INTERVIEW WITH Dr. Antonio G.M. La Vi?a. A mid-year assessment of President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s administration.
Dr. La Vi?a was the Dean of the Ateneo School of Government until 2016, taking this position in 2006 when he returned to the Philippines after an eight year stint in a Washington DC environmental think tank, the World Resources Institute (WRI).
He is now the Executive Director of the Manila Observatory, a Jesuit scientific research institution with research work in the fields of atmospheric and earth science in the Philippines and the Southeast Asian region. From 1996-1998, he was the Undersecretary for Environment and Natural Resources of the Philippines. He is co-founder of the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center ? Friends of the Earth Philippines.
Dr. La Vi?a is a lead negotiator for the Philippines in the climate change negotiations. He played prominent and leadership roles in Kyoto in 1997 as the chair of the land use change and forestry negotiations and in Copenhagen in 2009 where, he chaired the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (also known as REDD-plus) negotiations. In the Durban Climate Change Conference last December 2011, Dr. La Vi?a once again chaired REDD-plus negotiations and succeeded in getting 195 countries to an agreement on REDD-plus Finance which has been characterized as the maximum, not least, common denominator.
Aside from climate change, Dr. La Vi?a is an authority and has published dozens of books, papers and articles on a range of subjects in law and governance, including in constitutional law, indigenous people’s rights, biodiversity and biotechnology, sustainable agriculture, trade and environment, mining, public ethics, leadership, local governance, social accountability and social entrepreneurship.
Dr. La Vi?a obtained his Masters (LLM) and Doctorate in Law (JSD) from Yale Law School and his first degrees from the University of the Philippines (in Law) and the Ateneo de Manila University (in Philosophy).
Q: What other steps will have to be taken before we finally ratify the Paris climate pact?
La Vina: Well, yes, we have to send the instruments of ratification prepared by the department of foreign affairs to the senate, and the Senate must concur by two-thirds vote. And then it will now be deposited to New York. And that point we become a party to the Paris agreement.
Q: You also wrote in your column in the Standard that the Department of Energy was the last department to concur with the ratification. Can you share with us their concerns?
A: I suppose they are just concerned we might be putting ourselves in a box, because we promised reduce our emissions in our Paris commitment and Paris agreement. And I suppose they are afraid that we are limiting our options and for example, they might think coal is still an important part of our energy mix. That’s really shortsighted in my view, it’s actually time to phase out coal, you know, in the next couple of years, and even close down some of the plants, of course, there has to be a replacement, by renewables.
I would also say that we should not do it unless the replacements are here and they are cheap enough to be competitive, right? But I’m pretty sure it will happen eventually, but the Department of Energy was nervous about that. I respect that, its important to do your due diligence for international commitments.
Q: You also discussed the energy mix in your column but I also understand that right now there are quite a number of coal plants in the pipeline.
A: That’s what they say, but I’m pretty sure half of that will not be built, as I said you have to be far-sighted to do that, and it’s actually shortsighted to do that. But it will not be easy to implement our Paris agreement, but it was conditional anyway. We said we would do this if we get support from developed countries. Developed countries will also have to pay for our transition. We won’t do this if we don’t get support from developed countries, so they also have to pay. The developed countries will also have to pay for our transition to renewable energy and better sustainable development policies.
Q: This proposal to phase out coal plants has the support of the President?
A: At this point no, the president has actually said that coal has a part in the energy mix until renewables are cheaper and easier and etc. That’s important because that’s going to happen in 2 or 3 years. I’m 100 percent sure. It’s very a fast transition, if you’re following how energy is transforming, it is a pace that’s very fast. And the important thing is that we do not imprison ourselves. We do not nail ourselves to an obsolete technology, Yeah, coal is an obsolete technology.
Q: You praised President Duterte for exercising great leadership in this matter and he asked questions that made you uncomfortable. Can you share that with us?
A: Well, yes, about climate change. Why are we doing this, the principal reasons for doing this, that’s a good question. Are developed countries really going to help us? Is the money really there? He asked those hard questions and those are important hard questions to answer. And the answer actually is, the money is there, but not everything we want and we have to work still to get the money.
And the answer is, the developed countries are reducing their emissions, but it’s not enough, you have to keep fighting to get them to have higher targets.
Q: To other issues, you were dean of the Ateneo School of Government and very much involved in the politics of the day, what is your assessment of the first seven months of the Duterte administration?
A: I have very clear opinions. It’s mixed. There are successes. I want to say, like the work on the poor. The work of Secretary Jun Evasco, the cabinet secretary, has very good programs to deal with poverty. The work of Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, the work of Secretary Paeng Mariano, one of the best ever that I have ever seen. The economic managers, Sec. (Carlos) Domingez, Sec. (Ernesto) Pernia, Sec. (Ramon) Lopez. They have been quite, quite good, Sec. (Arthur) Tugade is beginning to assert that they have to do to fix the traffic problem. Sec. (Manny) Pinol , wonderful record. So you could see that there’s a lot of energy and a vision and a passion by the Duterte administration for some of these things, which is about inclusive development. Of course, the results of that, we won’t know for a while.
The big fail, of course, the peace process is still in flux and I don’t know, until two weeks ago it would have been one of the big pluses I would have given to the Duterte administration they were able to move forward with the peace process, hopefully they would go back to the negotiation table and fix whatever is troubling the peace process.
But for me the big fails are around the war against drugs, because it’s a wrong strategy, It’s bound to fail, killing people does not solve the problem of drugs, it’s a real problem, I support President Duterte’s commitment on the war against drugs but he followed the wrong strategy, he trusted the wrong institutions, and now he’s saying the military should do it, forget it! The military will not do it; they are not allowed to do it. They are not are not allowed to do police action. Once in a while they can to do police action, but to make it a permanent thing. So he has to change tack on that and make it about rehabilitation,
make it a public heath matter rather then a criminal problem.
Corruption is still a big issue, people are still telling us, and this not necessarily a matter of Duterte’s people, it’s just that it’s still everywhere. And it was not solved by President Aquino’s Daang Matuwid, it’s still now here, today. And unfortunately, there are still bad signals from the administration, like asking for the acquittal of Janet Napoles, the immigration thing, these are huge issues. And so for me, even the attack on Senator (Leila) De Lima is a corruption thing. It’s not right, it’s a distorted thing.
Q. What rating would you give the President?
A: I would give him a six, I would give him a six, which is the rating I gave President Aquino also at this stage of his presidency. The final grade for President Aquino would be 7-7.5, in my view.
Q: At this time, can you see where the President is leading us, the country, based on the direction he has set?
A: I would have said it was clearer two weeks with ago with the peace process on track. I’m not sure now because if the peace process goes off-track it would be very bad, for direction. Hopefully he will find his way around the drugs problem and find the right strategy. I think there’s a serious problem that he has about, what’s this? I think the economy is fine, its clear where he’s going, ahh, constitutional change,
That’s going to be a major thing. But it’s not clear to me where he is going. And maybe I have to be patient, he still has to appoint his constitutional committee, who will write this new constitution for Congress to adopt.
Q: But that’s been delayed for some time.
A: Not really, just a month. The appointments have not been made, there’s already an EO creating it.I guess, maybe in February.
Q: Do you think federalism is appropriate for us?
A: I think so! It’s all about the design of the federalism. You know, for me, federalism is nothing but regional governance. In the context of the Philippines, it’s not like the Americas, having regional-level governance which we badly need.
Guess what area of the Philippine needs the most regional governance…Metro Manila. Metro Manila should be a federal state, with powers at the level of the region. You can not have a metropolis like this run day-to-day by the mayors of smaller units.
Q: Is it doable during his term?
A: In a federal system, yeah, there will be a change. The only time he can do this is before 2019. If he doesn’t do this before the elections of 2019, we will already have elected a new set of senators. And he will not be that popular anymore and things will start to close.
Well, not in relation to the EDSA, I don’t think so, unfortunately because the EDSA sort of moment has been captured by partisan politics, right? Liberal Party, President Aquino, the Aquino family…which is unfortunate because EDSA is much more than that. So I don’t think it’s going to be a protest thing, there might be a few people, but it won’t happen that way.
Q: Is the fear of a Marcos restoration real?
A: Oh yes! Yes. I think Senator Marcos is the front-runner for the 2022 elections, hands down. I cannot see anyone else- maybe if Grace Poe runs then yes…maybe she can.
A: Well I don’t know yet, there will be a president. I think Bong-Bong will be the front-runner.
A: Well, more than anything else, because there’s no one else who has risen up. I would have thought VP (Leni) Robredo would rise up, but she has been weakened, seriously weakened. Because of external forces, and also because of some of the errors she has made, like leaving the cabinet, that was a big error, because that isolated her, because she cannot go full-blast yet, as a politician. Its not an election season yet. But maybe she can recover, I mean I’m not gonna say… I mean, (Mayor Jejomar) Binay was the sure winner in 2014, you know, then Grace Poe became the sure winner.
Q: The President has just signed an executive order creating an expanded Bangsamoro Transition Commission, how do you see it unfolding?
A: I see it unfolding very well, because people have learned a lesson from the failure of Mamasapano. And I think we will have a BBL by the end of next year, once the budget has been passed.
Q: So it’s not really dependent on the creation of a federal state?
A: No, no, no it’s an autonomous region, when we creative a federal system, some of the things they have been asking for which we cannot give in the BBL can be given them as a federal state.
Q: There virtually hasn’t been invectives against the United States since Trump became president, does this signal a change of heart by the President?
A: I think he likes Trump because he also knows Trump also doesn’t care about human rights, he only wants you to be on his side. But that’s the problem, because the president doesn’t want us to be on his side with China. So, I wouldn’t advise the president to lower his guard around the US, because the US laws about human rights are actually quite clear, so even if Trump likes him, many of the Republican senators and congressmen will not necessarily be supportive of the Philippines.
Q: On his independent foreign policy, has the President played his cards right, vis-?-vis China and the US?
A: Except for the style, I think he’s been doing well. He’s moved us away from the US ambit; we’re still very close to the US on the ground, in reality. He’s made his rapprochement with China. I think some of his words are unfortunate and might haunt us later on, especially in the legal case. The (arbitral) decision is there, it will not change. So, you know, at this point I actually want us to be neutral between the US and China, and I don’t think we can rely on the US, if there’s a fight with China. If we’re pretty much on our own, in that case its better to have a rapprochement with China.
Q: What about Japan’s role in the region?
A: Japan is very important! And I think he’s also been close to Japan. I mean, some have said that we have not taken advantage, as we should, by being to near to China, but I think the Japanese are happy with him too.