Ivy Marie Mangadlao

Published: March 18, 2024

Joy Reyes, who identifies herself as a desert-born tropical Filipina, is a climate justice lawyer working with indigenous communities, youth climate activists, and women environmental defenders.

She specializes in bridging concepts of climate justice, human rights, and environmental policy.

Reyes is currently a staff lawyer at the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (LRC), the Philippine arm of Friends of the Earth. She also serves as a technical advisor at the Klima Policy Centre at the Manila Observatory, a non-profit scientific institution.

Reyes plays a pivotal role as part of the expert team of the Loss and Damage Collaboration, a group of climate policy and cultural practitioners, researchers, activists and lawyers working to support vulnerable communities in addressing climate change-related loss and damage.

Her academic journey mirrors her interdisciplinary approach to environmental and climate. Challenges. She took psychology and political science studies at Ateneo de Manila University and obtained a Juris Doctor degree from the University of the Philippines.

She is currently pursuing a Master of Sciences degree in Global Environment, Politics, and Society at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

In this interview with Climate Tracker Asia, Reyes delved deeper into her insights and experiences as a climate justice lawyer as well as gaps in climate policies.

Can you share a bit about your personal journey and what inspired you to become a climate justice lawyer?

JOY: There was no one pivotal moment that inspired me to do what I do now. I can attribute it to several things, including doing a semester abroad in San Francisco, which exposed me (a desert-born tropical girl) to a multitude of green spaces, joining the Loyola Mountaineers and working with indigenous peoples, being part of the law student government of the University of the Philippines, and really the daily realities of life as a Filipina.

I’ve always been interested in human rights law and environmental law, which are what I started doing when I first became a lawyer (though I was a paralegal volunteer for indigenous peoples and helped out in human rights organizations in law school). Eventually, recognizing that climate justice is the intersection between the two, and that you can’t really disaggregate one from the other especially in the face of climate change, I started doing, with my mentor Tony La Viña, climate justice lawyering.

What specific projects or cases have you worked on that directly contribute to climate justice, and how have they impacted communities?

JOY: Over the last five years, through my affiliation in both the Klima Center of the Manila Observatory and the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (Friends of the Earth Philippines) I’ve done work with indigenous peoples, particularly the Dumagat-Remontados in Tanay, Rizal, who have been fighting against the construction of the Kaliwa Dam, a large hydropower project, and the Lumad who are situated in the southern part of the country. We help them out with regard to development aggression issues, as well as whenever they would require assistance for responses to harassments and threats.

I have also co-authored workbooks that cater specifically to women environmental defenders and persons with disabilities—sectors of society that are made even more vulnerable because of the climate crisis.

Further, I have helped out with youth human rights and climate activists, and have helped answer their questions, and, if necessary, represented them.

If needed, we also provide know your rights seminars to indigenous peoples and other groups so that they are aware of their fundamental human rights and the steps they can take when their rights are being violated.

Internationally, I follow the discussions on Loss and Damage at the climate change negotiations, and we try as far as practicable to amplify the needs and priorities of the communities we work with to ensure that their experiences are considered when policies are put into place.

All of the work continues to the present moment. We hope, however, that we have, in some way, contributed to ensuring that the communities live a life of dignity.

How does your legal work contribute to a more equitable and sustainable future, particularly for marginalized communities?

JOY: In addition to the filing of cases, being a lawyer means that I can both explain legal concepts and policies to marginalized communities as well as bring up their priorities and needs during the drafting of policies and legislation. The goal is, as far as practicable, to amplify their voices in places that they might have trouble accessing; and when they do access these spaces, to help ensure that their voices and points of view are heard.

In your view, are there gaps in current environmental and climate change policies that need urgent attention? What recommendations do you have for policymakers to strengthen legal frameworks?

JOY: Plenty still. Much of the issues are on either the need to update the laws (for instance, the Philippine’s Forestry Code has not been revised since the 1970s), or the need to ensure that the laws are implemented strictly. In the Philippines, for example, there remain concerns about the proper implementation of laws like the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), particularly with the obtaining of the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) of indigenous peoples. While the law is in force on paper, the manner by which it is implemented has been a point of contention.

There also needs to be an acknowledgement, put into policies, of the deep connection between the environment and human rights—and that the (re)imagining of a just and sustainable future demand looking into both at the same time.

Inclusivity is also something that is important—for roundtables and discussions, there has to be not just the representation, but the full participation and even leadership of marginalized communities, particularly the youth, women, indigenous peoples and local communities, as well as peasants, among others.

While climate change will (and does) affect everyone, its effects will be disproportionate, and sectors that have historically been marginalized will experience its impacts and burdens more than others.

How do you inspire and encourage younger generations, especially young women, to pursue careers in climate justice works?

JOY: At the outset, I would like to say that climate justice work can be tiring; and, depending on which part of the world you live in and the kind of work that you do, it can be dangerous. Oftentimes, it can get really disheartening especially in the face of continuing global temperature rise and violence towards those who oppose climate injustice.

That said, and without wanting to romanticize it too much, it is wonderful, liberating work. It brings me great honor to know that I’m standing shoulder to shoulder with land and environmental defenders, youth climate activists, indigenous peoples, and allies, in trying to work for the creation of a just and sustainable future for all. I have met the bravest, fiercest, most brilliant people in the work that I do, many of whom are in the frontlines of defending the environment.

Women have as much duty to care for the planet as much as they have the right to live a life of dignity in it; and whether it is in amplifying voices of the marginalized, protesting against extractivist industries, doing art, or continuing the process of learning, unlearning, or teaching about climate justice, then I believe one is engaging in the work towards envisioning a climate just world. The only way we should move forward is to work towards creating a world that is fair, feminist, and fossil free. Now is always a good time to start.

Women have an important role in making that happen—truly, whoever we are, however we identify, there should be nothing about us without us.

Read more stories of other remarkable Filipina women in climate action here.