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Environmentalism is a right, not a privilege

October 18, 2019


THE Philippines for more than a century since the independence of our archipelagic nation, our national government and political parties have never truly considered the environment as a national concern and priority in the drive for economic development. It was only a decade ago, when the Philippine Green Party (Partido ng Kalikasan) came about, where after 12 long years, majority of the voting population of the Philippines might have never even heard of nor even knew of the existence of this “green” political group. The environment was never truly part of any famous politician’s speech or political agenda, only to be construed upon on an electoral campaign by the Philippines’ richest man, the former senator, Manuel “Manny” Villar, who ran for president in 2010 with his infamous political jingle: “Nakaligo ka na ba sa dagat ng basura?” A campaign that revealed the disparity in which poverty and the environment were being portrayed in society — that only poor people swim in an ocean of garbage and trash, that having a polluted living environment is a trait of the poor.

Nine years after, amid the current state of the world with increasing environmental and socioeconomic conflicts and crises, a new question begs to be answered — is environmentalism just for the rich and privileged?

The Philippines being an archipelago will always be surrounded by ocean. But due to poor solid waste management systems and ineffective enforcement of environmental laws and policies, the country remains to be the top third plastic-polluting country in the globe, considering the sachet or single-use plastic culture and economy propagated around our cities. A modern pro-environment lifestyle bears down on consumers in the economic pyramid, who are pressured to buy P200 metal straws or to go vegan with higher food expenses in a country with an average minimum salary of P537 per day in 2018 — a country where an increase of even a single peso a day could mean life or death for the majority of Filipinos. The inconvenient and unfortunate reality of claiming that environmentalism is a privilege of the rich, not only neglects the fact that people don’t deserve to have a clean and sustainable environment; more so, it hurts the underserved communities and countries, who are the most vulnerable to such consequences of environmental atrocities as plastic pollution and the climate crisis. The problems of the environment have never been mutually exclusive in society, where in fact countries rich in natural resources tend to have greater economies like China and the US, but are being mismanaged or have been historically exploited by past colonialists or present-day corrupt leaders and governments, which is increasingly happening in the Philippines and some African countries like Zambia and Botswana.

Maybe we have to look at environmentalism not as a mere privilege or a status of society, but as a measure of whether or not a country’s rights are being respected by the choices and actions that are being made by our own leaders, businesses and politicians. And by understanding how, for centuries, indigenous communities and tribes around the world have coexisted with nature and the environment, and how through environmental officers and park rangers coming from the lowest income-earning brackets, who have dedicated their lives to protect the environment and nature, you come to realize how being an environmentalist was never a question of who gets to be one, but of choices and rights that every single human deserves.

You come back again nine years in time with that same infamous and controversial jingle: “Nakaligo ka na ba sa dagat ng basura?” (Have you ever swam in an ocean of trash?), and you realize today, whether from the Philippines to the Bahamas, from the Maldives to Australia — that we all are.


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