2015: Victories and challenges, inspiration and optimism

By KARL BEGNOTEA

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13 January 2016

The year that was, 2015, was replete with historic moments full of
victories and challenges for the environmental movement. It holds
lessons and inspirations that can serve as a compass through the trials
that must be hurdled in 2016.

It marks the fifth year under the governance of the present Aquino
administration, where the state of our ecosystems, natural resources,
and communities have concretely fared no better. On the other hand, 2015
also saw communities and social movements dramatically raising the ante
of their struggle to safeguard our environment and people.

Resisting Mining Plunder, Defending National Patrimony

This 2015 marked the 20th year since the ratification of the reviled
Philippine Mining Act of 1995. Twenty years after, the Aquino government
continued to serve as a conduit of the mining liberalization policy’s
wholesale of our minerals, to the detriment of communities and
ecosystems from the ridges to the reefs, and of our national economy.

Mining-threatened and affected communites saw through the various ruses
of government to allegedly ‘balance’ economic and socio-environmental
interests in the industry. The peak of protests were in 2015, as we saw
biggest anti-Mining Act rallies from Northern Luzon to Southern
Mindanao, followed by a series of thousands-strong mobilizations across
the Philippines, throughout the year.

Around 5,000 Mindorenos staged an Independence Day rally against the
impending mining project of Norwegian mine firm Intex. More than 2,000
Batanguenos gathered in the town of Lobo in an action opposing the
approval of the MRL-Egerton mine project in their biodiversity-rich
mountains. Both provinces are situated beside the famed Verde Isand
Passage marine biodiversity corridor.

The dangerous link between mining and militarization were fully exposed
in the #StopLumadKillings campaign that went viral on social media in
September after the grisly murders by paramilitary groups in a Lumad
school in Northeast Mindanao. Hundreds of Lumad went on a 600-strong
Manilakbayan to Metro Manila demanding the pull out of military and
paramilitary troops that terrorize their ancestral lands to clear the
way for coal and metallic mines and agri-plantations.

The 700-strong ‘Martsa Amianan’ of North Luzon indigenous and peasant
communities converged with the Manilakbayan and thousands of masses in
the Mega-Manila sphere in an epic, 8,000-people protest caravan that
overcame a Marcosian security crackdown and got within 50 meters away
from the halls of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) economic
leaders’ summit. The APEC is a major proponent of mining liberalization
and other pollutive and plunderous economic programs in the Asia-Pacific
region.

Beyond the numbers, the scaling-up and deepening maturation of the
anti-mining liberalization movement in the Philippines can also be seen
in this year’s concrete victories. Filipinos felled a mining giant, the
Anglo-Swiss Glencore, as decades of various struggles from scientific
investigations ultimately armed resistance culminated in the
fourth-largest mining transnational corporation’s divestment from the
Tampakan project in the SOCSKSARGEN region.

Davao City also became the 20th local government to declare a ban or
moratorium on large-scale mining in their town, city, or province. This
is especially significant in the time of Aquino’s Executive Order 79,
which curtails the autonomy of local governments and communities in
opposing and restricting the entry of large-scale mines.

Defying imperialist ‘CO2lonialism’, fighting for climate justice

The much-anticipated visit of the beloved Pope Francis in Manila and
Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) ground zero in Tacloban set the stage for
a year of heightened climate action.

We witnessed the Aquino administration’s climate hypocrisy come full
circle, claiming to carry the banner of climate leadership while
continuing to neglect communities affected by climate-driven disasters
and leaving climate-disrupting coal and other fossil fuel power projects
unfettered.

The people defied Aquino’s deceptive rhetoric and destructive conduct.
Thousands mobilized in Batangas and Quezon provinces to oppose impending
coal-fired power plant projects that will pollute their air, water, and
the climate.

On the anniversary of the world’s historically largest typhoon, around
20,000 Yolanda survivors took to the streets of Tacloban once again to
protest the continuing criminal neglect, corruption, and militarization
inflicted by the Aquino government especially upon the interior areas of
the typhoon-devastated areas.

Filipino climate and environmental activists made sure the voice of the
climate-vulnerable frontlines reverberated across the country and the
world during the 21st Conference of Parties of the United Nations
Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 21). More than 1,200
advocates joined hundreds of thousands across the world in climate
marches to demand world leaders to deliver a binding climate agreement
based on science and justice.

Climate movements around the world have been weathered with the bitter
experiences of past COPs, and the deeper understanding of the systemic
roots of the climate crisis. There is a growing global consensus that
climate change is not only a scientific reality, but an injustice
perpetuated by imperialist ‘CO2lonialism’ of powerful industrialized
countries against the poor and vulnerable communities and nations of the
world. Banners with the slogan “System Change, Not Climate Change!” are
now an ubiquitous sight in climate actions everywhere.

At the COP 21’s conclusion, with a watered-down climate treaty
inevitable, more than 1,000 bikers and walkers under the Kalikasan
People’s Network for the Environment, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, and
the Bikers UNITE took to the streets of Manila as one of the first
movements in the world to condemn the agreement that came ‘dead on
arrival’, and to promise an escalation of climate struggles post-COP 21.

Revving-up the people’s struggles in 2016

It goes without saying that 2015 had plenty more significant
developments, large or small, in our long-standing endeavor to ‘Save
Planet A,’ so to speak. We should draw inspiration, vigor, and hopeful
optimism from all of these lessons and successes.

We are again entering the national elections season this 2016. We must
look at this year as another opportunity to bring to fore the urgent
environmental concerns we continue to face, on one hand, without
forgetting the need for a strategic and radical overhaul of the economic
and political systems from the ecological and climate crises emanate.

If we environmental advocates continue with the fundamentals of 2015—to
serve the people’s interests, to rely on the boundless energy and
strength of the masses, and to strike at the core of the crises—there is
no reason to not look forward to a revved-up new year!#

Karl Begnotea is a field biologist and a schools and communities
organizing officer of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment.