Climate change is worsening by the year, and its impacts are disproportionately affecting marginalized and vulnerable sectors. However, such adversity has drawn out strength and capacity to lead from communities and individuals unjustly burdened by the climate crisis.

As we wrap up this Women’s Month, Mayor Rochelle Mergal of Salcedo, Eastern Samar shares her story of leadership and advocacy amid the crisis her constituents are facing — highlighting the role of women in the struggle for climate justice.

Rochelle Mergal at Community Forum in Salcedo Eastern Samar. © Geric Cruz / Greenpeace
Municipal Mayor Rochelle Mergal during a Greenpeace-held community forum in Salcedo, Eastern Samar. The Municipality of Salcedo announced that they passed a historic resolution on climate accountability, directing the local government to “pursue any and all actions on behalf of the people for the losses and damages inflicted upon the communities due to the impacts of extreme weather events.” Greenpeace also presented a policy brief with preliminary research unveiling loss and damage in the municipality. © Geric Cruz / Greenpeace

What does climate justice mean to you? 

Salcedo  experiences an average of 10-15 typhoons and extreme storms per year, yet our communities lack resilience to withstand the frequent beating from weather events. Salcedohanons communities rebuild after storms destroy their homes, wreck their fishing boats, and raze their farms  only to see them destroyed again. I felt like we need climate justice for this situation.

What motivates you to rise up against injustices? 

I was a Political science and a law student during the peak of political unrest in our country and I learned a lot from within and outside the campus. I worked in a law firm, thereafter and saw the injustices happening in our society. It inspires me to work for social justice and civil rights. 

Environmental and climate justice is a civil rights issue. Salcedo is gifted by nature with very rich natural resources, we all depend on the physical environment and its bounty for our food. Few years ago, Salcedohanons stopped the mining operations in the municipality because the mining industry contaminated our water, poisoned our food, and destroy the lungs of communities.

How do you stay courageous? 

As a Mayor of Salcedo, I should be courageous and decisive on my major decisions. Last January 4, 2023, a landslide happened in my municipality. The background of the January 4, 2023 tragedy started last December 2022. Salcedo, Eastern Samar had been waterlogged since Christmas of 2022, when a shear line, the northeast monsoon, and a new low pressure area brought successive weeks of rain in our municipality. On January 3, 2023, some residents of Salcedo Ville ( a Typhoon Haiyan Resettlement area)   in Barangay Tagbacan, Salcedo town reported cracks on the corners of their units, I acted right away and asked the MDRRMO(Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office) to address the problem.  

Immediately, we evacuated around 50 families whose homes nestled around the hilltop’s corner ledge. Early next day, January 4, almost the whole width of a stretch of the access road, right up to the edges of residential units, and a material recovery facility crumbled and topped over the cliff. 

What does your activism mean to you?

 Activism means to act against injustices that you can see, hear or feel in your settings. I grow up with a family whose main foundation is public service. My mother died in her 70s yet she was still serving our municipality as an active legislator.

Why is climate change a women’s issue?

Climate change is a women’s issue because women are the most burdened when a storm or typhoon hits our homes. Women make sure that every member of the family or community are not hungry, they won’t feel cold and they are safe.

What do you think is the role of those who identify as women in changing the world/ in the climate justice movement?

 Women can lead the movement for Climate JUSTICE. Women can influence their father, their husband and their children in the struggle for climate justice. Women can be nurturing but they can also lead the fight if their homes are destroyed or their farms are razed by the storm.

What do you think is important to accelerate impact for the movement and communities involved? 

There is a need to accelerate action from the local government. Last November 10, 2023, I endorsed the Municipal Council Resolution seeking accountability for conduct directly contributing to climate change and its consequent impacts on the people of Salcedo.

Hopefully, under my leadership as a Mayor, the Municipal Council can craft policies appropriate to pursue any and all actions on behalf of the people of Salcedo for the losses and damages inflicted upon the communities due to the impacts of extreme weather events.

I am also very supportive of the efforts of our community leaders to pursue legal actions and campaign all over Salcedo for climate justice.

Community Forum in Salcedo, Eastern Samar. © Geric Cruz / Greenpeace
Communities from Salcedo attend the community forum held by Greenpeace as part of the activities during the Rainbow Warrior tour visit in Salcedo, Eastern Samar. Greenpeace staff and ship crew were also present in the forum. During the forum, the Municipality of Salcedo announced that they passed a historic resolution on climate accountability, directing the local government to “pursue any and all actions on behalf of the people for the losses and damages inflicted upon the communities due to the impacts of extreme weather events.” Greenpeace also presented a policy brief with preliminary research unveiling loss and damage in the municipality. © Geric Cruz / Greenpeace

What is learning you would like to pass on? 

Women leaders who are Chief Executives of Local Government Units are faced with gigantic tasks of nurturing their constituents. I,  as the Mayor of Salcedo, is facing a great challenge in protecting my people from harm from these extreme weather events. I should be exposed more to the climate justice movement so that I can learn other ways of helping the bigger campaign of other women leaders.

Community Forum in Salcedo, Eastern Samar. © Geric Cruz / Greenpeace
Communities from Salcedo attend the community forum held by Greenpeace as part of the activities during the Rainbow Warrior tour visit in Salcedo, Eastern Samar. Greenpeace staff and ship crew were also present in the forum. During the forum, the Municipality of Salcedo announced that they passed a historic resolution on climate accountability, directing the local government to “pursue any and all actions on behalf of the people for the losses and damages inflicted upon the communities due to the impacts of extreme weather events.” Greenpeace also presented a policy brief with preliminary research unveiling loss and damage in the municipality. © Geric Cruz / Greenpeace