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Addressing social issues, cultivating a culture of dialogue key to success of DENR’s Multi-Stakeholder Forums

By Mike Baños

Leaders from the government and private sectors agree that a holistic approach is needed to address the Philippines’ pressing socio-economic problems arising from climate change and environment degradation.

Over 400 stakeholders from the national and local governments, private and development sectors,
and the academe joined the DENR Multi-Stakeholder Forum held February 2-3, 2023 at Cagayan de Oro City.

The two-day forum was aimed at helping the DENR in championing an environmentally-
resilient Philippines; identifying the sectors’ main challenges; and creating an inventory of the current
frameworks, tools and technologies that can be adopted by other sectors.

It was the continuation of the three-day multi-stakeholder forum held in Manila on October 2022 and the two-day multi-stakeholder forum held in lloilo on January 2023. The multi-stakeholder forum in Mindanao is the last leg of DENR’s nationwide consultations to gather insights on environmental governance, ecotourism, agriculture, food security, forest and land management, climate and disaster resilience, and mining.

DENR Secretary Antonia Loyzaga explained the rationale for conducting a separate Multi-Stakeholder Forum for Mindanao.

“The Mindanao region is blessed with a rich, complex, social and natural history. It is in the intersection of this social and physical geography that both risk and opportunities reside. Creating and building these opportunities and mitigating the risks require partnerships that lead to a new type of agency based on competent and committed leadership that prioritizes human development, sustainable local economies, resilient infrastructure, and underpinning all of these ecosystems that support human security, food, water, energy, peace and equity,” Loyzaga noted.

Echoing the statement of Department of the Interior and Local Government Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. during the DENR Multi-stakeholder Forum-Visayas to “commit to our advocacy for our next generation of Filipinos for sustainable development,” the DENR is committed to ensuring that extensive consultation with local actors will be done across all interventions and at all stages.

The first day focused on the private sector and local government units of Mindanao’s vision for an environmentally-resilient Philippines, how the DENR can be an effective development partner, and the organizations’ main challenges.

Social Issues

During the press conference following the first plenary, Loyzaga stressed the need to address social issues as an integral component of environmental initiatives.

“Sociology trumps technology any day… Unless we can address the social issues, I firmly believe that we will not be able to address the environmental ones. So, it has to start with addressing the way our communities are growing, what are their needs, what are the reasons for the development of these communities, and how are they part of the overall Philippine Development Plan,” she stressed.

Political action and structures

During his presentation Research and Development to Accelerate Climate Action, Ateneo de Davao University President Joel E. Tabora, SJ stressed the need for strong political leadership to ensure environmental and other considerations are not subsumed to those of the economy.

“Research and development for environmental action, to save the planet, cannot be forever limited [or tyrannized] by the pragmatic needs of the economy. The economy does not trump action to save the planet. Political action and political structures must control and tame the economy, and not vice versa,” Fr. Tabora emphasized.

“For instance, DENR cannot just be a govt agency to exploit the natural resources of the Philippines in favor of the economy and the private interests that drive this. The DENR must be the protector of the environment, for the common weal- make sure that society and the planet are not killed by the vicious technocratic paradigm driving the economy. It must be guided by voices of people on the ground, in local government units, or in the regions,” he added.

Culture of Dialogue

Loyzaga stressed that the Mindanao region “requires a localized and contextualized approach” and assured stakeholders that the DENR will continue its extensive consultations across all sectors and local communities.

“Complexity wise, we are now at the whole of government and whole of society approach and that’s why we are having the multi-stakeholder forums. We cannot just listen to one sector, we have to listen to everyone across sectors,” she explained.

“So what we would like to use is what the Philippine Eagle Foundation has done. They’ve engaged multiple stakeholders, they have set science based goals, and they are achieving targets.”

However, Fr. Tabora voiced his apprehensions about the effectiveness of such forums in creating meaningful change given their previous experiences with similar consultations.

“We really have to cultivate a culture of dialogue, where people really feel they’re being listened to. Because so often, our experience is, we manifest problems, we manifest concerns, but we don’t feel listened to,” he lamented.

He cited the numerous times civil society called DENR’s attention to how the planned bridge between Davao City and Samal island would destroy a coral reef. However, the DENR regional office could only respond that the plans had already been made in Manila without consulting the local governments. Thus, the local stakeholders feel they’re just not being listened to.

“If only a way could be found to enable the DENR regional offices to be meaningful as a mediator of policy that’s listened to in DENR national in Manila. But DENR regional just says we can’t do anything anymore because decisions have already been made,” Fr. Tabora rued. “So whom do we go to? We come to the multi-stakeholder meeting, that’s what we’re here for today.”

The discussions in the forum are considered essential contributions to the identification of strategies and priority actions of the DENR. Their outcomes, actionable recommendations and commitments from stakeholders will be reflected in the Department Summary.

They will serve as critical inputs to the Policy Reform Agenda, Systems and Collaboration Mechanisms, and Shared Programs, Actions, and Plans. Consequently, the forum also aims to accelerate the DENR’s mission of mobilizing the country’s citizens in protecting, conserving, and managing the environment and natural resources.

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