Countrywide church caravan raises environmental awareness

Activists call for nature to be afforded rights similar to what people are
Countrywide church caravan raises environmental awareness

Residents of Dipolog Diocese in Mindanao welcome a nationwide caravan to raise awareness about the environment on May 29. (Photo supplied)


A caravan of church-based activists has been visiting communities across the Philippines to raise awareness ahead of World Environment Day on June 5.

The activity called "Salakyag," short for "Walk, Ride, Sail Together for Creation" in Tagalog, aims to gather at least a million signatures to be presented with a list of demands to President Rodrigo Duterte next week.

The group wants the government to initiate measures to protect the most vulnerable groups from the impacts of natural disasters and destruction caused by humans.

Yolanda Esguerra, coordinator of the Philippine Misereor Partnerships Inc. (PMPI), said they are seeking help from legislators to pass a law that gives "nature rights like human beings have."

PMPI is a social development network of people's organizations, faith-based groups, and Misereor, is the overseas development agency of the Catholic Church in Germany.

"Recognizing the 'Rights of Nature' means that human activities and development must not interfere with the ability of the ecosystem to regenerate and evolve," said Esguerra.

She said the "Rights of Nature" will provide a means by which people can "re-learn respect for Mother Earth, as indigenous peoples of the world have been demonstrating for thousands of years."

In a paper submitted to lawmakers, the pro-environment groups challenge the "prevailing world view that places human above nature, and with dominion over nature."

"Modern political and legal systems have failed to prevent the increasingly grave threats of climate change, ecosystem degradation, and displacement of humans and other species," read the paper.


Local concerns raised

In one of the caravan's stops, Diomedes Capala, a parish worker from the southern Philippine town of Gutalac, said he wanted the government to know about the "massive extraction" of pebbles in his village.

"Our beach is now lost, the waves now reach the foot of the mountain, many houses have been destroyed or have to be relocated," Capala told caravan participants.

He said town officials did not do anything to stop the extraction of the stones that have been sold to construction companies.

The resident accused local officials of being behind the destruction of the local environment, which dates back to the 1990s.

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Father Edwin Gariguez, executive director of the social action arm of the bishops' conference, said the "Rights of Nature" campaign is a "reassertion" of the church's call to protect the "Common Home."

"This is the very spirit of Laudato Si'," said the priest, referring to Pope Francis' encyclical about caring for the environment. 

The priest described it as "saddening" that people have to assert the promotion of the "Rights of Nature," while, in fact, "nature will outlive human beings."

"We are called to act not just for our future but for the sanctity of 'Our Common Home.' This is not just a Christian duty but a duty as inhabitants of the Earth," he said.

Father Gariguez said the caravan echoes the Pope Francis' call for all people "to embrace ecological conversion, to stand with nature, and be one with nature in a lifestyle that is sustainable."

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo called on legislators to address the "cry of the poor."

"Protection of the environment and the recognition of nature's rights is not an option to take but an obligation to achieve," he told

The caravan, which started in the southern city of Zamboanga on May 28, will head to the central Philippines until June 2, and then to the northern part of the country until June 4. 

Ecuador was the first country to recognize "Rights of Nature" in its constitution that was ratified in 2008.

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