20,000 climate justice advocates march against coal

On the eve of the March for Climate Justice in the Philippines, the largest historic climate-related action in the country joined by 20, 000 avocates, 300 residents from coal-affected communities camped in Mendiola to end its five-day long protest caravan.

However, these residents were dismayed after President Benigno S. Aquino III and his administration did not listen to their pleas and blatantly supported coal.

Gerry Arances, national coordinator of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ), said that: “The government remained deaf, mute, and blind to the impacts of coal to the communities.”

“This government, in its last year, has remained insensitive to the issues and problems that the people are facing with coal,” said Arances. “Instead, the President and his officials continued to deny dialogues with the residents of the coal-affected communities and has remained steadfast in its investments in coal projects.”

Members of the caravan, dubbed as the People and Environment Against Coal-based Energy (PEACE) Caravan, had requested Aquino and his cabinet, particularly Energy Secretary Jericho Carlos L. Petilla, for a dialogue on November 27. Members of the caravan were farmers, fisher folk, and community and church leaders from coal-affected communities in the coal hotspots across Luzon, including Semirara Island, Batangas, Occidental Mindoro, Laguna, Bataan, and Zambales.

While the officials denied the people’s demand, the caravan carried on to their next destination, where 20,000 advocates of climate and ecological justice awaited them.

Communities: Cancel coal project permits!

Benjamin Magan, president of the Sabang-Poocan Farmers and Fishers Association (SAPOFFA) who joined the caravan, said “the dialogue was supposedly a venue to present our demands and propose solutions to address the issues and problems we are currently facing because of the coal projects.”

“People are getting sick and our environment is being destroyed because of the coal mining activities. We want cleaner air and cleaner water. We want our livelihood back,” Magan said. “We put the blame squarely on the government’s lack of inaction if climate disasters worsen and people suffer more from disasters and polluted water and air,” Magan added.

ABS-CBN Bantay Kalikasan’s Chairperson Gina Lopez also expressed her support to the cancellation of all coal projects in the country. “Coal has never been and will never be clean or cheap,” she said. “The cost of coal on the environment and people’s health and livelihoods has never been taken into account when the government speaks of coal as a cheap energy option.”

Coal not ‘cheap,’ groups say; energy transformation needed

The caravan then joined the March for Climate Justice Saturday in the fight for a strong and fair global climate agreement in the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris. Among the calls in this march was the shift to renewable energy and away from coal and dirty energy.

Coal emits more greenhouse gas than any other fossil fuel. About 43 percent of the country’s energy resources are coming from coal and this is expected to increase as the Aquino administration issued permits to build 20 more coal-fired power plants. Moreover, Aquino openly supported coal in his interview with BBC.

“The Aquino government is a disappointment as it remains to see coal as relatively cheap energy option,” lamented Sanlakas secretary-general Aaron Pedrosa.

“More coal-fired power plants are being built under this administration. The worst part of this is that these coal projects are located within the peripheries of communities that are traditionally home to millions of Filipinos and are supported by rich ecosystems and biodiversity,” Pedrosa said.

“As more countries continue to do away with coal, the government’s persistent effort to invest in coal will undermine efforts of other governments and climate justice advocates to limit the rise in temperatures and, thereby, reduce the adverse effects of climate change,” he added.

Lidy Nacpil, regional coordinator of the Asian People’s Movement on Debt and Development (APMDD), questioned the sincerity of the Aquino’s posturing as a representative of the vulnerable peoples in developing countries like the Philippines, given his endorsement of dirty and harmful energy.

“The Aquino government should urgently address the climate crisis, deliver justice, address the impacts of climate change, and guarantee the rights of all people, especially the most vulnerable communities,” said PMCJ lead convener Lidy Nacpil.

“He cannot project to the international community that the Philippines is already committed to stopping the climate crisis, when he refuses to back down on our call for energy transformation,” Nacpil added

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