Salaam my friends. Let me post a speech that I gave to the Greenbuilding Council yesterday –


Bismillah Hi Rahman Hi Raheem. Assalaamu aliakum wa Rakmatullah Hiwa Barakaatu.

Peace and God’s blessings on us all. I always start my speeches by invoking God’s name for two reasons – first, so that I will be compelled to only speak the truth, something that may be difficult at times for a political spokesman, and second, to remind people that the speaker is proudly Filipino and proudly Muslim. Particularly in the context of the recent kidnapping of media personalities by the Abu Sayyaf, there are some who may have taken an unfairly negative view of Filipino Muslims.

Now allow me to thank the Philippine Greenbuilding Council, specially event chair Arch Weng Ramos, and chair arch. Chris dela Cruz for inviting me here today. Let me begin by saying very clearly that I am not an “environmentalist”. That mantle belongs to a select few, but I do care passionately and deeply about our world and the environment we live in. Environmental issues are very important to me, particularly because I have witnessed how the quality of our environment has worsened over time.

Allow me show you how our environment has worsened through the years in this manner: Let me reveal my age, I am 37 and I am proud to say that I am a martial law baby meaning that I was born and grew up during the ‘70s and ‘80s. In fact, being here at greenbelt makes me realize how much has changed in thirty plus years. There was no greenbelt then, if I recall, and Makati was not exactly the place where one would go for entertainment and shopping. Certainly there was no greenbelt 5. I remember my first real job as a lawyer in one of the Makati Law Firms in 1997 – we would have lunch or dinner, and maybe watch a movie at greenbelt, there was no greenbelt 2, 3 or, 4, just one greenbelt. That was only ten years ago but it shows you that time really flies and that change is inevitable and unstoppable. Unfortunately, not all change is good and the inexorable march forward to progress is a myth because there is a cost and often the cost is an environmental one.

Let me give you an example – One of my favorite memories as a child was that, during the rainy season, my parents would allow us to bathe in the rain. I grew up in Quezon City and not in a provincial area but at that time it was very safe to go out and enjoy a rain bath. Our parents did not worry about acid rain, pollutants, or some killer virus or bacteria in the rain water and so, as children, we were allowed to have fun playing in the rain. It was all innocent and simple fun, something that I – as a father to two healthy boys, Santi, 5, and Mike, 2 – would have loved to see kids enjoy. Sadly, the parents here all know that, because of how we have abused our environment, we don’t allow our kids to take a bath in the rain.

I will give you another example: the ubiquitous bottled water that has become an indispensable part of our modern life. The martial law – and pre-martial law- babies here will remember when we used to drink water straight from the tap. It was perfectly safe for us; we all seem to have grown up quite healthy. During the ‘70s and ‘80s, the idea of buying water in plastic bottles to drink would have seemed ridiculous. Water was cheap and it was clean. Today, I don’t know how many of you are brave enough to drink tap water. Don’t we ask first, in the restaurant, if the water served is filtered or not. Can you believe it? What’s next – bottled oxygen? Well, these are the bitter fruits of our disregard for the environment.

The 1987 Constitution states that “(t)he State shall protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature.” Our very own fundamental law acknowledges every Filipinos’ right to an environment that is balanced and healthful. But obviously, from the two examples that we have given, the Government has been unable to fulfill its task. And when there is State failure, then we, the citizens, must do our part to protect our rights. This is the essence of good citizenship.

I mentioned my two young boys earlier and I must admit that they are the reason why I have decided to take a stand on issues that affect our country – governance, education, democracy, inter-faith dialogue, and the environment. They are the reason why this former law professor decided to join the united opposition and why I have decided to join public service as the President of University of the City of Manila or PLM. Though still relatively young, I know that when my time is over that they, my children will be the ones to inherit the world that I have been entrusted to take care of. They will reap the fruits of my engagement – or non-engagement – with the problems of our country.

Speaking of trust, in Islam, we believe that man was chosen by the creator to be his vice-regent on earth and given the specific task to protect the world as a trust. The term “trust” has a specific meaning in law: the trustee, meaning we who have be given the property to hold in trust, is charged with the duty to safeguard the trust for the beneficiary. Truly, our environment, or even more simply, our world, is merely entrusted to us, to be safeguarded and later given to the future generations that are the real beneficiaries of that trust.

Part of the idea of the environment as a human “trust” is the concept of our inter-relatedness. That what one person does to the environment will ultimately affect another. The words of one of the greatest thinkers and liberators of our time, Martin Luther King, speaks to us on our inter-connectedness and brotherhood –

Through our scientific genius we have made of this world a neighborhood; now through our moral and spiritual development we must make of it a brotherhood. In a real sense, we must all learn to live together as brothers, or we will all perish together as fools. We must come to see that no individual can live alone; no nation can live alone. We must all live together; we must all be concerned about each other.

All this is simply to say that all life is interrelated. We are caught in an inescapable network or mutuality; tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. As long as there is poverty in this world, no man can be totally rich even if he has a billion dollars. As long as diseases are rampant and millions of people cannot expect to live more than twenty or thirty years, no man can be totally healthy, even if he just got a clean bill of health from the finest clinic in America. Strangely enough, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.

I started out by saying that I was proud to be a martial law baby. Part of the reason for my pride is that I, and my family, participated in EDSA 1. That brief, seemingly magical moment, when the Filipino united against authoritarian rule and the world applauded our brave and bloodless revolution. For some, the concept of people power is going to the streets and doing some type of mass action. While this has its place in democracy, I believe that the concept of people power – of Filipinos uniting to create fundamental change – must evolve with the changing time. In fact, more than twenty years after the first people power revolution I believe it is time for us to unite once again, not only in a political sense, but to unite to fight the social evils of poverty and corruption that are part of the causes of the destruction of the environment. We have landslides and flooding because corrupt bureaucrats and politicians allow illegal logging. We have epidemics of diseases such as dengue because we are unable to provide a sanitary and healthy environment for the poor. So to protect our environment we must address poverty and corruption. Now people talk all the time about uniting the political opposition but we forget that we should go beyond that. We must unite a nation and as a people. And protecting the environment may well be on the causes that will serve to bring us all together.

Thank you and God bless the Philippines.


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