My Open Letter to the Philippine President on the Cancun Climate Talks

Nina Somera
Posted November 20, 2010 from Philippines

Dear President Noynoy,

I hope this finds you well. I write regarding this country’s climate body, which primarily represents the Philippines in the global climate talks at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Admittedly, I am not optimistic that a deal would be finalized in COP 16, beginning at the tail-end of November in Cancun, Mexico. Nonetheless I am excited to once more become a part of a coalition of women who pursue a gender dimension in the key discussions, lobby with governments who are open and willing enough to take on this cause into the negotiations and strategize with wonderful women from various sectors and fields of science, developmental work, media and the arts, among others.

I am unsure though whether or not I would be happy to be there as a Filipina. In one of the preparatory meetings towards COP 15 in Bangkok in October 2009, I was thrilled to be an observer in the meetings on financing. This was the very first time I participated at the UNFCCC. As in the other rooms, the debates were just going back and forth but it was so refreshing to hear Ambassador Ditas Muller firmly take on the cudgels on behalf of G77 and China, insisting that developed countries pour public money into the climate pot as a matter of their historical responsibilities. As the coordinator of G77 and China, the Philippines seemed to have everyone’s respect. All these changed though by December in COP 15 in Copenhagen. By that time, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo just took out Ambassador Muller, the most seasoned negotiator, from the delegation which was headed by the current vice-chair of the Climate Change Commission (CCC) Heherson T. Alvarez.

And this is where the country began to suffer a string of embarrassment at the very least and possibly diplomatic setbacks at its worst. Sans any consultation with other delegates from different line agencies and even civil society organizations, HTA committed to the UNFCCC that the Philippines would reduce it greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 5 per cent below the 1990 level between 2008 to 2012.

How can we ever live up to this promise? According to the International Energy Agency, our GHG per capita stands at 0.82%, which is quite low for a country which badly needs public utility services including water and electricity in rural areas, farm-to-market roads, mass public transport like trains, and many more. What about our right to develop? Sa kakarampot na bilang na ito, saan pa po tayo magbabawas, samantalang hindi pa nga tayo nakakapagtatag ng mga sustenableng industriya na maaring maging rason upang manatili ang karamihan sa kanayunan at sa ating bansa? Alanganin naman pong hindi tayo kumain ng kanin o sabay-sabay tayong hindi huminga. [With this small figure, where else can we reduce, when we have yet to build sustainable industries which can be reason enough to keep most people in the countryside and in the country? We cannot stop eating rice or stop breathing altogether.]

As a developing country, the Philippines is not obliged to mitigate its GHG. Instead, it must stick to the UNFCCC principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. Therefore it must insist that developed countries who have soaring GHG emissions like the US undertake drastic GHG cuts.

But that did not end there. In Copenhagen, developed countries led by the US and EU members held hostage the process by coming up with a draft that effectively allows them to evade their responsibilities. Again sans any consultation with the other members of the delegation, HTA committed the country to the one-sided Copenhagen Accord, allegedly with the thinking that that the Accord was not binding anyway. But even as the Accord was as good as a scratch paper, his signature on behalf of country has jeopardized our political position. Contrary to what HTA claims over and over again, there is nothing in the Accord which allows the Philippines to access money from whatever funds rich countries may pledge, let alone pool. Moreover, the Accord’s intent to keep global temperature by 2 degrees is simply inadequate to what science prescribes.

What makes these actions glaring was not only their grave implications on the Philippine’s position but the unilateral nature of these actions. Not only did HTA not consult the members of the country’s delegation but he acted without the knowledge of the country’s leader at that time. When GMA learned of our accession to the Copenhagen Accord, the country immediately sent a note verbale, withdrawing our support. But even then, our country’s name remained on the list of signatories on the UNFCCC website for some time.

But the unilateralism still did not end there. In fact it extended even when you are already in power as president of the Philippines and as the chair of the Climate Change Commission (CCC). In July, HTA communicated to the South Korean embassy that the government supports Sokor’s bid to host COP 18 in 2012 for the following shallow reasons: “proximity to the Philippines, the familiarity of your government on the UNFCCC process and the capacity of your country to host this important event.”

Eh sino naman po bang gobyerno ang magprirpisinta na mag-imbita at magpapatuloy ng maraming bisita kung wala itong pera? Wala rin naman pong bansa na nakikipagnegosasyon ang walang alam sa mga pinaguusapan sa UNFCCC. Bagaman maganda ang makatipid sa pamasahe ang ating delegasyon, may mga mas mahahalaga pang konsiderasyon na dapat tingnan at pag-isipan. [But which government anyway, would volunteer to invite and host so many people if it does not have money? There is also no government that is engaged in the negotiations, without any knowledge about the UNFCCC. Although it’s good to save some travel expenses for our delegation, there are certainly more important reasons to consider.]

HTA’s reasons are in stark contrast to the sound choice of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Qatar. DFA cited two reasons: Qatar is a member of the G77 and China group and it supports our observer status in the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC).

Hindi pa rin po dito nagtatapos [It still does not end here]. Recently, HTA assigned the Landbank of the Philippines to be the country’s national implementing entity (NIE) for the UNFCCC’s Adaptation Fund. Although some have reservations on the Adaptation Fund, the good thing about it is that it can be directly accessed by governments without going through channels like the World Bank, if only governments assign an NIE. Indeed it’s good to have our own NIE and only you can assign an NIE. Trouble is HTA once more made a decision that is for you as the Philippine’s chief executive to do.

It would not be surprising if you are not aware of these actions. I would not blame you but rather the apparent failure of the CCC’s vice chair to live up to his responsibilities --- one of these is to convene the Commission and update its membership which is composed of you as the chair, the vice chair and two other commissioners, who are also in the dark and were even taken out of the Philippine delegation at one point. I would not blame you. Instead, I would feel sorry for you because in the end, as our president, you will have to deal with the wrong decisions of one person. Mapipilitan po kayong maglinis ng kalat na hindi niyo naman po ginawa [You will be forced to clean up the dirt which you never created.]

The list goes on and there are many more reasons for Filipinos to be disappointed, as the national CSO network Aksyon Klima Pilipinas has cited every now and then. One of these is HTA’s claim that the Philippines’ National Climate Strategy went through a series of consultation. If this was indeed the case, then how come gender is so spaced out, that tokenism is even an understatement? In the section on water for instance, there is hardly about women whose lives are so tied to this resource, even more the men.

Mr. President, there is so much at stake in climate change. Maliban sa mukha at posisyong dala-dala ng Pilipinas sa UNFCCC, nakataya po dito ang araw-araw na pamumuhay at ikinabubuhay ng marami lalo na sa hanay ng mga mahihirap, magsasaka, mangingisda, kababaihan at indigenous peoples [Aside from the face and position of the Philippines, at stake are the lives and livelihood of many especially the poor, farmers, fisherfolk, women and indigenous peoples.] . In less than two weeks, Cancun na po [In less than two weeks, it will be Cancun already]. The Philippines ought to have a good leader.

Still engaging and hopeful, Nina

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