Climate talk: Marcos’s contradictory policies on reclamation, energy, mining
AS ALL eyes are on the COP28 conference in Dubai, reports in the country continue to highlight climate change and environmental concerns; in the process exposing the Marcos administration’s policy directions on climate issues as inconsistent, even contradictory.
Timely reports on reclamation, energy, and mining flag the problems that persist. Media coverage reveal that the Marcos administration’s policy direction has been anything but consistent; that government has ignored expert opinion and the impact of development projects on vulnerable communities, including Indigenous communities and fisherfolk.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. suspended in August all ongoing reclamation projects in Manila Bay due to “many problems” in the implementation of the projects. The suspension allowed the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to make headway in the “cumulative impact assessment” of the projects it was conducting.
Advocates acknowledged that the suspension order was a good first step for the administration but argued that it should be formalized through an executive order or other means so it can be enforced. As of this writing, no official documents have been issued to this effect.
In fact, media reported on November 29 the resumption of two reclamation projects in Pasay City whose mayor, Imelda Calixto-Rubiano said that the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) and the DENR had found the two projects compliant with set standards.
Rappler reported as advocates had warned, that reclamation in Manila Bay proceeded despite Marcos’s verbal suspension order. According to Mariella Geraedts, Dutch ambassador to the Philippines, and Hanke Bruins Slot, Dutch minister for foreign affairs, the Pasay reclamation projects were not suspended in the first place. Both projects in Pasay are being designed and built by Royal Boskalis.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported that DENR Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga “declined to comment” on the issue and instead “deferred the matter to the PRA.” President Marcos had planned to attend COP28 but changed his mind, appointing Yulo-Loyzaga instead to lead the Philippine delegation.
Pamalakaya, a fisherfolk group, insisted that while the DENR’s cumulative impact assessment was still ongoing, the reclamation projects should remain suspended, and their environmental permits revoked.
Failed promise on renewable energy
On another front, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) reported on December 1 that the current version of the Philippine Energy Plan (PEP) for 2023 to 2050 is fraught with contradictions of the President’s previous statements on renewable energy. The PEP is the “blueprint” of the Philippines’ energy agenda and informs stakeholders how the government plans to develop the energy sector.
PCIJ recalled that Marcos advocated for renewable energy in his State of the Nation Address in July. But the PEP presented by the Department of Energy, PCIJ said, indicated otherwise. According to the report, instead of heeding the recommendations of international experts, environmentalists, and economists, the Marcos administration plans to allocate more resources to develop the liquefied natural gas (LNG) and nuclear energy industries.
PCIJ presented graphs showing LNG is a costly fossil fuel with an underdeveloped industry. Nuclear energy is a similarly underdeveloped, and even risky, energy source. The PEP also failed to lay out any “sunset provisions” to ease the country’s reliance on fossil fuel-fired power plants.
Ian Rivera, national coordinator of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice, said Marcos keeps “contradicting himself” and that the PEP is “a reflection of the President trying to be popular in a period of crisis, but still accommodating of big business interests.”
Critical minerals at what cost
With more countries working to shift to climate-friendly alternatives like electric cars, the demand for critical minerals like nickel (a crucial component of these technologies) is expected to rise. DENR declared in August that it would pursue “extensive government led exploration for critical minerals” in partnership with foreign firms but that these mining activities would avoid “all possible environmental impact.”
It appears that DENR has betrayed this promise. In a special report published on December 3, Philstar.com detailed how in Palawan province, the protected area of Mount Mantalingahan in Brooke’s Point, has been opened to the development by the nickel mining industry.
Ipilan Nickel Corporation, under a mineral production-sharing agreement (MPSA) with the Philippine government, has been permitted to operate in Brooke’s Point as part of DENR’s push for critical minerals. According to Philstar.com’s report, all nickel ore extracted by Ipilan Nickel from Brooke’s Point has been exported to China, the country’s biggest nickel buyer. The Philippines was the second largest nickel producer in 2022.
The report noted the Supreme Court’s (SC) issuance of a “writ of kalikasan” in August against the DENR, its Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), Ipilan Nickel, and Celestial Nickel Mining and Exploration Corporation. The court found that the mining operations by the two mining firms could lead to “irreparable environmental damage” in the Mount Mantalingahan protected area, the ancestral domain of Indigenous Palaw’ans. The report noted, citing the SC ruling, that the DENR and MGB’s inaction has “exacerbated” the perils of nickel extraction endured by the residents of Brooke’s Point.
In August, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples issued a cease and desist order against the company after it failed to fulfill the required free, prior, and informed consent process for its activities. In October, the local government of Brooke’s Point ordered Ipilan Nickel to stop operations for the second time this year. But the company insisted that DENR can stop the nickel extraction only by voiding the MPSA.
All president’s talk
So far, all of the President’s talk on climate change has remained just that — talk. The talk, however, has also shown up the administration’s utter failure to coordinate the relevant agencies so these can act in concert to fulfill his policy directions. The administration suffers from the lack of follow-up on his talk, raising questions about the seriousness with which he makes a policy stand.
With the COP28 well underway, the Marcos administration has shown itself unwilling to listen to civil society and those negatively affected by projects based on natural resources.
In such situations, the journalist’s duty is clear. Media should prove its capacity to track government lapses that betray the promises made on preserving the environment and addressing climate change issues. The news should inform the public when government itself rejects its own set policies, unable to withstand the pressures exerted by companies dealing in extractive industries. Future generations will bear the costs and consequences. And the people have a right to know.