From the Hill: Plastics and the Philippines

*Capitol Dome close up; (c) John Brighenti, Flickr

“From the Hill” is the Columban Center’s recap of some of the month’s most pressing issues. Staying up-to-date on current events seems especially overwhelming these days, so we’re here to offer the Columban take on what’s happening in Washington, DC and around the world.

This month's "From the Hill" was written by our summer "Peace and Justice" interns. In this edition, they discuss... 

Plastics & the Environment 

Every year, more than 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into the oceans. All over the globe, plastic pollution is finally getting the attention it deserves. Seattle, Washington recently became the first US city to enact a ban on single-use plastic straws and plastic utensils. Back in February, Taiwan announced all single-use plastics will be phased out by 2030.

Why should cities and countries be concerned with plastic?

Plastic waste ends up in the world’s water systems and back into the food chain. The fish that ingest the tiny plastic particles absorb the toxins from it, and when we consume those fish we ingest the toxins as well.

But plastic waste is not only an environmental justice issue - it is an economic justice issue as well. A large percentage of the plastic waste that ends up in the ocean gets washed up on the shores of countries that often do not have the resources to clean it up properly. This can result in the burning of waste, releasing a variety carcinogens and dioxins. These dioxins can cause reproductive and developmental problems, as well as cancer.

a dead albatross chick, showing a belly full of plastic garbage

No matter what stage of its life-cycle a piece of plastic is in, production or disposal, chemicals and toxins are being released into the earth’s ecosystems. We can't authentically care for God's creation without doing more to reduce (and eventually eliminate) plastic waste and plastic production.

Where is the United States government in all of this?  

If we can reduce plastic production we can also reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and thereby mitigating climate change, is the main goal of the Paris Climate Agreement. Ever since President Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement back in June 2017, many private institutions, cities, and states have decided to continue working toward the Paris goals, including reducing their plastic waste.

However, even though we see more consistent commitment with this issue on these smaller scales, we need national government to play a role in the solution too. Countries that are making plastic pollution a national issue are able to make efficient and sustainable changes that allow the entire country to reduce its waste. For example, France has committed to phase out single-use plastic by 2020. Many other countries like the United Kingdom and Canada are following suit. Instead of joining its allies, the United States Congress instead thanked the Plastics Industry Association on its 80th anniversary in HR 216. 

Plastic pollution is a global issue that needs an ongoing solution. We need to shift away from plastic and a throwaway culture for a more sustainable world.

Killings Continue in the Philippines 

Murders of Catholic priests in the Philippines are on the rise. President Duterte publicly criticized church doctrines last month in order undermine the legitimacy of the Filipino Catholic Church, which holds a strong political influence in the country.

Three priests have been killed by unknown assailants in the past 8 months. Fr. Lovelito Quinones was shot to death by police in Mansalay Town, Mindoro Oriental in December 2017.  Fr. Mark Ventura, who served in Gattaran Town in Northern Luzon, was killed in April after celebrating mass. The latest murder came in May, as Fr. Marcelito Paez was shot after a service. All three had a commitment to working with marginalized communities and addressing human rights issues.

On July 9, the Catholic Bishop's Conference of the Philippines called for a day of reflection and prayer on July 16 in response to the killings of priests and civilians, followed by three days of fasting in solidarity with the larger Filipino Catholic community. 

Woman hugs partner, a pedicab driver and alleged drug pusher, who was shot and killed by motorcycle-riding gunmen
(c) RAFFY LERMA

Columban Fr. Shay Cullen works on the ground in the Philippines with PREDA (People's Recovery Empowerment and Development Assistance) Foundation, which he founded in 1974. The program works to rehabilitate and heal street children who are victims of abuse and exploitation. He has denounced the killings of the priests, the human rights abuses and inhumane treatment of children, and the deaths under President Duterte's administration. 

"The killings of thousands of innocents, the murder of priests and pastors and lay church workers is an abomination … the mass jailing of the innocent without trial is a cruel injustice, depriving families of the support of their fathers, brothers, and sisters. Even children are jailed in horrible sub-human conditions that is illegal and a violation of children's rights, which the state is supposed to protect and cherish," Fr. Cullen said this month.

Around 20,000 people have been killed since President Duterte's crackdown on drug users began in 2016, including children who are considered "collateral damage." The war on drugs has assaulted the sanctity of families and rejects rehabilitation of drug users as a viable option. For further information, check out this article Fr. John Keenan wrote in 2016 about the Columban condemnation of President Duterte's drug war here

Quick Takes: Migration Edition

  • As we learn more about the government's efforts to reunite parents who were separated from their children at the US/Mexico border, we must remember that family detention is not a humane alternative to family separation. Your Members of Congress still need to hear from you on this issue. Write to them today. TAKE ACTION HERE. Ultimately, we need to push for compassionate immigration reform that is reflective of human dignity and pursues the common good. We are called to welcome the stranger, and see the face of Christ in migrants.
  • For the past two weeks, we've shared with you the story of a mother separated from her child at the US/Mexico border and the conversations she's been having with Fr. Bob Mosher, Columban priest & Director of the Columban Mission Center in El Paso, TX. If you didn't get a chance to read her heart-breaking story, we encourage you to do so here: Part 1 and Part 2
Columbans protest family separation in El Paso, TX
Fr. Bob Mosher, far right