Is everything lost?
Loren Legarda (The Philippine Star) - October 27, 2016 - 12:00am

(Conclusion)

The Philippines has numerous laws and policies focused on addressing issues on environment, public health and disaster resilience. Among these are the Philippine Environmental Impact Statement System, Marine Pollution Control Law, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, Renewable Energy Act, Environmental Awareness and Education Act, Climate Change Act, Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act, Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Control Act, the Act Creating the People’s Survival Fund, among many others.  These laws, however, do not guarantee effective action. 

The United Nations once lauded the country’s laws on climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction as model legislation. However, it also noted that the challenge is to translate national policies, plans and programs into local action with measurable gains.

One concrete example is the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act. Fifteen years since this law was enacted, we have not achieved even a 50% compliance rate among local government units (LGUs). 

The Office of the Ombudsman of the Philippines has taken steps to push for stronger compliance, even launching a program that encourages voluntary compliance with the law.

However, many local government units still failed to heed the warnings. In response, the Ombudsman filed cases against non-compliant LGUs, particularly those that still operate open dumpsites, have not built materials recovery facilities, do not implement segregation at source, or have not submitted the 10-year Solid Waste Management Plan required by the law.

Fifteen years is too long for a grace period and there should be no acceptable excuse for non-compliance.

As the famous legal maxim goes, “the law may be harsh, but it is the law,” thus, let cases be filed to enforce compliance by those who are failing to do their duty.

Climate change is the greatest humanitarian challenge of the century and we must do everything in our power to address this crisis now.

The presence of international agreements and local laws may not be enough to keep us alive. We need effective and fair enforcement of our environmental laws for the Earth to be able to sustain life in the succeeding centuries. We must uphold the rule of law for the sake of the planet. 

For the vulnerable, we seek climate justice now to restore the dignity of those suffering and to strengthen the resilience of the poor and recovering. For the sake of future generations, we seek a commitment to act now and to implement a holistic solution.

Reducing disaster risk and adapting to climate change effectively is social justice in action. We are called upon to do more for the poor – the marginalized and disenfranchised – who are bound to suffer most from apathy and inaction with the increasing prevalence of climate change and disaster risks.

As we respond, we ask: How can local risk governance be strengthened? How can resilience of livelihood be enhanced? How can we preserve the integrity of our ecosystems? How do we ensure the resilience of our culture and the indigenous peoples?

Let us use the power of the law while we still have ecosystems to rehabilitate and species to protect; because if we have already lost all these, our laws will only be as good as an expired license.

The future of humanity and of the Earth depends on what we do now and what we will fail to do. Let us not make failure an option. Let us make resilience and sustainability our future.

Thank you.

(Keynote speech at the Third Asian Judges Symposium on Law, Policy and Climate Change, Sept. 26, 2016, ADB Headquarters, Mandaluyong City.)

SENATOR LOREN LEGARDA
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