President Duterte’s record on the domestic environment is arguably the best of any modern Filipino leader. His project to clean up Manila Bay has seen a once heavily polluted body of water return to a place of beauty whilst just over a year after closing the tourist island of Boracay, it is once again open to visitors who must now abide be regulations that strictly prohibit polluting the natural beauty of the picturesque destination. Duterte has likewise delivered when it comes to cleaning up once filthy rivers and canals throughout the country.
From improving air quality to removing rubbish, scum and chemicals from rivers and creeks, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has not just removed the criminal element from the streets but he is overseeing a revival of the beautiful natural environment of The Philippines that has for decades been neglected. In this sense, when Duterte pledged to deliver “clean government” upon taking office in 2016, he was speaking both metaphorically and literally.
But while Duterte’s genuine environmental credentials have scarcely been reported outside of The Philippines, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is often described as a champion of green policies. His record however shows that for whatever he may be doing to bring green policies (including increased taxation) to Canada’s icy tundras, his policies have come at the expense of the environment in The Philippines.
One of the great misnomers regarding the recycling movement is that it is completely sustainable. In reality, much of the western world’s “recycled” goods simply end up in landfills and dumping grounds in the developing world. Far from being actual recycling through the reuse of discarded materials, much of the “recycling” industry simply removes rubbish from western countries and puts them in foreign countries where the waste sits and rots, all the while blighting the local environment.
This Phanerozoic is more a symptom of NIMBYism (‘not in my back yard) than actual environmentalism. Just because one’s discarded waste isn’t rotting in landfills or being burnt in incinerators on the other side of town, doesn’t mean that somehow the waste has magically transformed into something environmentally sound. For decades, China received western waste for a fee but last year made the decision to cease receiving rubbish from foreign countries in-line with Xi Jinping’s drive to create a moderately prosperous society in all respects.
Although The Philippines is not an economic powerhouse like China, President Duterte has made the environmentally sound decision to reject Canada’s waste. The Philippine authorities have discovered that as is the case with so much “recyclable waste”, much of it is just ordinary rubbish that cannot be reused or re-purposed. As such, Duterte has stated The Philippines will be sending the rubbish back to Canada and even used the metaphor of war to convey his anger at Ottawa’s thus far intransigent position on the matter.
But beyond the specific dispute with Canada, Duterte has revealed that much of the green movement in the first world is little more than a sham. Whether it’s dumping first world rubbish onto the territory of developing nations or exploiting child labour under often life threatening conditions in Africa to mine the materials needed to produce powerful batteries for electronic vehicles, much of the green movement is just an amalgamation of neo-liberal economics combined with neo-colonial policies which hide the exploitation of the developing world behind a mask of “civilised western environmentalism”. This itself is a manifestation of the colonial mentality that Duterte has vowed to exorcise from Philippine society.
Whether exposing the hypocrisy and racism of the international criminal court (ICC), western double standards on the plague of narco-terrorism or the neo-imperial way in which powerful western countries treat developing countries that adopt an independent foreign policy with contempt or worse, Duterte has helped to reveal the deficiencies and wickedness of the colonial mentality both at home and abroad.
By highlighting how Justin Trudeau’s “green government” is little more than one exploiting the developing world for the benefit of the first, Duterte has yet again brought an important issue to the attention of the wider world.