Laudato Si’ and climate disasters

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I was interviewed by multimedia journalist Purple Romero about Laudato Si’ and climate change.

How did you think it impact or affect efforts to address climate change in the Philippines?

In the whole discourse of moral and spiritual responsibility in the context of responding to ecological crisis, Laudato Si’ outlines the causes, effects and ways forward. With the worsening effects of typhoons intensifying and extreme weather conditions never experienced before by communities, many steps have been taken by the Philippine Church – from preparedness, response, rehabilitation and reconstruction; however, living Laudato Si’ is not only limited to these, as it calls for a holistic and comprehensive approach from individual and collective lifestyle transformation to accountability of corporations and governments. The text of the encyclical is different from taking action on it. After five years, we need to see Laudato Si’ in action at the parish level being integrated in our basic ecclesial communities (BEC) formation programs.

The 2019 CBCP Pastoral Letter on Ecology An Urgent Call for Ecological Conversion, Hope in the Face of Climate Emergency” outlines eco-actions which must be adopted by every diocese through their respective ecology desks at the social action centers. We still need to see ecology ministers embracing the social approach of Laudato Si’, that in every step of the way – the Laudato Si’ way – is the realization of ecological conversion. The silence of a percentage of our faithful on issues like destructive mining, massive land use conversion, construction of large dams, building of highways in protected areas, reclamation projects, coal fired power plants, waste to energy and killing of environmental defenders, defeat their small eco-actions for our common home. The Philippine Church leadership has been so vocal on environmental issues and concerns, but how about the Catholic lay faithful who are influential and in power – are they actually living the principles of ecological stewardship? After five years, we hope to assess how every parish or diocese are taking steps, share best practices and help others.

The CBCP pastoral letter on ecology is clear: “Strengthen adaptation measures and disaster risk management and reduction for our vulnerable communities. Advocate the prioritization of government budget allocation for climate resilient adaptation programs.” Further, the 2015 CBCP Statement “Stewards, Not Owners” manifested that climate action is an issue of life and justice, to quote: “Climate change has brought about suffering for nations, communities and peoples.” At the end, when the worsening effects of climate crisis endanger our ecosystems and the lives of the faithful, exacerbated by the poor leadership and management neglect, the Philippine Church and its partners did not fail to not only respond to their needs but also call out the authorities to take action and correct their actuations. Pope Francis, in  Laudato Si’ number 38, clearly says that

“We cannot fail to praise the commitment of international agencies and civil society organizations which draw public attention to these issues and offer critical cooperation, employing legitimate means of pressure, to ensure that each government carries out its proper and inalienable responsibility to preserve its country’s environment and natural resources, without capitulating to spurious local or international interests.”

Also, even if us Filipinos are known for being religious and for seeking courage from God, would you say there’s a sentiment now to go beyond just getting succor or relief from God and to demand accountability and better leadership from government officials instead? 

This is both true and untrue. True because Filipinos have “lakas ng loob”, “matinding paniniwala”, at “tiwala”. But these traits have been abused gravely by the powers that be leading to patronage politics and blind obedience. The fear to dissent is a result of “nalalagay sa alanganin” that in the future they will not get the help or assistance they need until their ability and capacities to face maladies and hazards are reduced. Out of the true God, they are forced to believe and trust in little gods, their make believe idols.

Untrue because genuine Filipino spirituality is a spirituality of communion and action, there is always sharing, “pabaon”, “pabalot”, and “pasalubong”. Our sense of belongingness and camaraderie – “pakikisama” and “pakikipagkapwa-tao”. When our communities are suffering, the Philippine Church, together with other faith groups and organizations, has been always there to extend her loving arms, to any sector of the society, whatever faith tradition or religion, to every human being – no discrimination. We have witnessed how our churches open its doors to everyone. Indeed, we heed both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. 

As Laudato Si’ number 49 says:

“Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”