In an exclusive interview with Climate Stories, Pilo Hilbay discusses the importance of foresight in confronting climate change and resilience.

Story by Beatrice Tulagan

The stories you hear about Pilo Hilbay almost always start the same way: something about fortitude trumping circumstance, persistence winning over poverty. His stand on the country's vulnerability to climate impacts and the future we have to build if we are to confront the climate crisis reflects this outright refusal to fall prey to the poor hand we've been dealt.

For him, for example, Yolanda is harsh lesson that we should respond to by fulfilling the commitments we have under international law while still holding industrialized countries to account and a multi-pronged domestic approach that covers the rehabilitation of our forests, making agriculture and transportation more energy efficient, and utilizing renewable energy resources. "The storm is coming and we can no longer afford half-measures", he said.

These days, it's rare seeing such level-headedness in a candidate. But Hilbay's strength seems to lie in his methodical fact-finding in the face of controversial cases - he has, after all, taken cases involving opposition senators during his term as Solicitor General and defended national sovereignty over the West Philippine sea dispute, relentlessly fighting for the country's legal rights over the territory. Climate change and the Philippine response to its most devastating impacts should be no different.

"Preparing for the next disaster will require foresight and commitment, a willingness to forego cheap political points by focusing on preparedness and resilience", Hilbay emphasized. "That focus and commitment can be reflected in whatitems are prioritized in the budget, what incentives are given to the private sector, and what policy levers are used to shape values and behaviors."

Unlike other political heavyweights, however, his stance goes beyond mere response and disaster risk management, or as he calls it, remediation after the fact. His thoughts on long-term energy security, for example, acknowledges our historical reliance on foreign supplies - like the way we are importing most of our coal - and the need to veer away from this in support of clean energy solutions like geothermal and solar. "I am yet to be convinced, through scientific evidence and not industry hype, that there is such a thing as clean coal."

Again, however, he tempers this desire to shift to renewables with a warning on how the transition should affect workers. "Any transition should consider unique circumstances, so we need to tailor measures to every group of workers and communities affected. The goals, timeline, and process of any transition should be led by the workers and the communities they support."

Asked about the inevitability of displacement when climate impacts get more drastic, Hilbay speaks to the need to make support systems in the countryside more robust. "Through this, we can interrupt the vicious cycle and make displacement less likely." This, coming at the heels of news about central American migrants fleeing to the United States due to unliveable conditions like extreme droughts causing violence and conflict.

"Climate justice requires us to look at the problem of climate change through a broad scope and a longer timeline. This means recognizing climate change as involving intergenerational rights. This also means adopting an international approach", Hilbay proposed. 

Disclaimer: This is not an endorsement of the candidates being featured. This post is part of our coverage of the 2019 elections. We invite all candidates to send their answers to our questions which can be found here.

Photo from the Facebook page of Pilo Hilbay