Rodne Galicha studied for the priesthood in his native Philippines for six years, but his vocation has led him to the protection of God's creation as a lay Catholic. Ellen Teague had the pleasure of interviewing this inspirational Filipino environmental and human rights activist.

I first heard of Rodne Galicha in 2008, when he guided a team of environmental and human rights experts from Britain on a fact-finding mission in the Philippines to investigate the negative impact of large-scale mining on food production. He walked on the People’s Pilgrimage from Rome to Paris in 2015 to draw attention to climate change at the landmark UN Conference COP21. He has worked for Nobel Laureate Al Gore on climate issues and is currently a board of trustee member of Greenpeace Philippines. And just weeks ago, Rodne was in Glasgow at COP26, representing Living Laudato Si Philippines.

As Rodne walked down the stairs to meet me at the Columban Missionaries’ House in West London, he had the broad smile that I remember. I last met him in Paris in 2015, at the first gathering of the Global Catholic Climate Movement, after his momentous walk to deliver huge packages of signatures gathered in the Philippines to the UN Climate Conference. We missed each other in Glasgow, mainly because masks obscured identity. ‘’It’s good to be here – The Columnbans are close to my heart.’’ he said, having liaised with Columbans over several decades on the issue of large-scale destructive mining in the Philippines.

He has spent much of his adult life responding to “the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor”, as Pope Francis put it in Laudato Si’. He is the lead convenor of civil society network Aksyon Klima Pilipinas in his country and has worked for environmental protection in his beautiful home-island of Sibuyan. He campaigned against nickel mining giant BHP Billiton operating there. In June 2008, when typhoon Frank hit the Philippines and a passenger ship carrying toxic materials sank near Sibuyan Island, Rodne highlighted contamination of the island with chemicals and bunker fuel, “affecting the life and livelihood of our people who depend mainly on the abundance of the sea.”

As climate leader and advocate, Rodne served as Manager for the Philippines of The Climate Reality Project, a global movement founded by Nobel Laureate and former US Vice President Al Gore. He reached more than 50,000 people in more than 100 events in the Philippines, and several million others with online events.

Rodne has campaigned against mining destruction in key biodiversity areas in the country, critical watersheds, agricultural areas, tourism sites and island ecosystems, among others.

He successfully campaigned against the construction of a national road which was intended to traverse Mount Guiting-guiting Natural Park in 2018, fearing the huge project would affect the mountain, listed as a protected area in the Philippines. He reminds of the deaths of more than 6,000 people when Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, describing the cataclysmic event as a climate crime. “We cannot forget climate justice” said his banner at a demonstration on the eighth anniversary in Glasgow.

In 2018, the Philippine Tatler included him in the Generation T list as one of the 50 brightest connectors, creative visionaries, influential innovators and disruptive talents in the Philippines. He stimulates climate and environmental action within faith communities and advises the Philippines bishops on environmental statements and policy.

So, how did he feel about Glasgow’s COP26 meeting? “Disappointing” he said, “even with all the new pledges made at COP26, global warming is still projected to exceed the 1.5 degrees Celsius target, which would make it difficult for vulnerable countries like the Philippines to adapt to climate change impacts.” On the issue of ‘loss and damage’, he lamented the failure to establish a financing mechanism to aid victims of climate disasters and felt the official Philippine delegation “failed to give significant attention to this issue and consult stakeholders”. Rodne and more than 20 other Filipino non-state advocates represented the voices of their partner organisations and communities in Glasgow. “We wish to make the governments accountable to what they have done,” he stated.

As a true campaigner, Rodne’s attention has already turned to the future, particularly strategising in the leadup to COP27 in Egypt, a year from now. At 42, he knows he is young enough to experience increasingly menacing impacts of climate change two – three – four decades from now. He is identifying issues to be raised with the COP presidency, which is still the UK. Also, to liaise with the leadership of the Laudato Si Movement – formerly the Global Catholic Climate Movement – to maximise Catholic and faith campaigning. He feels “stories are really important and I want to see them told at all levels.” These include the stories of communities under threat from mining and survivors of typhoons. For sustainable living, Rodne has developed the Rs which can be followed at home and in communities: reduce, reuse, recycle, repair, refuse, rethink, rainforest and recollect.

‘Living Laudato Si’ Philippines’ is one of the youth organisations animating the Laudato Si’ Platform, the action tool launched by the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development immediately after COP26 to promote ecological conversion. Rodne explains that the organisation, “is focusing on the divestment campaign, because we need to look at how we spend our financial resources, and that’s because it is the way we spend our money and support industries and activities that can damage our common home,” he adds. There is also encouragement to youth and adults “to be eco-citizens everywhere, anytime, at school, at home or work” through “small acts of love.”

The Philippines is regularly named the deadliest country for land and environmental defenders in Asia, according to the environmental watchdog Global Witness. Despite knowing some of those killed Rodne refuses to yield to the threats and dangers. He says: “The risks involved in this advocacy are inevitable. Being an environment advocate is a lifelong commitment. We are all called to discover for ourselves the amazing link of our lives to nature.” He says: “The first step of being eco-friendly is the change of mindset. There is a need to recognise and admit that we are, our body, and all what we have come from nature. Once we destroy the very source of our life and livelihood, we are killing ourselves.”

Rodne is a person of deep faith. After about an hour I noticed him sneaking glimpses at the clock and realised he was hoping to finish in time to attend the daily Columban Mass. “It has been an honour to meet a frontline defender of God’s Creation” I said and he laughed. But I truly meant it.

A journey of integral ecology at every level of society - Vatican News

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