Edward Hagedorn for Environment Secretary?

Former Puerto Princesa mayor Edward Hagedorn

With the rejection of Gina Lopez’s appointment as Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Filipino progressives are longing for another champion of the environment to be her successor. 

The political vehicle of President Duterte, PDP-Laban, floated the name of an obscure party member who has a very ambiguous track record on environmentalism. It is clear that the name of Mark Kristofer Tolentino is only being considered for his ties to the party, thus screaming cronyism.

To make-up for the loss of Secretary Lopez, the Duterte administration needs to replace her with a proven green advocate. One name that springs to mind is former Puerto Princesa, Palawan mayor Edward Hagedorn.

As mayor of one of the country’s premier tourist destinations, Hagedorn oversaw the transformation of Puerto Princesa from a municipality when he first took office in 1992 into a highly-urbanized city in 2007. The economic growth came without tarnishing the city’s reputation as a “green zone”, instead seeking progress out of eco-tourism.

Today, Puerto Princesa is nationally-renowned as a model for the eco-tourism industry in the Philippines and a proof that economic progress does not necessarily come at an environmental cost.

The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage

After his second stint as mayor ended in 2013, maxing his term limit, Hagedorn sought to bring his environmental platform to the national stage as he ran in that year’s senatorial elections. Hagedorn stuck to his principles and presented a strong green platform, but still fell short of the top 12 senators who were successful in that election.

Despite receiving the backing of prominent political figures, such as Joseph Estrada, Hagedorn ran in that election as an independent stating he “did not want to be labelled as a political butterfly”. While he may posture himself as a lone ranger, the former mayor is not bereft of political alliances as he was also given a government position under the Gloria Arroyo administration and is currently listed as a member of the Liberal Party.

However, these links do not dismiss his capability to think independently or diminish his credibility. As Mayor Hagedorn, he oversaw various progressive policies that helped transform the state of his constituency.

When he first took office in 1992, he initiated the city-wide program “Oplan Linis” (Operation Clean) which sought the cooperation of all citizens, private businesses and local government units to make Puerto Princesa clean. This involved the reduction of litter, the encouragement of recycling and in the education of citizens in environmentalism. The initiative won the city the title of “Cleanest and Greenest City” in the Philippines in 1994.

Mayor Hagedorn waves to supporters in this file photo.

In 2006, Hagedorn presented to the country the “Trikebayan” (translated: tricycle of the nation) which was an electric-powered tricycle that was to replace the city’s gasoline-powered mode of transportation. The concept eventually proliferated in Puerto Princesa, thus greatly reducing the city’s carbon emissions and cementing its reputation as a truly green city.

Similar to Gina Lopez, whom he counts as a close ally, Hagedorn also views mining unfavourably. In 2007, he voiced his strong opposition to mining in the island of Palawan. Instead of mining, the former Puerto Princesa mayor prefers to earn revenue from agriculture and tourism – echoing out the eco-tourism advocacy of Secretary Lopez.

To this day, Puerto Princesa upholds the “no mining” policy that was started during the tenure of Edward Hagedorn. The city bore the fruits of the latter’s environmental policy platform, today it is internationally-recognized as a premier tourist destination.

One of the gripes of the Commission on Appointment (CA) members that rejected Gina Lopez was her alleged lack of experience in policy-making. That objection cannot be used if ever Edward Hagedorn is selected to be the next environmental secretary, as the former mayor is full of experience as a decision-maker and has good results to show.

For Filipinos seeking a progressive voice in the environmental department, Hagedorn is our choice. He brings a wealth of experience to the table and has proven himself to be a fighter for the environment. At the same time, he holds close ties with former Secretary Lopez and can thus bring her ideas on board as well.

Activist groups and environmentalists need to rally behind him to convince him to pursue this vacancy.