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The Philippines—From Like-Minded to Climate Vulnerable

Philippine climate change commissioner and head of delegation Lucille Sering spoke in public for the first time in the Lima negotiations yesterday. She was featured in the press conference of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, a global cooperation platform involving 20 poor and vulnerable countries which the Philippines will lead starting next year.
The Climate Vulnerable Forum is a promising venue for the Philippines to make new allies given that it is now allied only with G77 and China. The Forum’s members come from the Africa Group, Least Developed Countries, and a number of progressive Latin American states. It is certainly a timely appointment for the Philippines as Hagupit has reminded the world of the country’s vulnerability to climate change.
A few hours before the presser, in fact, about a hundred delegates from different countries joined us in a solidarity action for Filipinos back home enduring the typhoon’s wrath. We held banners of “solidarity, not sympathy” and held a moment of silence for them and for all who are impacted by climate change.
Solidarity, not just sympathy: Action at COP20 venue in solidarity with victims of typhoon Hagupit.  © CC: TckTckTck
Comm. Sering said in the press con that she appreciates and supports all the solidarity actions for the victims of Hagupit, including the message earlier today.
“We want to be defined not by how much we suffered but how much we recovered,” she said while accepting in behalf of the country the presidency of the Climate Vulnerable Forum.
As expected, she had to face more questions practically unrelated to Hagupit or the Climate Vulnerable Forum.
“The Philippines is composed of 30 negotiators and we are well served by them. We feel an absence of one is not a major issue. Our typhoons are speaking on our behalf,” she said in response to RTCC’s first question about Comm. Yeb Saño’s absence.
There was a recent rumor that Comm. Saño will catch up later this week, but he has stated that he prefers to stay in the country to help in relief efforts.
There are many able and experienced negotiators in this year’s delegation, but Comm. Saño’s absence and the exclusion of veteran negotiator Bernarditas Muller as well as other advisers has made its impact. However, this shift in personnel parallels what seems to be a significant shift in national policy.
When she was asked by Reuters why the Philippines has left the Like Minded Developing Countries (LMDC) group, Comm. Lucille responded surprisingly by denying they were ever a part of the coalition:
“We were never part of it. I never met them. Maybe Yeb Saño,” she said. She soon qualified that “we were never part of it, not officially.”
However, the Philippines has been widely recognized as one of the key countries behind the LMDC, joining statements and submissions and even making submissions in behalf of the group. Several Filipino negotiators have also attended meetings, according to sources.
Our alliance with the LMDC has caused controversy back home even as early as 2012. In the 15th Congress, representative Walden Bello then called the delegation for an inquiry on the country’s position in the climate talks, particularly on why the Philippines then chose to call itself like-minded with China. Indian journalist Nitin Sethi has also written twice about external pressure on the Philippines to pull out of the group, which is known for its hard stance on Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR).
The concept of CBDR, as enshrined in the Convention, means that developed countries have the historical responsibility to act first and do more climate action, compared to developing countries which have neither the historical responsibility nor the means to do as much.
It seems like the Philippines has reconsidered its stance on this clear differentiation and the LMDC because of its own shifting national interests. But whatever the extent of those interests is, exactly, anyone can see that the country cannot afford to wait for others to first commit to climate action.
Comm. Sering herself referred yesterday to the country’s progressive climate policies. She announced that we will submit Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) next year, both for adaptation and mitigation. More importantly, she also urged other developing countries, especially emerging economies such as G77 partners and former LMDC allies China and India, to do so as well.
“We passed a renewable energy act as early as 2008. We’re embarking on a low emission development strategy. We’re putting on our INDCs [Intended Nationally Determined Contributions] by next year. We want to see long-term emissions reduction goals. We know that the developed countries have the bigger burden to do it, but developing countries [which] have the capacity do so, if we want to meet what science requires, looking at the vulnerability of the country, we cannot just limit ourselves to a few [countries],” she said, before referring to the US and China climate deal.
The Climate Vulnerable Forum is an avenue for knowledge-sharing and common communication, not a negotiating group in the climate talks, but if the Philippines wants to take its new leadership role seriously, and serve its people better, it must do more at home.
We as a people have refused to be victimized throughout Hagupit, Haiyan, and even other disasters. We have made strides in improving our resilience to both disasters and climate impacts, and the scale of the evacuation as well as the other preparations for Hagupit can attest to that. And we have no choice but to keep improving even as we call on other countries to unite towards a deal which would give the Philippines and other vulnerable countries a fighting chance.
As Filipino climate activist Gerry Arances stated yesterday at the solidarity action:
“We refuse to become a poster child for devastation and climate impacts. We in the Philippines are not drowning. We are not dying. We are fighting! We are fighting, and we need you to fight with us!”


Denise M. Fontanilla is the advocacy officer of Aksyon Klima Pilipinas, a civil society network. She is also a fellow of the Global Call for Climate Action's Adopt a Negotiator project for the United Nations' Lima Climate Change Conference, to be held from December 1 to 12.
This article has been reprinted from the Adopt a Negotiator blog with Ms. Fontanilla's permission. The opinions expressed herein are solely the author's own.