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Interview with a MEDIATOR

with Dr. Antonio G.M. La Viña, JSD

MedNet had the privilege to interview Dr. Antonio La Viña on his journey as a Filipino lawyer and mediator.

This exclusive interview provided valuable insights into La Viña’s remarkable journey as a mediator, where he has played a pivotal role in addressing one of the pressing global challenges of our time: climate change.

Interview with a Mediator

There are more negotiation in climate change. Where does mediation come in?

Climate change is the biggest threat to sustainable development in all parts of the world. That means, in its very nature, all of society needs to respond to it. But society is divided by interests. So, the interest may differ.

There are those who want the current system of energy to sail because they benefit from it. Oil, coal, gas. But there are some who want that to be completely changed because that’s bad for the world. There are some who benefit from the change, from the transition to a green economy. Globally, that’s also reflected by countries. Locally, reflected by economic classes and interest.

At the level of the community, reflected by conflicting interest or represented by sectors: urban poor, farmers, workers.

So, mediation comes in because to solve the problem at all levels -- globally, nationally, locally -- you have to have a whole of society approach that enjoins everyone to be on the same page. How can you be on the same page? You negotiate. And if you negotiate, you won’t arrive to a consensus unless there are people that mediate.

Mediation is relevant to the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). Mediation is relevant to the Climate Change Commission that has to gather all the stakeholders of the Philippines to find a way forward.

Mediation is relevant to the level of the city, the municipality, the barangay, the province that have to respond to climate change.

Right now, mediators for climate change are those in formal governance structures. Is there room for community mediation?

It depends on where (you are). If it’s in the community, it will come from the community. Being at the center, it’s necessary that it comes from countries, as what’s recognized internationally is the state. Mediation doesn’t always come through assigned mediators. It emerges from situations based on the skills and roles individuals possess.

There are two types of mediators on an international level. Those designated as chairs or facilitators of negotiations. For instance, in a significant negotiation, there is a chair or president representing the conflicting parties. This happens every year.

Additionally, for climate change negotiations, a crucial quality is that it never stops. The issue’s nature demands negotiation and mediation every year due to evolving concerns, advancements in science, new necessary approaches, and ambitions to achieve.

In this movement, there is a prominent president and significant chairs for major groups. These major groups are further divided into smaller groups known as facilitators. It’s up to the chairs or facilitators if they want to act as mediators or maintain a formal role. Mediators, by definition, actively strive to achieve consensus. If they are ordinary chairs, it’s up to them. They simply voice their opinions and find a way forward.

So, those designated as chairs are often facilitators. Some individuals act as spokespeople for groups and, by their nature, also need to act as mediators. Even in countries with differing interests, the spokesperson must mediate all the different interests. For myself, I am a mediator at the community level because I work at the community level, dealing with indigenous peoples, dual communities, and dual governments. I am also a mediator at the national level because I conduct consultations nationally, with or without government approval. Moreover, I act as a mediator at the international level because I have been asked numerous times to chair negotiations.

So here in the Philippines, what were the conflict areas that you have tried to mediate? Did you focus more on international mediation?

Both, actually. On a national level, particularly when I was with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), my focus was primarily on mining, forestry, land use, and biodiversity. However, it’s more international, especially when it comes to climate and forests.

Coming from a policy perspective, do you think there are existing policy mechanisms that help facilitate mediation in the governance structure of the Philippines?

All our stakeholder processes can be receptive to mediation. The people in charge need to design it for that purpose. There are many stakeholder processes that allow for that.

But specific to climate change, there are conflicts related to indigenous peoples. MedNet works on conflicts affecting urban housing, agrarian reform, rido, indigenous peoples, women and children. How do we incorporate climate change in our mediation?

Everything is related to climate change. For housing, you need to decide where to place the houses, considering factors like vulnerability to storms. What energy system will you implement? What transportation system will you put in place? All of that requires integrating climate change considerations and transitions.

How did you begin with climate change?

It’s purely academic in nature. The issue emerged in 1992. For my dissertation topic, that’s what I chose—the most esoteric one. When I finished, it became a popular issue. It became a significant concern in the Philippines by 1995. In 1992, almost no one had heard of climate change. I consider myself lucky because I was a pioneer in policy and science. I continued this for 30 to 40 years.

To describe it, when I began, there were only about 20 books on climate change and perhaps 50 articles. By the time I finished, there were 200 books and 2,000 articles on climate change. Now, there are 50,000 books and millions of articles on climate change. That’s how the progression went. I was there every step of the way, leading much of the intellectual and actual work at the international, national, and local levels, since I worked at all these levels. I began with a dissertation on climate change.

Internationally, are there any positive feedbacks from the Conference of the Parties?

It has to be because the issue is constantly evolving with new information. That’s why it requires perpetual mediation and negotiation. That’s why the country, at all levels, must invest in people. Personally, on the law and policy side, I am content because I’ve reached seven generations of people I’ve taught, mentored, and enabled in the process. In any climate change meetings in the Philippines, at all levels, half of the attendees are my students, my mentees, or people I’ve worked with, including mentees of my mentees.

For me, in every negotiation, I am there, even if I’m not actively involved, just to mentor people. It’s the same with mediation—to have generations of mentors and mentees to create a pipeline, so that people can address their problems, resolve them, and build consensus on the issue.

What should government prioritize relative to climate change?

Just transition to energy. We should shift to renewables and finish the transition in ten years.

And what about the other sectors of society?

For the private sector, the energy transition is very important. Private sector participation in all mitigation and adaptation efforts is crucial. The same goes for NGOs and activists. Activists are necessary because without them, the government may not be pushed to do the right thing, to take ambitious actions. It’s not just about doing the right thing—it’s about taking ambitious steps to truly solve the problem.

Interview with a Mediator

Can you share some of the things you’ve learned as the lead mediator on the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change?

You have to behave in good faith. Second, you have to base everything on good science. Third, you have to be inclusive and participatory, not allowing a few dominant countries to dictate everything. The solidity and soundness of your position are very important. Fourth, (you have to be) committed to pushing the processes as far as you can to achieve the most ambitious outcome, even if it’s challenging. Understand that there are differences among countries, sectors, and communities as well as within management levels.

Interview with a Mediator

What characteristics should a good mediator possess in the local level?

It’s indeed similar. Being inclusive, participatory, and grounded in science are fundamental. The justice approach is crucial, not just a technical matter. This involves moral and ethical considerations; it’s about justice. You know, I didn’t undergo specific training to become a mediator or negotiator. It just naturally happened, and I realized I was good at it. However, I also knew that succeeding in this role posed a challenge. In negotiations that already exist, you can only bring the parties up to a certain point. But for me, I realized that’s okay because there’s always another day to bring them to the next point. I’ve learned how to navigate this.

Part of this realization is understanding that you won’t finish it all in your lifetime. However, that doesn’t worry me because I have seven generations—I’ve trained the second liners.

Interview with a Mediator

You mentioned about your having seven generations of mentees. How important is mentoring to you?

I have prostate cancer. It gives uncertainty. But it means that I have to make decisions every three months. What are my commitments to everything I do -- to teaching, to working with climate change issues? But climate and environmental issues and justice is a continuing thing, it doesn’t matter because you can never do enough. I may be given another 50 years but I can never do enough. There’s always more things to do.

So, it’s more important to train the next generation and next generation. Because that extends your life.

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