Some Filipinos blame politics and industry for monster typhoon

November 13, 2013
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Residents of Tacloban City, Philippines cover their noses from smell of dead bodies from super typhoon Haiyan, known as Yolanda in the Philippines. Photo by Bullit Marquez, AP.

As the world turns its eyes on the Philippines after the worst recorded typhoon in history ravaged through the country, Filipinos are pointing fingers at the Harper government for creating the monster.

“Canada enters into climate change negotiations and simultaneously they’re fracking, continuing tar sands projects and digging into land all over the world. Canadian mining in the Philippines is devastating,” said Katie Zalazar, a community organizer with No One Is Illegal. She spoke about how her fisher-folk family was displaced by mining projects in Batangas at a recent environmental discussion put together by a climate justice youth group, Power Shift.

Dr. Nora Angeles, an associate professor at UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning, acknowledged that most Canadian mining companies such as Toronto Venture Inc., are in the Philippines’ southern province of Mindanao and the pathway of super typhoon Haiyan hit the central region of Samar Island and Leyte the hardest.

But super typhoons Bopha (known as Pablo in the Philippines) and Washi (Sendong) killed more than a thousand people each in Mindanao in December 2012 and 2013. The two typhoons, including Haiyan, are also unusually late in the season. The Philippines halted logging since Feb.2011 to avert such environmental disasters.

Deforestation, the process by which trees are rampantly ripped off land to make room for the large-scale mines, has contributed to the worsening typhoons, Angeles pointed out. “With the wind speed of Yolanda, trees would have helped reduce its impact on the ground,” as they could have prevented erosion and landslides, she said.

Illegal logging and mining projects have degraded the soil and water, Angeles insisted. “Combine that with more tropical storms that are getting stronger – then it is going to be a recipe for more environmental degradation,” she said. In other words, the “natural” catastrophe is human-made, as much as the Philippines is situated in a typhoon belt, Angeles argued.

By far, Haiyan has taken more lives than Bopha and Washi. The death toll climbed to 10,000 in Tacloban City alone, where it landed. An estimated 615,000 people have been displaced.

But first, people have to accept the idea of climate change.

“The climate change nay-sayers, especially those promoting fossil fuels, non- renewable sources – they should wake up,” Angeles argued.

That sense of urgency was brought up twice by Philippine climate representative Nadarev “Yeb” Sano. Last year, he made a tearful plea to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

This year, he called climate change “madness,” pledging to start a hunger strike until the UN starts moving forward with concrete measures, such as the Green Climate Fund. It’s a targeted pool of $100 billion per year by 2020 from developed countries to help developing countries wrought with climate change crises. The UN is still working out when and how to deliver the fund.

Sean Yap Devlin, an environmentalist who co-created viral Sh*t Harper Did videos, also said he is tired of waiting for change – and put the blame squarely on the Canadian government.

Devlin’s mother hails from the province of Leyte and is still waiting to hear from some cousins if they survived.

He said Canada is “the worst” at obstructing the UN process of climate change negotiations – pointing to the Harper government winning the infamous “Colossal Fossil” Award six years in a row, for undermining international regulations to prevent climate change. The award is handed out by the Climate Action Network, composed of 850 NGOs worldwide that fight “human induced climate change,” according to its website. The Harper government quietly pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol in 2011, which requires developed countries to reduce green house emissions.

But other Filipino Canadians blame the Philippines for the tragic outcomes of the typhoons. Albert Lopez, a member of Migrante, which helps Filipino migrant workers in B.C. along with chapters around the world, said that even his friends are reluctant to even send donations home. They are wary because of a recently exposed scandal of senators misusing government 1 billion Pesos worth of government funds, better known as the pork barrel scam.

Beth Dollaga, another member of Migrante B.C., urges people to send funds through their organization, as they have been working for years on the ground with peasants, working poor and indigenous groups in the Philippines against climate change and political corruption.

“Land is being extracted of the indigenous Filipinos’ ancestral domain. Now the typhoon comes, we are echoing what these indigenous communities are asking of Canadian corporate mining (projects): to leave. They have to leave them and respect their request,” she said.

Dollaga is also encouraging the government to increase the $5 million it has pledged to the Philippines for the typhoon, but with full disclosure to both Canadians and Filipinos of the breakdown of funds.

Devlin also raised red flags about how the Canadian government muzzled scientists from sharing their research by controlling Environment Canada from doing media interviews since 2007, slowing down the process for climate change reforms. As a result, media coverage of climate change was reduced 80 per cent, he added.

Considering a recent comment made by Employment Minister Jason Kenney at the World Petroleum Council Youth Forum in Calgary, Devlin said the fight for environmental protection is far from over.

Until we invent the famous dilithium crystals from Star Trek, which I understand are produced by crushing unicorn horns … oil and gas will continue to be the mainstay of the global energy market,” Kenney said at the forum.

Devlin said Kenney should be even more sensitive as a former immigration minister. “I’m assuming he knows something about what countries like the Philippines go through. He’s pretending like we don’t even have other options seriously. It’s ridiculous. It’s absurd and kind of funny. And terribly offensive.”

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Krystle Alarcon

Krystle Alarcon is a multimedia journalist based in Vancouver, BC, who reports on social justice issues related to women, immigrants, First Nations, the LGBTQ community and marginalized people. She is a second-generation Filipina born in Montreal and raised in Manila and is fluent in English, French Tagalog and basic Spanish. She loves dogs with squashed…