On International Biodiversity Day: SEARICE Statement for the CSO Consultation on the Right to Food

I’m not a farmer, but my work constantly brings me to them (or, them to my awareness). I feel for them, especially the small farmers. They’re among the most under-appreciated and least supported of this country’s producers. But, visualizing the food chain with ourselves as top consumers, I also feel for myself, that is, the quality of food available for my intake, given that I rely on others to grow a large portion or all of my daily food. And, of course, for my children and the quantity and quality of food available to them growing up and in the future.

If and when farmers do not, fail, or stop growing food…can you imagine living off on canned and injected processed goods three meals a day the entire year (or, even, a lifetime)? Can we imagine this country finally possessing a complete arsenal of machinery that could destroy the world but with people that are emaciated, wasting, and sickly because of lack of adequate nutritious food?

Food, then, particularly it’s quality and availability, grown locally, basic to the survival of 100M Filipinos and counting, should be on the top priorities of the Philippine government. We’re unlike our food-importing ASEAN neighbors Singapore or Brunei in land capacity. Relative to these countries, this country has comparative advantage in local food production hence should not be signed away. I understand the need to strike a balance in investments, but the situation right now is that although foreign investors are small in number this 10% already owns 80% of the food production. The rest is a mine field populated by various local players in a shark-eats-shark competition for the market. This and we’ve not yet mentioned who owns the land. What this country need to do away with right now is monopoly and oligopoly and start embracing healthy competition and aligned to it, biodiversity.

The following Statement by SEARICE was issued in 2015 and reinstated here today as the same proposal has yet to be responded to by duty bearers:

Seeds are the source of food and livelihood of small farmers. Small food producers like the farmers, especially in developing countries, operate within an informal seed system. Farmers save, re-use and exchange seeds with other farmers, and this has sustained their agricultural production and contributed to crop diversity ever since agriculture begun.

We emphasize the direct contribution of biodiversity to food security, nutrition and well-being. It provides a variety of food sources of a range of nutritional requirements, and provides a safety net to vulnerable households in times of crisis. Diverse farming systems contribute to more diverse diets to communities that produce their own food, thus improving nutrition, and providing solutions to malnutrition.

We wish to build on this universal context of the farmer seed system and its vital role in ensuring agricultural biodiversity which is recognized by the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA). Likewise, we support the recommendations of the former Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter in his Final report: The transformative potential of the right to food. We give particular attention to the general recommendations of the said Report on which we are able to put forward specific recommendations drawn from our site-specific experiences in engaging with farmer organizations and networks from CSOs and government agencies at the local, national and international level.

State Obligation to Protect, Promote and Fulfill the Right to Food and the Implementation of Farmers’ Rights.

Outside of the UN system, the attributes of the informal seed system of farmers have been translated into formal legal entitlement through the Farmers’ Rights provided under the ITPGRFA. These rights are: right to equitably participate in sharing benefits; participation in decision-making; protection of traditional knowledge; and the right to use save and exchange seeds. However, these rights only relate to the plant genetic resources, and their implementation is left to the national governments of the contracting parties with no specific provisions under the Treaty on the remedies in case of its violation. It was noted that “these so-called farmers’ ‘rights’ remain rights without remedies: they are rights only by name. The provision remains vague, and implementation of this provision is highly uneven across the States parties. This is in sharp contrast with the enforcement, at international level, of plant breeders’ rights and biotech-industry patents. Furthermore, there exists no forum in which the implementation of farmers’ rights in various settings is discussed, in order to provide benchmarks and examples of good practices which Governments could seek inspiration from.

We therefore recommend the immediate signing of the proposed Executive Order PROVIDING FOR THE COLLECTION, CHARACTERIZATION, CONSERVATION, PROTECTION, AND SUSTAINABLE USE OF PLANT GENETIC RESOURCES FOR FOOD AND AGRICULTURE, APPROPRIATING FUNDS THEREFORE AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES. The proposed draft was drawn from the 2-year-long meetings and consultations with key stakeholders. It provides among others that the Department of Agriculture, with the participation of relevant government agencies, farmers’ organizations and other stakeholders, shall conduct a review of laws, policies, rules and, regulations relating to plant genetic resources, including seed regulations, to determine if they are consistent with Farmers’ Rights and recommend such actions as may be needed to amend or modify them. The review shall include recommendations on how to address violations of Farmers’ Rights, including the imposition of penalties. This will actualize the state commitment to implement the Farmers’ Rights at the national level and it will set into motion the review of existing policies that runs contrary or is not supportive of the protection of farmers’ rights. Moreover, it will be consistent with the call for the swift implementation of farmers’ rights.

At the local level, local governments units (LGUs) promoting sustainable agriculture through adoption of organic farming practices, establishment of seed banks to conserve and manage farmer-bred and traditional seed varieties for local food security should be promoted by the national government. These practices enhance the functioning of the farmer seed system, thereby ensuring the availability, accessibility, and adequacy of seeds. Ultimately, it ensures the agricultural biodiversity and food security of the local communities. Municipalities like Arakan and Clarin in Mindanao and Calasiao, Pangasinan in Luzon have invariably drafted local ordinances that support and institutionalize farmers’ rights and the accompanying support system for their realization such as proposal to establish seed banks and seed registry for farmer-bred varieties and traditional varieties.

Promoting Innovations and Incentives on Plant breeding and the De Facto Exclusion of Farmers.

The Philippine Plant Variety Protection Act of 2002 (Republic Act No. 9168) provides protection to new plant varieties in the Philippines, as part of the country’s compliance with its commitments under the WTO-TRIPS. It follows the same requirements for protection, terms of protection, and scope of breeders’ rights as the UPOV 1991 Act, but differs in that it provides for a non-optional exception in favor of the traditional right of small farmers to save, use, exchange, share or sell their farm produce of a protected variety (with certain exceptions and conditions), a gene trust fund, and a community registry, among others.

A Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA) on the specific provision[7] of PVP Act of 2002, which is very similar to UPOV 91, indicated the following results:

  1. It could negatively impact the functioning of the informal seed system. Its restrictions on the use, exchange and sale of farm-saved PVP seeds would severely affect the positive linkage between the formal and informal seed systems, and make it harder for resource-poor farmers to access improved seeds. Moreover, selling seeds (including those protected by PVP laws) is an important source of income for many farmers. From a human rights perspective, restrictions on the use, exchange and sale of protected seeds could therefore adversely affect the right to food, as seeds might become either more costly or harder to access.
  2. Restrictions on the use, exchange and sale of farm-saved seeds might lead to fewer options for farmers, who then become increasingly dependent on the formal seed sector. Improved varieties, however, often require more inputs compared to local farmers’ varieties, pushing up production costs. In the case of varieties protected in line with UPOV 91, seed costs drive up production expenses even further. From a human rights perspective, higher production costs pose a risk to cash-strapped farmers by destabilising their household budget. This could negatively impact a range of human rights, by reducing the amount of household income available for food, healthcare or education.
  3. Furthermore, there have been indications that several UPOV-related provisions could undermine other public interest policies and processes by negatively impacting the state’s ability to comply with other international legal obligations (for example under the Convention on Biological Diversity or the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture) or national policies.
  4. In conclusion, the research provides clear evidence on potential human rights impacts and further areas of concern that should be carefully considered when designing and implementing PVP laws. The findings of the impact assessment showed (i) strong dependence of small-scale farmers on informal seed systems in developing countries, (ii) the threat to the enjoyment of the right to food when access to seeds of protected varieties is restricted, and (iii) the increasing malfunctioning of the informal seed system as the result of stringent laws including UPOV 91-style PVP laws on seeds

Relevant recommendations of the study to the Philippine Government are as follows:

  • undertake an HRIA before drafting a national PVP law or before agreeing to or introducing intellectual property provisions in trade and investment agreements in the area of agriculture;
  • improve the linkages between the formal and informal seed systems and apply a differentiated approach to PVP for different users and different crops;
  • ensure that governments abide by a transparent and participatory process that includes all potentially affected stakeholders when drafting, amending or implementing PVP laws and related measures;
  • inform government agencies and others involved in seed policy about their obligations concerning the right to food;
  • identify what accompanying measures may be necessary for new PVP-related laws, and implement them, including measures to mitigate and remedy any potential adverse impacts of the PVP-related laws on human rights or on the informal seed sector;
  • monitor the impact of PVP laws on the right to food, with particular attention to ways in which PVP-related laws or policies impact different segments of the population.

Quality Seeds for Farmers through Seed Certification. The Seed Industry Development Act of 1992 (Republic Act No. 7308) seeks to promote and accelerate the development of the seed industry, including the conservation, preservation and development of PGRs of the Philippines. A key policy objective of this law is to promote the development of quality seeds and encourage private breeding through incentives. Seeds to be certified as “quality seeds” have to undergo the certification process, the cost of which is prohibitive for small farmer-breeders for the testing of the varieties that they have bred. This was aired by farmer-breeders during the Farmer-Breeder Conference conducted by SEARICE last December 2014.

A farmers group in Calasiao, Pangasinan, on the other hand, lamented that even though they have produced surplus of local varieties that they have bred and developed, the local government could not procure the seeds that they have produced since there is a standing government guideline to procure only certified seeds, otherwise, it will be disallowed by government auditor. Thus, this has the effect of de facto exclusion of farmers from market access and to the incentives provided under the law, and ultimately, on their economic right to livelihood and their right to food in the context of having means to access it.

Although we find it commendable that the Department of Agriculture came out with a Guideline on the Implementation of Community-Seed Banks, which recognize an equivalent quality control for seeds produced by farmers, we recommend the review and/or amendment of existing seed certification laws/standards to incorporate and allow for local (i.e. provincial or regional) mechanisms to recognize and certify farmer-developed rice varieties.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) and Food Availability and Access:

  1. FARMERS’ ACCESS TO TRADITIONAL VARIETIES DIMINISH: In the Philippines, the introduction of GMO crop like Bt Corn has significantly reduced the availability of and access of farmers to various conventional or traditional varieties. In Candon City, Ilocos Sur, most corn farmers are using Bt Corn because this is the only available variety in the market. Farmers claimed that they are having difficulties in finding the usual conventional and native varieties that they plant in their farms.
  2. LIMITED INFORMATION ABOUT GMOs: Farmers have little or no information about the GMO crops that they are planting. In the Philippines, there are farmers who claimed that they don’t know that Bt Corn is a genetically modified variety or what GMOs are in general. They were only informed that Bt Corn is a new variety that will address pest control problems, particularly the corn borer.
  3. FARMERS COULD NO LONGER SHARE OR EXCHANGE SEEDS TO OTHER FARMERS: Sharing and exchanging seeds among farmers have been a universal practice among farmers for centuries as part of the cultural and traditional knowledge of farming communities. With GM crops replacing native or traditional varieties in the market, farmers can no longer share or exchange seeds because GM crops are protected by patents.

We recommend the following:

  1. Review EO 430 and the Philippine Bio-safety Guidelines. The mandate of the NCBP, emanating from EO 430, should be reviewed. The leadership role played by the DOST in this policymaking body should be re-considered in view of the fact that the agency’s flagship programs are centered on modern biotechnology. The National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines (NCBP) has not been up to task in performing its duty to raise public awareness on the issues and development of genetic engineering, as mandated in Executive Order 430. It has instead concentrated its efforts in processing and approving applications of field trials of genetically engineered crops like Bt Corn, Bt Eggplant and Golden Rice. Issues in public participation on biosafety regulations, accountability and transparency should have primacy in the review process. The Philippine Biosafety Guidelines should likewise be reviewed, in light of the recent developments in genetic engineering worldwide and the coming into force of the International Biosafety Protocol under the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD);
  2. Finally, we support the passage of House Bill 3795, also known as the Right to Adequate Food Framework Act of 2014 since it will provide among others a comprehensive framework to ensure the right of every Filipino to access adequate food at all times. On this note, we wish to underscore the need to incorporate agricultural biodiversity in measures to address hunger, poverty and nutrition.

*emphasis in italic and bold, mine

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Water wars

Today is World Water Day. Time to ask, yet again, what is the state of Philippine waters today? has water for drinking and household use in particular improved in quality and quantity? to what extent is the improvement this year?

This year, let’s cite as an example a water resource closer to home. Bued River. That portion forming the boundary between Rosario, La Union and Sison, Pangasinan both connected by the Agat Bridge.

agat bridge
Source: wikimedia commons

The River, technically a system says the DENR, spans 31 kilometers originating in Baguio City (covering 25 of it’s barangays including Camp John Hay reservation), and runs downstream following Kennon Road toward the two Benguet municipalities of Itogon and Tuba, then to La Union (Rosario) and Pangasinan, and finally draining into Lingayen Gulf. The River forms part of the Bued River Watershed as well as the Agno River Water Basin. It’s recently been declared by the DENR as a Water Quality Management Area (WQMA). As an WQMA, the resource is managed by a governing board chaired by the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) of the DENR hence assured institutional support for quality management. In fact, there’s a 10-year management plan on this.

Still, the River is a disaster. From Baguio City, on Kennon Road, approaching the police station, the air reeks of foul-smelling hog waste already a signature scent the entire way and has inadvertently replaced the soothing smell of pines. The smell is so offensive at times that it makes you want to throw up right where you are. What does this imply? Hog raisers are not complying to required sanitation measures (and nobody from the LGUs are checking and sanctioning). How and where do all that amount of hog poop disposed of day in and out, year in and out? Biology tells us that there is no wastage in nature, that everything is recycled, meaning, whatever’s put into and dissolved in the waters of the River eventually find their way back to us, into our guts and bloodstream. I therefore recommend that V/VIPs particularly decision-makers and policy-makers going up or coming down Baguio City to give their car air-conditioning a rest, open their windows (or, get out of the perfumed air of their cars), and smell the roses outside. It’s the easiest, quickest, and no-cost way to get to know local issues first hand (as compared to time-consuming convening of Governors and Mayors and spending public money on copious amounts of overpriced coffee that has zero effect on initiative). If shit is what enters their noses, then, well, they should know what to do next.

But if they don’t trust their own sense of smell, they could read up on a study about the River: GIS Application for Local Governance and Accountability in Environmental Protection: The Case of Bued River authored by Engr. Nathaniel Vincent A. Lubrica of the University of the Cordilleras. The research was published in the University’s research journal Tangkoyob (Volume 7, No.1, October 2013). Alternatively, a video summary is posted on Youtube,

The River has been a subject of contention even in the 20s and renewed conservation since the 70s. It’s 2018 and we’re now witnessing a vast gray desert of sorts especially in that Rosario-Sison area. A River without it’s water. The ominous heat reflecting from it’s excavated bed is such that it could dry up unprotected corneas (open your windows to know). Once, as I was riding a jeepney along the Bridge, two elderly women next to me were clucking their tongues and reminiscing how the River has turned out into “this desert” and how “scary (it is) to imagine the scenario ten years from now”. Indeed. The effect and impact of this desertification is presently felt in the areas covered by and reliant on the Bued River Watershed. Lack of supply. Water wars.

In my new place, water is a very, very scarce resource it’s scary. The community had come to a point in which they appointed a lawyer to administer over the community water system because relative to the barangay officials “he knows what to do”. I’m told that serious fighting over access to the supply have previously broken out among the otherwise peace-loving residents. Apparently acute lack of water does that. I’m just really lucky that this lawyer is my neighbor (so that if I’ve run out of stored water I could just yell from the bathroom for the valve to please be opened. Ha ha. But seriously it does help a lot if one has access, directly or indirectly). Otherwise there’s a deepwell at my place powered by a jetmatic pump but it has stopped working due to the previous renters’ negligence (what irresponsibility given the water situation). My friends from Baguio City promised to come over and repair it. In the meantime, if worse comes to worst, and I hope it won’t come to that, we could go over my aunt’s farm, ten minutes walk away to the neighboring barangay, where there’s flowing supply of clean water (we’ve tried drinking from straight without getting upset stomachs) from a hand-pumped deepwell. Such a contrast.

It’s the sustained and increasingly extensive mining and quarrying of the River. Like, termites slowly but surely eating away at a house and destroying it. But far worse than termites these mindless humans in question have not re-planted even just one tree to mitigate their exploitative activities.

quarrying Bued River
Source: wikimedia commons

I’m not going to delve into the science of how these activities over time change the working of the River system not to mention it’s effect on the local climate because, well, it would be good as another article. But, the National Irrigation Authority (NIA) position in 2011 frames the argument succinctly (bold phrases mine for emphasis),

NIA’S POSITION ON THE EFFECT OF QUARRYING ALONG THE BUED RIVER DOWNSTREAM OF SAN FABIAN DAM

Strongly supported by NIA’S more than forty years of invaluable experience in the operation of the San Fabian Irrigation System and considering the historical facts of the Bued River and backed by our technical assessment of the various phenomena that took place in the area and its effect on the San Fabian diversion dam, the Regional Manager and Staff of the National Irrigation Administration firmly believe and state that:

a. The lowering of the riverbed is the main reason for the damage and collapse of the old diversion dam. This is perceptible by examining the old and latest design of the dam whereby the downstream apron is typically set at riverbed elevation or lower. In the original design of the dam, the downstream elevation was then at 51.00 but needs to be lowered to 47.5 or 3.50 Meter below for stability and hydraulic considerations in the 2009 dam design.

b. The lowering of the riverbed is greatly affecting the delivery and application of diverted water for irrigation because of deep percolation due to a much lower water table. This is manifested by the diminishing irrigated area from 2,765 has. In the 1970’ s to a mere 1,144 has. even during the wet crop season since 1994 to present.

c. The more than 4.5 meters difference of elevation from the downstream apron to about One (1) kilometer of the Bued river near the quarry site is causing the slope of the river to become steeper thus increasing the velocity of flood water. Stronger current carries more sediments and scouring the embankment and nearby farmlands as they are made of finer and erodible materials.

d. The existence of sandbar in the middle of the river is causing the shifting of fiercer water current towards the western embankment thus the erosion of farmlands and houses at the same time scouring the riverbed.

e. To stop further the lowering of riverbed no quarrying is allowed downstream of the dam. This is to allow the river to negate the effect of retrogression and extensive quarrying, i.e., to replenish the extracted materials downstream of the dam up to the mouth of the river until such time that more gentle and more stable slope shall have been attained.

What do our laws say about mining and quarrying? These activities are supported under certain conditions (bold phrases mine for emphasis):

RA 7942 Section 19 Areas Closed to Mining Applications

b. Near or under public or private buildings, cemeteries, archaeological and historic sites, bridges, highways, waterways, railroads, reservoirs, dams or other infrastructure projects, public or private works including plantations or valuable crops, except upon written consent of the government agency or private entity concerned;

d. In areas expressedly prohibited by law;

Section 79(a) DENR Administrative Order No. 2010-21

No extraction, removal and/or disposition of materials shall be allowed within a distance of one (1) kilometer from the boundaries of reservoirs established for public water supply, archaeological and historical sites or of any public or private works or structures, unless the prior clearance of the Government agency(ies) concerned or owner is obtained.

DILG Memo Circular 44 s. 2014

3) Mining including quarrying is not allowed in areas categorized as No-Go Zones pursuant to the pertinent provisions of RA No. 7942 and EO No. 79. Beaches (within 2 meters from the mean low tide), foreshore areas (within 500 meters from the mean low tide), and river banks including the mandated buffer zone pursuant to Presidential Decree No. 17 and the Water Code of the Philippines are No-Go Zones.

Elementary students given adequate explanation would understand these provisions so what in them isn’t clear to the adults? It’s the set ways of adults regardless of whether these are right or wrong. Like their set ways in urinating and spitting in public. Or, unsanitary disposal of garbage. But citing old dogs can’t be taught new tricks isn’t an excuse before the law. In fact, the case of the Bued River degradation is a prime example for public litigation under Writ of Kalikasan. The inadequate and polluted water supply (not to mention the worsening heat as there’s no flowing water to absorb or store heat energy, food insecurity and loss of incomes as a result of diverted irrigation water) in the affected communities in the four provinces is an outcome of the River’s and it’s watershed’s deterioration (in fact, wala na ngang River to speak of) that has resulted from continued defiance of quarrying (and mining) laws.

Imagine the extent by which a handful of enterprises were able to negatively transform the nature of a water resource and consequently affected thousands of lives. Hello DENR, was it you who said human survival depends on clean water? How could local governments just sit there and watch without regard the desertification of an invaluable resource that’s in their own front yards? Where is rule of law in the few enjoying financial returns from third party use of a public good at the expense of the majority owner? And everybody should stop pointing at the changing climate for this destruction.

In the aftermath of Haima/Lawin

I haven’t been posting lately because of an insane work schedule but I’m taking a few hours off to write something on issues I feel strongly about:

Primary hazard. In the case of the Philippines, natural hazards eg. typhoons are just secondary causes of disasters. The primary cause is continued inaction of local governments (barangays up to the provincial levels) to finance or allocate significant funds in order for local disaster risk reduction strategies, programs, and projects to be implemented. Typhoons such as Lawin/Haima only serve to expose these gaps in local governance.

Compliance to and monitoring for quality standards, for instance. Road cuts in the highways of the Cordillera Region have been due in large part to substandard engineering practices. I’m not an engineer but looking at the image of the Tinoc-Kiangan road cut below, common sense tells you that the way this particular structure is engineered (eg. thickness, no reinforcement, no mitigation structure to counter soil quality, etc.) as exposed by Lawin/Haima will not stand up long to the “wolf’s huff and puff” as it did eventually.

Tinoc-Kiangan Road
Road cut Tinoc-Kiangan Road

Devastation in housing has been due mostly to negligence in monitoring for compliance to zoning and building standards; and, lack of access to low cost housing and subsidies to low income families eg. tenant and small landholder farmers and fisherfolks in order for them to build safe houses because of course nipa huts and houses of light materials will not stand up long to a 300 kph typhoon.

damaged houses in the aftermath of Haima/Lawin
via rappler

Damage to power lines can be mitigated or minimized by financing underground installation of such which given this country’s exposure to natural hazards by way of it’s geographical location should have been started yesterday. But it had not as we continue to build as if blind to our geographical realities.

Damaged power lines along the Maharlika Highway leading to Tuguegarao City
Damaged power lines along the Maharlika Highway leading to Tuguegarao City via philstar

Devastation to agriculture as a result of typhoons especially among agricultural households shouldn’t be as financially devastating to these families when universal access to insurance (crops, livestock, fisheries) or subsidies to such are ensured. There is the Philippine Crop Insurance Corporation but only a small percentage of farmers and fisher households are covered.

Poverty reduction is also a disaster risk reduction strategy. But the poor in this country have not been pulled out of their poverty at the rate that we said poverty reduction should happen. Those who need social protection the most ie. the poor continue to be left behind in social security and health insurance coverage, among others. Jobs in localities are not created and growing at the rate that is more or less equal to the rate that schools produce graduates. Nor is labor in localities protected from exploitation eg. employers who pay below minimum such that families of workers are unable to eat three meals a day. Investments in localities are not as high as those in already overcrowded cities eg. Metro Manila in order to incentivize graduates or those looking for jobs to stay rather than migrate. Lands are not redistributed as provided in law. Etcetera. And it is the children who suffer the most from continued neglect of their local governments to finance and implement local poverty reduction.

'Lawin' leaves P5B agri damage in Cagayan
via abscbn

Like Tacloban City with Yolanda/Haiyan, cities such as Ilagan in Isabela and Tuguegarao in Cagayan as well as urbanizing municipal towns as those in the Cordillera are being developed as if their legislative and planning councils have not heard about the environmental impact assessment or the national urban development law/agenda, among other urban development and planning policies and strategies. As if local governments have no land use plans or zoning laws. Real estate development continue to be allowed in floodplains without mandating for mitigation measures.

So it’s not the typhoon (or earthquake, etc.) but it’s the lack of disaster risk reduction measures. Preparedness is merely about, well, preparation just before the onslaught of a hazard, but again in order for preparedness to be effective the assumption is that risk reduction measures have been put in place long beforehand. This country’s law (RA 10121) specifically calls for disaster risk reduction and management, not just preparedness. But what we’ve been doing so far is just preparedness. Also, look, one of the reasons for the DRRM Law is to provide local governments the independence and flexibility to allocate funding for risk reduction and preparedness even without declaring calamity. But what are we again seeing? So no, it’s not typhoons that citizens ought to pray deliverance for but against the harmful mentality and stubbornness of local governments.

Bayanihan. This old Filipino practice among families within neighborhoods is voluntary ie. it arises from goodwill among people who know or have good relations with each other. It should not be spoken about (especially by broadcast media) as an act that another is entitled to or that Filipinos are obliged to do. Bayanihan is not an obligation. If there is any obligation that stands in the aftermath of disasters it is government’s obligations toward it’s citizens ie. to protect and uphold rights standards even during emergencies (local governments therefore should know by heart the Sphere Handbook). It is the obligation of government to bring out the necessary resources that have been paid for by taxpayers eg. equipments, manpower, money to clear roads, clean schools, drain floodplains, trim trees, etcetera. At once. Immediately. Local governments should feel ashamed if they have to wait for private agencies and I/NGOs from miles away to be the ones to respond and make physical assessments of the areas. Government, supported by taxes and other resources, should feel ashamed if it relies on bayanihan to bring back order.

Reporting by broadcast media. “Christmas came early for the students of Casili Elementary School in Rizal.” Reading this news report further you’d see that it refers to a bridge built with funding from the Foundation of Outstanding Mapuans Incorporated, which school children in said school can now use. What’s wrong with the words utilized in this news? It puts forth the message that bridges are Christmas or Santa’s gifts instead of as a right and duty (ie. linked to children’s right to education as well as a duty of government to protect and address the right of citizens to basic infrastructures). A lot of disinformation and mis-messaging hence ignorance are perpetuated by mainstream media, sadly and unfortunately for the Filipino masses. Similarly, whenever I see recipients of aid being made to profusely thank donors or the government on TV when the aid is merely basic satisfaction of their rights (eg. school supplies relative to right to education, food packs relative to right to survival) I get in a rage. The aid recipients are made to be like rape victims who are abused again and again while everybody’s watching and cheering but because they don’t have any other option they do what is asked of them. Dignity during disasters is what duty bearers need to protect more than their policy for visibility, always.

Warming oceans, more frequent and intense typhoons

Thanks to technology and invention (such as my adorable 20000mAh powerbank that can recharge gadgets and laptops 5x before discharging, meaning local governments have no reason to go incommunado especially during emergencies), many are able to stay connected despite black outs. Like for this storm, Haima/Lawin. I’m up monitoring the situation with former colleagues in Isabela and Tuguegarao where Lawin made landfall (one network said Penablanca in Tuguegarao, another said Gamu in Isabela so which?).  Real time alerts and news on broadcast and social media report just a third of actual on-site happenings. So it’s good to have personal and professional networks across locations besides.

Also I spied the new moon late last week. It has been my observation through time that while typhoons are intensified when there’s a new moon it also reins back that intensity when these reach land. It’s why I’m doubtful that Haima/Lawin will be another Yolanda/Haiyan. But of course the observed phenomenon needs further study.

Disasters and humanitarian programs are my subject of evaluation since 2010. In Isabela, I had the opportunity to do an evaluation of an INGO’s response program in the aftermath of Megi. Then, the greatest loss to locals had been in agriculture, the region being the country’s largest rice producer. Next was housing as many houses including schools sustained damages or were totally destroyed. Roofs blown away and mature trees uprooted indicated the sheer strength of the typhoon.

Many locals still held traditional views of typhoons and disasters. That it was Nature or God teaching people to stop doing bad things. Well, in a way it was. As has been the message since the 1992 conference on sustainable development, people and nations need to rethink their climate changing activities. The ocean which plays a critical role in climate stability is directly susceptible to human induced activities. In turn island nations such as the Philippines are the most affected by the change.

A recent article in The New Yorker reiterates the irreversible effect of a warming planet on glaciers and the effect of this on oceans. So yes we may pray but still the answer ie. deliverance from disasters is actually well within our power.

Greenland is melting
Ímage source: The New Yorker

The ice sheet is a holdover from the last ice age, when mile-high glaciers extended not just across Greenland but over vast stretches of the Northern Hemisphere. In most places—Canada, New England, the upper Midwest, Scandinavia—the ice melted away about ten thousand years ago. In Greenland it has—so far, at least—persisted. At the top of the sheet there’s airy snow, known as firn, that fell last year and the year before and the year before that. Buried beneath is snow that fell when Washington crossed the Delaware and, beneath that, snow from when Hannibal crossed the Alps. The deepest layers, which were laid down long before recorded history, are under enormous pressure, and the firn is compressed into ice. At the very bottom there’s snow that fell before the beginning of the last ice age, a hundred and fifteen thousand years ago.

The ice sheet is so big—at its center, it’s two miles high—that it creates its own weather. Its mass is so great that it deforms the earth, pushing the bedrock several thousand feet into the mantle. Its gravitational tug affects the distribution of the oceans.

In recent years, as global temperatures have risen, the ice sheet has awoken from its postglacial slumber. Melt streams like the Rio Behar have always formed on the ice; they now appear at higher and higher elevations, earlier and earlier in the spring. This year’s melt season began so freakishly early, in April, that when the data started to come in, many scientists couldn’t believe it. “I had to go check my instruments,” one told me. In 2012, melt was recorded at the very top of the ice sheet. The pace of change has surprised even the modellers. Just in the past four years, more than a trillion tons of ice have been lost. This is four hundred million Olympic swimming pools’ worth of water, or enough to fill a single pool the size of New York State to a depth of twenty-three feet.

– Greenland is melting, The New Yorker

Paradox in Philippine rural communities

Coastal village, Sorsogon, Bicol
Two worlds co-exist in Philippine rural communities: beautiful and rich in human and natural assets; yet very uncompetitive hence continue to be poor. Fisher folks in a recent interview told me they’re seen as occupying the lowest in both social and income class hierarchies. This paradox follows migrants (the unskilled and low skilled) from these areas when they relocate in cities and urban areas.

To be or not to be…immoral

These protestations over EJKs (extrajudicial killings) in connection to government’s anti drug war confounds me. Not that I am for mass killings. But, let us rewind the clock to pre-elections time.

We heard the platforms of each presidential candidate then. What was it for President Dudicate crime such as drugs in three to six months. They said it not just once but repeatedly.

He won the Presidency.

So I’m confounded. What do we suppose one man would do to eradicate crime in that timeframe? Surely we are not so naive or gullible as to fail to imagine at least that such is possible only if one dares to tread the road less travelled. How exactly? We had an inkling- the President’s reputation as city mayor precedes him.

We can guess why the people backed him anyway. They’re fatigued with the lack of decisive, timely, and effective action on matters that continue to weigh heavily on their communities. Crime. Corruption. Poverty. They’ve been wanting a man of action, a straight talker, fearless and feared, and with that relatable brand of humor. Patay kung patay. An resurrected FPJ. When he did come along, majority of the people vouched for him. So unless this same collective had changed it’s mind, he still has the backing of the people.

The spotlight on EJKs reveals the bigger reality of the nation which is that for the longest time we’ve been living in a dark place. We don’t know that we are because we’re continously bombarded with and distracted by the trappings of the good life- malls, resorts, technology, food, fashion, movies, etc. If and when we do focus on something our natural gravitation is toward the good things- the latest gadget we are salivating to buy than on the fact that crime is now a regular visitor on our streets. We look at crime as happening to others until it happens close to home. But how much of our children’s freedom has it already stolen? We’ve been desensitized by daily news of deaths; before we’ve understood it’s implications another report comes along.

The fact remains regardless. Crime is crime. Like a cancer cell, it embeds itself into ready environments where it propagates soon after like wildfire. By then half the body’s eaten up. This half eaten body is what this generation has inherited. Crime in our time has reached the level beyond easy comprehension and solutions. There’s no middle ground to it. A tough stance has to be taken. Lessons from anti drug campaigns abroad point to that. And nobody envies the guy whose responsibility it is to sign off on that stance.

On the other hand, as well, I’m not for public shaming of women, their womanhood and love lives used against them. We all know how it is with love. Men and women will go through fire because of love. Sane people go crazy in love. The loving heart simply cannot be taught otherwise. It just is. In this sense, to the extent that one is biased toward one’s object or subject of love, it could be said that everyone who loves is immoral.

The Filipino people loves the President. He loves them back which I surmise fuels his campaigns. The Filipino people loves the Senator. She loves them back which I surmise fuels her crusade. They check and balance out one another. A good thing really in a democracy.

The real issue then is whether or not in a time of emergency (i.e. pernicious crime and drugs), the solution arrived at goes through the normal process of approval. Or, should we just let the Executive do whatever’s best trusting that he has our backs covered in this? These are the real moral issues democratic governments face as they tackle real-world problems.

The difficult questions in the global war against terrorism easily comes to mind. To invade a sovereign government or not. To bomb a foreign land or not. To hunt a terrorist leader or not. Sometimes the only rational answer available to wicked problems is, just do it whatever ‘it’ is.

On democratization of relations in the context of Philippine agriculture: the case of Negros

The Negros Island Region (NIR) has among the highest incidence of poverty in the country. Negros Oriental has the higher rate at 50.1% of it’s population. How is this?

Negros Island Region

Majority of the population rely on agricultural activities. Sugarcane, particularly. And therein lies the contrariness: while NIR is among the top exporters of sugarcane in South East Asia, the US market at the top of the demand list, the laborers in the plantations are among the worst paid, and as a result with less than decent lives.

What’s happening in the plantations is that: Through a system known locally as ‘pakyawan‘ (rough translation: contractualization), tenant-laborers agree to their landlord’s offer to, say, weed a given hectare for, say, a total of PHP1,500.00 a day. In turn, these laborers call on their neighbors who are also piece-meal workers to join them. With so many more persons working the field, the task is completed in a day. The landlord gives then PHP1,500.00 as agreed. This amount is distributed among, say, a total of 70 laborers. Each receives more or less PHP20.00 for the work.

Another: Tenants cannot use any part of the land e.g. to put up vegetable gardens on which they could grow food for their families without the consent of their landlords. This also applies to sanitation facilities such as toilets.

The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), has awarded lands, ranging from 2 to 5 hectares, to families. Hooray, right? But, no. The first thing the families did with the properties dumped onto their hands was to pawn them. It’s common sense, really. How would families who have been living on PHP20.00/day make profitable use of 2 to 5 hectares of land? Without financial capital, ownership of land becomes an encumbrance.

The Reds i.e. New People’s Army (NPA) have significant presence in the region because of the situation. But, scaring people off has not also made significant change to the landscape. In fact, it has added to the stresses of living in that region. Locals may appear accepting and nonchalant about it but such is more a manifestation of helplessness, anger, and frustration imploding inside them which over time impacts on their psyches.

Depressing, not because of the poverty per se but rather (1) landlords (hacienderos since the Spanish time and newer owners, the corporations) have not progressed in the way they manage labor and capital, (2) other stakeholders e.g. civil society, the private sector, the Church especially the Catholic Church also appear to be accepting of the situation like it’s normal, and (3) macro and micro socioeconomic policies have not made significant dents in pulling peasant families out of poverty.

On (1), how do ISO-compliant corporations or a haciendero with an MBA from a prestigious university abroad manage labor like theyr’re dealing with a colony of rats? How do you reconcile this inconsistency?

On (2), the Catholic Church dedicated 2015 as the Year of the Poor. But, and I wonder, to what extent have prayers brought the poor out of poverty? I don’t pray for the poor i.e. kneeling in church asking God to have mercy on the poor. To ask God to have mercy on the poor is to be redundant. God has always been merciful especially to the poor. To ask that heaven does something for the poor is again tempting God to turn stone into bread. I don’t dare ask God ‘why’ there’s massive and continuing poverty. It leads to finger-pointing which leads to discouragement and then hatred which is where I don’t want to go. I’m not also sure of the reasoning behind dedicating the poor to God. This is like making fun of God. Every one is dedicated to God to begin with. Besides the answer is already a given.

We are the answer. What we need to do is do. Do the right thing. Do things right. Go the extra mile. Integrate the poor in our plans. Especially for the Church administrators, to be on fire for the poor. This is the effective prayer for the poor.

As to civil society, the challenge is similar. Organizations i.e. I/NGOs avoid rocking the boat (well, sometimes this is the best) because such will pose a bad image on their donors. Hence in the end organized civil society is not actually accountable to third world beneficiaries and their issues but rather to first world donors and their demands. Just recently, with a couple of colleagues we asked ourselves whether or not what we each personally give up and gain  individually are worth it- acquiring semi-permanent sunburn going around godforsaken places, getting more ill as a result of trying to make both worlds meet i.e. policies and processes of the organization vis-a-vis politics and needs in the communities, developing anxiety over personal security (e.g. a colleague told me about his staff being traumatized after he was literally caught in the crossfire between MNLF and the army and needed to be pulled out of the field for some time. To ease the tension surrounding the situation, the other staff humored him that he wouldn’t have died because he’s masamang damo (a badass)), etcetera.

Are development workers also making a dent somehow? This class of workers are among the most frustrated but are also the most adaptable and optimistic. There are more times when nothing turns out to expectation because many times communities act out of self interest (another lesson learned) which disrupts the collective or communal spirit of programs. We talked about self interest and one shared that this happens even between married couples who’ve professed eternal love and who are not poor. True. Poverty is just among the many struggles of humanity.

Still with civil society, local volunteerism is not that developed, both with the demand and supply side. In NIR, there are I/NGO programs to expand families’ incomes via livelihoods, savings programs, and of course basic education. CSR trend of late has been tree planting – those Instagrammable smiles after planting a seedling – but perhaps corporations could do more than that. The I/NGOs need all the hands they can get to keep programs going: teachers, trainers, animators, etc. Like with travel, a few days living and relating with their kababayan in “another world” will do Filipinos so much good. I/NGOs in turn need to step up their standards and policies in volunteer management.

Finally, on (3), the micro and macro socioeconomic policies. Among the 8-point economic agenda of President Duterte’s administration,

Provide support services to small farmers to increase productivity and improve market access. Provide irrigation and better support services to farmers. Promote tourism in the rural areas.

Accelerate spending on infrastructure by addressing major bottlenecks, and maintain the target of setting aside 5% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) to infrastructure spending.

For so long, poverty reduction strategies have been targeting the poor directly e.g. skill training after skill training (soap making, candle making, jewelry making, sari-sari (neighborhood) store management, etcetera) in the belief that everyone who’s trained will make it. The lesson is, for significant change to happen rules need to be put in place to support capacity building. It is good that in the current national agenda, this is articulated: support to creation of/investors in new markets, integration of the poor into value chains which should include, among others, access of financial capital especially by the entrepreneurial poor, young and old alike, and infrastructure development.

Equally critical is the reform of policies in land and labor management especially that which impact on peasant farmers. The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has plans to review and address unfair contractualization practices of corporations. This needs to include the agricultural sector which has long utilized the scheme. The younger hacienderos with MBAs abroad should introduce and employ management styles and practices worthy of their degrees.

Others: reforms to introduce competition in monopolistic markets; protection of local agriculture from corporations and the impact of international trade; regional investments in innovation, creativity and technology; adult education that deliver learning starting at where they are (versus taking them out of their farms into classrooms and there spew theories and such at them).

The goal is to re-configure relations within Philippine agriculture into a more democratic, egalitarian, and inclusive relationship between employer and worker, producer and consumer, donor and recipient, farmer and capitalist. Impossible one might argue. Therein lies the answer too. Poverty won’t go away as long as we continue to refuse a more democratic, equal, and inclusive relationship with the poor.

It’s not just about reducing carbon footprint: On the changing temperature in Baguio City Part 2

In Part 1, I mentioned of the imperative to modernize agriculture in the country.  One investment that Local Government Units should make is in the use of Geographical Information System (GIS) as a tool to analyze patterns and trends on the land.

A research I was in for a national agency a few years back was impeded by the lack of up-to-date land use and land cover data. For instance, the lack of ready shape files and updated maps in agriculture. Thankfully, another agency has produced a more recent (2010) land cover map. But I wondered, if national agencies did not have the right data and information readily, what do you then call the policies they’ve made, the reports? Although, for the country, the lack of land use policies as well as climate change adaptation measures especially at the local level is more the case.

The land use change that has happened along Mountain Trail/Halsema Highway which is mentioned in Part 1 is classified either as parcelization or fragmentation of forest land*.

The featured video differentiates one from the other as well as implications of each on land management.  It also shows the utilization of GIS in resource planning and management.

Local Government Unit officials, as urban managers, need information in order to effectively and efficiently manage the City’s growth and development and ultimately facilitate quality of life for it’s citizens.  Land use data is key to the analysis of the urbanization processes and problems.  These days, it is impossible to produce such data without the aid of modern tools i.e. GIS and remote sensing technologies.  The City needs leaders and managers who see the need to make these a priority investment and integrate their use in city planning and management.

At the regional level i.e. LGUs in the Cordillera Administrative Region it is imperative that land use plans integrate local climate change mitigation measures such as reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases (nitrous oxide mentioned in Part 1).  Targets to mitigate and adapt to the changing climate should not remain at the global and national levels but rather should be operationalized in localities.  Climate change mitigation and adaptation should not and must not be just all words and rah-rahs.  Cities and municipalities should explicitly include in their land use and development plans GHG emission targets (hence corresponding financing requirements to achieve these).

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*latest forestry statistics (2003) for the country shows only 24% (or, 7.2M ha.) of total land area is forested compared to 70% (or, 21M ha.) in 1900.  I don’t even want to go into the state of the remaining “forest” in Baguio City today.  Even I, a non-forester, can tell that the trees (along Loakan Road) are dying a torturously slow death.  As repeatedly mentioned in this blog, it’s not that we have an inordinate love affair with trees; rather, preservation of the City’s trees and foliage translates into our own preservation as well as that of our children and many others after us.