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It’s time to make polluters pay

By AJ Raymundo Published Jan 12, 2024 5:00 am

It’s 6 a.m. and you’re already in your school uniform. There’s an outpour outside. You tune in to the radio—or news and social media sites, depending on your age—waiting for the announcement. Whether or not classes got called off was beside the point. These moments were nostalgic. The anticipation of a free day was enthralling.

Now that I am in college (perhaps wiser, who can say?) I find the constant barrage of weather-related school cancellations troubling— especially when college students, as I remember, were often exempt from suspensions. It’s like climate change, as palpable as it could get, has been normalized to the point of commonplace.

Filipino communities shouldn’t be shouldering the human and financial costs of climate disasters.

Climate change. Filipinos know it, feel it. Stronger rains, rising temperatures, unpredictable catastrophes. The country has had a fair share of disasters, but it wasn’t until ten years ago, when Super Typhoon Yolanda hit the Philippines, that we had a collective reckoning with the magnitude of the climate crisis. And yet, its effects continue to haunt and reverberate among Filipinos, especially the locals in Visayas whose lives were affected in ways unimaginable.

In commemorating the tragedy, Greenpeace’s ship Rainbow Warrior once again makes the rounds in the country to bear witness to the lives of climate survivors, amplify it to the world, and demand reparations.

Rainbow Warrior visited climate-impacted communities in Tacloban, Bohol, and Manila.

The ship first arrived in the Philippines in November, just in time for the commemoration of Yolanda and climate talks at COP28 in Dubai. Carrying the call #ClimateJusticeForAll, Rainbow Warrior visited climate-impacted communities in Tacloban and Bohol, docking in Manila as its final stop.

“It’s very hard to say ‘This is the amount of money you have to pay’ because a lot of people lost their homes but are unable to reveal what they lost,” explained Samantha Rodriguez, one of the crew members of Rainbow Warrior. We were aboard a ship under the sweltering Manila sun. “But also, they lost their family. That’s something you cannot put a price on.”

Despite this, she says that companies “should be aware of the fact that they gain profit for polluting the planet and it’s impacting communities across the world” and these companies should pay for that. “Otherwise, they just get richer and richer at the expense of other people.”

Crew members of the Greenpeace Flagship Rainbow Warrior put up a banner that reads “Climate Justice for All” in Tacloban, Leyte.

The team running the ship comprises 17 individuals hailing from 13 countries, the youngest being 20 years old; taking the helm is their ferocious female captain, Hettie Geenen. Their mission: campaign around the world on issues relating to the worsening climate change.

At the core of their most recent tour in the Philippines is their call for the government to enact a climate accountability law that will hold corporate climate polluters accountable. “Filipino communities shouldn’t be shouldering the human and financial costs of climate disasters,” said one of their campaigners. “This call for reparations is a call for climate justice.”

According to PulseAsia, 65% of Filipino adults observed the substantial impact of climate change in their communities. The same poll showed that 71% of Filipinos considered climate change a significant threat to them and their families. These numbers, however, barely scratch the surface of the complex reality of how the climate crisis affects Filipinos.

The Philippines is at the frontline of the climate change crisis, especially with the sea levels rising,” explained Clement Barbet, another crew member of the Rainbow Warrior, from France. “We are here to speak with communities to get their stories because they are living it. This is not something you just see on television,” added Barbet. “You can touch it, feel it, see it.”

Developing countries like the Philippines suffer the most from the devastating impacts of climate disasters. Yet, big corporations and developed countries bear the most responsibility in this crisis as they are responsible for almost 80% of global carbon emissions that worsen the crisis.

During their campaign in Tacloban, Rodriguez was particularly struck by a story she encountered on the islands. “He was declared a missing person,” shared the crew member. “To be declared a missing person, and (be unable) to find your name among the tombstones, it should be hard for the family to not have closure.”

On display at the People’s Museum of Climate Justice is a calendar with a tide chart instructing residents when to evacuate.

Rodriguez was referring to Mark Anthony Simbajon, a Yolanda survivor whose family has declared him missing to the government. Simbajon was later found alive, but despite not having withdrawn the declaration, he never found his name in the monuments and walls of remembrance. It speaks to the inscrutability of the impact of the Super Typhoon and how a lot of people who died and went missing remain unaccounted for.

Other crew members also shared their experiences in Bohol. At a makeshift gallery at a church in Pandacan called People’s Museum of Climate Justice, which Greenpeace also opened during the ship’s tour, one of the objects in the exhibit is a calendar. Owned by a Bohol resident, it has a tide chart instructing them on whether or not they will need to evacuate: a high tide of more than two meters would engulf their homes amidst the rising sea levels.

“Of course,” Rodriguez continued, “the people who are suffering first are mostly the poor communities. But at some point, everyone is going to suffer the same.” Climate change doesn’t discriminate.

To this end, Rodriguez called the youth to speak up on issues related to the crisis. She is inspired by the climate justice movements led by the young ones.

“I remember when I was a kid, people would say ‘Kids are the future. They have to solve the problems when they grow up,’ which, to be honest, is passing on the responsibility to the next generation,” Rodriguez voiced. “But I think the youth is standing up. ‘I don’t have to grow up (in order) to make big decisions’—that’s something the youth now knows.”

“They realize that we don’t have time and that if the situation doesn’t change, they won’t have a future.” Though the youth do not have the political power to make the decisions themselves, they can “put pressure on the government and big industries,” she added.

I left the ship in the afternoon to visit the gallery they mounted in Pandacan. On my way out of its shade, the oppressive heat draped itself over me. Even the breeze from the Manila bay was warm. The thought that it’s only about to get hotter makes me anxious; climate experts predict a continuous temperature rise given the rate at which the world—primarily big oil companies and developed countries—is emitting carbon into our atmosphere.

On the way to Pandacan, I saw pedestrians, street vendors, and people living in makeshift homes. How vulnerable and fragile these lives are, I thought, when pitted against climate catastrophes. How violent, made even more so when the struggles of people most affected by extreme weather are depicted as some kind of honorable resiliency.

We cannot “resilience” our way out of climate change. We need to make the big polluters pay.