Speech: 2016 World Environmental Law Congress in Brazil

May 1, 2016

Speech of Senator Loren Legarda
2016 World Environmental Law Congress in Brazil
29 April 2016 | Supreme Court of Rio de Janeiro

Excellencies, Fellow Parliamentarians, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning and thank you for this opportunity to make an intervention for this session.

Exactly a week ago, on Earth Day, 175 nations, including the Philippines, formally signed the Paris Agreement on Climate Change at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Now, we await the affirmation of commitments through the completion of ratification or accession processes of each country.

The Philippines has joined calls for the early entry into force of the Agreement by ensuring that at least 55 nations representing 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions will ratify the Agreement within the year. To date, at least 15 nations have ratified the Paris Agreement.

These successes in the global arena bring hope for the future, even as we know that much of the grueling work needs to be done in our respective countries and communities to translate these international commitments into national policies and, eventually, into local action that will directly provide positive impact on people’s lives.

More than two decades ago, the Philippine Supreme Court, in a landmark decision that upheld the concept of inter-generational responsibility, said:

“The day would not be too far when all else would be lost not only for the present generation, but also for those to come—generations which stand to inherit nothing but parched earth incapable of sustaining life.”

These words are no longer prophetic as we begin to feel the adverse impacts of climate change, environmental degradation, biodiversity loss and ecosystems decline.

Farmers in my country have become restless as they seek for food and subsidies. Their lands are drying up because of the drought brought by the extended El Niño, making it impossible for them to grow anything. It is lamentable that the very people who till the land so that others may have their share of rice on their tables, are now begging for food.

The Philippine Congress was not remiss in providing the legal framework to address environmental concerns. Numerous laws have also been introduced not just to demand accountability for environmental issues but also to provide impetus to incorporate environmental concerns into planning and policy making.

We have enacted landmark environmental laws that have been hailed as model legislation—Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Ecological Solid Waste Management Law, Renewable Energy Law, Climate Change Act, Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act, and the People’s Survival Fund Law, among others.

In my capacity as the Chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, we were able to transform the national budget into one that is climate-adaptive and disaster-resilient. We have mainstreamed provisions that ensure that the implementation of government programs would contribute towards building resilience.

However, the plan of action not only lies on the legislator. It is not only limited to the crafting of laws and policies. It requires the involvement of all branches of government. Political will is needed to translate laws into local action, with measurable gains.

Holding government, businesses and the public at large to greater accountability for their actions is expected; but more than that, we need for these laws and the circumstances that led to their passage to be appreciated by everyone. Effective enforcement emanates from everyone’s understanding and appreciation of responsibility and accountability.

It is in this light, considering the Philippine Senate’s oversight function to review the implementation of laws that have been passed, that I proposed in the Senate for an environmental audit covering the performance of relevant national agencies and local government units in relation to their enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and compliance guidelines to identify where implementation can be supported and how to remove barriers to implementation.

Fortunately, we have willing partners. Our Commission on Audit has done an assessment of disaster risk reduction and management practices in light of the tragedy brought about by Typhoon Haiyan. Our government auditors have been tasked to train their objective lens and keen eye for details on environmental matters as these affect the financial statements of government, businesses and individuals.

The country’s Office of the Ombudsman has also taken a significant step towards achieving full implementation of the 15-year old Ecological Solid Waste Management Law. It launched theSolid Waste Management Law Voluntary Compliance Program, a program comprised of two phases. Phase 1 was to assess our local government units as to their compliance with the provisions of the law. It has now entered the Phase 2 of the program, which is the filing of cases against non-compliant LGUs.

From this example alone, we are able to understand that the implementation process is holistic and involves all actors.

In closing, I wish to stress that the success of any law lies on the completion of the multi-faceted public policy process, from the initial phase of crafting laws to the implementation stage. It encourages the involvement of stakeholders and it is a concerted effort.

Even as it seems that as legislators, our work is done once we pass a law, we must take that extra effort to monitor the implementation.

Each of us is responsible in keeping our planet healthy, clean and safe for future generations. We all live in one Earth. Climate change is in our midst and the message is quite telling: We do not own the planet. We are mere dwellers and stewards of the Earth.

We must all work towards building a sustainable community, one that respects the abundance of Mother Nature and corrects the misconception that natural resources are infinite. We need to veer away from consumptive practices; greed must cease. I repeat, inter-generational responsibility needs to move from being an idea, an abstraction, to a plan of concrete and urgent action.

The time to act is now.

Thank you.