areas necessitating climate change action, adaptation requires putting communities at the heart of relevant programs and policies and gathering collective action that is rooted in a sense of solidarity and shared responsibility.
The Climate Change Act is very well suited for the protection of our watersheds because this useful piece of legislation set out to give more stakeholders and communities greater responsibility and opportunity to initiate programs in their respective areas of responsibility that are aligned to the national and global goal of sustainable development.
Soon, a Climate Change Commission will create an enabling environment for multi-stakeholder participation and provide technical and financial support to local research and development programs and projects in vulnerable communities. Moreover, financial packages for climate change related projects will be provided by government financial institutions.
Because Climate change could put additional pressure on already severely strained watersheds, which in turn will affect coastal areas, there is more than enough reason to be fearful if we are unable to face the challenges of climate change on our watersheds. Thankfully, our gathering here today shows us that in tackling the challenges of climate change, we have the help of our experts and local leaders who know more than anyone else the concerns and needs of their constituents and the unique geography of their respective localities.
As we commence this conference to address the challenges and issues of the degradation of our watersheds, let us bear in mind that the Climate Change Act provides us with significant headstart in the development and implementation of whatever policies and programs we craft for the protection of our watersheds.
Ladies and gentlemen, this conference delivers the message that we should all actively participate in ensuring that the management of our watersheds is sustainable and responsible.
Climate change adaptation is water adaptation. Implementing sustainable management of river basins builds the resilience of communities and the economy. This results from both effective water governance, which builds adaptive capacity that is vital to successful climate change adaptation, and well-functioning watersheds.
It is my aspiration for the people of Sultan Kudarat to be able to plant and harvest their crops. It is my aspiration for the people of Mindanao and of the entire Philippines to have a safe and productive life with sustainable natural resources and environment.
Each of us has opportunities to make a difference for our future. We must take hold of the opportunity to responsibly manage and develop our watersheds. We must maintain focus and momentum in order to restore health to our watersheds and thereby protect our citizens from the impacts of climate change. We must — we can — and we will.
Whether the issue is climate change, forestry, or protecting our valuable watersheds, we are truly fortunate in this country to have so many dedicated and knowledgeable individuals helping us in our efforts to build clean, sustainable, and healthy communities.
I wish you all a fruitful conference and I thank you for your participation.