It was a few minutes past 7 in the evening when environmental and civil society groups held a candlelight vigil in front of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources central office last Monday. Representatives from different organizations had just finished expressing the unity felt by the crowds that had gathered from different affected sectors, offering words of support for the Greenpeace blockaders protesting the corporate stranglehold on government, blatant in the circumstances surrounding the Commission on Appointment’s (CA) rejection of Ms. Gina Lopez as head of the environmental agency.
By this time, the four activists–including Greenpeace Southeast Asia Executive Director Yeb Sano himself–had been chained to the agency’s main gate for 12 hours. They still had a long way to go, if they were to keep to the original plan of holding their ground until the next working day, unless physically removed by authorities. Their counterparts blockading the second gate, which also included Greenpeace PH Country Director Amalie Obusan, had already been removed hours before.
Then it was Gina’s turn to speak. She tearfully thanked Yeb and other activists who chained themselves arm-in-arm to the DENR gate under the scorching heat, if only to make a stand. After that, she said something a little less assertive than I expected: she stated that she is willing to work with the newly-appointed DENR secretary Roy Cimatu, and graciously asked Greenpeace to go home.
As Gina was unchaining the activists, I thought, did she just throw in the towel? And does this mean Greenpeace and the rest of the environmental movement, after having elevated the national conversation on destructive industries pulling strings in government, are expected to follow suit?
But I wasn’t there just for Gina Lopez, the person. I protested her rejection by the CA because I believe she understands that a healthy ecology and a healthy economy go hand in hand. That, essentially, our natural resources should be enjoyed by the many instead of exploited by the few. Only in thinking about this was I reminded: we took a stand because the situation demands that we choose, and the choice was between greedy corporate interests and the lives of the people. Money versus life. Greenpeace is always for the environment and the people, and no new appointment is going to change that.
More than anything, the blockade was a symbolic action meant to get everyone on their toes about the travesty of DENR as an agency protecting the citizens’ right to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and live in a clean and safe environment. And when the nine activists said “this is just the beginning,” it’s not to console but quite simply, to state a fact.
We’ve seen what a DENR Secretary whose heart is in the right place can do, and there’s absolutely no reason for the new secretary not to follow in her footsteps. I believe that Filipinos are more vigilant now more than ever, enough to resist the clutches of big businesses. And when we’re again faced with a moment of choice, there will be people, in orange jumpsuits or not, who will answer the call.