Activists hold protest rallies outside the Philippine Congress building in Manila as President Rodrigo Duterte delivered his second State of the Nation Address on July 24. (Photo by Vincent Go)
Church leaders and pro-environment activists in the Philippines said they need "concrete actions, not lip service" from the government when it comes to the protection of the environment and the country's natural resources.
In his State of the Nation Address on July 24, Philippine President Rodrigo called for "a stop to the extraction and exportation" of mineral resources "to foreign nations for processing abroad and importing them back to the Philippines."
He urged Filipinos to protect the environment, saying that under his administration, destructive mining activities will not be allowed. He vowed to increase taxes on mining to compensate for the suffering of affected communities.
"I am sternly warning all mining operations and contractors to refrain from the unbridled and irresponsible destruction of our watersheds, forests, and aquatic resources," said Duterte.
Church leaders welcomed the president's statement, but said he needs to back his words with "concrete actions."
Father Pete Montallana, a Catholic priest in the forefront of environmental activism in the country, noted the Duterte has not supported the appointment of pro-environment officials in his government.
"The appointment of well-meaning people to serve the environment has not been signed," noted the priest, adding that, "the oligarchs are again gaining ground."
Father Edwin Gariguez, head of the social action arm of the country's Catholic bishops, said that while he supports making mining companies accountable, the president should remove government officials who "clearly favor mining companies."
Environmental group Kalikasan, however, said Duterte only gave "the same old lip service on mining and the environment that is lacking in substance."
"Duterte should start walking his cheap talk by taking large-scale foreign mining companies to task by upholding mine closures, suspensions and agreement cancelations," said Leon Dulce, Kalikasan's campaign coordinator.
Dulce said the president's proposal to impose a new mining tax "will never be enough to solve the deep-seated problems of the liberalized mining industry."
He also said that, "what is most detestable" is Duterte's anti-narcotics war and military campaigns "that have created the most intense climate of impunity."
War on drugs to be relentless
In his speech, Duterte strayed from a prepared text, describing it as "nonsensical."
He attacked his critics, members of the media, human rights defenders, leftist activists, and communist rebels, saying that they should focus their influence in helping the government's war against illegal drugs.
"I don't intend to lose the campaign, or lose the fight against illegal drugs," he said, adding that, "the fight will not stop until those who deal in it understand that they have to cease."
He asked Congress to re-impose the death penalty for heinous crimes, especially on drug trafficking.
"We have to act decisively on this contentious issue. Capital punishment is not only about deterrence. It is also about retribution. Make no mistake about that," he said.
Benedictine Sister Mary John Mananzan said the only thing that she agreed with in Duterte's speech was on the environment and warning to mining companies.
"The rest was more like a campaign speech [and] as usual, the unpresidential and crude comments," said the nun.
Rights group Karapatan said "Duterte's mad obsession with his war on drugs … is going beyond absurd at the expense of people's rights, especially those of the poor."
One Catholic prelate, meanwhile, lauded the Duterte administration as it has "tried and done everything to foster peace."
Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga, head of the Episcopal Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People, however, said a "comfortable life … must be anchored on compassion and care for life" and the protection of the "rights and dignity of every person."
Bishop Santos said communist rebels "must show sincerity and willingness to renounce violence," adding that "if they are serious and value peace, there should never be ambushes and raids."
Last week, Duterte ordered an end to peace negotiations aimed at ending almost 50 years of communist insurgency following guerrilla attacks against government troops.
Cristina Palabay, secretary-general of Karapatan, accused Duterte of using a "militarist framework in resolving the roots of the armed conflict."
She said that "beyond the hubris, rhetoric and the circus of lawmakers and officials in the halls of Congress, the continuing struggle of the Filipino people for a truly just and lasting peace and for progressive change is a most eloquent statement of the real State of the Nation."