The one lesson Filipinos have yet to learn going forward

Unity quote

We thwart the one who’s leading us. We wilfully disobey. We insist that our way is the only way. We don’t take well to suggestion or correction. Our pride and pocket hurting, we push the one who’s leading us into the waters and look for a puppet to replace the one who we’ve felled. But what does our history tell us? With or without a leader, whether he’s or she’s a puppet or dictator, highly educated or not, professional or actor, reluctant or eager to take the reins, each Filipino is rowing his or her own way.

Do we want to move forward to modernization? Then we need to sacrifice today. Modernization of transportation should’ve been done eons ago but it didn’t happen and when the government did make one commies were successful in thwarting the plan by labeling it as “anti poor”. BS! (Or, should I say what else do we expect from that ideology?) Thanks to them the problem of outmoded transportation has again overtaken us, now, together with an altogether new generation of commuters riddled with the result of past inaction.

Earth’s time space is forward (not backward) moving hence it’s inevitable that any change in our world is going to be in the form of improved versions of yesterday’s. Anybody who’s conscious of this fact yet insists otherwise, in effect wishing the nation and country to stay unimproved like the vineyard worker who instead buried the talents given him, is obviously a painter of an anti-human progress narrative, an anti-God.

In this day of advanced communication and planning models a smart transport union or association will not hijack the needs of the community just because they can (although such a capacity was rendered irrelevant with Malacanan declaring nationwide two-day suspension of classes and work). The group should’ve come up yesteryears pa sana with it’s side of the modernization plan and asked to speak and negotiate with authorities. That’s the win-win move. That’s business with a brain. That’s business with a strategy. That’s business with responsibility.

Members of Congress who publicly oppose the modernization plan thereby adding fire to the misdirected protest and undermining authority should be held accountable for sheer rebelliousness against a lawful order which eventually benefits the country and nation no less the jeepney drivers (because then with improved green-compliant jeeps the dagdag pamasahe they’re demanding every year or so is justified. We Filipinos are crazy for agreeing, out of awa, to pay more and more for crap facilities and lousy service. Awa in these instances are misplaced.).

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On the proposed ‘Bikini Bottom’ down South

With the approval of the 2017 national budget of PHP3.35T of which PHP2.5B is allotted for tourism, the country’s thirteen regions can now start implementing their tourism plans. But especially this year having declared 2017 as the Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development the UN reminds nations that it’s not just tourism. This test for sustainability came early to our shores, in Coron Palawan last year’s ‘Best Island in the World’ according to Travel+Leisure where a Nickeldeon theme park has been proposed. An environmentalist group claiming the proposed park will involve underwater development mounted a social media campaign against it.

Without additional information than what’s reported online, I cannot say whether or not the group has it right. However, their campaign against the development highlights two things that are also faced by the rest of the country which compel vigilant groups to react thus.

First: the more legitimate group of people to voice what, why, where, and how development should happen be it in their barangay, municipality, city, province, or region are the insiders or residents (voters and taxpayers in the area, technically). That’s not happening though. Yes, locals talk among themselves when development activities negatively affect them but such do not reach the camps of decisionmakers. Are they scared? Maybe. Cynical? Perhaps. Regardless of reason, local people have effectively surrendered their collective right to development, viz.

Recognizing that development is a comprehensive economic, social, cultural and political process, which aims at the constant improvement of the well-being of the entire population and of all individuals on the basis of their active, free and meaningful participation in development and in the fair distribution of benefits resulting therefrom,

Recalling also the right of peoples to exercise, subject to the relevant provisions of both International Covenants on Human Rights, full and complete sovereignty over all their natural wealth and resources,

Recognizing that the human person is the central subject of the development process and that development policy should therefore make the human being the main participant and beneficiary of development,

Proclaims the following Declaration on the Right to Development:

1.   The human person is the central subject of development and should be the active participant and beneficiary of the right to development.   

2.   All human beings have a responsibility for development, individually and collectively, taking into account the need for full respect for their human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as their duties to the community, which alone can ensure the free and complete fulfilment of the human being, and they should therefore promote and protect an appropriate political, social and economic order for development.

Abdication from the inside has given rise for outsiders, be it civil society groups and organizations, media, academia, and such like, to step in and determine “in behalf” of locals what is best for them. This is not to say that outsiders have no business doing so, but rather if and when outsiders must go in they are duty-bound to ensure informed and meaningful participation of local people. At the end of the day, the decision of local people should be respected. In committing to this process, not only are outsiders protecting local people’s right to development but also set the stage for greater awareness, knowledge, and capacity for self determination.

In the cited Palawan development case, the voice of locals are absent in the campaign and media reports. What do they know? What do they say? Theirs is the most important.

Second: We can get too focused on the immediate negative costs of the project that we forget we’re living in an age of technological advancement in architectural and engineering design, methods, materials, and tools hence lose what could otherwise be greater benefits of the project. Don’t Filipinos make regular pilgrimages to Disneyland in HongKong, Gardens by the Bay in Singapore, or Palm Island in Dubai? Weren’t these places developed at the scale that it’s disapproved here? The latter two are on reclaimed land.

Development is the future. We cannot live in huts forever. Sooner or later, a tide of such great height will come and wash it away. Nor live off bananas and coconuts straight from the trees everyday. The more intelligent way forward therefore is to pay more attention to developers’ plans to mitigate unsustainable effects and impacts of their projects, and if such are absent or mitigation measures inadequate it is the place of local people to say so.

This is done through the standard development process known as Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) System, or what’s referred to in the Philippines as the Philippine EIS System (PEISS). This is not only just an SOP in development planning, but in this country a legal requirement under Presidential Decree 1586 passed in 1978 subsequently enhanced in 1981 through Proclamation 2146.

Coron is an Environmentally Critical Area (ECA) hence under PD 2146 development projects sited there shall comply with the PEISS. The figure below illustrates the EIA processes corresponding with the phases in the project development cycle:

Here in more detail are the different stages in EIA. Public input are required during (1) EIA study scoping, (2) EIA study/report, (3) review and evaluation of EIA, and (4) environmental monitoring and evaluation or audit.

At the time former President Marcos signed off on PDs 1586 and 2146 the country was under a centralized government system which explains identification of the Ministry of Human Settlements as lead agency of the PEISS. The National Environmental Protection Council (DENR now) served as Secretariat. In 1991 during Corazon Aquino’s administration LGUs were given authority over devolved activities of national government. DENR took over the PEISS mandate and in more recent years specifically through DENR MC 2007-08 clarified the LGUs’ involvement in the Process .

In reality, however, the PEISS has been largely flouted. The concrete result of this we see on the landscape. Therefore I do understand the immediate negative reactions to the Coron development. To be blunt, nothing brings out the “dirt” in development than this side of the planning process ie. permits and approvals from planning boards, zoning authorities, conservation and/or historical commissions, and environmental authorities. It’s good training ground for fresh out of university urban planners though.

How do you face an angry mob of locals? You don’t. There’s a roundabout way to deal with that. It’s called the impact fee and it’s legal. Here and abroad. The LGU planning officer (or other assigned personnel) negotiates with the developer for the best monetary deal in the name of mitigation measures. The fee could amount to anything as name your price. What these impact fees are actually spent on- locals don’t usually hear about it either. It could be a handful of trees for all the community know. Regardless, and from all angles, the developer walks away the winner in these deals. They could pass on the impact fee amount to buyers.

When an LGU has been paid the impact fee and there’s no improvement seen or felt in the locality… this is when the importance of organization hits community residents. They need to have legal entity with legal rights to acquire funding and therefore employ professional expertise, lobbying power. I have yet to see in the country a community-based group organized around property or development rights and sustainable development.

How do I conclude? Real estate development can be quite a jungle but it’s not to say development projects per se are bad. This country is being groomed and marketed as a “more fun” tourist destination and to deliver on that promise we need to upgrade services and infrastructures in order to compete with other destinations worldwide. What makes development bad is when locals are deliberately left out of the process and gain nothing or little from development projects.

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

Asian Judges Network on mountain ecosystems

I repeat myself on this topic:  Growth and development in Baguio City, a mountain city, and the rest of the Cordillera Administrative Region should be pursued under a sustainable mountain ecosystem framework.

The discussions in the 2nd Asian Judges Symposium on Environment: Natural Capital and the Rule of Law on 3 December 2013 at Asian Development Bank HQ in Manila highlight issues affecting mountain cities in South Asia. Especially interesting is the role of the court in sustaining mountain environments (listen to the sixth presentation, of Dr. Ananda M. Bhattarai, of the Court of Appeals in Nepal). We can learn from these.

In the Q&A session, a member of the audience asked the panel about traditional mountain people’s laws vs modern laws. The panelists provided enlightening insights. Of note is Archana of IUCN India’s mention of the importance of having laws applicable to mountain regions.

“The Power of Words”

This video was shown during a session on advocacy. Realization: Knowledge of the use of words and their impact on audiences really make a difference.

Discussion in an earlier session was about what we would do differently toward quality of life among children and their families. However, analysis and understanding of the issue among most participants remained at the effects rather than root causes of poverty. Mentioned were, (a) hunger, (b) not attending basic education, (c) lack of income, (d) lack of livelihoods, (e) armed conflict and extremism (in Mindanao program areas), and such. As a result, responses in the form of strategies and projects e.g. training on soap making and the like to address lack of income and livelihoods which therefore will resolve hunger were suitable only at the level of effects or symptoms.

My thought on the matter is that (and which I’ve repeatedly mentioned in earlier posts here) I/NGOs have either forgotten or continue to refuse to see and openly discuss the root causes of poverty.

The Philippines is not Africa or Saudi Arabia (apologies for the comparison) where there are huge tracts of land that are non-arable which is made more difficult to cultivate by the non-cooperating climate there. We don’t have a desert here. We are blessed with a relatively agriculturally-friendly climate. So why this persistent poverty?

Economics:  Ownership of capital.

Who own the lands in Mindanao for example? Rights to natural resources there? Where do the fruits of the land go?

There were Sisters in the gathering and they said dialogues need to happen – which the dioceses are spearheading – among the factions in order to address extremism. For me, religion and extremism in the context of the long-drawn Mindanao armed conflict are merely tools to re-establish ownership to what factions see as rightfully theirs. Dialogues help but these do not entirely address the burning issue.

Therefore, unless the natives of the land are given right to the land and natural resources, the effects of poverty will persist.

Alternatively, following the factors of production, focus may be on the other capital i.e. labor, the aim being to elevate the quality of labor, from family members with no marketable skills to having in-demand specialist skills. Another is entrepreneurship, or innovation.

I shared these thoughts within a small group during a workshop. I asked colleagues from Mindanao whether or not my description of the situation had truth in it. They replied in the positive. But, such thoughts are seen as “radical” especially among established I/NGOs that began as charities, and because these are not made part of “official” discussion there are no corresponding responses formulated. In effect, investments and interventions year in and out are only aimed at “healing” symptoms of poverty. The real disease festers meanwhile.

In plenary, during the session on advocacy the matter on poverty and what to do different was again discussed. But seeing that there is hardly any change in learning or adequate courage even among the organizer-facilitators to lead the way to a more open and honest discussion, I contained the itch to rock the boat. Participants were so enthusiastic talking about investing in trainings for this and that that I felt I couldn’t dampen the mood. And, I kind of felt for the national head of office who at the time was up front and seemed as enthusiastic. Change is a lonely word.

But, going back to the power of words in messaging. In the country, we have been using the phrase ‘this child is poor, help him or her’ to entice support. Following the example in the video, what if we change that to ‘Mindanao is such a rich and beautiful land, yet I’m not able to see, feel, or taste it’? The ‘I’ referring to the Lumads and any other discriminated group in the region.

Me thinks it will spark a war. The Mindanao issue has been sugar-coated for a long time already. The only way out is through it i.e. a proactive address of the region’s indigenous peoples and their legitimate issues.

Also, what if nobody bothered to change the wording in the blind man’s plea for help?

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.

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

I haven’t since 2002 gone back on the Mountain Trail or have ever ventured beyond Mankayan in Benguet Province until November last year. When I did, up to Bontoc in Mountain Province I had an insight into the concern for Baguio City’s rising temperature.

The decreasing number of pines is oft-cited by regular tourists as well as locals as the culprit in the City’s changing temperature hence the annual planting of trees as a standard CSR practice.  The role of trees or foliage in climate and temperature regulation cannot be discounted, of course, but from what I’ve seen along the Mountain Trail a significant portion of the problem is likely caused by nitrous oxide emissions.

Almost entire mountain sides on the Mountain Trail starting in La Trinidad and it’s urban farms up toward Bauko (see map) have been carved out and converted into terraces of vegetables grown for the commercial market.  (This brings me to another issue:  whose property are those mountain ranges? Don’t fucking tell it’s ancestral!)

Nitrous oxide (N20) is a greenhouse gas.  It is emitted through the soil from the use of synthetic fertilizers (other sources include transportation and industry (fossil fuel combustion)).

Consider this:  According to US EPA, nitrous oxide molecules stay in the atmosphere for an average of 114 years before being removed by a sink or destroyed through chemical reactions. Translation:  The atmospheric and climatic effects of fertilizers that were used 100 years ago are still being felt by today’s generation!  Further, the impact of 1 pound of N2O on warming the atmosphere is almost 300 times that of 1 pound of carbon dioxide.

How many kilograms of fertilizers and pesticides are poured into those mountains of farms, every day, 365 days in a year?  As a result, how many pounds of N20 are emitted into the air, every day, 365 days a year?  Total number of years the gas stays up and eats into the atmosphere?  Moreover, effects of indiscriminate fertilizer use on the atmosphere is distributed regionally and globally through the biogeochemical cycles. Mountain cities are especially vulnerable because of their location .

What can be done to mitigate the effects?  At this stage of our civilization, total eradication of fertilizer use is impossible if not detrimental.  What’s needed is a continuing study of doable and effective alternatives in order to achieve good balance between food security and sustainable growth and development. This implies investment in and institutionalization of capacity development, R&D, M&E, and communications systems for agriculture specific to the province and region. In other words, modernization of local agricultural systems. Ultimately, information and support need to reach farmers and landowners who are the final decision-makers.