03/25/2023, 13.35
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Catholic environmentalists call on the Philippine Congress to recognise the rights of nature

by Santosh Digal

Caritas leads a coalition of 62 groups. For Fr Gariguez, recognising the rights of nature means recognising and honouring the environmental rights of human beings. A survey found that 17 per cent of Filipinos have reported “severe” effects of climate change in the past three years.

Manila (AsiaNews) – The Rights of Nature PH, a consortium of faith-based NGOs and environmental groups, has declared a climate emergency in the Philippines.

To this end, it calls on the Philippine government to pass legislation that recognises the "rights of nature" and guarantees the ability of ecosystems, rivers and trees to survive and flourish.

This request comes just as the Philippines struggles to cope with a serious environmental disaster caused by the sinking of the MT Princess Empire oil tanker off the island of Mindoro.

Caritas Philippines in partnership with Philippine Misereor Partnership are leading the campaign.

As many as 62 members of the environmental coalition held a three-day general assembly on 21-23 March in Quezon City, near Manila, centred on the topic "Cultivating the path towards the recognition of the rights of nature in the Philippines”.

A proposal to regulate the rights of nature was first submitted to the Philippine House of Representatives in 2019. Senator Risa Hontiveros introduced a similar bill in the Senate in July 2022.

Arnan Panaligan, who represents Oriental Mindoro’s First District; Joey Salceda, who represents Albay's Second District; and Edgar Chatto, who represents Bohol's First District, submitted Rights of Nature measures to the House of Representatives in February.

The Agos River became a protected area in 2022, after the Infanta local government (Quezon province) adopted the country’s first Rights of Nature ordinance.

The environmental coalition, Caritas social action networks, and diocesan social development centres are behind the "Rights of Nature" concept, at the heart of which is the need to address the dysfunctional economic system and the modern legal, social, political and cultural structures that are destroying people and the planet.

The concept recognises and honours the environmental rights of human beings, said Father Edwin Gariguez, a former director of Caritas Philippines. 

In his view, recognising the rights of nature means that human activities and development must not interfere with the ability of ecosystems to absorb their effects, regenerate their natural capacities, thrive, and evolve, and this requires that those responsible, including corporate actors, be held fully accountable for negative impacts on Earth systems.

“We acknowledge the gravity of the situation and the urgent need for collective action to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change," said Mark T. Peñalver, executive director of the Interfacing Development Interventions for Sustainability.

The authorities, he noted, must “go beyond the minimum of climate talks and monitoring targets”; instead, they must “urgently uphold climate justice by halting profit-driven, ecologically destructive projects and empowering our communities with the self-determination for climate change adaptation.”

For Bishop Cosme R. Almedilla of Butuan, the time has come to declare a climate emergency, recognising that humanity and the whole ecosystem are on the verge of collapse unless immediate and strategic actions are taken to reduce or halt climate change and avoid potentially irreversible impacts.

A recent survey by Social Weather Stations (SWS) found that 93 per cent of Filipinos have personally experienced the effects of climate change over the past three years.

About 17 per cent of respondents have reported "severe" effects, while 76 per cent of respondents believe that if humans tried, they could stop or slow down climate change.

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