Power Shift Pilipinas - Social Media poster
“You are not alone in the fight against climate change,” declared Will Bates, 350.org Global Campaigns Director, to the gathering of youth and young-at-heart in Cebu City on that scorching March day. 

Indeed, with over 100 environmental leaders from across the Philippines, the Filipino diaspora, and beyond sitting together in the auditorium at the University of San Carlos College of Architecture and Fine Arts, we were far from alone.  We had come together to participate in Sulong! Power Shift Pilipinas, a national climate convergence that took place from 26 to 29 March 2014, with the common purpose of addressing climate change and its impacts in the Philippines.  But our gathering was more than just about sheer numbers; it was about building solidarity in the face of shared challenges, made more urgent following the devastation wrought by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in November 2013.  We had felt the power of the global community mobilizing to support typhoon victims and survivors, from financial and in-kind donations, to on-the-ground humanitarian support, to protest actions and candlelight vigils from concerned citizens worldwide.  We knew, then, that the world was standing with us.

Sulong - group pic
But the fight is not over.  Yolanda caused at least 6,000 deaths and counting, adversely affected more than 16 million individuals, and incurred a total cost of damages on agriculture and infrastructure amounting to almost P40 billion (almost USD890 million).  Almost five months after Yolanda’s landfall, affected communities continue to suffer from what survivors themselves called ‘criminal negligence’ by the  government, who have the prime mandate to build the disaster and climate resiliency of the country.  Furthermore, coal power projects in the Philippines continue to grow, with the 15 existing coal power facilities, 10 coal power plant expansion projects, and at least 17 new coal power projects in the pipeline representing a 165-percent increase from the current generating capacity of coal to a projected total of 15,020 megawatts of dirty coal energy, contributing to global greenhouse gas emissions.  The Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) and various other energy privatization policies justify coal expansion by citing the growing electricity demand by residencies and businesses, though in truth, they do not benefit the people with sustainable energy solutions, especially the most vulnerable communities.  This is further compounded by massive large-scale mining and other anti-people, anti-environment development aggression projects of the national government and corporations, which continue to aggravate forest denudation, water pollution, community displacement, human rights violations, and resource depletion.   

Our work had been cut out for us.  All of our individual efforts needed to be coordinated and scaled up to match the enormity of the crisis facing us.  Sulong! (Push forward!)  was our opportunity to connect and begin collaborating with others who shared our struggles.  Over 100 passionate leaders, representing the rich diversity of the global Filipino community – coming from urban and rural communities, speaking different languages, bringing in a wide array of perspectives, experiences, and expertise – came together in Cebu City last week to meaningfully and productively address the impacts on our environment.   

Sulong - Day of Action 1
We covered a lot of ground in those 4 days.  Our keynote and panel speakers discussed and educated us on climate change and its impacts in the Philippines, the country’s energy crisis, climate justice and human rights, and climate science.  Our skills track facilitators helped us build our skills on policy and research, direct action and movement building, creative activism, media and communications, and digital campaigning and organizing.  We shared our experiences and strategized with others in our island regions and worked together to create a unified statement of our common goals and demands.  We marched in the streets of Cebu City and stood in front of the provincial capitol to assert our demands for clean and renewable energy in the hands of the people, climate justice for the victims of Super Typhoon Yolanda, and the nationalization of the power industry.  We shared skills and stories in participant-led Roots Camps.  We even managed to learn a dance to our very own theme song, as part of our flash mob! 

Sulong - dance pic
No journey is flawless and there were many hitches along the way.  But we are inspired by the excitement and drive shown by our new friends.  We look forward to seeing more Power Shifts at the regional level, a revived partnership to fight the construction of coal-fired power plants all over the Philippines, a renewed push for renewable energy, extending our reach to the global community, and mobilizing more young people to get involved in addressing climate change in their communities. 

Sulong! reinforced the reality of how large and robust the climate movement is in the Philippines.  But it also reminded us that we are never alone and must therefore never stop in our efforts to empower one another and build an effective movement.  Climate Commissioner Naderev “Yeb” Saño reiterated the importance of empowering communities at the grassroots and taking collective action in addressing the most important battle of our time:

“With empowered communities at the grassroots, we will win this battle.”

This is what shifting the power is really about: to share the power to change the world with the people and ensure a sustainable common future.

Sulong - Yeb Sano