What Filipino scholars, practitioners, and thought leaders say about human security blends well with its strategic meaning, which includes economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community, and political aspects.
In a recently held virtual town hall discussion entitled “Convergence of Health and Environment in Shaping the Strategic Policy Agenda of the Next Administration,” the Stratbase ADR Institute facilitated another fruitful public exchange of perspectives and evidence-based policy advice recommendations.
Focusing on health and climate change issues, I welcomed the panel of speakers and stakeholders by emphasizing the importance of fostering a whole-of-society approach in dealing with climate change and other environmental risks.
More than ever, given the election season, we need to pay attention to these issues and respond with the utmost urgency. Our next leaders should give high priority to addressing the mounting socio-economic and health issues brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as continuing political issues such as corruption.
The panel of speakers tackled the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and health crisis, the predicaments posed by climate change, and climate adaptation and mitigation measures.
Dr. Mely Caballero-Anthony, Professor and Head of the Center for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), said climate change and pandemics are but two of the grim reminders of the kinds of security challenges we face in the 21st century.
“Countries, like the Philippines, need to put climate change in the top three priorities because climate change is also a known driver of conflicts, and the government must be extremely sensitive to the risk that climate change brings to conflict settings in the country where peace is fragile,” she said.
Caballero-Anthony concluded that in the Age of Pandemic, strategies on pandemic preparedness and response are critical to national and human security.
From a stakeholder perspective, Dr. Alma Salvador, Associate Professor at the Ateneo de Manila University and Co-convenor of the Department of Political Science-Working Group on Security Sector Reform, characterized climate change as “a threat multiplier which affects not only our health, security and our healthcare systems but also social protection, labor, and education.”
Renato Redentor Constantino, Executive Director for the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC), warned that this pandemic will certainly not be the last that this world will see and that climate change will heighten and worsen its impact.
“The absence of resilience at the center of macroeconomics, including its proper application in the private sector, is the reason we are in this deep mess,” he said.
Constantino said it is time to establish ways to measure how resilient we are. This will be challenging because of decades-long neglect. “Fortunately, it is absolutely necessary to establish these metrics if we want to survive and thrive in a climate constrained future.”
Focusing on the health crisis, Katharina Anne D. Berza, Director for Advocacy, Public Information and Research Department, Council for Health and Development, lamented that shrinking government prioritization of health furthers inequality and gaps that have pushed the system to a breaking point long before the pandemic hit.
And today, according to her, Filipinos still die due to preventable and curable diseases. This is the reason why the Department of Health should be strengthened by making it more accountable to the health needs of the Filipino people.
In the same vein, Maria Fatima Garcia-Lorenzo, President of the Philippine Alliance of Patient Organizations and Co-convenor of Universal Health Care Watch (UHC Watch) said the Department of Health can only be strengthened with the choice of the right leader.
“The next Secretary of Health must have integrity, have very good managerial skills, and [be] innovative enough to integrate into the health agenda programs that will address issues on hunger, environment, etc., and bold enough to shift the health system from being doctor-centric to becoming patient-centric,” she said.
Ms. Berza argued that at the ground level, government should foster equity in health resources by putting into operation and strengthening the 19,433 new barangay health stations alongside the rehabilitation of 22, 613 existing barangay health stations.
Similarly, Dr. Toby Melissa Monsod, Professor at the School of Economics, University of the Philippines, recognizes the crucial role of a robust community ownership of climate action in building local resilience.
Her key proposal pertains to a resetting of the country’s “ambition,” reconnecting it to adaptation/resilience (as anchor) and sustainable development (as context), away from the current “GHG-inventory centric” approach.
“In this way, both national adaptation/resilience and global mitigation goals are better served,” she said.
To move the country forward, there must first be an honest assessment of the current administration’s policy agenda and understand how it unraveled throughout the six-year term. This needs to be seen in the context of national, regional, and global circumstances.
The policy recommendations shared in the town hall discussion represent a glimmer of hope for all of us in comprehensively understanding and realizing human security goals.
The new leaders we will elect in the National elections on May 9 must have that strategic vision of human security for Filipinos.
Victor Andres “Dindo” C. Manhit is the president of the Stratbase ADR Institute.