By Maria Fiona Labucuas | Feature Writer
Vol. XCI No. 8
Oct. 4, 2019
In person, she’s small.
Despite that, it was hard to miss her during the Dumaguete Climate Strike (and no, it wasn’t because of her cute seashell earrings). Maria Jaya Ariola led students from all over Dumaguete to call for change and action from the government in response to the environmental threats the world is facing.
When she stood in front of the crowd on the stage in front of the Provincial Capitol Building, she was the tallest person in the room. It was as if she was standing on the shoulders of all who have fought the fight for climate justice before her and was speaking for them and with them.
Since she was young, Ariola was taught how to practice minimalism, proper waste management and how to conserve their resources — her family has been vegetarians for over a decade. Her parents were part of nongovernment organizations for social justice and the environment, so she grew up with knowledge about the environmental issues the country has been facing. However, it was only four years ago on Mt. Mandalagan when her environmental activism journey began.
“I fell in love with the world, with my beloved Negros Island, seeing it around me and below me. I realized I would give all my life to protect something that gave me life, too,” she recalls.
Ariola says that the people she looks up to are the people she loves. They are why she fights to save her future, which will be lost if climate issues are not addressed.
Her mother devoted years of her life talking to farmers in the mountain and taught her that environmental issues are human rights issues as well. Her sister, now working full-time in national organizations committed to community-managed climate solutions, led the Coal-Free Negros movement in Negros Occidental last year. Ariola has been working with her friends from Bacolod and Dumaguete, lobbying for the reimplementation of the plastic regulation policy in Bacolod and for the Coal-Free Negros Movement.
When asked why she wants to save the environment, she replied, “It’s not really an ‘I want to save the environment’ kind of thing, because I believe that it is arrogant for us to say we can ‘save’ the Earth. Rather, we should take care of it for the survival of the present and future generations, and fight for real climate justice.”
“How Dare They?”
The fossil fuel industry is the biggest environmental threat today with 100 companies responsible for over 71% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Ariola says that countries who are least responsible and are poor suffer the worst effects of the climate crisis, thus making this climate injustice.
According to the Philippine Star, the Philippines ranks third among the four countries that are most vulnerable to the climate crisis despite not even making it to the Top 20 countries that emit the most greenhouse gas. Despite this, the country still has not declared a climate emergency, which is necessary when a country becomes as vulnerable to the climate crisis as the Philippines. Because of this, she and her friends also started lobbying against energy exploration by “dirty energy” companies into the mountains of Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental.
Ariola believes that the government is not doing enough to address the country’s environmental crisis.
President Duterte’s Executive Order 30 speeds up the construction of coal-fired power plants and most of the country still runs on “dirty energy” and has little to no energy democracy. This is due to the fact that community-managed renewable energy microgrids are underfunded by the government. The government has also not properly implemented RA 9003 or the Solid Waste Management Act and the Climate Change Adaption – Disaster Risk Reduction policy. She states that over a hundred environmental defenders have been killed and the right of indigenous peoples over their lands has been disregarded and disrespected.
Despite the efforts of media and different groups to inform and call the public and government to action, only little effort has been done in response. According to Ariola, apathy and mindlessness contribute to the degradation of the environment. When people think their work is futile and makes no difference, a call to action is responded with inaction. Disinformation and lack of information also contribute to the lack of action from Filipinos.
As the chairperson of the SUSG Environment Committee, the main challenges she faced were the apathy of many students and the lack of environmental awareness of most people.
She acknowledges that she couldn’t have overcome these challenges without the people who were willing to learn and help out in the cause, like the students in the climate strike, and without Stefano Ledesma and Matthew Tabilog, the vicechairpersons of the committee. Outside the university, the biggest challenge she continues to face is the inaction of world governments and big polluters.
Call to Action
Numerous young people in the Philippines have taken their stand by calling out the government and big companies, and leading climate strikes all over the Philippines just like Greta Thunberg. Greta Thunberg is a 16-year-old Swedish girl who gained global recognition for striking for the climate and for calling out political leaders in Washington D.C.
“Greta Thunberg sparked a global movement and inspired the youth towards proactive climate activism, and I believe that his is not despite her youth and her disability — but because of it,” says Ariola, “as a youth, her fight has become more meaningful, because our generation has inherited a broken world, and we are the ones who will suffer.”
She says that a young student from Dumaguete City can help fight for environmental justice through educating oneself, shifting to a more sustainable lifestyle, talking to communities, immersing with the masses, joining and conducting environmental forums and reforestation programs, lobbying for policy change, and communicating to leaders and organizations.
She is currently working with several environmental organizations outside Silliman. Ariola is currently the Program Officer of the Association of Young Environmental Journalists, a founding member of Bacolod-based environmental youth organization Linghod, and Youth for Climate Hope.
At the end of the year, she aims to help Silliman University justly transition to being zero-waste without compromising the needs of people. She says that she, along with everyone else in the SUSG Environment Committee, aims for Sillimanians to be more aware and proactive regarding the climate crisis and all the social justice issues that come with it.
Ariola says that nowadays, being an environmentalist is not something one should aspire to be – it is something that is required because they have no other choice but to be.
“Let us shift towards more sustainable lifestyles, but let us remember that individual actions are necessary but they will not be enough,” she says. “The blame and burden should not be placed on the consumers and the poor.”
The decisions people make are based on the choices given by big polluters and exploitative industries. She emphasizes the need to hold these corporations and our government accountable because the people responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions that are affecting are climate are not stopped by the politicians that they are funding. This why, she says, one should act now.
She has a message for the youth of Dumaguete City and that message is take action.
‘This is people power, and we need to let them know we are watching them. It’s never too late to join us. Not just on the streets, but in municipal and city halls, forums, barangays, schools, public parks, forests, and seas,” says Ariola. “Start wherever you are. It’s not too late, yet.”