‘Stop attacks on Lumad schools, martial law. We want a peaceful life’ —Lumad chieftain tells Duterte

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Abiok Ligkaian ‘Bai Bibiaon’ Bigkay had the countenance of a true warrior: fierce, undeterred, and proud.

One of the most respected indigenous people’s leaders in Mindanao, she delivered a precise message to President Rodrigo Duterte during her acceptance speech during the Gawad Bayani ng Kalikasan at the University of the Philippines on March 15.

“I want to tell Duterte to end martial law in Mindanao. We just want a peaceful life,” she said in Lumad language.

Such is the fortitude of the sole living female chieftain of the Lumad people of Mindanao.

Uncharted path

In Lumad society, women do not traditionally become leaders in the community. While women are treated with respect and share in the load of farm work, becoming a datu is not the charted path for a female Lumad.

Bai Bibiaon, however, was different. Her ability to resolve domestic disputes in their village earned her the respect and adulation of her tribe. She had also advocated for the equal participation of women in their community.

“She became a chieftain because she earned the respect of our community,” said Jong Monzon, secretary general of PASAKA, an organization of Lumads in Davao del Norte, and Bai Bibiaon’s protégé.

Early on, Monzon explained, Bai Bibiaon successfully kept the peace in their village by amicably negotiating cases of “wife-stealing” — incidents where a married woman was courted off by another man. These disputes, Monzon said, could trigger war among tribes if they are not effectively settled.

Her strong leadership during these disputes would prove to be valuable when the community had to assert its right to its ancestral domain.

A true ‘bagani

In 1991, Mindanao-based C. Alcantara and Sons (Alsons Group), a producer of plywood and other timber products, began to encroach on the neighboring villages of the Matigsalog-Manobo and Ata-Manobo tribes in Talaingod, Davao del Norte. The company, which was implementing its Integrated Forest Management Agreement that it had entered with the government, was widening the territory of its commercial timber operations.

The Lumads, however, rejected the advances of Alsons into their ancestral domain. “We did not want to sell our land,” Bibiaon said.

Three years later, high-ranking village datus from different tribes formed an organization called the Salugpungan Ta Tanu Igkanugon or Unity In Defense of Ancestral Land to fight off the attacks and harassment of the company. The chieftains, in a sacred ceremony, then declared a pangayaw” or tribal war against the Alsons Group.

With nothing but spears and arrows, the Lumad people fought armed soldiers and workers of the Alsons Group. Bibiaon was naturally at the forefront of the tribal war.

While she had been tasked with obtaining food for the frontline warriors, she used her inconspicuousness to spy on the enemy while she was foraging for food. Security guards of the Alson Group never suspected her to be a warrior, Monzon said.

The intelligence she brought regarding the locations of the Alsons soldiers was very important for the Lumad’s strategy, he said.

“For us, she is a bagani — a sacred term we use to call our warriors,” he added.

Attacks against Lumad schools

Bibiaon continued to fight for their people’s right to self-determination in the 1990s until the present. She became the leader of various Lumad organizations that have staunchly opposed the entry of businesses into the Pantaron mountain range — one of the last remaining virgin forests in the country, which covers six provinces in Mindanao.

Despite having seen and fought several wars in her lifetime, it is the continued attacks by military and paramilitary units against Lumad schools and activists that may be the greatest challenge yet for the female chieftain.

In May 2015, a series of attacks and harassment by military and paramilitary units forced many tribes from Bukidnon, Davao del Norte, and Surigao del Sur to seek refuge in nearby capital cities.

“We just want to educate our children so that they may be able to defend our ancestral lands in the future.”

Government defense units were accused of killing Lumad leaders and children. In response, soldiers said that they had only killed members of the New People’s Army. The insurgent group, however, denied these charges.

Bai Bibiaon, along with her relatives, then fled to an evacuation center in Davao City, where she is still residing.

She denies that teachers and students in their tribal schools have ties to the NPA, a claim President Rodrigo seems to ignore.

“Leave. I'm telling those in the Lumad schools now, get out. I'll bomb you … I will use the Armed Forces, the Philippine Air Force. Because you are operating illegally and you are teaching the children to rebel against government,” Duterte said in a press conference held after his State of the Nation Address last year.

The schools, which were built through an initiative led by Bibiaon herself in 2001, only exist to provide Lumad children with free education because the government had not built schools in their far-flung villages, Monzon said.

‘We are her children’

Bibiaon, who had never married or had children, said she chose to live her life for her people. “She once told me she did not get married and have children because we are already her children,” Monzon shared.

In Bibiaon’s speech to the audience at UP, Bibiaon said she hopes the youth would continue the fight of the Lumad for self-determination. She said that the Lumad schools, in fact, were built so that they could educate the future leaders of their communities.

“We just want to educate our children so that they may be able to defend our ancestral lands in the future,” she said.

This article was originally published in CNN Philippines Life.

Corporate meddling threatens solutions in climate talks, US think tank report says

Fossil fuel corporations participating in the highest level of climate policymaking are stalling solutions to climate change.

A report released by Corporate Accountability (CAI), a US-based think tank, titled “Polluting Paris,” details how fossil fuel corporations influence the United Nations-led climate talks through proxy organizations.

Last November, global leaders and climate negotiators met in Bonn, Germany for the Conference of Parties (COP) 23, a series of high level climate talks that seeks to tackle climate change through negotiations between governments.

This year, the conference’s main objective was to craft the rulebook for the implementation of the Paris Agreement, the climate accord signed in 2015 that seeks to limit the rise of global temperatures below 2˚C by drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions.


One of the most controversial topics during the talks was “loss and damage.”

Various businesses were present during the two-week conference such as Business Europe, the US Chamber of Commerce and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), which had been granted Observer status by the United Nations earlier in September.

Loss and damage


Loss and damage refer to the impacts of climate change that cannot be addressed by cutting carbon emissions or implementing disaster risk prevention measures.

Examples of these are deaths caused by extreme weather events like Typhoon “Yolanda” (Haiyan) in Eastern Visayas in November 2013, and displacements and loss of income due to slow onset events such as intense droughts.

Developing countries, especially those vulnerable to climate change including the Philippines, have been at the forefront of campaigning for finance for loss and damage. There had been optimism that this year’s conference could finally address finance since the host country, Fiji, is a small island nation that experienced incredible losses due to the onslaught of Typhoon Winston early this year.

During one of the negotiations on loss and damage last November, representatives of Australia and the European Union (EU) blocked the inclusion of finance in the agenda, saying “not all disasters are caused by climate change.”

The assumption of liability for developed countries that polluted the environment in order to industrialize has been a controversial topic.

Acknowledging fault would drive the debate on financial responsibility to the mantle of developed nations.

“Agreeing to loss and damage means admitting responsibility, which is the last thing the fossil fuel industry and developed countries that do their bidding want to do,” said Jesse Brag, CAI Media Director.

Fossil fuel industry

According to the report, the US Chamber of Commerce, an event sponsor in the Business Day segment of COP 23, receives donations from fossil fuel giant ExxonMobil.

Companies such as ExxonMobil have been known to reject climate science.

Exxon Mobil, through the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), had repeatedly undermined scientific claims on climate change by spreading misinformation, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) said. The AEI had, in the past, said there was no consensus on man-made climate change in the scientific community—a claim that the UCS rejects.

The AEI received US$3.6 million from Exxon Mobil from 1998-2012 and more than $1 million from Koch foundations, which have business interests in the fossil fuel industry, the UCS said.

Climatic Change, a scientific journal, had also identified ExxonMobil and Chevron as among the top carbon emitting companies in the world.

A conflict of interest in the participation of these companies in climate policymaking is at the center of the study conducted by CAI. Should companies whose profits and existence depend on burning incredible amounts of fossil fuels—the single most polluting activity on the planet—be allowed to participate in climate talks?


“If there is a time to lobby for big corporations, it is now,” Yeb Saño, executive director of Greenpeace Philippines, said during an interview in Bonn, Germany.

As countries worked to create the roadmap for the Paris Agreement, multinational fossil fuel companies exercised their hand in the talks through proxy organizations that sponsored events and even attended negotiations, CAI said.

The participation of lobbying organizations in the talks could point to the timid response of developed nations in loss and damage negotiations.

Disappointing outcome

For many members of civil society organizations, the outcome for loss and damage in COP 23 was a disappointment.

Action Aid global lead on climate Harjeet Singh lamented the weak position adopted by Fijian prime minister and COP president Frank Bainimarama on loss and damage.

Advocates and several negotiators from developing nations campaigned for more funding for the technical group in charge of studies and meetings for loss and damage. Instead, COP 23 only provided for a one-off expert dialogue in May 2018, which may not be able to comprehensively tackle all the issues surrounding loss and damage.

“But even though vulnerable communities were in the spotlight [during COP 23], this still hasn’t translated into the support that they need,” Singh said.


To be able to take the loss and damage agenda further in climate policymaking, there is a need to disengage private sector interest in the climate talks, CAI said.

While businesses and private sector organizations have a role in global climate action, the UNFCCC needs to disallow their participation in the highest level of climate negotiations. The UN organization must invoke a conflict of interest clause, where groups with interests that run contrary to the goals of the talks must not be allowed in the talks, CAI added.

The World Health Organization created a similar policy to preserve the integrity of its discussions on tobacco control in 2003.

“Government must reclaim its role as the arbiter of corporate behavior. For too long, corporations have eroded governmental power and convinced people that individual actions are the solution to the climate crisis,” Brag said.

As the irreversible costs of climate change continue to destroy communities and take the lives of people who had no hand in the climate crisis, a thorough review of the UNFCCC’s policy of inclusivity is pertinent.

This article was originally published in Inquirer.net

How the clean energy transition in public transport could leave 500,000 jobless

BONN, Germany — For two days in October, Metro Manila — a megacity already plagued by daily snarling traffic and a disorganized mass transit system — bore the brunt of a transport strike to protest government’s impending jeepney modernization program.

In response, Malacañang suspended classes and government work, while commuters were stranded for hours due to a lack of alternative transport.

The government’s public transport reform program aims, among other things, to replace public utility vehicles 15 years and older with supposedly more efficient and environmentally sustainable vehicles by 2020.

Transport groups, however, have criticized the program for what they see as a glaring shortcoming: the new vehicles would cost at least P1 million, a price too steep for ordinary jeepney drivers who earn less than P1,000 a day.

In a country where transportation systems are privately owned, the cost of modernization would be a clear burden to the estimated 500,000 jeepney drivers and small operators.

“It could lead to massive loss of livelihood,” the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said in a statement.

The jeepney modernization program

The Department of Transportation envisions a fully modernized and efficient transport system for the country by 2020.

In its PUV modernization program, a bus rapid transit will replace the current bus system in Metro Manila and other cities, route rationalization will be implemented, and old dilapidated PUVs will be replaced with newer and more efficient models.

Aside from solving the perennial problem of traffic in Metro Manila, the program also seeks to address pollution caused by diesel-powered vehicles.

According to the DOTr, 90% of jeepneys nationwide are 15 years-old and beyond, and spew toxic fumes and harmful greenhouse gases. In Metro Manila, one of the most polluted cities in the world, 17% of air pollution is caused by jeepneys, the DOTr says.

The jeepney modernization program also seeks to lower emissions caused by the transport sector, which accounts for 34% of the Philippines’ total emissions. This is in line with the country’s pledge to reduce emissions as mandated by the Paris Agreement.

Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement is the first global climate treaty that aims to limit global warming temperatures well below 2˚C by cutting carbon emissions dramatically. The Philippines ratified the agreement early this year, despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s initial refusal to sign it.

In a presentation, the DOTr says that by phasing out old jeepneys, the Philippines could potentially cut greenhouse gas emissions by 22.36 million tons by 2030.

Through various mitigation programs, the Philippines could cut its GHG emissions by 148 million tons in 2030, according to the Climate Change Commission.

More private vehicles on the road

However, a growing trend in vehicle ownership in the country could also mean an increase in emissions for the transport sector, which is responsible for 13% of the country’s total emissions.

In 2013, there were more than 800,000 privately owned vehicles in the country, with at least 400,000 in the National Capital Region , according to the Land Transportation Office. Public utility vehicles numbered around 209,000.

Some 47% of Filipinos do not own a car and most commuters rely on land-based transportation.

Last year, the Philippines posted an all-time high of 417,000 new vehicles sold, boosting the government’s Comprehensive Automotive Resurgence Strategy — a program specifically targeting investments in the automotive industry.

The country is expected to become a major automotive market in Southeast Asia by 2020, largely due to policies such as CARS.

Most, if not all, vehicles in the country are gas or diesel-powered. Electric cars and hybrid units are rarely seen on the road as these are too pricey for the average Filipino buyer, thus compounding the limited options for environmentally sustainable transport.

An increase in cars on the road may also mean heavier traffic congestion for major cities such as Metro Manila, Cebu and Davao.

Prototype for new ‘jeepneys’

Last October, the DOTr and Department of Trade and Industry hosted an expo that showcased the prototype of the “new” jeepneys: slick versions of the Filipino mass transit staple with efficient engines that supposedly complied with international standards.

The vehicles are equipped with Euro 4 engines or electrically powered engines, with solar panel roofs. They will also feature speed-limiters, an automated fare collection system, GPS, disability access features, and even wifi onboard for commuters.

The new models, produced abroad but assembled locally, were made according to the requirements of the DOTr to promote environmental standards and road safety.

With the launch of the prototype vehicles, transport groups are saying the modernization program is meant to phase-out the jeepney, an iconic Filipino symbol of mass transport with origins dating to the American colonization era.

LTFRB: Modernize not phase-out’

“There will still be jeepneys on the road but the question is, what kinds of vehicles do we want on the road? We want to introduce reliable and environmentally-friendly vehicles to public commuters,” Aileen Lizada, spokesperson of the Land Transportation Franchising Board, said at a press conference last February.

Lizada also added that the government plans on buying a few of the 15-year old jeepneys. She says the modernization program intends to provide better transportation options for the commuting public, and serve the greater good instead of a few drivers and operators.

Loans for displaced drivers

The DOTr says loans will be available to jeepney drivers to purchase the new vehicles.

However, urban poor group Kadamay says the loans will be very difficult to pay for drivers expected to shoulder monthly amortizations estimated at P27,000.

Transport groups such as Piston say that they are not opposed to the modernization of the transport system.

They agree that the current transport system must be reformed to make it safer and more efficient for the public.

But, they stress, this should not be at the expense of jeepney drivers who will be rendered jobless by the program due to the high capital needed to buy the new vehicle models and pay the franchise fees.

Kadamay claims the government will be charging P7 million to apply for a franchise under the modernization program.

“The modernization program is an attack to poor drivers and small operators,” Francisco Paguyaman, chair of Kadamay in Northern Mindanao, says.

Duterte: ‘Modernize or else’

Despite mounting protests and transport strikes, President Rodrigo Duterte has signaled his approval of the transport reform program and even threatened to remove outmoded jeepeneys on the road by 2018.

“If you can’t modernize, leave. You’re poor? Son of a bitch, go ahead. Suffer in poverty and hunger. I don’t care,” he said.

Just transition, a growing issue among trade unions groups around the world, seeks to approach the clean energy revolution with equity and a consideration for labor and human rights.

As more countries move away from fossil fuel dependence, workers who have been employed in the ‘dirty energy’ sector may find their skills rendered obsolete or irrelevant.

The concept of just transition has been a hot topic during high-level climate talks in Bonn, Germany as more governments of developed nations and private sector members engage in dialogues on how to protect workers and transition them into the renewable energy sector, as more affordable technologies and investments on renewables are forthcoming.

The Philippines, which relies heavily on fossil fuels for its transport sector, has the potential to generate as many as 163,000 ‘green jobs’ in the transport industry, according to a report by the International Labor Organization.

In a study released by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Foundation, even developed countries that are at the forefront of the clean energy transition have not always delivered social equity and justice to laborers and workers affected by the phase out of fossil fuel energy.

Aside from aiming for more investments on renewable energy and higher emissions reduction, the study called on countries to approach environmental sustainability and climate change with a human rights perspective.

“The energy transition is so far-reaching in its implications, and deeply interwoven with socioeconomic development, power structures, and people’s livelihoods,” the study says.

Junk current DOTr framework, engage stakeholders in dialogue – Piston

“What we want is to junk the current framework for modernization and start anew through a dialogue with drivers, the commuting public, experts,” George San Mateo, president of Piston, says.

Despite the loss of one or two days of income, San Mateo says that jeepney drivers all over the country are willing to sacrifice earnings to push for a more equitable transport reform program.

“What we are fighting for is livelihood,” he says.

This article was originally published in Interaksyon.