The sustainable future we want
Today’s a special day in the lives of all Filipinos. Our collective choice of national and local authorities is crucial in guiding our nation to a sustainable path we are duty-bound to deliver to our children and the future generation.
My hope is not only that the elected officials will be true to their oath of office, perform their mandates well and truly serve our people, but that we, the citizens, will be more involved in decision-making in governance.
It is time to stop looking at political authorities as if our future is dependent on them alone. We have the power to effect change within our own area of influence, and that should not be lost on each one of us. Indeed, we are the change that we want society to be, as the revered Gandhi himself said so for his beloved India and the marginalized peoples of the world.
We should be concerned that there is still a deep gap existing between the Law and justice, despite a rights-based fundamental law of the land. While a good degree of reforms have been initiated by the Aquino administration, and admittedly, President Aquino’s leadership in fighting corruption was crucial in realizing them, we still have a long way to go before we can say that our institutions and our people are strong enough to hurdle the perennial challenges in nation-building.
They say that this presidential election is one of the most divisive in our history. To be positive about it, this shows that our democracy is alive and thriving. Unfortunately, we just take our hard-earned freedom for granted. Equally as important, we should not lose them, now or in the future. The painful lessons of martial rule, where the fear of speaking out pervaded and many disappeared and some executed without going through judicial process, should never be forgotten.
While there are still stumbling-blocks to the full exercise of our rights especially in areas where people have no access to facilities or are not aware of their rights, we are in a better position than we were in the past or with other people in fledgling democracies, in being able to claim our political and civil rights.
In a recent conference organized by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Rule of Law Program Asia in partnership with the University of Cebu and Oceana entitled “Strengthening Stakeholder Linkages To Embed The Rule Of Law In The Protection Of The Coasts And Oceans,” I was struck by the observation made by a co-participant from an Asian country who pointed that Filipinos are privileged to have the democratic space we are enjoying, and being able to assert our rights as citizens.
In some countries, freedom remains a dream. Academic freedom is even curtailed, proving quite a dilemma to professors who only know too well the negative impacts it will have on the quality of education and in honing the leadership skills of the students.
The Law is on our side, yet only a handful of us are making our voices heard and in participating in decision-making, like the determined residents and stakeholders in Cebu City who opposed the proposed 300-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Sawang Calero.
Had these citizens pretended to be unaffected, content to be mere bystanders, without doing concrete actions to raise their voices of concern, particularly as the Barangay Council of Sawang Calero and Duljo-Fatima have in fact endorsed the project, through a resolution, it is possible that the outcome would have been different.
We stand proud that the Environment Committee of Cebu City chaired by Ma. Nida Cabrera with members: Councilors Alvin Dizon, Nestor Archival and Margarita Osmeña, listened to the residents and did not approve the request of the Ludo Power Plant for a favorable endorsement of the controversial power plant. We welcome the move of the Sangguniang Panlungsod of the city in approving the Report and the recommendations of the Committee.
The well-researched and thought out Report of the Environment Committee providing the basis and their requirements, is a good template for use by other local government units which are not happy with the thought of hosting coal power plants. No project, especially those which have environmental and health impacts, can be undertaken without social acceptability and a thorough assessment of its repercussions and the approval of the Sangguniang, for that matter. That is the essence of local autonomy.
Furthermore, the Department of the Interior and Local Government should require local government units to comply with the various requirements of our environmental laws in crafting comprehensive land-use plans, climate change plans, disaster risk reduction and management plans, solid waste management plan, and air and water quality management plan, before they can even host polluting industries.
As it is, the practice is of LGUs to come up with a resolution which have received no objections, in projects with severe public health and environmental impacts, which is rather a lackadaisical treatment of their devolved and shared responsibility of environmental protection. By conducting genuine public hearings like what the Environment Committee and the Sangguniang Panlungsod of Cebu City did, they showed their care and respect of the rights of the people.
The stakeholders spoke out against the carbon-emitting coal plant and their voices reverberated – that speaks a lot about the sustainable future that they want to have.
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