This week it was my birthday and I decided I wanted to take the day off from teaching yoga and go to an anti-coal rally in Batangas! We woke up early and caught a bus into Batangas City and then took a jeep and a tricycle to the Provincial Sports Complex. We were late, unfortunately, so we missed the march, but the rally was festive and there was a Franciscan priest in brown robes leading the crowd of mostly students and young people. The call: NO to COAL, YES to GOD! Oh my Pilipinas!
Friends met us there and it felt more like a picnic than a protest. The rally was part of the Break Free campaign that involves civil disobedience to end our dependence on fossil fuels. Another action is planned for next week to ‘close down’ the oldest power plant in the Philippines.
One on the speakers, Father ‘Puti’ from Quezon Province spoke during the rally. He’s one of those charismatic personalities that makes me happy for the crazy Catholic-ness of the Philippines. A friend told me about a time last year when Father ‘Puti’ helped lead a crowd of students to blockade local politicians who were attempting to evading a dialogue about coal plants with coal-affected communities. With firmness and grace he forced them out of their cars and lit a black candle to symbolize the life and death reality of coal. A moral issue.
After the rally, Pancho and I headed to the pier to catch a ferry to Puerto Galera, Mindoro, a tourist town famous for its diving. We’ve been here several times such that we have a ‘suki’ (a preferred seller/buyer, a more-than-economic relationship based on fairness, trust and frequency). The little place we stay has fan and aircon cottages and a sand beach good for sunbathing. There’s good coral and lots of fish about 20m from the shore. One time we even saw a sea turtle munching on seagrass.
There had been a change in management; a son-in-law and his family had moved back from the city and we had to negotiate the rental rate again. No sweat. The interesting thing was that the price revolved around the price of electricity- always expensive, of course (!) in Puerto Galera. I had just learned at the rally that there is currently a 12-year moratorium on coal-plants in Mindoro. Whoever gets elected tomorrow will determine whether it is continued….
Sigh. I felt a deep sadness about our banter over the price, the way business owners respond to demand for hot showers and 20-degree air conditioning, the ‘more fun in the Philippines’ tourism campaign, and the sense of inevitability about coal. Looking across the sea back towards Batangas from our beach, you can actually see a coal plant glowing red at all hours.
The next day, Pancho a green architect, casually mentioned to the manager about sun shading and other design-based ways to lessen the cooling costs. To which he replied: Yes, I’m planning to actually tear down everything and make a better resort, all concrete!
That’s not the solution. NO!
Traveling in the Philippines is almost always like this for me– a complex mix of joy and angst, awe at the beauty and anger at the injustice. I learn about a place by asking questions and feeling for authenticity. The story is always multi-faceted and deeply impure. A different perspective from the whitewashed tourism brochures that tempt our soul. Still I continue to find beauty, peace of nature, and human brilliance in tourism. These qualities stand in counterpoint to the rest of it. And it’s worth the fight.