It’s also a fight against our government

On 4. May anti-coal activists from all over the Philippines converged in a climate march that mobilised 8,000+ people in Batangas City. JG Summit Holdings aims to put up a 600-Megawatt coal fired power plant in Batangas City that is set to occupy a 20-hectare site in Barangay Pinamucan Ibaba, Batangas City.
The campaign “Piglas Batangas! Piglas Pilipinas!” was part of „breakfree“, a coordinated month of action against fossil fuel infrastructure on 6 different continents in over 15 countries. In the Philippines the action was led by the Lipa Archdiocesan Ministry on Environment, local fisherfolk, and other concerned citizens. Ende Gelände spoke to Lidy Nacpil, co-coordinator of the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice, convenor of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice and co-organiser of the Philippine breakfree action.

Ilana Krause: Maybe you can tell us a little bit about the background of breakfree action that took part in the Philipines? What role did the global effort of breakfree play in your fight in the Philippines?

Lidy Nacpil: So in the Philipines we’ve been waging this anti coal fight for a number of years. And it includes what we call local struggles to protest against the building of new coal plants in different parts of the countries. So it is a combination of fighting it at the national level against the energy policy of the government and expanding the coal and fossil fuels in the Philipines. And then fighting at the local sites where the idea is to make it very hard and delay and push through with projects. The ideal is we totally stop the projects.
So in late 2015 in participated in a meeting to brainstorm for breakfree. One of the things that I expressed there was that such a globally coordinated mobilisation moment, the participation of movements and especially of local struggles should be in terms that would be helpful and make sense to the local struggles. And not just cook something up artificially so that it can fit into a global site.

Ilana Krause: The idea behind breakfree was to escalate the fight against fossil fuels. What did that mean in the Philippines?

Lidy Nacpil: So the Philipines one of our considerations was to chose a site where it would make sense to escalate1 at that moment. Not too soon and not too late. And that’s how we ended up choosing the site in Batangas where we had this big mobilisation. And the other one which I expressed in that meeting was that escalation means different things in different places. It is depending on the level of struggle of the people. So when you say you escalate; for us it meant you introduce a qualitative change in the struggle itself. That can mean in other places civil disobedience. In other places you introduce a form of mobilisation that has not been done before, which represents a major advance in the work. So the two things that we did was first to chose a site where it would make sense to escalate around May. There are many other sites in the Philipines with intense fights, but the escalation in some places has to happen before [May]. Why to delay it to do it in May? It is so artificial. Or in other places May would be too early and not quite the right timing.

Ilana Krause: Why did you chose Batangas as the site for the breakfree action?

Lidy Nacoil: So we chose Batangas because there is already a very strong ongoing fight against a new coal plant to be build. There were so many elements of a strong campaign there: It is broad: the catholic church is very much involved, they have done mobilisation before, so it is not a new thing we were going to introduce. And a big mobilisation at that point – at that point it was national elections in the Philipines – would have the purpose to make sense to the local fight. Because in that city the coal plant was no issued a permit yet. So there was going to be a local demand attached to the mobilisation so it is not just going to be for show for a global audience. There was going to be a very important demand to that. And it has the added purpose attached and it has kind of a symbol of the anti coal fight so that at the national level it could be one of the electoral issues, because it was election campaign.
We were very careful about that because if it does not make sense to our local and national fight we wont put up something to just be part of a global show or global display. And I think that’s way it should always be, it should make sense at the local and national level when we do it with a global coordination.

Ilana Krause: What was it like for the local people. Who was involved and what did they think of being involved in breakfree?

Lidy Nacpil: The added thing in Batangas was people were organised, because the campaign was already ongoing. So we had a very clear partner. That was also one of the things that we made sure that we don’t just go in there and organise it. Because we are not from there, we were from national and global level. So we have a partner there we knew they were politically mature and organised enough to make the decision. So we were not just going there and overwhelm them with our ideas. So the local partner that could mobilise various groups is a church related organisation. They are called the Archdiocesan Ministry on Environment and they were in fact, they were the leader of a big mobilisation that took place the year before in their fight. So we explained to them that it was part of a global effort. But we also made sure that this came last as the rational. What we explained to them was what important to us was to do a big mobilisation make coal an issue during the electoral campaign season. And we thought Batangas would be a great place to do it because we wanted to do it where it would be helpful for a local fight. And then the other point was the global [dimension]. So it was not the main entry point for us.

Ilana Krause: So there is a tension between local struggles and global campaign efforts?

Lidy Nacpil: I think we should also help movements to have this critical understanding of what was primary in terms of plans, in terms was their situation locally and our situation nationally. Not to introduce the global dimension as a main incentive. It shouldn’t. It should make sense for us first. But I am not underestimating the importance of the global fight. I think for them it was more encouraging to know that they are not alone. That they are part of a major effort globally. So it was not their primary incentive but it was an added incentive. They were primarily motivated by their fight, but the global fact encouraged them even more. So that was how we presented breakfree.
So that is also why we wanted a name for the initiative that could relate to the global theme but that was also very Filipino. That’s why it wa called Piglas, it is a Filipino word that also means to break free. So it is called the “Piglas Batangas! Piglas Pilipinas!” . Which is the the name of our country in our language and site of the mobilisation. So it is breakfree Philippinas, breakfree Batangas city. So actually the word breakfree or the title breakfree was kind of a secondary title or a sub title for the whole initiative. That secondary title gave us a link to the global, but having our own title also allowed us to have our own identity for the whole initiative. So it is not just using a local fight as a kind of fill up. Like a structure already defined somewhere else.

Ilana Krause: What kind of action did you plan for Piglas Batanagas! Piglas Philipinas!

Lidy Nacpil: So in our case the escalation was not an outright act of civil disobedience. The escalation was in the form of having the size of a mobilisation that has never before be seen in the city, not on any issue. And the fact that there were solidarity delegations from different provinces and cities around Batangas. So it elevates the issue and the struggle to an entirely new level, but not quite civil disobedience. And it is not because we don’t like to do disobedience, we are people with a history of so many disobedience acts. But because at that point in time we could see that what was needed more at that time was to encourage people to come out. So for us there is a time to do civil disobedience and there is a time when we know that in that instance in the city the primary imperative was to encourage people to come out. Because there had just been going through these several threats and harassment by the government. So we wanted people to be more encouraged to be coming out, to be braver about it. So the next time they know they are in big numbers they are braver and more courageous and do the civil disobedience when necessary.

Ilana Krause: And the motivation behind the action was obviously coal. But in terms of framing it, what was the underlying question. In Germany we have two slightly opposing poles of a radical ecological perspective “keeping coal and fossil fuels in the ground to prevent the worst effects of climate change” versus the social question, making sure a “just transition” and an option for the workers is on the table. What was it like in the Philipines and what would you say to an an German audience?

Lidy Nacpil: For us it was slightly different because where we are now in the fight is preventing new plants from being opened and new mines from being opened. So the problem is not yet workers losing their jobs. Because power plant] is not yet operational. Several things: one is the promise of jobs. Secondly in some places in the Philipines it is a question of well there is a power crisis, they have black outs part of the days, there is not enough power left. At the moment the demand is bigger than the supply. The other one is the promise that it is part of the development of the locality and the city. Then at the national level the thing is that “We need expand and coal is the cheapest at this point. We want to build renewable energy, it is not yet accessable.” So it is this kind of model debate of what’s the proper energy mix, what’s phase out and the phase in that we can afford to do and all that.
In Batangas specifically motivations for the local people is really environmental, because they could see Batangas province2 is host to other coal plants and they have seen the impacts. On the environment, on local communities, on people’s health. There is also a certain pride in that province. It is one of our most beautiful provinces. It has lost of beaches. It is part of a straits, it part of the sea that borders some islands. It is one of the most beautiful straits in the Philippines. So there is a lot of pride in the environment in what they call like a paradise and so on. A big motivation is that: it is the environment. It is health, they’ve seen how it is. And they [ the local people] started since the last year also to understand more and more the relationship to climate. But we also had a few thousand people mobilise outside of Batangas. For them the bigger motivation is climate. Because they are not going to be directly involved, they don’t live there. So it is not about being at risk in terms of health. But because they understand the links to climate.

Ilana Krause: And which role did the state of local politics play in people’s motivation to join the campaign?

Lidy Nacpil: So the other things we have to deal with of course is that people want to understand about alternatives and they can also address the counter argument by the government. So it is not they actually believe the arguments by the government. They want to know how to be able to counter. So in such a situation what really keeps people from supporting the anti coal fight is that the local government uses fear. So the people are not convinced by the arguments. There is a lot of harassment in the communities. And the local politics play out in form of the threat of withholding patronage. Patronage comes in many different forms, where the politician takes advantage of handing out assistance aid. And patronage in terms of promise of jobs locally. This type of things. So it is outright repression and or the threat of withholding patronage. And in very poor impoverished towns and villages it matters of people. Because it is part of their survival. So it is not about being convinced of the arguments of why coal is good. It is really more this kind of coercive power relations. At the national places and in other places we do deal with these questions because we also , our demand is “No new!” Then “Phase out of the existing.” So the “No New!” part is where we want to win now. Because we wont be able to win the phase out if they continue to build the new. But we still say “Phase Out! Phase Out!” so that people know what we want to happen next.

Ilana Krause: What do you say to communities where there are already power plants and they will lose their jobs?

Lidy Nacpil: (Sighs). There are two audiences here. The people who are really from there they are not really the ones that are being hired mostly. They really bring in other workers from places, party because the corporations find the workers brought from other places more malleable. Because they are not from there. They are more desperate to hold on to their jobs otherwise they go back to places where they have no jobs and so on. And the the other things is that in some of the work it requires skilled work. So one of the phony things with the promises of jobs is that they can’t just hire anyone. They require certain skills and what they don’t tell the local people is “We can’t actually hire so many of you.” And because they need skilled workers. But that is something we are actually beginning to deal with now in the Philippines. One of the things we learned from this international solidarity is the idea or the phrase of a just transition it is probably not as immediate as the challenges we face yet. Because we can say it is still something we are struggling to make sure we have. And the shut down of the existing [power pant] isn’t happening in the next two months or six months. It is not like your situation [in Germany]. I really really understand the idea that we really need to shut down now. And then face the problem of where do they get their jobs now? It is something we are still going to work out, which in our case this is the situation. So for us it is not as difficult at this point. But we have faced similar issues before not in the struggle against coal, but in the struggle against mines we face that situation where our call was really to shut down the mines now. Like in one place they shut down the coal mines now. And as far as I know the workers in the mines that we were calling for a shut down they are not putting up strong resistance to our cause. They know and they understand. Their working conditions are so bad.

Ilana Krause: Would you have any suggestion for us in Germany how we can address the “social question” also if you take a global perspective and weigh up let’s simplify here and say white workers in Germany and their future as opposed to people in South who deal with the effects of climate change due to new power plants.

Lidy Nacpil: I think it is very valid that dilemma. Even not just in Germany in certain places we need to shut down things now. Then we have to deal with the problem of what about those whose livelihoods depend on this. And those are important problems. The only thing I can say is what we have been saying is that we also have to demand from the government it is their responsibility to provide alternative work. It is not our responsibility to do that. So what we can promise them is we will fight with you to demand this alternative work. We can’t promise them that we will be the ones to provide it. And this part of the political aspect to this struggle. They have to understand that they also have to demand from the government: it is the responsibility of the government to make sure – part of the government’s programme to phase out of dirty energy and phase in renewables is to make sure workers are not dislocated. It is their responsibility. That’s why we also think of this struggle as not just against corporations, it is against our governments. It is a struggle with government responsibility for many things.

Ilana Krause is part of Ende Gelände and Prisma / Interventionist Left Leipzig.