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Leaf in springtime is the promise of sustainability

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There is nothing more valuable in these times than the currency of hope. Daily life in a world in crisis — from the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and environmental degradation, inflation, deepening poverty and hunger, modern war and the menace of nuclear weapons — is more than enough to cause dark nights of the soul and, perhaps, Easter celebrations are more poignant and sanguine because of it.

As early as 2015 and perhaps as a foreshadowing of the challenging times ahead, global leaders at their most prosperous designed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as Global Goals — termed as the blueprint to achieve a better or more sustainable future for all people and the world by 2030. Explained briefly, the SDGs is a global action plan to eradicate poverty in all its forms and dimensions. It targets the 5 Ps — “People” in that all human beings fulfill their potential in dignity and equality, “Planet” or the promotion of sustainable consumption and production, “Prosperity” in targeting inequality in all its forms, “Peace” through just and inclusive societies, as achieved through “Partnerships” in a spirit of strengthened global solidarity.

In 2020 and what should have been the decade of delivery of the SDGs, the situation turned precipitous. Far from reversing climate change, the spread of COVID-19 exacerbated global poverty. The world faces the worst economic recession since the great depression, with the most vulnerable groups — women, migrants, refugees, children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities — being the hardest hit. While the world’s ledger is in the red in terms of achieving, in effect, a better life for all, the root causes and uneven impacts of COVID-19 illustrate precisely why there is a need for finding transformative pathways out of the current global crises.

Through a more local lens, the Philippines recognizes the value of adhering to the SDGs and has even adopted the global goals in its Philippine Development 2017-2022. The country even participated in a Voluntary National Review in 2016 and 2019 and shall do so again in the 2022 High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. This marks considerable progress in the country’s political will to ensure that inclusive growth is enjoyed by all. Milestones that are expected to be included in the 2022 report are:

• Government Mandate for Sustainability Reporting issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2019 for publicly listed companies, with a view to making it universally required by 2023. As of 2021, it was estimated that more than 90% of Philippine listed firms submitted sustainability reports and 22% published a report on sustainability impacts and performances. As disclosures become the norm, it is expected that the public and interest groups can now adequately measure, understand, and evaluate the economic, environmental, social, and governance impacts of large corporations. However, much work is still needed in standardizing the reporting formats to confirm to the standards set in the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI).

• Philippine data sources and basis for the analysis with SDGs were improved over the last couple of years. In 2016, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) Board issued a resolution enjoining government agencies to provide data support to the SDGs. As a result, in 2017, the PSA Board approved and included the Official List of SDG Indicators for monitoring by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), other government agencies, and local government units.

• NEDA, the agency tasked with the implementation and oversight over the Philippines’ SDG commitments, developed the official website at www.sdg.neda.gov.ph to serve as the repository of key government information, resources, and activities that contribute to each SDG.

• The passage of the much-awaited reforms to the Public Service Act, Retail Trade Liberation Act, and the Foreign Investment Act is critical in increasing the investment capital needed to boost enterprises to recovery. The increased effort towards investment in sectors that are essential to public welfare is seen as a big push for work to provide good health, well-being, quality education, clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, as well as needful infrastructure to improve the life of all. The liberalization is likewise expected to yield massive impacts on job creation and inclusive growth.

• The Philippines’ active participation in the 66th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 66), led by the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), is expected to ramp up the efforts of the government to remove the structural barriers to women’s economic empowerment. Understanding that the persistent problem of the feminization of poverty, especially as women bear the burden of unpaid care work, labor and investment environments are to be changed to allow for enabling technologies and programs that can decrease the gender gap. A prime example of this thrust is the inclusion of gender indicators in the National Strategy for Financial Inclusion 2022-2028 to reduce the disparities in financial inclusion.

While much remains to be done in recovering from the setback caused by the pandemic, continued investments in data and innovation can be the key to responding to crises and supporting SDG acceleration. It can still be a decade of delivery; information on SDG actions by the government and the private sector needs to be made available and transparent to the public so that standards of public service and commerce by big companies will be elevated. Scrutiny and support can now be given by the public to government efforts that promote long-term community building and environmental protection. The marketplace is slowly transforming into one where sustainable cities and communities are the best products and services demanded by consumers. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs are now a relic of the past as sustainability becomes mainstream and consumers become more discerning about the bottom-line of companies and that they focus not just on profit, but on people and on the planet too.

It is also important that we as consumers understand our commercial options and, as citizens, push for more inclusive legislation or government action. I hope and trust that our collective efforts, gleaned from the suffering of recent times, become the vernal equinox that can tilt the earth to its proper balance. This is for the trees we plant but need not see; a legacy of leaves in spring time.

May you and your future children enjoy the renewal of Easter.

Kristine C. Francisco-Alcantara is the managing partner of Abad Alcantara and Associates, program officer of PhilWEN and Oxfam’s GRAISEA Project on Mainstreaming Women’s Economic Empowerment, and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Foundation for Economic Freedom.

AAALaw@tradelawyers.ph

www.tradelawyers.ph

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