By Chuck Baclagon
The Roman Catholic faith plays an important role in the lives and consciousness of many Filipinos. Because of its involvement in social issues, it has given face to a Christianity that shows a deep sense of faith made known through actions that pursue justice, peace and the integrity of the natural world.
That is why Pope Francis’ recently released encyclical was well received in the Philippines because by putting the climate crisis in spiritual and moral terms, Pope Francis has focused a spotlight on the ethical and economic shift we urgently need in order to prevent catastrophic climate change and tackle growing inequality.
This Sunday, Catholics, people of all faiths, and people who care about climate change will be marching to thank the Pope for his encyclical and to call for climate action by world leaders. Two members of clergy from the Philippines will be there to bear witness to how they are responding to the impacts of a warming climate.
Fr. Warren Puno: anti-coal activist from Atimonan, Quezon
37 year old Fr. Warren Puno, was ordained in November 2006 and he was primarily assigned in the seminary as
formator and professor as well an associate pastor to several parishes.
Last February 28, he was assigned to Our Lady of The Angels parish in Atimonan, Quezon where he became immediately immersed in a community struggle against a proposed 1,200-megawatt coal-fired power plant in the town by the company Meralco PowerGen.
In spite of Meralco PowerGen’s political and financial influence, he continues to campaign by using the mass every Sunday as a platform to inform his parishioners about the health and environmental impacts of coal. More than that, he also participates in consultation sessions held by the municipal council to engage the local government and the proponents of the project. Recently, he was among the organizers of a prayer rally and vigil that was attended by more than 1,500 people from the community including leaders of other Christian denominations whom he joined in a procession around town to dramatize opposition to the proposed project.
When asked about his involvement he simply says that: “I continue to fight because I know that at the end, the poor people will suffer because of climate change caused by these rising power plants. It is our moral duty as priests to fight for the rights of our people. “
“We are just following and doing the Call to Action of our Diocesan synod which states that: The church shall intensify her involvement in environmental issues. We already have two existing coal-fired power plants in our province that is why we cannot just be silent and passive on this important issue.”
Fr. Jovino Batecan: building sustainable communities in Lingayen, Dagupan
Fr. Jovino Batecan, or Fr. Bobits as his parish calls him, is a diocesan priest in the province of Lingayen, Dagupan, Philippines. Since his ordination in 1981, he has already served in nine parishes. He currently serves as the Priest Director of the San Isidro Pastoral Station in Binmaley, Pangasinan while at the same times he is also the appointed Director of Farmers, Fisherfolk and Laborers’ Apostolate. He currently leads community efforts to integrate eco-spirituality and organic farming as a means for building resilience in the face of climate change impacts.
Knowing that the combined unsustainable practices of people cause disastrous aberrations in climate, he led the formation of ecology teams/eco-household projects in his community. From these, he is implementing a collaborative project that integrates environmental awareness, community gardening, renewable energy, zero waste and sustainable agriculture, and social enterprise for communities. The considerable success of this project motivates him to mainstream it.
His vision is to build climate-resilient and sustainable alternative communities that work on a different development paradigm –one that runs contrary to today’s corporate-consumer society that values profit over people and the planet. He believes this dominant consumer system is largely responsible for the current climate crisis.
Bearing witness in Rome
Amidst climate change, the Catholic Church in the Philippines sits in the tension between resisting dirty development and social attitudes of indifference as well as defending the poorest and the most vulnerable in the face of the climate crisis.
On Sunday, June 28th , Fr. Warren and Fr. Bobits will join Catholics, other Christians, followers of non‐Christian faiths, environmentalists, and various people of goodwill in marching to St. Peter’s Square to celebrate Laudate Si’, the most recent papal encyclical which addresses ecology and to call for climate change action by world leaders.