Press Release
April 23, 2009

Zubiri on Earth Day 2009: Senate pledges enviromental stewardship

Consciousness on the environment and our role as stewards have greatly developed since Silent Spring -the book - roused us from our apathy to our environmental responsibilities. Indeed, awakening comes in different stages. At first, disgust at the ugliness of land, air and water pollution was all people could express, not long-term health effects nor scarcity of resources, much less changing climate.

Some awakenings were drastic such as that of giant Smokey Mountains, murky and foul rivers and bays - one of which headlines as belonging to the world's dirtiest rivers - the Marilao river system, or a poisoned river and bay in Marinduque from miner's environmental violations.

Way back in the '60s, we learned the direct correlation of environmental degradation and health. Bad environment meant bad health, livelihood and quality of life. For example, Japan's scramble to be Asia's industrial giant was marked by the Minamata disease. It afflicted communities who drank and fished from waters polluted with mercury discharged by a chemical factory into Minamata bay and Shiranui Sea. Deformed babies, mentally and physically impaired children scarred their path to development.

Likewise, the continuing arms race pit superpowers against each other. They tested missiles and exploded bombs on atolls in oceans which harbor major protein sources fish and crustaceans and the seaweeds agar-agar used for drugs and medical preparations.

It's hard to see the grave effects of these military activities because bombs seem to snuff out everything. In reality, tons of toxic, hazardous and radioactive materials did not vanish but dispersed and polluted the air and oceans.

In addition, consumerism became the mantra: consumers want it, industry made it. Assembly lines gorged out television sets, radios, refrigerators, air conditioners, and cars, to mention just a few. And, for each commodity, a model every year. It was immediate gratification for needs that were not at all basic.

The consumption pendulum swung to the extreme with the advent of disposables - pens, appliances, cars. To produce all these and run our homes and offices, we burned oil and coal, others split uranium. Likewise, travel for business and pleasure guzzled millions of barrels of petroleum daily. Energy was in great demand.

In effect, those same problems afflict us today. Toxic sludge from domestic, agricultural, industrial waste and by-products invade surface and groundwater while toxic and metallic particles hang in the air. And, waste dumps fill up with spent batteries, tv monitors, computers and cellphones.

The technologically-advanced economies felt the brunt of wasteful consumption ahead of us developing countries. Noted was the existence of a great divide between the North and South Hemispheres which except for Australia coincides with the great divide of haves and have-nots, and the developed and underdeveloped. That is why many have the mistaken notion that development calls for environmental destruction and that environmental protection will mean economic stagnation.

Nothing is farther from the truth. It is not white versus black, anymore. Environmental protection and resource conservation imperatives can be achieved alongside the pursuit of development goals. We have realized to learn from the mistakes of others, and, not to seek the holy grail for miraculous cures or "one size fits-all" solutions. We should apply solutions that fit our own situations.

For one, technology has the solutions: from clean production technologies following the reduce, reuse, recycle mode to new management systems for natural resource exploitation in farming, fisheries, mining, manufacturing, transportation and power generation. Likewise, management systems for environmental protection especially of biodiversity hotspots are evolving.

In terms of environmental laws, the Philippines cannot be far behind with the Philippines Clean Air Act touted to be the best in the world. Since April 22, 1970 or the first Earth Day celebration in the United States and then in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, we have passed at least 25 environmental laws. More recently, we have passed the laws on Biofuels and Renewable Energy which were in tune with the global campaign to reduce Green house Gas emissions of which transport and industry emit the most.

Currently in the plate of the Senate are many crucial proposals. Among them:

-  The log ban in Negros Occidental, log ban in Southern leyte and the declaration of the Bessang
   Pass Natural Monument and Landmark. All three are pending Second Reading under ordinary
-  The La Mesa Watershed; Apo Reef Protected Area and Creation of the Climate Change
   Commission. Similarly, all three are pending Second Reading under Special Orders.
-  The bill on the Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park remains pending in the House of

Many more measures are still being discussed in the Committee. Some of them are the National Land Use Policy and protection of a wide range of natural treasures, among them: the UNESCO World Heritage Site El-Nido-Taytay Protected Area in Palawan; Turtle Islands Sanctuary in Sulu Sea; and the Sinarapan Lake Sanctuary in Camarines Sur, which hosts the world's smallest fish.

Some measures like the Organic Agriculture Act, the ban on endosulfan and aerial spraying that are lodged in other committees also redound to the benefit of our environment.

From this vantage point, I am optimistic that we can deal with our environmental obligations as well as preserve livelihoods in tune with a clean, productive and vibrant environment. Another great task is to help communities who depend on forests, rivers and other water bodies cope with the effects of climate change, especially the poor who do not have the option to relocate or pick up a new livelihood.

The Philippines is a very vulnerable archipelago and our countrymen are at great risk. As Earth Day marks a worldwide observance highlighted by the honouring of environmental martyrs, let us not forget to lay the correct policies that will shape the world where succeeding generations of Filipinos will have to live in.

I am confident that the Senate will not fail the people. Though the global celebrations may end, environmental stewardship - in the Senate - continues.

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