Energy Shift Southeast Asia

Flying solo: Filipino fisherman brings plea to Europe: Stop fossil fuel financing

A fisherman from Batangas, a province south of the Philippine capital, flew thousands of miles away from home on his own to personally call on European banks to divest from environmentally destructive fossil fuel projects in his country. 

It was not only his first international flight but also his first time away from family. 

Maximo Bayubay, 68, publicly addressed investors and shareholders of Switzerland-based bank UBS Group during its annual general meeting held April 24 in Basel.

“​​When I was younger, I would catch more than five kilos of fish. Now, we receive less fish from our seas — because the waters we call home are not treated sustainably,” said Bayubay, who is the vice president of local fisherfolk group Bukluran ng Mangingisda sa Batangas (BMB). 

“We are suffering now and you are continuing funding, financing fossil gas. It’s a big question for me. Why?” he added. “What is the life of the future generation? What will we promise them if we continue financing this kind of peril?”

“You can just imagine, I traveled so far just to mention this important matter to you,” he said.

Bayubay wrote his speech in longhand. 

He joins Germany-based nonprofit Urgewald, Philippine-based think tank Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED), and other green groups to urge banks and financial institutions to stop fossil fuel financing. These groups comprise Protect VIP, a coalition advocating for the conservation of the Verde Island Passage (VIP), a marine biodiversity hotspot in the Philippines. 

Bayubay is one of the many local fisherfolk whose livelihoods are in peril amid the surge of power projects in the coasts of Batangas. These projects implement buffer zones that limit their fishing grounds. Their construction and operations also threaten the ecosystems of the VIP, a marine corridor that borders Batangas and four other provinces, further restricting their catch. 

“I am from the lowest sector, and I am representing five big provinces surrounding the VIP… What is the use of that marine corridor if there is no fish at all?” he said. 

The VIP spans over 1.4 million hectares and is known as the world’s “center of the center” of marine shorefish biodiversity, earning its reputation as the oceans’ equivalent of the Amazon. 

Cargo vessels transporting imported liquefied natural gas (LNG) passing and docking along the VIP are expected to increase as more power infrastructures are slated to become operational. Bayubay and local communities are also raising the alarm over possible repeats of the 2023 oil spill in Mindoro and the irreversible degradation of the environment. 

Bayubay said fisherfolk are also concerned about the continued warming of the seas caused by greenhouse gas emission from fossil fuel dependence. 

“In our modern technology, we can produce renewable energy by using the heat of the sun, falling water, and air. Why don’t we focus on this? It’s clean energy and doesn’t harm our common home,” said Bayubay. 

Recent studies showed high renewable energy potential in the Philippines amounting to 1,211 GW. Even so, banks have continued financing destructive fossil fuel projects. UBS, for instance, has bond holdings of about USD 24 million in food-to-gas Philippine conglomerate San Miguel Corporation (SMC). 

These deals were used primarily to invest in a liquefied natural gas (LNG) power plant project by subsidiary Excellent Energy Resources, Inc. (EERI) in Batangas City to the detriment of VIP.

“I don’t understand how UBS is still funding fossil gas plants in the Philippines. When is the year it will end? That’s what I want to know because I will deliver your message to the fisherfolk in the Philippines,” Bayubay concluded his speech.

Asked why he would travel so far to address fossil financiers, Bayubay said in Filipino before his long-haul flight: “I am most afraid that my children and grandchildren would ask me: If you knew about the gas projects and how they’re negatively affecting our livelihood and the climate, why didn’t you do anything about it?” 

“They (banks) are reaping but not sowing,” he added. “It should not always be about the glitter of wealth. What about the people?”