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    Why We Need to Talk About Climate Change

    Message at the 2017-2018 Public Relations Society of the Philippines Students’ Congress and Grand Prix University of Santo Tomas, Manila

    Maraming salamat, Teddy. Maupo po tayo. Ma’am and Sir.

    Parang makakalimutan ko sana iyong dati kong sinabi, sasabihin: kapag magsasalita po ako, parating iyong aking request maikling introduction. Pero siyempre si Teddy hindi sumunod. Muntik ko pang makalimutan—alam na tuloy nila na fan ako ni Piolo [Pascual]. (laughter)

    Before I proceed, let me first greet the officials who are here this morning: Associate Professor Giovanna Fontanilla, the director of the UST Office of Public Affairs—maraming salamat po sa pagsalubong sa akin; and of course, Mr. Bernie Bagaman and Mr. Teddy Pereña, the chairpersons for the 2017-2018 Public Relations Society of the Philippines Student Congress and Grand Prix; the members of the 2017-2018 PRSP Student Congress and Grand Prix committee; the PRSP Board of Directors; the UST officials and faculty members who are around; of course, the other officials of the other schools represented this morning; the student finalists from FEU, San Beda College, UST-Angelicum, De La Salle University-Dasmariñas, Pamantasang Lungsod ng Maynila; and PUP; student participants and volunteers from UST, UP-Manila, and the other schools; sponsors; sa inyo pong lahat, ladies and gentlemen: Magandang umaga! (applause)

    It is always good to be back in UST. I remember I was just here last September to celebrate the 84th Founding Anniversary of the UST College of Commerce and Business Administration. Kaya maraming salamat ulit sa imbitasyon.

    Your unparalleled passion to come together and find solutions to today‘s pressing problems is proof that there is always a reason to hope for a better future for our people. If there is ever a time to talk about and act on climate change, it is definitely now. Dapat nga yesterday.

    The effects of climate change are causing devastation around the globe and the last decade offers abundant proof of this. Hotter temperatures are associated with the rise of sea levels, threatening coastal areas and giving heavier rainfalls. Extreme storm surges and hurricanes happen more frequently. Napapansin naman natin, ‘di ba? Our people are the most vulnerable to these extreme weather patterns, because we live in an archipelago at the edge of the Pacific Rim, right on the path of more than 20 strong typhoons in a year. And the impacts of climate change are greater with every decade, with “new normals” defying historical pain.

    Just here in our country, so much has changed over the years. Rains now occur during summer months—dati hindi—and -ber months are either too hot or too cold. Dati kapag -ber months, malamig na talaga. The atmosphere is also changing, but do you get the sense that a lot of people are too distracted to notice it?

    In Naga City, where I lived almost my entire life, we get the lion’s share of typhoons in the country every year. Just two Christmases ago, Typhoon Nina pounded the Bicol region, destroying thousands of homes and displacing thousands of families. The coastal communities were among the most critically hit. For months, the local fisherfolk were unable to sail and catch fish because the typhoon had destroyed their boats. With no income and food to put on the table, the fishermen struggled to get themselves back on their feet.

    Four years ago, when I was still a member of Congress, Typhoon Glenda ripped the country, especially my province, Camarines Sur. The floods were too great that it damaged so many ricefields. In fact, in a small town in my district called Calabanga, the sea ate up a large chunk of the ricelands; that is why so many farmers have been displaced permanently. Iyong dating… iyong dating rice paddies, ano na siya ngayon, buhangin. So many students like you were not able to go back to school because their schools were totally destroyed. Typhoon Glenda was one of the worst typhoons that hit Camarines Sur and it taught us a very hard lesson: that times have changed, no one is safe anymore, and we really need to be ready.

    I am sure you’re aware about Typhoon Yolanda, one of the world’s strongest typhoons that struck in the Philippines, leaving more than 6,000 dead and thousands of families distraught. Help came quickly for areas like Tacloban and Leyte—iyon iyong napapanood natin sa TV—but there were several other places in the country that remained invisible in the eyes of many, pero grabe din iyong destruction from Yolanda. One of them was Agutaya. Agutaya is a very small island municipality in Northern Palawan. From Coron—familiar kayo sa Coron, ‘di ba?—it takes about 10 hours just to reach Agutaya by boat. When we went there, pumunta po kami doon last November, most of the people who met us were crying. Hindi po namin alam kung bakit umiiyak, but we learned that they were so happy because for so long they felt abandoned because not many officials visit them dahil sobrang layo. We saw the school—the only school that was located in the town—which was still damaged, and noong tinanong namin, sabi nila, “Ay, nasira po iyan ng Yolanda.“ And Yolanda was more than four years ago, but the school remained unrepaired. The entire island does not have electricity and there were only very few fishermen before who owned their boats.

    One of the fishermen we met was Rolando Mongo, a 57-year-old seaweed farmer. Kasi iyong seaweed iyong pangkabuhayan doon. He was one of the few who was fortunate enough to have his own boat before Yolanda. But when Yolanda struck, his boat was one of those that were destroyed when Yolanda hit Agutaya. Since then, nakikisakay na lang siya. He would just hitch a ride with friends, fishermen friends, who owned small fishing boats. Dahil dito, he was earning very little, not nearly enough to feed his family.

    Climate change is real, and it is putting so many of our people at risk. And you know what’s even worse? Climate change hits the poorest first, and hits the poorest hardest. Each time a calamity strikes, it is the poorest who pay for it—sometimes with their own lives. While we sit back here comfortably, young people who do not have the luxury of studying in a good university like yours are dying from hunger and miss out on school more and more because of recurring disasters.

    So my dear young ones, we do not have to wait for another typhoon or calamity to move us into action. We can do something now to mitigate the impact of climate change. We do not have to let it hit us close to home.

    I am pleased that the Public Relations Society of the Philippines is putting issues like climate change to the forefront of our conversations. You prove to us that your generation cannot be simply dismissed, gaya ng sinasabi nila, as a shallow, selfie-taking, narcissistic generation. Instead of sitting by on the sidelines, you are finding ways to discover your role in nationbuilding.

    How I wish we, your elders, gave you a better world than this. It is the failure of my own generation to have acted in earnest or in time. Kami po iyong nagkulang sa inyo. But as I have said, all hope is not lost because we believe in you. We believe you can do something about climate change now. In fact, you are already in a perfect position to do something about it. With technology at your doorstep and with your exceptional creativity, you can come up with the most innovative solutions.

    Personally, I witnessed that working with young people brings greater power in making the impossible, possible.

    Hindi ko po alam kung nakita niyo iyong ibang staff ko noong hindi pa kayo dumarating, iyong nandito na. Mapapansin niyo siguro lahat sila bata. I have members of my staff who are new graduates, as young as 21. Noong nagbilang kami, I think the average age of my staff is 26. In fact, my chief of staff is only 33.

    Getting a young staff was deliberate on my part because young people like you are open, idealistic, innovative, and very creative. Pagtanggap na iyong darating na panahon, hindi na sa amin, sa inyo na iyon. And kami na iyong umaasa sa inyo ngayon.

    We also have partners in Angat Buhay who are composed of very young people. One of them is The Circle Hostel. I do not know if you have ever been to The Circle Hostel but it is a chain of budget-friendly eco-hostels found in La Union, in Zambales, and in Baler. Partner po namin sila, and through our partnership program, Circle Hostel was able to build a school garden in a far-flung community in Taysan, Batangas—Angat Buhay community iyon. And we saw that instead of cement hollow bricks, they used ecobricks to build planter boxes for the school garden. An ecobrick is a plastic bottle stuffed with solid non-biological waste to create a reusable building block. The Circle Hostel’s initiative using ecobricks is called the Plastic Solution, where they advocate for less plastic use and sustainable living. Ecobricks allow reusing of plastic, rather than have it fill up landfills or end up in the ocean. Nanood kami noong ginawa nila iyon. Ano talaga, instead of hollow blocks, iyong mga plastic bottles ini-stuff nila ng basura. And sabi noong technician na kasama namin, it’s even stronger than hollow blocks.

    There are countless, creative ways to solve the looming crisis of climate change. No effort is too small; no plan is too complicated to discuss. Every idea is precious if we all have open minds and open hearts.

    As future communication professionals, you have the power that can move our world. So make the most out of your stay here. Learn as much as you can. Hone your skills and your abilities.

    Find innovative ways to move people into action because our actions today will become the consequences we will deal with tomorrow.

    And let me end my short message with what Dumbledore told Harry Potter, and I quote: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.“

    And I hope that you will always make the right choices because the world’s future lies in your hands. Sana po iyon iyong parati nating ilagay sa ating isip. Kami na iyong umaasa sa inyo ngayon. And we, we holding our breaths for your innovative and creative solutions, because those solutions will spell success to our entire planet.

    Kaya maraming, maraming salamat sa inyo. Thank you for the invitation. Thank you for having me this morning. Magandang umaga sa inyong lahat!

    Posted in Speeches on Jan 20, 2018