What significance does climate change have in the policy landscape of the Philippines, a country which is among the most vulnerable to devastation caused by extreme weather phenomena?
If the top diplomat's tweet on the subject is any indication, the concern has low priority. On June 5, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. tweeted that he would "reject all official participation in climate change conferences," specifically those that would require air travel. This followed President Rodrigo Duterte's own statements slamming climate change conferences as a waste of time and money, "accomplishing nothing."
Locsin would clarify in later tweets that the directive only applied only to Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) officials in Manila and that the country would rely instead on DFA posts abroad for representation in such international meetings.
The Philippines has been a proactive participant in the international forums on climate change. Among the most vulnerable in the world to its impact, the country's representation has been significant in the search for ways to address its adverse effects. Duterte and Locsin together reflected a shift in the country's policy position and should have provoked coverage as policy news.
But most media ignored the subject, and those which did take notice merely quoted the statements. However, these did not pursue further discussion of the impact of the policy change and the need for more global discussion of climate change and the lessons that can be drawn from Philippine experience.
CMFR monitored reports from the newspapers Manila Bulletin, Philippine Daily Inquirer, and The Philippine Star, the primetime newscasts (ABS-CBN 2's TV Patrol, CNN Philippines' News Night, GMA-7's 24 Oras and TV5's Aksyon), as well as selected news websites from June 5 to 11, 2019.
Little Media Interest
Relying mainly on official statements, reports merely quoted Locsin's tweets, with a few adding comments of concerned groups and agencies.
An Inquirer.net report differed from the rest, quoting Joey Salceda, Albay 2nd District representative, who called out Locsin's order. Salceda referred to RA 9729 or the law which created the Climate Change Commission (CCC), saying that Locsin's barring the participation of DFA officials in climate change forums violates Section 9(K) of the law which prescribes the coordination between CCC and the DFA in representing the Philippines in climate talks. The lawmaker also expressed doubts about the capacity of diplomats posted abroad to engage in climate change confabs.
The Star, meanwhile, cited Salceda's letter to the president which criticized Locsin's restriction as it could cost the Filipinos' "right and opportunity to articulate" their views on the climate crisis, adding that the negotiations are "in a critical phase of rulemaking" as the global community irons out the terms of implementing the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Salceda also described climate talks as a "very important networking event" where Filipinos can learn about climate change responses across the globe.
Lack of appreciation
The global discourse on climate change is a difficult subject, especially given the science and politics that drives the discourse. But it is generally understood as one of the most serious challenges confronting the world
Unfortunately, media's response indicates the low priority given to such an important concern in the news agenda. Whether it is a lack of interest or knowledge, the coverage did not fulfill the obligation to inform the public about one of the most serious problems that the global community must address.
The media have to step up their game in reporting this issue.