Presidential candidates respond to Greenpeace demand

The Greenpeace Green Electoral Initiative: Water Watch project

Feature story - May 9, 2010
A week ago, only five presidential candidates had so far committed to our call for urgent water protection measures when elected.

Around a hundred Greenpeace activists staged a mock ‘miting de abanse’ in front of the Comelec office in Intramuros today to launch an initiative that aims to place the environment as one of the key issues of concern in the 2010 presidential elections.

Two days ago, after separate "sleep-in actions" at the campaign headquarters of those who haven't yet given any sort of commitment, the rest of the presidential aspirants had their campaign officers contact Greenpeace to open channels for discussion of the steps Greenpeace proposed for climate change adaptation to protect our water resources during their first hundred days in office should they become president.

During the "sleep in" at the headquarters of Noynoy Aquino, who consistently placed first in election surveys, his campaign manager, Butch Abad, submitted a signed commitment from the Liberal Party that Greenpeace's proposals are acceptable and in consonance with the environmental and climate change platform of Aquino.

This is great news: the country needs a concrete action plan to help the nation cope with the mounting impacts of climate change, and the next president has to hit the ground running on this issue when he or she assumes office.

The next president's term begins during what could potentially be an extended drought, or a potentially devastating rainy season. Both problems can be attributed to climate change impacts which have been pummeling the country harder and harder each year.

The effects of climate change on water - whether it be too much or too little water, as we've seen with Ondoy and Pepeng, so swiftly followed by a severe drought - will be most devastating to Filipinos from all walks of life.

Now we finally have pledges from everyone for the implementation of our recommended action plan to deal with climate impacts on water sources.

Getting the pledges has been hard work: we documented the problem of receding water levels during our Water Watch camp in Angat, brought in scientists to speak out on the scale and urgency of the problem, and finally demanded aspiring presidential candidates to commit to solutions.

We knocked on their doors, knocked and knocked again, followed them in Facebook and Twitter and slept in at their headquarters (and even got arrested), until every single one of them said "yes."

The "yes," we should add, would not have been possible without all those who supported the campaign online and offline-volunteers, cyberactivists, Facebook friends and Twitter followers.

The pledge, however, is just the start. Greenpeace will definitely keep an eye on whoever emerges victorious after Monday's elections, to see if they will actually deliver….

For the meantime, we're wrapping up the Greenpeace Green Electoral Initiative: Water Watch project. The assessment: mission accomplished.

The Green Electoral Initiative (GEI)

The Green Electoral Initiative (GEI) survey, conducted by Greenpeace and EcoWaste Coalition every election period since 2004, challenges presidential aspirants (and other politicians) to take up the environment in their campaign platforms.

As the most comprehensive survey of its kind, the GEI covers all the key environment issues including climate change and energy, solid waste, chemical pollution and consumer safety, water, forests, nuclear power, and mining. The results of the 2010 GEI survey were released last April 21, along with responses of the presidential candidates.

Aside from its usefulness to the public to assess their candidate's environmental stance, the results of the survey are used to hold whoever wins in the elections accountable for the positions they have outlined.

Greenpeace GEI Water Watch Project

Our focus this year is on issues that impact on our most basic needs: clean energy, clean water and safe food. But, as elections happen against a backdrop of severe drought that has placed the entire nation in crisis, the main challenge we presented to presidential contenders was for them to pledge, during their first hundred days in office, to implement concrete steps to protect our water supply from climate change impacts.

March 19 - Greenpeace activists conduct a "die-in" at the compound of the Department of Environment & Natural Resources (DENR) three days before World Water Day celebrations to emphasize the need for better management of the Philippines' fresh water resources which are greatly threatened by climate change and by domestic and industrial pollution.

March 22 - To mark World Water Day, the environmental advocacy groups EcoWaste Coalition and Greenpeace disclose their ranking of the presidential candidates' platforms on clean water grading them 0 to 10, with 10 being the "greenest" during an activity where activists with nine empty pails of various sizes representing the scores of the candidates lined up ala "pila-balde" before a traditional water pump.

April 12 - The "Water Watch" camp in Angat Reservoir, Metro Manila's main water source, is launched to highlight the urgent threat of climate change to the country's water resources. Greenpeace called on the public to take every measure to conserve water and demand that the presidential candidates prioritize the issue in their agenda.

The camp, managed by the Greenpeace Water Patrol, together with the National Power-Angat Watershed Area Team (NPC-AWAT), monitors Angat's water levels, and gathers data on precipitation, evaporation rates, temperature and water levels at key points in the Angat basin with Geologist Dr. Carlos Primo David as consultant.

April 13 - Angat Dam breaches its critical level. Greenpeace steps up its call for the need for urgent political action to climate-proof the country's water resources.

April 16-17 - A Greenpeace expedition accompanied by Filipino Mt. Everest summiteer Romi Garduce documents how Angat's major tributaries are already dried up, indicating that the situation of the dam, already below critical level, can worsen in the next few weeks.

April 21 - Greenpeace and EcoWaste Coalition disclose final results of the GEI survey. Nicky Perlas, Jamby Madrigal and Richard Gordon emerge top three. On climate change adaptation measures protecting water resources, Sen. Gordon provides the most comprehensive commitments for his first hundred days in office.

April 19 - The Water Patrol launches an expedition in North and Central Luzon to document the effect of drought on important farmlands and rice producing areas.

April 24 - Greenpeace pursues presidential candidates on water protection with a letter of demand, delivered along with images of drought-affected areas in the country, to push for commitments to protect the country's water sources.

April 27 - Volunteer bikers tour the headquarters of the nine presidential candidates to follow-up on the letters of demand.

For the next few days, volunteers continue contacting the offices of the presidential candidates for their commitment.

Nicanor Perlas and Olongapo City Councilor JC de los Reyes are the first to commit to Greenpeace's proposals, followed by Senators Jamby Madrigal and Manny Villar and evangelist Eddie Villanueva.

May 6 -- Greenpeace activists "sleep in" at the campaign headquarters of presidentiables who have not replied to the letter asking for their pledge, to demand their commitment on concrete water protection measures.

At the campaign headquarters of Noynoy Aquino and Gilbert Teodoro, activists wearing masks of the presidentiables "slept" on mats depicting the cracked soil of agricultural lands dried up by El Niño, and had blown up versions of the Greenpeace letter of demand as their blankets.

Greenpeace volunteers are taken into police custody at Gilbert Teodoro's headquarters but later released without charges. In contrast, at Noynoy Aquino's headquarters, our team of activists receives a positive response five hours into the "sleep in."

Meanwhile, our office in Quezon City receives a call from the camp of presidentiable Joseph Estrada, sending a positive signal on the aspirant's commitment to the issue.

Later that day, after the activists were released without charges, Gilbert Teodoro's Green Team call our campaigner to issue their candidate's positive reply to our demand for water protection.

What are our demands?

We asked presidentiables to reply positively to the two points outlined below. Now that they've all pledged to do these, the next step is to make sure whoever wins the elections on Monday keeps their promise.

1) Prioritize hazards and vulnerability-assessments to identify risks, and implement adaptation measures to prevent or alleviate water shortage in case of drought; or lessen damage to crops, property and infrastructure in the case of too much rain. 

  • Establish at least 25 small community/farmland water impoundments in areas most at risk to drought; and
  • Create a special fund for research on non genetically-engineered drought-resistant crops, innovative farming techniques and technologies that minimize water conseumption.

2) Improve the existing capabilities of monitoring teams to develop efficient forecasting and warning systems for extreme weather events that are critical to protecting lives, property and critical environmental resources. This includes engaging the academe and NGOs to be partners of PAGASA in data-sharing, weather monitoring and forecasting; and directing the MMDA and the DPWH to de-clog Metro Manila storm drains by August 2010.

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