Cebu Policy Advocacy, Meta-legal Strategy, and Mobilization
This category aims to get the attention of and bring pressure to bear on government agencies, legislators, policymakers, and implementing agencies or officials, for policy change or its implementation, through confrontational means—such as street march and demonstrations, massive rallies, barricades, hunger strikes, walks, runs, Earth Day and similar celebrations, and other mobilization activity.
In addition to confrontational activity, meta-legal and other ‘legal’ means are also common NGO strategies in trying to capture attention and even force government to implement a particular policy.
Such activities include:
Alyansa Tigil Mina (Cebu) Policy Advocacy
The Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM at: http://www.alyansatigilmina.net) is an alliance of NGOs and POs advocating for a moratorium on irresponsible mining practices all over the country.
It has been actively involved in recent mining cases. The resistance to mining projects is due to the facts that it includes areas identified as critical watersheds and river basins, including major areas which are sources of rice and corn production supporting the whole province.
Another case that prompted environmental groups to mobilize is on the issue related to the irresponsible disposal of solid waste to a landfill in the middle of a protected forest area.
To oppose the dumping of garbage in the vicinity, the Coalition for a Garbage-Free San Mateo, with support from environment groups like Kalikasan-PNE, Eco-Waste Coalition and Greenpeace, among others, called for a press conference to expose the matter (Yap 2009, Inquirer.net).
The environmental groups argued that the disputed landfill is in a critical watershed area that could eventually pollute the lake nearby supporting the inhabitants’ livelihood. Further, the groups pointed out that the landfill is in violation of at least seven major environmental laws and urged the government to take immediate action.
Kalikasan PNE (Cebu Policy Advocacy)
The environmental group Kalikasan-PNE, which is skilled in organizing and “mobiliz[ing] the professional sector and civic-minded” (www.kalikasan.org), gathered at the DENR office to condemn the DENR Secretary’s decision that lifted the suspension of a mining company that would revitalize its full commercial operation. (www.taskforcesr2.blogspot.com).
A Catholic bishop who led a fact finding commission sent a solidarity message condemning DENR Secretary’s “disregard for the findings and recommendations” issued by different environmental scientists and experts who warned that the resumption of mine operation is an “environmental time bomb”.
The Kalikasan-PNE National Coordinator cautioned the communities around the mining area to “brace for more frequent and widespread soil erosions, toxic contamination, mine wastes, water depletion and marine degradation as a result of . . . open-pit operations” (www.kalikasan.org).
Negros Forest & Ecological Foundation, Inc.
The Negros Forest & Ecological Foundation, Inc. had a ‘Run Forest Run’ fun run with some 300 runners from around Negros and Panay provinces.
Three years ago, they started Earth Day exhibit at major malls in Bacolod City, which included Waste Market Fair and a Green Film Festival. The Foundation also organized a 60-minute voluntary power shut-off signaling a citywide protest against continued environmental degrading activities (www.negrosforest.org).
During the Negros Wildlife Month, students, volunteers, and concern citizens kicked-off with a colorful street parade dressed in masks and costumes portraying the endemic and endangered flora and fauna species of Negros.
ISLE (Island Sentinels League for Environment) - Cebu Policy Advocacy
Sending petition letters to government officials or agencies is also a common practice among NGO activities. The environmental NGO of Sibuyan Island—Sibuyan Island Sentinels League for Environment, Inc. (ISLE)—sent a petition letter to the President (Gloria Arroyo) and other governmental offices.
The letter strongly urged that the government through the DENR order the cancellation of all mining permits and applications for clearance to operate in the Island so as to preserve the dense forest, the clean inland body of water, the rare flora and fauna and biodiversity, and the livelihood of the indigenous peoples (see http://www.sibuyan.com).
This NGO/PO or civil society strategy is conventional and has also proven to be effective in whatever goals they try to achieve. In the case of the Philippine environmental NGOs, employing this strategy is also producing favorable policy results, as presented in the cases above.
Backing & Support from Society (Cebu Policy Advocacy)
But in order for an NGO to be successful, it has to have the backing and support from the wider society, which requires greater time and a more tenuous effort involving other strategies that would culminate in greater participation from the general public, such as mass demonstration, marches, rallies, signature collections, and so forth.
The expected policy outcome of this strategy depends greatly on the number and intensity of participation from civil society, because the number of participants is the potent force and determining factor in bringing pressure on the government, officials, or policymakers.
Examples of successes include: dethroning an authoritarian leader, signing a favorable environmental policy, resignation of a questionable official, moratorium to a destructive environmental activity, and so on.
Another advantage of having a wide range of support, aside from bringing pressure, is that members of the group can help protect each other from any possible counter measures that an oppressive structure or entity may resort to.
However, heavy casualties could also occur if strong force is applied to suppress the participants. For example, the people power revolution in 1986 could have turned into a blood bath if the military heeded Marcos’ command to get rid of the protesting crowd.
In that case, and in other cases of protests against irresponsible environmental activities, success resulted when favorable change/policy objectives had been achieved by communities or civil society at large.
Maintaining Credibility Amidst Threats...
However, in some cases, attempts by oppressive structures seek to prevent the formation of large scale protests by creating an atmosphere of fear and suspicion among the protesting members.
This could be done through harassment, payoffs, assassinations of organizers, false accusations and arrests, discrediting credibility by branding groups “illicit,” among others.
Since NGOs are aware of such machinations, counter measures can be achieved by making themselves known to communities while at the same time maintaining professionalism, work ethic and moral standards among their members.
In this manner, NGOs can win public support which will eventually lead to strengthening their chance of achieving a favorable environmental policy outcome.