Presidential candidates pose before the start of the second debate sponsored by the Commission on Elections held at the Sofitel Harbor Garden Tent in Pasay City on Sunday, April 3, 2022. From left are Ernesto Abella, Leodegario de Guzman, Francisco Domagoso, Norberto Gonzales, Panfilo Lacson, Faisal Mangondato, Jose Montemayor, Emmanuel Pacquiao and Maria Leonor Robredo. PHOTO BY J. GERARD SEGUIA
LAST Sunday’s presidential debate, the second organized by the Commission on Elections (Comelec), allotted some time to discussion of the candidates’ views on the environment and climate change response. This was most welcome, as the subject has so far received little attention during the election campaign in spite of its critical importance to the country.
In order to keep the program under some sort of control, the organizers arranged the segment on environmental concerns so that groups of three candidates (one of the 10 running for the presidency was again absent from the proceedings) would be asked one of three questions. Thus, the first question was directed to Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo, labor leader Leodegario “Ka Leody” de Guzman and former Malacañang spokesman Ernesto Abella; the second question was directed to Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko” Moreno Domagoso, former defense secretary Norberto Gonzales and Sen. Panfilo Lacson; and the third question was directed to Sen. Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao, Dr. Jose Montemayor Jr. and Faisal Mangondato.
From our point of view, the format, while probably necessary to maintain order, prevented a fair side-by-side analysis of the candidates’ positions, but in any event, those taking part in the debate seemed to share broadly similar views. That being the case, what was said becomes more important than who said it, which is as it should be; because of the importance of environmental and climate change policy, whoever wins the presidency should be willing to implement any good idea, regardless of its political origin.
On the first question, “How will you promote the use of renewable energy?” the consensus among the candidates is that it is important to look at shifting to renewable energy as a transition that may take some time in order to ensure overall energy security along the way. Non-renewable but environmentally cleaner transitional sources of energy such as natural gas and nuclear energy should be considered. At the same time, progress toward building the share of renewables in the country’s energy mix may be accelerated by focusing on renewable energy’s applications to agriculture.
The second question addressed what is perhaps the most immediate environment-related concern, “How will you ensure access to clean water for all?” Better management of watersheds and existing and potential sources of water was stressed. Ideas that could help accomplish this objective included completing the long-delayed creation of a Department of Water, and obliging water concessionaires to invest more in watershed management. Improving and extending irrigation to expand agricultural productivity was also highlighted.
The third question, “What programs will you pursue to protect the nutrition of our countrymen, especially the poor?” was less directly related to environmental concerns, but still relevant as climate concerns have a significant impact on agriculture. The key takeaway from this part of the conversation was the importance of better land management, such as passage of the Land Use Act and implementing stricter control over land conversion.
The recent debate could have explored the issue in greater detail, but as it was, it did offer a worthwhile opportunity for the presidential aspirants and the voting public to consider environmental concerns in the context of the most important and practical priorities: energy, water and food for all Filipinos. While we certainly credit the Comelec organizers for including the questions asked in the debate program, we sincerely hope that upcoming debates will delve into the subject in even more detail.
Management and preservation of the environment should not be a partisan issue because the ever-increasing impact of climate change affects everyone. As these impacts become more extreme, our options to successfully mitigate and adapt to them become more limited. The revelation that the candidates do have similar perceptions of environmental issues should be a clear message to each of them that, whoever is chosen to lead the country, he or she must keep an open mind and be willing to work with those who may otherwise have sharply contrasting views on other issues.