Ivy Marie Mangadlao

Published: June 20, 2024

BUTUAN, PHILIPPINES — Nearly three years have passed since Super Typhoon Rai struck the Philippines, yet Anatalio Gagatan and his family are still grappling with the devastation it caused.

For Gagatan, a resident of Siargao Island in the southern Philippines, the typhoon locally known as Odette was the most powerful cyclone he had ever experienced. 

“We were extremely worried during the super typhoon, wondering if we could save ourselves. Our entire family was just holding each other tightly while praying,” Gagatan recalled.

The emotional turmoil was compounded by the sight of his newly opened restaurant being blown away by the powerful winds. Gagatan had hoped the restaurant would help uplift his family’s life. 

“All my investments vanished like a bubble. As the breadwinner, I invested my entire salary as a teacher into my farm, buying carabao, goats, and pigs. I also built the restaurant, believing it would secure our future, but it was gone in just an hour,” he said.

Gagatan secured a nearly P1 million loan to fund his restaurant and farm. “I’m still paying off the loan, with nothing to show for it. We are buried in debt to this day,” he said.

Gagatan’s experience is not unique; Filipinos have long been at the forefront of climate-related disaster risks.

However, a bill currently under review in Congress offers a glimmer of hope, aiming to provide much-needed support for victims like Gagatan. 

House Bill 9609 or the proposed Climate Accountability (CLIMA) Act aims to institute policies and systems to tackle the climate crisis, establish institutional mechanisms for the protection of vulnerable communities from losses and damage from climate change, and hold corporations and the state accountable for violations.

Representatives Edgar Chatto, Jocelyn Sy Limkaichong, Fernando Cabredo, Anna Victoria Veloso-Tuazon, Christian Tell Yap, and Jose Manuel Alba were the authors of the bill. 

The bill’s explanatory note highlights the Philippines’ high vulnerability to climate hazards, placing the country at “great risk in terms of livelihood loss, infrastructure damage, and ecosystem collapse, which will undoubtedly result in societal upheaval.”

Loss and damage mechanism

An aerial photo captures the massive devastation wrought by Super Typhoon Odette in General Luna town in Siargao island, Surigao del Norte. The picture was taken two months after Odette made landfall on the island. (Erwin Mascariñas)

One of the bill’s main features is the Loss and Damage mechanism, which establishes a Climate Change Reparations Fund (CCRF) within the Bureau of the Treasury. This special fund would finance claims approved by a dedicated CCRF board.

The CCRF would be used to respond to claims from climate change victims or survivors. These reparations could include compensation for economic and non-economic harms, technology transfer, capacity building, financial support, relocation, and recovery and rehabilitation measures.

An initial amount of 50 million pesos would be allotted as the CCRF’s opening balance under the General Appropriations Act, with the possibility of increases as needed.

The Department of Finance reported in 2021 that the Philippines incurred losses and damage estimated to reach P506.1 billion (approximately US$10 billion) from climate-related hazards over a decade despite contributing only 0.3% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Business accountability

The CLIMA bill goes beyond reparations for climate victims. It also establishes a framework for business accountability, particularly targeting fossil fuel companies.

“Fossil fuel dependence continues to be driven by the carbon majors; without an accountability framework, it will continue unabated, pushing the planet over the edge,” the authors said. 

The proposed measure’s business accountability framework aims to establish a due diligence standard of care in business conduct, to prevent business practices that harm the environment.

The bill explicitly lays out responsibilities for businesses to update their conduct and policies in accordance with the United Nations  Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, including disclosing their climate-related financial information to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

It also requires businesses to measure their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions throughout their value chains, complying with standards based on the most recent scientific evidence and reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 

Businesses are mandated to file reports with the Climate Change Commission (CCC) and the SEC, making these reports publicly available. 

To assist with their reporting requirements, the bill seeks to establish a reporting facility for GHG emissions, which will be managed by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration.

As an incentive, the bill proposes that businesses observing their due diligence standard of care will be recognized by the government through a tax credit regime.

‘Historic’ move

Jefferson Chua, a campaigner with Greenpeace Philippines who has been providing technical assistance on the CLIMA bill, told Climate Tracker Asia that the bill is groundbreaking as the first of its kind in the world.

“It still doesn’t have a precedent around the world. And I think this policy, if it will be pushed significantly, will have a domino effect, hopefully, in other countries around the world where they can say, yes, this kind of system is possible,” Chua said.

Chua stressed that the government should not wait for another climate-related disaster to occur before passing the bill. He cited the expedited passage of the Climate Change Act after Tropical Storm Ondoy (international name: Ketsana) in 2009.

“Do we need another one like that? I don’t think so. I don’t think the more than 6,000 people who died in Super Typhoon Yolanda (International name: Haiyan)  would agree to that.  The more we wait, the more people die or suffer,” he said.

Chua urged the government to prioritize resources for establishing climate accountability mechanisms.

We need to pass the bill right now and pour government resources on this to ensure that the Philippine government is standing with its people to give us a fighting chance against the escalating impacts of climate change,” he said.

Climate justice

A survivor of Odette holds a placard calling for food relief along the national highway of Surigao City in Surigao del Norte province on Christmas Day. (Ivy Marie Mangadlao)

Climate justice lawyer Joy Reyes, a member of the expert team of the Loss and Damage Collaboration, said the proposed bill is a framework that will be “critical to the achievement of climate justice.”

“At its core, the proposed bill is a climate justice mechanism. It imposes more rigid requirements on corporations, penalizes climate denialism and greenwashing, among other things, and allows communities the opportunity to recover from climatic impacts,” Reyes said.

She also emphasized that the bill recognizes the intersectionality of climate justice discussions, acknowledging that human rights are inextricably linked to environmental rights, and loss and damage are one of those areas where these rights converge.

“If we want to ensure that we create a safe and livable future, governments and policymakers should incorporate robust loss and damage mechanisms in the bill, mechanisms that are rights-based and founded on justice,” Reyes said.

Lobbying, lengthy process

Chua highlighted that one of the possible challenges the bill may face is lobbying from fossil fuel companies, as the law would hold them accountable. 

He cited a report revealing that as early as the 1960s, carbon players knew about the impacts of their carbon emissions but chose not to acknowledge them.

“We know that the fossil fuel industry is a cash cow. And if you look at the dividends paid and the bonuses given to chief executives of major carbon companies, it’s clear that it’s a system of injustice they refuse to acknowledge. They want to maintain the status quo because they just want to keep earning,” Chua said.

Chua stated that fossil fuel companies should be held accountable, starting with an admission that they have caused significant impacts due to their business operations. 

They should then proceed to pay for the damage incurred by communities that have little to nothing to do with the increasing impacts of climate change.

Chua the bill’s technical challenges, especially weak GHG emissions monitoring due to the Philippines’ weak carbon accounting institutions. 

He also noted the lengthy process for filing claims, similar to the Martial Law Claims Board. 

He emphasized that while the need for proof is understandable, the prolonged process is a disservice and injustice to communities who lost their homes and have substantial documentary evidence to provide.

Ray of hope

On May 14, the first committee meeting for the CLIMA Bill was held, where the technical working group agreed to review the bill for eventual passage.

The CLIMA Bill may face a long and arduous journey through the legislative process before it officially becomes law. But, for Gagatan, it offers a ray of hope.

“This bill would be a tremendous help for us if it were to be passed. It would truly offer new hope to all victims of the super typhoon,” he said. 

 Though Gagatan survived the super typhoon, the challenges brought by its aftermath are a constant reminder of the struggle to start anew. He hopes that the passage of the CLIMA Bill will bring the support and relief that he and countless others desperately need.