Commemoration of the 100th Birthday of Nelson Mandela

Thank you very much to the United Nations Information Center (UNIC) for holding the Commemoration of the 100th Birthday of Nelson Mandela here at the Las Piñas-Parañaque Wetland Park via a tree-planting activity, which as you know, we regularly do here.

Thank you that UNIC and its partners have decided to focus your subsequent environmental action in this area .We are truly glad to be part of this very special occasion and worthwhile activity.

Although Mandela’s actual birthday was last July 18, every day is always a good day to plant trees. And it was his centenary birthday, so tama lang naman na extended ang ating commemoration nito. Actually, I really think that asking individuals around the world to mark Nelson Mandela Day by making a difference in their communities is really a very good way of remembering a great person such as Mandela.

Kahit ako, madalas ko rin sinasabi na lahat tayo ay may kakayahan to make a difference and it is in fact our responsibility to leave this world better than we found it. So Mandela Day is really a perfect occasion for everyone to take action and inspire change.

Environmental actions are of course one of the most crucial, especially these days when our environment and natural resources are confronted with so many problems. Like us, South Africans are proud of their natural environment. And they also want to protect it as an inheritance for their children, which reminds me of a Native American proverb or quote that guide me in my environmental campaigns—“We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors—we borrow it from our children.”

And not many know that Nelson Mandela is also an environmental advocate and like the South Africans, whom he once led as a President, they all consider their own health and the health of their natural resources (land, air and water) as interconnected or one and the same.

In fact, I read that environmental rights are enshrined in the Constitution of South Africa. It was cited there that: “Everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being; and to have that environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations.”

Mandela was particularly concerned about air pollution and its effect on children. Thus, he supported the passage of the National Environmental Management Act in 1998 that slaps stiff penalties to air polluters.

So I am happy to know that serious concern about the environment is something that Mandela and I have in common. In fact, this area where we are right now is a testament to do that. It is a common knowledge by now that I fought really hard together with a number of organizations and individuals to save this from reclamation. Kung natuloy ang plano noon, we will not be here today.

As a legislator and the current chairperson of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, I have been pursuing legislations as well to ensure that the future generations of Filipinos will still breathe fresh air, swim in clean seas or oceans and harvest food from healthy lands.

Among which addresses the global concern about plastic wastes, particularly those of single-use plastics and plastics that reach our seas and oceans. The United Nations itself has called the damages caused by plastic wastes as a “planetary crisis”. In December last year, the UN drafted a resolution signed by 193 countries to eliminate plastic pollution in the sea.

According to the UN Environment Programme o UNEP, eight million tons of plastic wastes are dumped in the ocean every year. These, as we know, kills marine life. They also reiterated, what I often say in my speeches, that by 2050, there may be more plastic in the sea than fish. So, it is really a crisis already.

I have also addressed this concern last year, when I filed Senate Resolution 329 that directed the Senate committee on environment and natural resources to conduct an inquiry on the measures being undertaken, if any, to arrest the Philippines’ prevalent plastic wastes leakage into the seas.

We have conducted at least three Senate hearings to tackle the issue of plastic wastes leakage in Philippine seas. I have talked to multinational consumer product companies, which are big users of plastics to join the government’s efforts towards environment protection. And many of them have thankfully heeded our call. We are coordinating with various sectors and we will come up with a very good legislative measure to address plastic wastes.

Last month (on June 22), President Duterte has also signed into law the bill placing more areas under government protection, which include popular tourism destinations as well as internationally-recognized critical zones. I was the principal sponsor of Republic Act 11038 or the law expanding the National Integrated Protected Areas System (E-NIPAS).

The law which amends Republic Act 7586, increases the number of protected areas covered by legislation from 13 to 107, for a total of three million hectares. It also recognizes conservation areas and the management regimes of local government units,  indigenous peoples and other stakeholders for the establishment and management of protected areas.

We are very happy to come up with this legislation ensuring protection for more areas in our megadiverse country. This legislation is timely, given the heightened public clamor to protect and rehabilitate our popular tourist spots. So we will not have a repeat of what happened in Boracay.

Among the 94 new areas placed under government’s protection are three Ramsar Sites including where we are right now (the Las Pinas-Paranaque Wetland Park, Agusan Marsh in Agusan del Sur) and Olango Island in Cebu.  Also protected now as national parks are popular tourist spots in the country including Siargao Island in Surigao del Norte, Chocolate Hills and Panglao Island in Bohol, Apo Island in Negros Oriental, Mt. Mayon in Albay, Taal Volcano in Batangas, Hinulugang Tak-tak in Rizal, and Palaui Island in Cagayan.

Internationally-recognized areas are also included, namely, the ASEAN Heritage Sites Mount Timpoong-Hibok-Hibok in Camiguin and Mount Iglit-Baco in Mindoro; and Turtle Islands Wildlife Sanctuary in Tawi-Tawi.

Nelson Mandela devoted his entire life to the service of humanity and as I cited earlier, he firmly believes that our life and future are intertwined with our natural environment. Thus, environment protection is everyone’s responsibility. Let me end with a quote from the great Madiba himself: “Our people are bound up with the future of our land. Our national renewal depends upon the way we treat our land, our water, our sources of energy, and the air we breathe”. Magandang umaga sa inyong lahat!