Hon. Heherson T. Alvarez
Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources

at the
 World Summit on Sustainable Development 

Johannesburg, South Africa
3 September 2002

Mr. President, Your Excellencies, distinguished delegates, leaders and peoples of our planet, ladies and gentlemen:

We have come here from the Philippines to join our voices to the growing global clamour for justice and a shared responsibility in the way we administer this planet and make use of its resources.

We have come here to become part of an emerging global conscience one increasingly aware of our responsibilities to our past, present, and future, and hopefully able to command the will of nations to do what is right and just-not only for themselves, but for all humankind and voiceless generations.

But here in Johannesburg, we find ourselves torn once again between our noblest spiritual aspirations and our basic material drives.

I would like to believe in such a conscience as the culmination of the social and spiritual evolution of our species, which has lagged far behind the physical evolution that started here in Africa. Humankind has survived war and famine, genocide and apartheid, and planet ravaging diseases but we have yet to surmount our basest instincts: to covet, to plunder, to keep, to rule over others with little regard for the costs and consequences of greed and waste.

Ten years ago in Rio, it seemed that we had taken a huge leap forward in our evolution as a human race. But now we seem to have stalled, or even taken another step backward, in our failure to deliver on the promises of Rio, and to secure more new and concrete commitments to sustainable development as a global responsibility.

We Filipinos are proud to have embraced sustainable development early on, and to have embodied it in all aspects of our national development plans. As our President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo often reminds us, poverty eradication is our highest priority in the Philippines, and we see sustainable development as a means to conquer mass poverty in our time and to guarantee prosperity in the future.

We are proud of our record of partnership between government and civil society in promoting sustainable development.

We have many stories of hope and change to share from our experience:

  • Of how we have transformed a literal mountain of garbage in a village we call Payatas from a hellish zone of filth and misery into a new haven of hope;

  • Of how, through a measure called "DAO 17," our marginal fishermen can now cast their nets over their own protected fishing grounds, and how our small scale miners can now look forward to fairer returns on their backbreaking labours;

  • Of how our indigenous peoples have secured their rightful due, in law and in fact; and

  • Of how communities in forest areas have taken charge of managing their own resources.
We have hundreds more such local stories to tell. We have many more hopeful plans, such as massive reforestation to turn barren land into carbon sinks. But we believe that here, in Johannesburg, we should seek to write the bigger story, the global story, one that will imbue us with hope and spur us into action.

Tomorrow we will adopt a plan that should serve that purpose. But we must ask ourselves if what we will hear is fresh and inspiring enough.
To be more concrete, we would have wanted a firmer commitment on new and additional financial resources, building on the Monterrey Consensus.

We would have wanted an explicit statement that globalization, especially trade, must be made to work for sustainable development. We would have wanted a stronger and more inspired corporate commitment to this principle.

We would have wanted more ambitious goals and bigger numbers for the targets agreed, and for such targets to have been set for new renewables.

Still, there is much to build on and to carry forward.

We applaud the recognition of ethics as being central to sustainable development.

We welcome the interpretation of biocultural diversity as embracing all living things including people and the many ways they live.

We welcome the reaffirmation of the right of people to information and to meaningful participation in decision-making.

We will build on the inspiring example of the Filipino teachers and medical workers who lent their talent and labour to Africa hoping that such South-South initiatives will attract the interest and support of others. In this regard, the Philippines will host next year an Asian conference on protected areas and freshwater conservation in preparation for the World Parks conference in Durban to mark the International Year of Freshwater.

Mr. President:

As we leave Johannesburg, let us commit ourselves to completing what we have begun-to achieving the fullness of our humanity, the completion of our social evolution-so that, paraphrasing the words of a poet from this beautiful land, our children will sing new songs unknown to us, and they will walk towards the dawn, the sunshine that is to be.

On behalf of our President, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and of the Filipino people, we thank you, Mr. President, this city of man, Johannesburg, and all the people of South Africa, for this historic opportunity.