Hyping climate spending is hypocritical if environmental destruction continues
Pres. Ferdinand Marcos Jr has postured as a climate champion in forum after forum around the world and in the country. Even as he recently spoke at an Asian Development Bank gathering, Marcos Jr’s pronounced concern about climate action falls short of reversing the decades-old environmental destruction from an excessively profit-driven economy. The administration hypes climate spending as increasing in the 2023 national budget, and uses this to divert from budget cuts on environmental protection. The continued destruction of the ecology reveals how little the Marcos Jr administration cares for the environment.
The 2023 national budget claims increased climate change expenditures for the national climate change action plan’s strategic priorities. These priorities include food security, water sufficiency, ecosystem and environmental stability, human security, climate smart industries and services, sustainable energy, and knowledge and capacity development. There are also cross-cutting activities on gender mainstreaming, research, development and technology transfer, information education and communication, and capacity building.
The 2023 allocations for food security increased 42% or by Php12 billion, from Php28.8 billion in 2022 to Php40.8 billion in 2023. The human security budget under this category doubled from Php1.7 billion to Php3.4 billion.
The biggest reported climate change expenditures were on water sufficiency and on sustainable energy. The former increased by 26% or Php55.6, billion from Php217.5 billion to Php273.1 billion. The latter increased over four-fold from Php24.8 billion to Php129.8 billion.
Water sufficiency pertains to the sustainable management of and equitable access to water resources. Particularly, the plan is to restructure water governance, ensure sustainable water supply and access to safe and affordable water, and enhance knowledge and capacity for climate change adaptation. In 2023, over Php260 billion of the climate expenditures for water sufficiency aligned with the National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAP) 2011-2028 is for flood management projects under the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA).
Sustainable energy meanwhile refers to the adoption of sustainable and renewable energy and ecologically-efficient technologies as major components of sustainable development. This involves promoting nationwide energy efficiency and conservation, enhancing sustainable and renewable energy development, climate-proofing, rehabilitating and improving energy systems and infrastructure, and promoting environmentally sustainable transport.
The projects under this strategic priority are however not for energy and instead overwhelmingly for rail transport projects worth Php105.7 billion. These are for the North-South Commuter Railway System (Php75.1 billion), Metro Manila Subway Project Phase 1 (Php26.3 billion), Light Rail Transit (LRT) Line 1 Cavite Extension Project (Php2.7 billion), and Philippine National Railways (PNR) South Long Haul Project (Php1.1 billion), and Metro Rail Transit (MRT) Line 3 rehabilitation (Php548.6 million).
Flood management and improving railways have environment benefits. Flood management reduces the risks of floods which adversely affect health, lives, and livelihoods, the integrity of natural resources including water sanitation, and private and public structures. A more developed railway system improves human and goods mobility, decongests traffic, and reduce individual vehicle gas emission.
However, it needs to be asked if these projects are the most urgent and beneficial projects for water sufficiency and sustainable energy.
For instance, flood management is a small part of the NCCAP. Investing in ensuring resilient water resources and supply and promoting conservation are more urgent now given that at least three (3) million Filipinos rely on unsafe and unsustainable water sources while seven (7) million lack access to improved sanitation, according to a 2022 study by Water.org.
In terms of sustainable energy, more than railways it is reducing the country’s almost 90% reliance on coal for power that should be prioritized. From extraction to burning, coal contributes hugely to climate change, and causes severe air pollution and diseases. Big power industry players insist on using coal because it is cheaper and profitable but the massive use of coal for electricity must be stopped.
Pursuing sustainable water and transport systems have to be done simultaneously with rehabilitating and protecting the environment instead of sticking to environmentally destructive practices.
Defunding instead of boosting equally crucial areas in protecting the environment further imperils it. Pres. Marcos’ hype about addressing climate change is superficial if environmentally destructive activities encouraged by government policies continue and if environmental protection budgets are cut.
Under the 2023 budget, expenditures classified under environmental protection were cut by 16.2% from Php24.9 billion in 2021 to Php20.9 billion in 2022. The allocation for research and development for environmental protection was increased by 19.3% but other programs to preserve Philippine natural resources from further destruction were defunded.
The allocation for water management was slashed by 34.7%, for biodiversity and landscape protection by 10.6%, for pollution abatement by 3.7%, and for environmental protection not elsewhere classified by 17.1 percent. These programs are important for looking after the country’s natural assets and helpful to keep them available primarily for public use and benefit.
Funds for climate expenditure items were also reduced even in items the administration identified as important areas for developing climate-resilient systems. The budget for ecosystem and environmental stability was cut by 18%, for climate smart industries and services by 23%, for knowledge and capacity development by 63%, and for cross-cutting efforts by 26 percent.
These budget reductions in key areas of protection and innovations for resiliency will perpetuate the neglect and existing vulnerability of the Philippine environment and economy brought about by government’s market-oriented and pro-foreign investment policies. With these, a few foreign and local corporations, oligarchs, politicians, officials, and individuals have benefited. But for the country and Filipinos it means lesser chances of securing and availing of Philippine natural resources for basic needs and genuine progress.
As it is, the Philippines’ forest cover has diminished to just a critical one-fifth of total land area, which is 70% severely degraded. Land conversion for profit is rampant. Rural backwardness and underdevelopment drive urbanization which is associated with more poverty and diseases. More and more informal settlers are driven to live in danger areas. Water access is still problematic. Dirty industries proliferate, such as large-scale mining that has always been associated with environmental damage and the commercial use of dirty coal for energy. Pollution is worsening. The Philippines had the highest disaster risk among 193 countries around the world in 2022 according to the World Risk Index.
The super-rich Sy, Villar, Razon, Gokongwei, Aboitiz, and Consunji families have gotten rich from corporate activity in sectors that encroach on the environment – real estate, construction, food and drinks, ports development, manufacturing, power, energy, water, oil, telecommunications, mining, and agribusiness. These oligarchs dominate the economy with corporations supported by government policies and partnering with foreign capital. They profit immensely even as millions of Filipinos remain poor and vulnerable to hunger, disease, and disasters.
Philippine laws and programs prioritize foreign investment and trade despite their excessive impact on the environment. For instance, there is the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 and the bloated infrastructure programs of three consecutive administrations now. Under the Marcos Jr administration, land use favors big business and leads to the private takeover of the commons. Business-as-usual means the destruction of the environment by large-scale mining operations, coastal reclamation and the persistent use of fossil fuels.
The Marcos Jr administration’s Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2023-2028 aims to expand Philippine mining and increase the coverage of mining contracts from the currently less than 3% of the nine (9) million hectares nationwide identified as potential mineral-rich areas. This is despite how decades of mining gold, nickel, copper, chromite and other minerals for export has destroyed forests.
Mining accounts for only 0.8% of the economy and 0.5% of total employment but still produces huge natural resource profits. In 2021, large mining corporations made Php51.6 billion in profits from exporting up to US$6.7 billion in minerals. Australian and Canadian mining firms accounted for 46% of gold production in 2022 while Japan’s Sumitomo and Manuel Zamora-led Nickel Asia accounted for 42% of nickel production. Yet mining communities remain among the poorest in the country.
Reclamation projects that kill mangroves, threaten marine life and deplete fisherfolk’s catch are on the rise. There are more than 4,000 hectares worth of reclamation projects with environmental clearance despite Cavite, Bulacan, and Metro Manila communities’ protestations. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) identified Manila Bay as a key biodiversity area but there are more than 50 reclamation projects here either already underway, approved, or have applications. Fishers’ group PAMALAKAYA has already decried the shrinking of mangrove areas in Manila Bay from some 54,000 hectares to only less than 500 hectares today.
PAMALAKAYA also laments Silverquest Mining Resources being given an environmental certificate compliance for a seabed quarry covering 2,124 hectares of Cavite municipal waters. This reportedly caused fishermen’s income to decrease by 50 percent.
While the administration claims to want to develop renewable energy, the Philippines still generates about 60% of its electricity from coal despite being a major source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The Department of Energy (DOE) also still announced two gas-fired liquefied natural gas projects being completed in Batangas. These are owned by the Singaporean Linseed Field Corp. and business tycoon Manuel Pangilinan’s FGEN LNG Corp.
The budget for the environment is a quantitative indicator of an administration’s concern for the environment, and a starting point for its plan of action. However, the Marcos Jr administration cut funding for environmental protection in the face of massive destruction. Instead of spending more on renewable energy or better water access, it prioritized rail projects and flood control which will likely disproportionately benefit real estate and commercial interests.
Environment and rights advocates are tireless in proposing alternatives to the status quo’s neglect of people and the ecology. A recent initiative is the legislation for a People’s Green New Deal (PGND) filed by progressive party-list groups in Congress. The resolution aims to restructure the economy so that the majority meet their basic needs while the environment is protected and climate action is taken. Rapid social, agricultural and industrial development will be both equitable and sustainable. Green development will be funded with progressive taxes such as a billionaire wealth tax, realignment of public spending and finances, and climate justice at the international level.
Hope for the Philippine environment lies in the reversal of big business- and profit-biased policies. It is now mostly up to people-centered environment defenders – who live in dangerous times as well – to sound the call and chart the course.