HomeEquality & JusticeDisasters turn young Filipinos into 'climate warriors'

Disasters turn young Filipinos into ‘climate warriors’

A typhoon survivor in the central Philippines has turned herself into a “climate warrior” after losing her parents and most of her family members to disasters in recent years.

Joanna Sustento, 28, said her climate advocacy is what matters to her now.

She’s worried that even her dream of one day having her own family will be taken away “by the same monster that took away my family.”

“I cannot allow my future family, my nieces, nephews, and godchildren to experience what I’ve been through,” she told LiCAS.News.

The climate campaigner for environment group Greenpeace said fossil fuel industries are to blame for the climate crisis “because (they) did not give us an alternative.”

She said going after “big polluters” is a way of calling out to them “to own up to their responsibility for the climate crisis.”

“They knew of the catastrophic impacts, but they decided to discredit the science and deceive the world because of profit at the expense of the people and the planet,” she said.

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In a “perfect world,” Sustento said she would “probably spend days on the beach and bury my face in books, sleep or play with my nephews, nieces and godchildren.”

She was 22 years old when Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated the central Philippines, leaving about 7,000 people, including Sustento’s loved ones, dead and thousands of others missing.

“If Haiyan did not happen, I would have been managing my own business, maybe a restaurant,” she said. “That’s how simple my dream was,” said added.

Her dreams were torn apart with the death of her parents. A 3-year-old nephew, Tarin, remains missing.

“Tarin would have been nine years old by now if not for the storm that snatched him away from the arms of his mother,” said Sustento.

More than six years after that tragedy in November 2013, the people of Tacloban and the province of Leyte in the central Philippines continue to demand justice.

“I can no longer remain silent if it is already the lives and livelihood of people in my community being sacrificed for corporate profits,” she said.

In her advocacy, the young lady said she found “a stronger version” of herself, support, and strength.

“I may have lost my family to the storm, but I am not losing to this climate crisis,” she wrote in a letter to Shell Philippines, one of the big oil companies in the country.

From her pioneering protest ride on an oil rig in Norway’s Arctic sea in 2017 to her lone and silent protests in front of offices of oil companies in Manila, Sustento persevered.

“The story of Haiyan speaks not just for Tacloban, it speaks for the other climate-impacted communities globally,” she said.

Young climate activists hold a demonstration in Manila during the Christmas holidays to call attention to the state of the environment. (Photo by Jire Carreon)

‘David vs Goliath’

More than six years after Haiyan, full rehabilitation of devastated communities in the central Philippines remains wanting.

“I move forward with the intention of pursuing a purpose that is bigger than myself,” said Sustento.

As discussions on climate crisis heat up following a call last year from 16-year old Swedish girl Greta Thunberg, Sustento said it is “interesting” that climate issues are being discussed by young people.

“It’s ‘David and Goliath,'” she said. “It’s to prove that even if we do things alone, we can spark inspiration for other people to follow.”

Ronan Renz Napoto, another young climate advocate from the city of Tacloban, said more young people now are becoming aware of climate change issues.

He said youth-led climate actions “clearly send a message to everyone that it is a serious threat that everyone should care about.”

“When kids are out there taking their stand, demanding for actions, we know something is wrong,” he said, adding that young people “are here to do what adults should have done before.”

The 21-year-old lead convenor of Youth Strike for Climate Philippines in Tacloban said the crisis “excuses no one.”

“Our next generation will suffer more if we don’t act now,” he said. “This is our future that we are talking about.”

“It is our time to fight for our future because the adults have failed to do this, and we can’t keep on relying from their inaction and silence,” he said.

Like Sustento, Napoto is postponing his personal plans for his advocacy.

“This is very personal,” he said, adding that people in the central Philippines who were affected by Super Typhoon Haiyan “have felt the worst impact of climate change.”

“Haiyan is more than enough reason to make this fight personal,” said Napoto who recently received his diploma in Industrial Engineering at a local university.

But the young man said he is giving more time for his advocacy works and volunteer activities.

In the city of Tacloban, Napoto and his group are demanding from the government stronger climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction and management policies.

They are also calling for the immediate phaseout of coal and other fossil fuels and a transition to the use of renewable energy.

In a message to the U.N. Climate Action Summit last year, Pope Francis called on people around to world “to cultivate three great moral qualities: honesty, responsibility and courage.”

“While the situation is not good, and the planet is suffering, the window of opportunity is still open,” said the pontiff.

Responding to the pope’s call, Napoto said he will continue to take responsibility and to raise the environment’s voice in his own little way.

As another year starts, Sustento and Napoto vowed to persist as “climate warriors” no matter how long and arduous the battle ahead.

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