Text published on Manila Standard Today, July 23, 2018
On the day of the barangay elections in May, at a tin-roofed roadside shack 142 kilometers north of Manila, the women of Barangay Lamao in Limay, Bataan gathered to await the results of the votes. Some of their colleagues from the Coal-Free Bataan Movement have sought positions at the last minute, and together they hummed to the radio as they prepared a feast of pancit and menudo for their supporters and families.
It was a humid morning filled with tension and the chatter of their children who insisted on tagging along. Already they have been getting reports that the competition allegedly has people outside of the precincts handing pay-offs to voters, but they kept their spirits up with good food and good company. “Panggulo lang naman kayo!” they teased their candidates. “Pero okay yan ha, disrupt the system!”
Politics was never an option for them, but they had to explore all avenues to resist upon the murder of a 57-year-old grandmother, their comrade, Gloria Capitan. Capitan, who had actively opposed an open coal stockpile in the area for its effect on the health of the community, was gunned down by still unidentified men one night in her family’s karaoke bar. “It’s a death march yet again,” Derec Cabe, coordinator of the movement, has been saying for years.
Photo from Kilusan Bataan
For the first few weeks after Capitan’s death, the organization actively campaigned for the police to investigate the threats some members had also been receiving. Suspicious men had loitered around Capitan’s residence and family bar before the murder, and similar activity had been reported by other activists near their houses. Their complaints, they felt, were never really taken seriously—the case was recently dismissed for lack of suspects. The stockpile started operating again not long after an environment secretary was dismissed.
Capitan’s second death anniversary was recently commemorated at the Commission on Human Rights last July 1 with songs, spoken word and short-skit performances on the dangers of coal plants to the health of families and their role in climate change. Since her death, however, President Rodrigo Duterte has graced the inauguration of more coal plants all over the country, cementing the country’s continued reliance on this deadly fossil fuel.
According to a paper entitled Navigating a trilemma: Energy security, equity, and sustainability in the Philippines’ low-carbon transition authored by Antonio La Vina and the Ateneo School of Government, the country’s overdependence on one imported resource is problematic as it highlights the exposure of electricity prices to international market fluctuations. With 70 percent of coal in the country coming from Indonesia, this is an inevitability.
There is also a problem in having a supply of coal plants beyond baseload needs, which forces some plants to serve mid-merit requirements. Baseload refers to plants running 24 hours to serve the continuous and constant demand. Mid-merit, on the other hand, comes online when the demand picks up and shut down when the demand drops off. According to the study, mid-merit plants are better suited for sources other than coal, which will be eventually phased out by their inability to compete with newer, cleaner and and eventually, cheaper technology.
In the fight for climate justice, campaigners and environmental supporters spend most of their time either planning to stop new fossil fuel projects from operating, pushing for legislation that will institutionalize a cleaner future for all, or seeking liability and compensation of historical polluters through the growing trend of climate litigation. But what happens for those in the in-between, to people who have no choice but to live with coal projects in their very backyards, with statistics that imply that they too may be part of the growing list of victims? What is the version of climate justice for the here and now?
These are questions we must ask ourselves as advocates and we must answer them quickly. Social change tends to be slow, and merely accepting that some communities will just have to be collateral damage in the fight towards progress is anything but justice.
Only one of the movement’s officers won a seat in the barangay elections, but these activists in Bataan have not lost hope. “Ate Gloria used to say she will not stop fighting until her eyes are closed, until death.” Cabe mused. “It is the same with us.”