Development especially in mountain regions and cities like the Cordilleras and Baguio City should be well-planned and sustainable. There ought to be in the region public education and research in mountains and mountain development, from which to draw region-specific policies and strategies.

International Mountain Day
images via UNFAO

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).


*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.

Designing for the public realm

I am fascinated by architectural forms and designs.  They’re poetry.  Gazing at these doubles as a de-stressing activity for me.  I get absorbed imagining the history of the building and design that I totally forget what has stressed me.

In an increasingly complex and hyperactive world that values sameness, beauty (hence order) are important counterpoint elements in the formation and design of spaces especially in the public realm.

Beauty is however subjective and the anticipated concern is, whose perspective of beauty?  But that’s exactly why such things need to be a continuing discussion among and with the public.  Beauty is not any one’s exclusive image.  It’s what’s finally formed out of collective commitment to positive community values.  What is beauty for the Filipino?

APEC Summit 2015: Obama hosts panel with Jack Ma and Aisa Mijeno

Such a successful publicity feat this!  The US, China, and Philippines in dialogue!  It shows that these three nations can actually have easy discussions (outside political differences) with each other!  Plus, I’m sure this has greatly increased Obama’s, China’s, and Philippines’ image everywhere.

OBAMA:  Aisa is a perfect example of what we’re seeing in a lot of countries—young  entrepreneurs coming up with leapfrog  technologies.

It does raise the issue,  though, of how we can do more to support young  entrepreneurs like Aisa, and Jack. You’ve had the benefit of having been on both sides of the  equation—early entrepreneur scratching and  climbing and getting things done, and then now,  obviously a very successful businessman. How can both government and larger companies be assisting  in creating a climate for innovation that  encourages young entrepreneurs like Aisa?

MA: Government is simple: Just reduce the tax, or  no tax, for these guys.

OBAMA: There you go!

You got a lot of cheers from your fellow CEOs.

MA:  we just had a discussion at the back office—is that nobody  can help you. We can only help ourselves.  Investors, government, partners: they are all  uncles and aunties. You are the father, you are  the mother of the kid. Don’t give up the kid.  Because when we startup, we talk about our kid,  our passion, it all sounds crazy. But you are the  guy taking care of the kids.

OBAMA:  what have  been the biggest challenges and how could both  the public sector and the private sector be more  helpful in term of encouraging young  entrepreneurs like you?

MIJENO: Based on our experience, I guess what we  need here is like a support system… So, we have the passion. So what we need is a  support system from both the private sector and  the government to, like, mentor us and guide us  how we can scale up the product, the project…  And yes, we also need a lot of support in terms  of funding. That’s our main challenge right now.  We’re at a critical phase; we’re trying to mass produce the lamp, so we’re just looking for  someone to fund to get the project moving.

(Obama points at Ma at the end of Mejino’s reply.  The audience laughs. Ma points back at Obama, then at Mejino. More laughter and applause.)

OBAMA:  But a couple of things…. I know we’re running  out of time, but I wanna comment on…. I do think  there’s a role for the government to provide tax  incentives for the production of clean energy.

Second area that I think the government has an important role to play—and I think you  wouldn’t disagree on this—is, I think, research and development… Where governments can do is hard for  companies to do a front-end, basic research, that  doesn’t necessarily have an immediate pay-off,  but will then serve as the laboratory for young  people like Aisa to discover—based on that  basic research —’I’ve got a new idea and I can  do something.’

But the thing that I wanna ask you, Jack, sort of  in closing, is whether you think other businesses  you’re interacting with and dealing with,  particularly in the APEC countries, feel the same  urgency that you do, or do you think you’re still  an early evangelist on this to persuade others a  little bit more?

MA:  It’s too late to complain whose fault—whether  your fault or my fault, let’s solve the problem  together. It’s the combination… Combine the  work of the government, private sector,  scientists, and sociologists. We have to work  together.

The thing is how we can work together  efficiently. I believe always you have to keep  the heart inside, but out of the business’ way,  because you have to get things done. That’s why  scientists can tell us how to do it properly.  Business should tell us how to get things done  efficiently. And the government should have the  good environment and foundation of researching.  And also we need the media’s guide to tell the  people how we do it.

I think this area—Asia-Pacific, especially  China—we are taking good actions, but we need  to do it in a way that’s really workable.

OBAMA: Excellent… Excellent…

And Aisa, the  closing comments. You’re about to scale up and  I’m confident you’ll be successful. But one of  the most important things you’ve said, in my  mind, at least, that this starts from the  bottom-up. That whether it’s in the Philippines  or in Tanzania, or anywhere in the world, that people who are trying to improve their lives,  that they can’t be asked to just stay poor to  solve this problem. They need electricity, they  want transportation, they want the same things  that exist in developed nations.

But what that means is that if we’re working at  the grassroots level, seeing what folks need, and  figuring out in an efficient way how to deliver  improved quality of life while being  environmentally sustainable, that’s an enormous  opportunity but it starts at looking at  aspirations and hopes of ordinary people. Is that a fair thing to say?

MIJENO:  Yes. It’s mainly a collaborative effort.  You should not just, like, rely on the  government. Of course, you should also do your  part, both as a citizen of the nation, to help  your people. So like what we’re doing — I’m  focusing on what I’m good at, of course R-and-D,  research and development.

Toward the closing, there were interesting statements on climate change as well.

APEC 2015 Voices of the Future: Building a Sustainable Future: Inclusive Growth, Resilience, Empowerment

Another APEC event I’m following is Voices of the Future, youth delegates from APEC countries.  In the Special Session Dialogue held on November 13, I was struck by the young delegate from China.  Indeed, China’s young people have come a long way from the time of their parents and grandparents.