Father Edwin Gariguez (4th from the left) poses for a photo with other delegates in Paris in May 2023. (Father Edwin Gariguez's Facebook account) Father Edwin Gariguez (4th from the left) poses for a photo with other delegates in Paris in May 2023. (Father Edwin Gariguez's Facebook account) 

Filipino priest returns ‘empty-handed’ from mission to halt fossil fuel financing

The Filipino priest who went to Europe in a bid to stop fossil financing in his region in the Philippines comes home disappointed with top banks’ response to his team’s appeals.

By Zeus Legaspi

Top European banks are evasive of the issues that come with funding fossil fuel projects in the Philippines, said a Filipino priest-environmentalist.

“It’s disappointing, actually, because I am expecting them to be more receptive,” said Father Edwin Gariguez who went to Europe to demand banks to sever their ties with corporations that are developing new fossil fuel operations in a biodiverse region in the Philippines.

The priest talked to Standard Chartered, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, UBS, and Crédit Agricole.

He returned to his home city of Calapan on Friday without a single commitment from the European banks to back off from the polluting projects that are being laid out in his region.

“They said that they are not directly involved in financing or directly involved in LNG (liquefied natural gas) projects,” Father Gariguez told Vatican News.

The priest said that although this may technically be true, by lending or financing the corporations such as Shell and local conglomerate San Miguel, they are in a way, facilitating the operation.

“We did not get any specific promise except that they will study about it, (or) that part of their corporate responsibility is to exercise due diligence. But no specific statement that they will not finance the projects anymore,” he added.

While Father Gariguez was made to sign a confidentiality clause that prevents him from expounding on the details of his conversations with the banks, he said that generally, the banks were silent about their involvement with specific clients.

‘Not all about profit’

Father Gariguez said that he tried to morally appeal to the banks to stop investing in those companies that ruin the Verde Island Passage (VIP).

“I told them that this is not all about profit because what is at stake is our environment, our threatened ecology,” he said.

“Our message is: your investment in this project would entail supporting project(s) that are causing negative social and environmental impact in this significant biodiversity hotspot in the Philippines,” said the priest when asked about his message to the banks.

The VIP is home to over 1,736 fish species, and 338 coral species, and houses about 60% of all known shorefish species in the world. The priest also said that around 2 million fisherfolks depend on the VIP for their livelihood – all of which would suffer if the ecology in the area is destroyed.

The priest said that he told the banks to take into consideration these creatures and the people who depend on the VIP’s rich natural resources. “That is my appeal to them – it is not all about profit,” he said.

Father Edwin Gariguez speaks against Crédit Agricole's investment on Shell (Father Edwin Gariguez's Facebook Account)
Father Edwin Gariguez speaks against Crédit Agricole's investment on Shell (Father Edwin Gariguez's Facebook Account)

Going after the bloodline

Father Gariguez and his team, Protect VIP, have developed a strategy to go after corporations that develop polluting projects in the region by taking them to court and choking their finances even if it drags them across the globe.

“What you can do in the Philippines would have very little effects and impacts. Because what is fueling, or the bloodline, of all these projects are the corporations. You have banks,” he explained when asked why he knocked on the doors of European banks.

“Because if the line of support and funding to them (corporations) were cut off, you can stop them,” he added.

In 2021, the country’s Energy ministry announced its plan to import 13 million metric tons per annum of LNG. The gas terminals and fossil gas power plant projects that the energy importation needs would be built on the VIP.

Laudato si’

While Father Gariguez has been advocating against polluting industries since the early 2000s, years before the publication of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato si’, he said that the encyclical served as a “vindication” to him by telling him that he is doing his Christian responsibility as a priest-environmentalist.

Laudato si’ is a vindication for us that we are on the right track. That it is our responsibility as Christians to protect the environment,” he said.

He also pointed out that within the encyclical, the Pope said that the world must do away with the use of “highly polluting fossil fuels,” which is part of his team’s campaign against LNG projects in the VIP.

Although the priest said that he was disappointed with the banks, he said that in the end, his team had some gains in being able to challenge the existing policies of banks on the part of climate and the environment.

Father Gariguez and his team continue to fight for the preservation of the VIP. The priest is slated for a Congressional hearing in declaring the VIP as an environmentally critical area on Monday.

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24 May 2023, 16:18