With an archipelago so large, numerous and disparate, the Philippines is dizzyingly diverse. Beautiful beaches, tribal cultures and volcanic landscapes are waiting to be discovered-the ultimate gateway destination. Made up of more than 7,000 tropical islands, off-the-beaten-track Philippines is the second-largest archipelago in the world and has the answer to any travel junkie’s dreams.
A tropical climate, warm water, vast coral reefs and mind-blowingly sea life make the Philippines a true scuba diver’s paradise. Most journeys start at the capital, Manila, on the main island of Luzon. This is the oldest city in the archipelago, with the historic center usefully bounded by ancient city walls with glimpsed sea-views from stone-built churches. The world’s oldest Chinatown is found in Binondo, the once-infamous Malate having descended into seediness while modern Manila’s commercial center of gravity has shifted a taxi-ride away to the Makati district. Ferries reach out to the main island groups. Closest is Mindoro, with low-key beach-hut resorts lining endless beaches and a jungle interior hiding indigenous tribes, but it has also got some of the archipelago’s best diving, with the infamous Apo Reef, an internationally renowned spot for the explorer.
Most of the central islands are known as the Visayas. This is where you’ll find the famous party beaches of Borocay, consistently voted the best in Asia, the country’s second city, Cebu and the humped ‘Chocolate Hills’ of Bohol Island. Finally, there’s Mindanao, the second-largest island of the archipelago, including the island of Camiguin, where there are more volcanoes than towns, and Samal, with bat-filled caves and atmospheric dive wrecks. There is absolutely nothing better than a dive off your travel calendar onto the Philippines- the hidden gem on this planet.
With a population of over 98 million, most of whom speak English as the base language, it is a widely popular tourist destination and remains sought after by people looking for the exotic. October to April is the dry season: the best time to visit. Sunny and dry, with temperatures reaching 35°C-plus in March/April; the mountains can be 10°C cooler. This is peak season for diving as summer’s cyclonic conditions can affect visibility. Whale shark watching season at Donsol runs January-May. In May, Flores de Mayo fiestas are commonplace across the country. May to September is the wet season: humid and hot. Regular tropical downpours can cause road closures, but travel is still possible. Cyclones are a serious risk July-October. Mountain or volcano trekking is hazardous during the wet season because of landslides and vaccinations for water-borne illnesses such as typhoid and dengue fever are sometimes not easy to find.
In recent years however, the Philippines has been on the watch-list for extreme changes in weather running a high risk of climate change impact which could affect this island paradise and its population. A few years back, the former president Fidel Ramos urged the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte to approve and ratify the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, as any further delays would make Filipinos more prone to the effects of typhoons and the affects if they do not honor the international pact seeking a 1.5 degree Celsius global warming cap. Billions of dollars were lost as the economy suffered the damage caused by typhoons Karen and Lawin-causing devastation across the nation. He also warned of the impact of a serious future catastrophe La Niña (twin of destructive drought El Niño), about which Earth’s people were warned more than 20 years ago, and which must now be mitigated by more intense international cooperation and collective positive action.
In fact, the Philippines is responsible for only about 1/3 of the 1% on yearly emissions and has spent an average of 0.5% of its GDP (Gross Domestic Product) per year for the past 25 years for ‘Losses and Damages;’ so they are, in effect, already paying for the impacts of climate change to which they have hardly contributed. The government of Philippines has to also look at the possible ramifications on the ratification of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change– a landmark international climate pact. With 55 countries responsible for 55% of the emissions having already ratified and signed the agreement, the pressure is on the remaining coastal nations to seek a safer future towards sustainability and mitigation on future risks posed through global warming, plastic pollution in the oceans and rising ocean temperatures.
According to the 10-point agenda set by the Duterte administration, 7 of those align with the plans for climate actions. This means that to be able to implement the climate actions, the country will have to undergo various innovations, which are also included in the administration’s priorities. Promoting science and technology, accelerating infrastructure, investing in human capital and increasing competitiveness were some of the priority actions to be taken, not to mention climate action through renewable energies that also promotes rural development, agriculture and rural enterprise. Meanwhile they agreed on the basic idea of ratifying the climate change pact as it “makes sense” considering the global population, macroeconomic climate, and technological trends” and also helps in fulfilling some of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations in 2015.
In April 2016, the Philippines ratified the Paris Agreement on Climate Change as one of the high risk countries affected by climate change. During 2016’s 22nd Conference of Parties (COP22) in Marrakech, six key issues were agreed upon to fight the battle on climate including; transparency of implementation, mitigation, adaptation, technology, capacity-building, and financing.
As one of the costliest years in the history of climate change mitigation, 2017 went down as the third hottest year on record, leading to the chilling possibilities of a clear and present danger in 2018 and beyond of hundreds of millions of people being displaced across the Philippines and other countries with ASEAN. According to a Greenpeace senior global policy advisor: “countries need to agree fast on this range of technical issues, amid a widening gap between current pledges and what climate experts are indicating as necessary action to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”
For the Philippines, it’s not really an agreement based only on mitigation, but also adaptation, and loss and damage, and that the Philippines gains to benefit from the Green Climate Fund as the contribution towards 70% reduction in green-house gas emissions is conditioned on technical and financial assistance for the country and they are committed on doing “climate justice” for the future of the population.
One of the most dramatic decisions taken by the government of Philippines was the abrupt closure of Boracay Island earlier this year in February 2018, stating that the Island had become a “cesspool” of filth and degradation due to the increasing number of tourists in the area leading to severe environmental damage to the eco-system. Considered to be one of the hot spot destinations in the South East Asia regions, alongside Phuket and Bali – the decision may have seemed terrifying in the short term but certainly paves the way forward to better environmental governance- a bold step in curbing the rising threat to the environment that was finalized this month for a six month closure, downgrading the ban from the previous one year closure. The closure would eventually lead to another economic loss of over P 1.96 billion to the country’s economy.
But in principle, the decision also takes into account the effect of the gradually rising threat in the form of rising seas- typhoons and tsunamis that may engulf the coastal heritage in the eventual future, due to rising temperatures with a warmer pacific ocean becoming one of the largest dumping grounds for nuclear dumping and plastic waste, damaging marine life and coastal habitats and eventually human settlements.
Another factor to reconsider here for the Philippines is the impact on tourism and value for human rights- an area where they stand vulnerable within Southeast Asia. While it still remains a primary tourist destination zone where millions of people thrive in terms of enjoyment and work opportunities, further uncertainty may fuel a rising hysteria and higher security concerns for public safely and tourism that can affect the economic and social tangent within the region. The future therefore remains bright but cautious for the Philippines. Will the challenge be tremendous for the government or will it benefit the people? What remains unknown is how 2018 will impact the climate across the Philippines and whether the right legislations will be adopted to ensure safety and security against the mega threat of climate change for the nation.
The writer is a Director at CNNA Pakistan – a leading advocacy institute and is an expert on International Relations and Education Policy.
With over 150 publications in major local and global social media & newspapers, he has been instrumental in producing over 5000 radio broadcasts aired globally.
A thought leader, environmental journalist, media broadcaster and a change maker with an acute focus on development affairs & education for Pakistan.