NEWS REPORTS on the push and pull between development and environmental protection are on the rise, calling attention to the clash of concerns that confronts the government. The level of environmental protection achieved by activists and advocates has become a crucial index of sustainable development and the preservation of the planet and human life. The need to balance the demands of progress and patrimony has now been established as a measure of good governance as national leaders are expected to provide clean air to breathe, wilderness and waters, forests, and farmlands for future generations.
Some countries and governments have led in the charting of new paths of economic growth that are sustainable in environmental terms. In a sense, the shared vision has stated principles for the use of energy, guidelines for land use and urbanization, and preserving the richness of wildlife and water resources.
Following his predecessor’s negative example
Unfortunately for the Philippines, this perspective did not gain much ground in the past administration. Rodrigo Duterte’s environmental concerns were apparently either limited or non-existent. The lack of understanding of the need for environmental protection was a hallmark of his term. In September 2022, media reported that the Philippines was still the deadliest country for environmental defenders in Asia after 19 were killed in the country in 2021.
Global Witness, an international environmental organization, red-flagged the intention expressed by the newly seated President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to incentivize investments in the energy sector. He did also say that “companies who exploit our natural resources must follow the law” and that “there is no question that the preservation of the environment is the preservation of life.” But he has yet to show whether these words will lead to a policy that integrates environmental protection values in any project or program.
Global Witness also called attention to the killing of environmental defenders since Marcos took office. Reports noted the point made by human rights and environmental groups: that two concerns are intricately linked-the rights of indigenous peoples (IP) and the preservation of their ancestral heritage, and that the president had said nothing about them
In the month of February, media reported the clash between defenders of the environment and drivers of development that should have elicited some reaction from the government. Some reports traced the clash of issues over policies at various levels of government.
At this point, Marcos will have to demonstrate that his words mean something and that he as President need not follow his predecessor’s example on this front. Will he initiate a review of infrastructure projects, including those approved under Duterte’s “Build, build, build” program?
The dilemma posed by development is not new. Advocates have posed the crucial question: “development for whom?” when state agencies, with hardly any attention to environmental degradation, and with little evaluation of what is lost, build infrastructure.
CMFR noted that print, TV and online presented the dismal state of the environment in the entire month of February. Mapping the coverage, CMFR lists the range of problems, issues, and perspectives in the news. CMFR counted the reports in print and TV, and used specified keywords and tags to tally the number of online reports. The count showed coverage on a number of different issues. Discourse analysis, however, revealed the absence of extended media discussions and analysis.
CMFR reviewed the primetime news programs of four broadcast stations: GMA-7’s 24 Oras and 24 Oras Weekend, ABS-CBN’s TV Patrol and TV Patrol Weekend, CNN Philippines’ News Night and Newsroom Weekend, and TV5’s Frontline Pilipinas (no weekend newscast).
Newspapers and online news sites
CMFR also reviewed the coverage by Manila broadsheets (Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippine Star, and Manila Bulletin) and their online counterparts as well as independent online news sites Rappler, Bulatlat, and MindaNews.
Number of reports
From February 1 to February 28, CMFR found a total of 175 environment-related reports, but not including natural disasters and disaster response reports on quakes and floods. Focusing on the intersection of environmental concerns and development, and its effect on human rights, 46 reports were on mining, 32 on ancestral domain, 23 on nature reserves, 24 on coastal, 8 on energy, 13 administrative issues and government updates, and 30 reports on other themes (species rescued, general studies on the environment, climate statistics, etc.)
Quality of News Treatment
Treatment of the subject was episodic, with each event or incident presented as an isolated development. News organizations did not review coverage which their reporters may have done in the past or reports of other news organizations. Review of past coverage helps identify a pattern in reporting similar incidents that could be corrected.
In general, reports provided surface details and relied mostly on re-stating positions articulated by government officials and the groups concerned. Apart from a few online media accounts, media reported the separate incidents without any indication of a pattern.
More prominence was given to stories of conflict, when conservation and protection efforts clashed with development, whether state- or privately- led. Reports played up dramatic elements such as in cases of ordinary people organizing themselves to engage in collective action, calling attention to their cause or the plight of their communities.
On mining issues and local opposition
Monitored news organizations together came up with 46 reports on the opposition of residents to mining operations in two sites: Sibuyan Island in Romblon province, and Brooke’s Point in Palawan. Reports on Sibuyan recorded how two protesters, including a village councilor, were hurt during the police dispersal of a human barricade blocking the entry of trucks loaded with nickel ore in Sibuyan Island or the “Galapagos Islands” of the Philippines.
All newscasts aired the report in the second half of their episodes while newspapers placed them in their inside pages.
Online news sites Rappler and Bulatlat followed the story closely, producing explainers and timelines to provide a more complete picture of the plight of Sibuyan residents.
Online media Inquirer.net, Philstar.com, and CNNPhilippines.com followed the effort and pointed out how a local government and its residents in Palawan followed suit and opposed another nickel mining corporation that threatened their lands and livelihood. Philstar.com noted in its report that Brooke’s Point residents “followed the lead” of, and were “inspired by the fight” of Sibuyan Island locals.
Ancestral domain and IP rights
To show their opposition to the construction of the controversial Kaliwa Dam, IPs, farmers, and advocates began a 148-kilometer protest march starting in Quezon province and ending at the gates of Malacanang.
The “Alay Lakad Laban sa Kaliwa Dam” protest started on February 15 and ended after nine days on February 23. Media covered the event in a number of reports starting February 13, the day after it was announced.
With 32 reports, most news accounts did their best to capture the complexity of the longstanding issue and highlighted the participation of various groups, especially the hundreds of Dumagat-Remontado groups whose ancestral lands and livelihoods are at stake.
The Star reported that the “grueling” march ended without a dialogue between Marcos and those opposing the dam’s construction. The Inquirer recalled how protesters felt “dismayed” after Marcos’ “snub.”
Natural reserves and conservation projects
The protection of the Masungi Georeserve, a protected area by law, is being threatened by the relocation of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) headquarters. BuCor said it was studying the possibility of moving to the protected area as it is the registered owner of 270 hectares of the Masungi Georeserve’s 300-hectare land area.
With 23 reports, the media covered the announcement, the subsequent flak it drew, reactions from lawmakers and the defensive stance of government officials. The Inquirer bannered the story on February 18 and Philstar.com’s Climate and Environment section on February 21 provided a lengthy background. Most reports focused on what Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla and BuCor Officer-in-Charge Gregorio Catapang Jr. had to say in defense of BuCor’s plan.
Livelihood and Reclamation
With 24 reports, several media organizations reported on the issue of dredging and reclamation projects in Manila Bay that have diminished the resources of its seabed. This after the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and local government units (LGUs) told fisherfolk that Manila Bay is “dead” while fisherfolk maintained they can still fish in its waters.
The issue has been kept in secondary time and space in the news. A march on the streets to dialogue with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) on February 24 and a fluvial protest on February 28 was given more TV prominence and was reported in the first half of news programs.
Inquirer and Inquirer.net stood out for leading with its close up features on February 6 on the plight of Bataan fisherfolk who fish the waters of Manila Bay to catch fish that they dry for the market. The series included analysis of the inconsistent policies issued by the government such as Administrative Order No. 200-25 of DENR and the Fisheries Code or Republic Act (RA) 8850.
Energy and Power
Energy projects got the lowest number with 8 reports. Coverage of two projects, the proposed PHP 5-billion waste-to-energy (WTE) incineration project in Davao City and the Malampaya gas field project.
MindaNews had consistently covered the proposed WTE project in Davao City, starting from the statement of dozens of national and international environmental groups that urged the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to withdraw from the project. JICA denied supporting Davao City’s WTE project, but groups maintained that it had been “instrumental” in bringing the necessary technology for incineration as early as 2010.
According to a Rappler report, groups were concerned that the project would “exacerbate the climate crisis as it will burn plastics and produce a high amount of greenhouse gases and toxic emissions.” WTE incineration involves burning waste both to generate power and manage the volume of waste. However, the practice violates a number of Philippine laws like the Clean Air Act.
Meanwhile, only one report in the business section of the Inquirer took up the “bleak” future of natural gas as Malampaya’s natural gas supplies are anticipated to end in 2024. On the Malampaya project’s management, a Bulatlat article recalled the expiration in 2024 of the government’s contracts with the Dennis Uy-owned Udenna Corporation and Enrique Razon Jr.’s Prime Infra.
Back to basics of environmental journalism
Environmental journalism has gained a place as an advocacy for the press community. Environmental groups have offered training and background on the issues for journalists to have the necessary references and resources to support their reports. Working with the media, these advocates have championed the passage of environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act Of 1999 (RA 8749), the Clean Water Act (RA 9275), the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act (RA 9003), and the Renewable Energy Act (RA 9513).
- There is a lot for newsrooms to do. Media need to refresh the learning process to keep up with the “beat.” Journalists should monitor developments in extractive industries to assess the claim that these have cleaned up the business.
- National media should be informed on policy shifts, presidential orders or local government policies so they can present more analyses in their reports.
- Energy should receive attention from non-business reporters who should be reporting on energy to provide a broader perspective with which to discuss sources of power and its supply, the lack of which affects all of society.
- Journalists should revisit issues of ancestral domain and the basic protection of natural assets such as land and water to refresh the urgency of their preservation.
Continuous questions, bigger challenges
The framework of sustainability needs to be periodically re-visited by journalists. Their responsibility does not change and weighs more heavily with greater demands for a better quality of life for all.
A MindaNews commentary by Paul Mart Jeyand Matangcas pointed out on February 28 that journalists bear the responsibility to include, and even highlight, those often left out of the news and who seem silent in the public forum. These refer to those aware of the needs of their own communities – including the indigenous peoples who have “long existed and taken care of the environment.”
The question should be asked again and again: “Development for whom?”
Media need not wait for President Marcos to find the words that will clarify where he stands on preserving the environment. Journalism can set the agenda and give words to what needs to be done for the people and the lives of generations yet to come. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.