Message of UNDP Country Director, Mr. Toshihiro Tanaka

13 Nov 2013

Joint Launching of the Angat Management Plan and the Citizens’ handbook on Environmental Justice, Conference Hall, National Power Corporation, Quezon City

Justice Adolfo Azcuna;

Hon. Benro Payongayong, Governor of Bulacan;
Judge Geraldine Faith Econg; Supreme Court;
Acting Director Joseph Foltz, USAID;
Chair Martin Francisco, Save Sierra Madre;
Chair Milagros Chavez, Kalipunan ng Maliliit na Mangingisda sa Lawa ng Taal;
Atty. Generosa Mislang, Tanggol Kalikasan;
CEO MA. Gladys Cruz-Sta Rita, National Power Corporation;
Partners from the Philippine government, civil society and the private sector;

Magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat!

Let me start to convey, on UNDP and my own personal behalf, my deepest condolence to the victims and communities affected by Typhoon Yolanda, and our solidarity with the people and the government of the Philippines at this most difficult time. In Warsaw, Poland, a UN Conference on Climate Change just took place, where a Philippine delegate called for all nations to stop the ‘climate crisis’, which moved everyone.

We know that our own life depends upon the environment. Our Mother Earth provides us with fresh air, food, energy, and clean water. For some of us, the environment provides sources of livelihood. The governance of the environment is therefore crucial, and a fundamental human right.

Environmental rights and our planet earth is under enormous pressure of the way population is growing and natural resources are exploited, and the production and consumption pattern of modern society. Unfortunately, the environment is under threat. Climate change has increased the severity and frequency of natural hazards, including torrential rains, floods, typhoons, droughts, and landslides.

We are also concerned about some of the ways the extractive industry has been operating. The damage inflicted by natural hazards has been exacerbated by extractive industries. Extractive industries can have a positive economic impact on the economy of today, but it must not destroy our natural environment, or reduce the prosperity of future generations.  Yet, there have been cases where certain companies and groups have violated environmental rights of all by polluting waters, displacing families, poaching corals, and cutting down forests.

What make these issues a travesty of justice is that those who are most affected are often the poor, the marginalised, and the disadvantaged. It is they who lack the power to challenge those responsible for environmental violations. They lack the means to restore, protect, and preserve their environment.

There is, therefore, a pressing need to broaden access to Environmental Justice. This concept brings together social justice and environmental concerns. It is the concept which, I believe, can help sustain and enrich people’s lives.

The Importance of Environmental Justice and the Citizens’ Handbook

Environmental Justice recognises that clean air, water, and safe surroundings are basic human rights - no less important than other political or economic rights. The more we think about the effects that climate change, pollution, and tropical storms have had on people’s lives, the more it becomes clear that a healthy, safe environment should be maintained as a fundamental right for all.

Environmental Justice is effectively the safety net for environmental governance, ensuring that those that do violate the rights of citizens will be dealt with in accordance with the law. By analysing environmental issues through the prism of social justice, new and more effective ways to create win-win solutions can be developed than when they are dealt separately.

For environmental rights to be realised, citizens must be aware of what their environmental rights are, as well as the available laws and legal processes that they can use to protect and defend their rights. The Citizens’ Handbook on Environmental Justice is a timely and much welcomed publication. I congratulate our partners, the Supreme Court and the Philippine Judicial Academy, for crafting this invaluable tool for citizens’ empowerment. A special thank you also to USAID and Tanggol Kalikasan for your generous support. It is our hope that this handbook will empower Filipinos with the knowledge, the tools, and the confidence to claim their right to a safe, sustainable environment.

Let me also congratulate the launch of the Framework Plan for the Angat Watershed Management Protection. It is a vital watershed for Metro Manila, Bulacan, and Pampanga. With this handbook, citizens will be empowered to protect the Angat watershed, and therefore, protect their environmental rights, from those that seek to violate them. The vision of the plan is to achieve a balanced ecosystem in the Watershed by 2018, and this will be done through enforcement of forestry law, and preserving indigenous culture.

UNDP and Environmental Justice

The citizens’ handbook is part of a multi-year project with the Supreme Court and UNDP, “Making Justice Work for the Marginalised”. Under this project, we aim to deepen Environmental Justice in Philippine governance, and broaden its access to the people, especially to those who are most disadvantaged. In 2010, this partnership established the Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases, a landmark instrument that provides assessment techniques, policies, and laws that protect environmental rights; imposing strict legal consequences for those who act in irresponsible ways. Under these rules of procedures is the writ of Kalikasan, a legal remedy available to those whose constitutional right to a balanced and healthy ecology is violated or threatened.

Environmental Justice has become a key programmatic feature in our UNDP Strategy Plan from 2014-2017. In the coming years, UNDP, together with the Supreme Court, aims to organise and mobilise Citizens Environmental Watch groups to monitor and advocate for the protection of their environment and their natural resources. We will also be developing a comprehensive ARMM Environmental justice programme, including the development of rules of procedures for Shari’ah Courts on Environmental Justice.

What remains at the heart of all our initiatives is the Filipino people. Each and every Filipino should be able to claim their right to a safe and sustainable environment, and it is our mandate, as duty-bearers, to ensure that they do. UNDP remains committed to help people affected by disasters and climate change strengthen the foundations of good governance, and to build an inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Philippines.  

Maraming salamat po sa inyong lahat!