Recently, the Philippines bore the brunt of 2020’s most powerful typhoon Rolly followed by Typhoon Ulysses. Both typhoons resulted in death toll of 25 and 73, respectively. The Agriculture Secretary William Dar said that damages in the agricultural sector in the Cagayan Valley region alone have already reached ₱2 billion.
The country has always been ravaged by storms on an average of 20 typhoons annually. With climate change continuously on the rise, storms entering our country are expected to be much stronger and destructive than before.
The most accountabe for the climate crisis are the developed countries such as the USA, China, and EU but the developing countries have to endure the consequences of the unceasingly increasing rise of sea-surface temperatures. According to the published 2019 report by the Institute for Economics and Peace, the Philippines is the country most at risk from the climate crisis. However, despite the warning signs of climate change, the government is yet to focus on environmental conservation and disaster risk preparation.
On November 12, 2020, President Rodrigo Duterte attended the 37th Virtual Summit of Southeast Asian Leaders and blamed climate change for the onslaught of typhoons and massive flooding that occurred in the Philippines. He also urged that developed countries should act now in cutting their carbon emissions. While it is true that most of the carbon emissions are from the developed countries, the government itself continues on supporting projects detrimental to the environment while seemingly ignored the dire need for disaster preparedness of the country.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said, “Kahit gaano kagaling ang DENR, kahit gaano kagaling ang NDRRMC, habang hindi natin nasosolusyunan itong climate change, eh baka mabura pa ang ating teritoryo.” However, this is not an excuse for the inept action of the government. The dismal national leadership in the current natural calamity had sparked outrage amongst the people, resulting in #NasaanAngPangulo trend on Twitter. Their failure to prepare the Filipinos and the slow and late command of rescue teams and relief assistance after the onslaught ultimately led to more deaths and damages.
Acknowledging climate change is one thing, but acting on it is another. These recent statements are just empty rhetorics while the government persists in pushing projects that will destroy our ecological niches and frontiers. In the first place, it was this same neglect of the environment that led us to the monster of climate change that is today.
Watershed rehabilitation and protection of the Sierra Madre are one of many things the government can do to cushion the impacts of climate change. Substantial deforestation has occurred in many critical watersheds and the push for Kaliwa Dam led to severe environmental, social, and economic problems within, and outside, the affected areas. Under the banner of “Build, Build, Build”, many destructive projects such as reclamation and mega-dams are being sponsored by the government in the name of development. Indigenous communities, with the support of national and local environmental organizations, have been opposing these activities.
Instead of parroting the known consequences of climate change, the government must start addressing it by genuinely protecting the environment and improving the country’s disaster preparedness and response. Rather than investing in its dubious counterinsurgency program, it must rechannel funds to ecological restoration, disaster risk reduction and management, building climate resilience, and development of our weather forecast systems and technologies.