“We, the shepherds, can tend the sheep.”
That was how SLB Advocacy Officer Ms. Marianne Licuanan described the role of the citizens in addressing pressing environmental concerns in our country, as she spoke to members of over 30 civil society groups and religious congregations in the KaLIKHAsan at Bayan forum held in Ateneo de Manila University.
Licuanan, along with environment advocates Dr. Angelina Galang of Green Convergence, Ms. Maricel Tolentino of KAISAHAN, and Sr. Marvie Misolas, MM of the Maryknoll Sisters, shared insights during the forum on how the civil society can be responsible “shepherds”, or stewards of God’s creation, in face of national issues with respect to the environment.
The KaLIKHAsan forum, born from the merger of the words “likha” (creation) and “kalikasan” (nature), was first of a roster of events organized by Jesuit socio-political apostolate Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan (SLB) for its 30th anniversary, which highlights the organization’s environment advocacy.
Dubbed as “A Convergence for Our Common Home”, the forum focused on convening various institutions and concerned individuals to streamline their vision and action plans in addressing current issues in the environment especially in light of the recent UN Climate Change Conference held in Paris last year, more known as COP21. The event borrows Pope Francis’ term for Mother Earth, ‘a common home’, found in his second encyclical Laudato Si, to signify the need for everyone to be stewards of the one world we live in.
Fr. Xavier C. Alpasa, SJ, Executive Director of SLB, opened the forum by highlighting SLB’s own history of championing stewardship of creation as one of its core values and advocating for the environment through disaster management. He presented the forum as an avenue for the civil society to unite in transforming the nation as an agent of SLB’s mission for the environment.
Picking up for Fr. Alpasa’s speech, Dr. Angelina Galang underscored the importance of imbibing values geared towards advocating for the environment in what she called the Seven (7) Environmental Principles, a set of statements pertaining to our environmental realities.
The 7 Environmental Principles are:
Nature knows best.
All forms of life are important.
Everything is connected to everything else.
Everything must go somewhere.
Ours is a finite Earth.
Nature is beautiful and we are Stewards of God’s Creation
Dr. Galang stressed the changing condition of the world as it develops. “Lahat nagbabago (Everything undergoes change),” she remarked. “But I hope everything changes in synchrony with nature.” By following the 7 Environmental Principles, she believed that humanity can advance without producing negative impact to nature, which she hoped to be the practice in the country.
In her sharing, Licuanan expressed concern over the Philippine environmental situation, that while the country is deemed as a “biodiversity superstar”, it suffers from gradual extinction of its biodiversity. She cited the threatened status of about 19% of our faunas and poor condition of 70% of all our coral reefs, as signs of this phenomenon.
Ms. Maricel Tolentino added that this degradation of the environment is largely due to man-induced factors such as massive land exploits. She gave as example the conversion of more than 40,000 hectares of our agricultural lands, which led many environment advocates to push for laws such as the National Land Use Act, or NLUA, which seeks to harmonize land development and environmental resource protection through proper planning.
But the lack of the resolve of many individuals and our government to actualize these steps proves to be the challenge in realizing the goals of even bigger consortiums such as COP21. Sr. Marvie Misolas, a Filipino delegate to COP21, believed that while the Philippines was successful in lobbying for international cooperation regarding environmental issues, pro-environment policies should strongly be enacted locally. She urged the participants to respond to this call to engage in environmental advocacy in the country.
To foster their commitment to participating in efforts for the environment, the participants sat down for an action plan workshop where they were asked about issues related to the environment that they thought should be prioritized, their vision for the environment, and their plans of intervention.
As a result of the workshop, the group envisioned a common home where everyone can live healthily and safely. They also hoped for equitable use of resources and distribution of wealth and an environment that is well-preserved for the future generation in order to battle the biggest issues they raised: poverty, climate change, and environmental degradation.
The participants vow to realize their visions by committing to a list of actions such as monitoring the implementation of existing laws and international agreements on the environment, supporting community-based efforts, and engaging the different sectors of the civil society and the government. The participants also commit to following pro-environment practices, such as utilizing energy-saving devices, in their own individual capacity.
To cap off the event, Fr. Gerard Francisco P. Timoner, IIII, O.P., Prior Provincial of the Dominican Province of the Philippines, celebrated the event’s mass with Fr. Alpasa, calling for in his homily the need for the participants to be aware of their own interconnectedness and alluding to the Holy Father’s message that because of this relationship we all have gained “a shared responsibility for others and the world” - our one and only common home to tend.