This interview features Mitzi Jonelle Tan, the Co-Founder of Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines and Fridays For Future.
How did you become a youth leader in the environmental/climate movement?
In 2017, I was able to talk to a Lumad indigenous leader and he was telling us about how they were being harassed, displaced, militarized, and killed -- all for protecting their ancestral lands, the forests, our planet. Then after saying all those atrocities, ever so simply, he shrugged and chuckled and said that's why we have no choice but to fight back. It was so simple, he wasn't even trying to convince us of anything. That was when I realized that he was right, it should be that simple. We have to join the struggle of our environmental defenders to protect our planet and fight for justice. After that encounter, I decided to actively learn more about the planetary emergency we were in and with a few others started Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines (YACAP), the Fridays for Future counterpart in our country. Eventually, I also started organizing with Fridays for Future MAPA (Most Affected Peoples and Areas) and Fridays for Future International to make sure that the voices of the people from the global south are heard, amplified, and listened to.
What are the most pressing issues that concern Filipino environmentalists/climate activists and how do you address these issues?
The Philippines is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to the climate crisis -- yearly we are hit by devastating typhoons and droughts. These extreme weather events alongside large-scale environmentally destructive projects mean we are barely able to adapt and bounce back after these disasters. Despite being so impacted by the crisis, Filipinos, especially those most marginalized and impacted, don't have access to empowering climate information and education that's contextualized to our realities. This lack of accessible information makes it difficult for people to see the need to fight for climate justice, then there's also the taboo and dangers of activism where we have been the most dangerous country for environmental defenders and activists in Asia for the past 8 years -- and often in the top 5 worldwide.
To address these issues, YACAP regularly organizes hundreds to join global climate strikes to demand drastic emission cuts from the Global North and proper adaptation plans. We also regularly lead global campaigns against Global North banks that fund fossil fuels and other environmentally destructive projects in our country that are threatening our present and our future. We also regularly talk to different regional offices of the Department of Education in order to institutionalize empowering climate education that's contextualized to the different communities. Alongside that, we immerse ourselves with frontline defenders such as Indigenous communities, small farmers, and small fisherfolk, and urban poor communities in order to learn from them and their experiences then we are now also creating climate modules fit to the context of each of these communities. We then join the campaigns of our defenders against the human rights violations happening to our activists.
As a youth leader in the environmental/climate movement, what characteristics are you looking for in a national and local government candidate?
Our next national and local government leaders need to be actual leaders. People who live up to their mandate to serve the people, which also means listening to the people and protecting them and the planet, not profit. We need leaders who listen to the science and recognize the urgency of the climate crisis that we are in so we can prioritize people-centered adaptation as we face the worsening impacts of this crisis. We need leaders who have the political will to stand up against the imperialist countries that are destroying our lands with their environmentally destructive projects and with their wanton carbon dioxide emissions. We need leaders who will demand reparations from the Global North in order for us to adapt, transition into a green society, and minimize the loss and damages we experience.
As a youth leader in the environmental/climate movement, what policies and programs do you want national and local government candidates to support? Which of these do you want to be prioritized?
We need to prioritize research into people-centered adaptation plans for the different communities and terrains in the Philippines. We also need to demand reparations from the Global North for their historical responsibility of causing the climate crisis which can start with calling for debt cancellation for debts that occurred due to climate impacts. We also need contextualized and empowering climate education to ensure active citizen participation in building future climate policies. We need a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants, large-scale mining operations, destructive reclamation projects, and all other environmentally destructive projects. In the midst of the planetary and climate emergency, our leaders must also ensure the protection of our environmental defenders and activists -- a concrete way to do this would be to repeal the anti-terror law of 2020 which has been used against our Indigenous People in the past and to abolish the NTF-ELCAC which historically has only served to tag activists as terrorists. All of these must be prioritized and go hand in hand with one another because the climate crisis is a matter of life and death and we cannot compromise our lives.
Should candidates with these characteristics and priorities succeed in #Halalan2022, how do you envision the Philippines and the lived realities of Filipino environmentalists/climate activists in 6 years?
If we have elected leaders who are able to do all these and put in place long-term policies that are implemented properly then we'll be one step closer to climate justice. We'll be on our way to having empowered communities that are able to adapt to the worsening impacts of the climate crisis, we would have minimized the negative impacts of the environmentally destructive projects in our country, we would be seen as a leader in the international community in demanding for reparations and justice from Global North countries. If our elected leaders are able to prioritize people and planet and not profit, we would be in a better place to keep campaigning and fighting for a safe present and a green sustainable future.