On Earth Day, group says money for anti-red task force better spent on environment
Members of Upland Farmers Association of Brgy. Mamuyao, Inc. talk while walking toward the reforestation site on February 16, 2021.
Philstar.com/EC Toledo IV

On Earth Day, group says money for anti-red task force better spent on environment

Gaea Katreena Cabico (Philstar.com) - April 22, 2021 - 5:53pm

MANILA, Philippines — The multibillion-peso budget of the government’s anti-communist insurgency task force—which has been known for its persistent red-tagging of activists, including environmental defenders—should have been allocated to initiatives that will protect the environment and those who stand up for it, a group said Thursday.

In the Philippines, defending the environment can be dangerous as the country has been declared the second deadliest in the world for land and environmental defenders.

The passage of the contentious Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 and the constant red-tagging by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Insurgency (NTF-ELCAC) have also put the lives of environmental activists at risk.

On Earth Day, Center for Environmental Concerns Philippines Executive Director Lia Mai Torres said the P19.1-billion budget allocated to the NTF-ELCAC should have gone to environment-related projects.

“Instead of giving this to those who red-tag, it is better to give it to initiatives that will help the environment. This is the people’s money that is being used to harm us,” Torres said in Filipino during a briefing Thursday. Her organization has been red-tagged twice.

In a separate release, Torres said the funding could have been allocated to biodiversity protection. She noted there is an annual biodiversity gap of P19 billion in the country, with only P2 billion allotted to funding protected areas.

Senators are now pushing to defund NTF-ELCAC after its spokesperson Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. said the task force is profiling organizers of community pantries and accused some of them of being members or supporters of the communist rebellion.

‘Green new leadership’

Environmental groups also called for a “green new leadership” that will institute a moratorium on extractive and destructive projects such as mining, reclamation and fossil fuel power plants, undertake a just and green recovery plan that will subsidize universally accessible public health and social amelioration, and recognize and protect environmental defenders.

Under such leadership, the government must also double the budget for biodiversity and environmental conservation, accelerate the transition to a new, just clean energy economy, scale up community-level zero waste management model, subsidize climate-resilient sustainable livelihoods, expand climate education, and push for a “people’s green new deal” that will facilitate just compensation from top emitters.

“We cannot continue doing business as usual,” Torres said.

Last week, President Rodrigo Duterte issued an order to lift a nine-year moratorium on granting new mining permits in the country, in a move that groups describe as one of the biggest blows to efforts to preserve natural resources in the Philippines.

Torres said the administration’s pursuit of mining and other destructive activities to revive the economy battered by the COVID-19 pandemic will cost the Philippines at least P680-billion ecological deficit and damages.

“The pandemic highlighted it: there should have been a reversal from such policy of opening up. That’s the initial step if he is sincere to have green governance and leadership, he must protect local economy and local ecology,” said Rosario Guzman, head of the research department of IBON Foundation.

Billie Dumaliang, trustee and advocacy officer of Masungi Georeserve in Rizal, said there must be investment for a nature-based economy in the country.

Other environmental groups who also issued the call for a “green new leadership” include Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment, 350.org Pilipinas, Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines, and AGHAM Advocates of Science and Technology for the People.

US assistance 

In a separate forum, the US Embassy in Manila said the US will make sure that climate finance and climate assistance will reach countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate crisis such as the Philippines.

One of the mechanisms is the Green Climate Fund, a key element of the historic Paris Agreement that is mandated to support developing countries raise and realize their emission reduction commitments. 

“I expect that we will be looking at ways to increase cooperation specifically on climate targets over the next years,” Claire Bea, chief of the science, technology and health unit of the US Embassy, said. 

The Philippines committed to slash its greenhouse gas emissions by 75% betwen 2020 and 2030. Of the target, 79.29% is conditional, while the remaining 2.71% is unconditional, which means it will be undertaken without international funding and assistance.

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