Is real change coming with new ‘dirty’ cabinet officials?

>> Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Alfred P. Dizon

Environmentalists are questioning possible appointment of "dirty" cabinet officials in the new administration presumptive President ‘Rody’ Duterte.
Environmental advocates are distressed over the list of possible members of presumptive President Rodrigo Duterte's cabinet, as the country undergoes transition from the present government to the next.
"Most of the names being floated as appointees are either beholden to mining and fossil fuel companies, or have had a hand in the widespread environmental destruction and loss of livelihood experienced by communities in the past years," said Norie Garcia, Partnership and Advocacy Director of ABS-CBN LingkodKapamilya Foundation, Inc., one among the convenors of the Green Thumb Coalition.
The Green Thumb Coalition is an electoral campaign which aims to bring to light issues of the environment, particularly clean energy, biodiversity preservation, ending destructive mining, climate justice, integrity of creation, waste management, land use and reform, and people-centered development.
Among the names posed to be selected as cabinet members of Digong's cabinet is former Sagittarius Mines Board Chairman Gilbert 'Gibo' Teodoro as Defense Secretary; former Shell CEO Edgar O. Chua as the new Department of Energy Secretary; and JG Summit Chief Operations Officer Lance Gokongwei as Finance Secretary.
Garcia questioned why the list contains individuals who have vested interests in ongoing struggles against destructive large-scale mining, dirty energy and massive carbon emissions and contested coal-fired power plant projects.
"The proposed Tampakan mining operations pushed for by Teodoro'sSagittarrius Mines in General Santos City, for example, has been met by continuous resistance from the part of communities," said Garcia.
"While the South Cotabato Provincial Environment Code explicitly totally bans open-pit mining in the area, Executive Order 79 was issued by the Aquino administration overriding local government policies on mining," she added.
Garcia emphasized that the people of Mindanao, who are among Duterte's most passionate supporters, will be at the losing end if the current policies on mining are not changed. "And yet, we are giving an individual from the mining industry access to mobilizing arms which may be used to their own interests," she concluded.
Corporate interest in appointments not surprising, group says
Meanwhile, Center for Energy, Ecology and Development Executive Director Gerry Arances, is not surprised with individuals from the coal industry like JG Summit's Lance Gokongwei expressing interest in taking charge of government positions.
"With the campaign for lessening the reliance on fossil fuels and shifting to renewable energy sources gaining more and more support internationally and locally in the Philippines, it is no wonder that the fossil fuel industry would present their own people to block significant changes which may be achieved in the next administration," said Arances.
Arances, also among the convenors of Green Thumb Coalition, noted that a common denominator among presidential candidates is their support of increasing the share of renewable energy in the power mix, a reversal of the Aquino administration's policy which heavily relies on coal.
"In recent years, the anti-coal, anti-dirty energy movement has encouraged waves of support from people of all sectors and most political camps," Arances added. "In Batangas City, for example, where Gokongwei's JG Summit is moving heaven and earth to construct a 600 MW coal-fired power plant, community leaders, politicians and even religious groups have banded together to contest and reject their project," he said.
"Aside from mass mobilizations, legal institutions from all over the globe have also been utilized by the anti-dirty energy movement to discontinue investments in fossil fuel," according to Arances, noting that from European countries like Netherlands and Norway to US state governments, policies which discontinue fossil fuel investments have successively been pronounced and enacted.
"This wave of awareness regarding the destruction brought about by fossil fuels is a strong indicator that further reliance on dirty energy cannot continue, especially in the countries most vulnerable to environmental disasters like the Philippines," Arances said.
Shell CEO as Energy Secretary rejected
The Sanlakasmultisectoral coalition, among the proponents of the growing renewable energy movement in the country has warned against the conflict of interest Edgar Chua may espouse in assuming office as DOE Secretary.
"Having an energy secretary who represents the interests of the primary polluters in the country and in the world does not follow with the promise of change Duterte has repeatedly pronounced during his campaign," said Sanlakas Secretary-General Aaron Pedrosa.
Pedrosa recalls the positive pronouncements the former Davao City Mayor has shared with the coalition in the dialogue GTC has had with him, emphasizing Duterte's commitment to shifting from dirty energy sources to cleaner, more sustainable, renewable energy sources.
"Let us not forget that Shell is among the 50 companies sued by environmental advocates in the Philippines for having the lion's share of carbon emissions which are the primary cause of climate change," said Atty. Aaron Pedrosa, Sanlakas Secretary-General.
Pedrosa, who also serves as the Energy Working Group Head for the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ) recalls the pending human rights violation case filed with the Commission of Human Rights (CHR) last September 2016 against fossil fuel companies like Shell, Exxon and Chevron. PMCJ, Greenpeace and other convening organizations of the GTC are among the lead organizations in filing the historic case.
"It is also important to note that Shell has influenced the continuing deregulation of oil prices in the country which has led to the high cost of fuel in our country. That is not a good precedent considering that one of the duties of the DOE is to ensure that the cost of energy remains accessible and beneficial to all sectors of society," said Pedrosa.
Pedrosa warned the presumptive President against entities which aim to ride his large mandate and popularity to protect their vested interests, particularly those who have thrived much from previous administrations.
"If the next President wants real change to come, a revolving door policy which enlists personalities beholden to large profit-driven entities to hold public positions must not be pursued," Pedrosa concluded.
Duterte's development track questioned as policies and appointments surface
Finally, member organizations of the GTC found the succession of policy pronouncements and appointments unbecoming of the change Duterte has professed during his campaign.
"The continuation of the Aquino administration's development policy lies contrary to the promise of change Duterte has promised during his campaign," said Atty. Pedrosa. "Aquino's policy has always espoused a slant in favor of businesses and profit at the expense of the well-being, livelihood and safety of the people, not to mention the environment."
Pedrosa recalls that Duterte even went as far as threatening and swearing against mining magnates and corrupt officials. "Now comes the most crucial part, where Digong must prove that his actions speak louder than his words," he said.
Arances reminded President-elect Duterte that laws supporting the shift to renewable energy are already in place and all that is needed is the political will to follow through.
"A people-centered development track, which includes a sustainable, realistic renewable energy policy, is the way to go if we want real change to come," Arances concluded.


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