Monday, September 24, 2007

On global warming and "environmental politics"

Reaction to Papers presented in the Ateneo de Naga University, 5 September 2007:
The typical quip “It doesn’t affect us, why bother?” used to be the standard reply among ordinary citizens when asked for opinions about environmental issues. Nowadays however, the experience is real and the effect is widely felt. Fish kill, abnormal weather (including halestorm in Baguio City!), excessively high temperature, frequent flooding, etc. are just some of the phenomenon affecting everyone. Thus, it is indeed timely to reflect on the environmental issues confronting us and discern possible actions that we can immediately pursue.

But global warming as an environmental issue is almost becoming as controversial as the presidency of PGMA. May I outline some of the "political" considerations involved:

1. methodological issues divide scientists thus, findings and recommendations in this area is continually challenged: how accurate are the models in representing realities, are the causes anthropocentric or simply geophysical phenomenon

2. the state of the art may be summarized along the following lines (quoting EPA):

•Human activities are changing the composition of Earth's atmosphere. Increasing levels of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere since pre-industrial times are well-documented and understood.
•The atmospheric buildup of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is largely the result of human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels.
•An “unequivocal” warming trend of about 1.0 to 1.7°F occurred from 1906-2005. Warming occurred in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, and over the oceans (IPCC, 2007).
•The major greenhouse gases emitted by human activities remain in the atmosphere for periods ranging from decades to centuries. It is therefore virtually certain that atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases will continue to rise over the next few decades.
•Increasing greenhouse gas concentrations tend to warm the planet.

3. As a political issue, social movements and even political parties are born around global warming: (1)advocates calling for policy reforms and behavior modifications, (2)“cooler heads coalition” focusing on the flaws of doomsday scenario, (3)east-west divide being highlighted: who caused it, who suffers, who will act

4. Thus, this environmental issue takes on a very political dimension (politics referring to any social configuration that involves the struggle for and exercise of power):
•whose findings and perceptions will prevail
•whose recommendations and actions get implemented

5. But to my mind, the bottom-line is about the knowledge and truth that we gain, the actions that we pursue with this knowledge, and the learning that we derive from the experience. Politics is the tool for getting these.

6. Politically therefore, the action points in the international arena will be multi-layered and necessitating several policy interventions within and among the governments of the world. But in our level, much can be done already: (1)reduce, reuse, recycle (2)estimate climate impact of university, (3)get involved!

7. The two-fold fundamental politics in environmental issue: (1)power must be given to the people (knowledge and action being democratized instead of a few countries, agencies, and individuals only) ; (2)scientific studies, findings, and recommendations must be subjected to the most rigid discourse aimed towards truth and accuracy.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Guarding the Pork Barrel!

The Coalition of Development NGO's (CODE-NGO)and the Coalition for Bicol Development (CBD) hosted last August 30, 9am at the Regent Hotel of Naga City the presentation of their findings and recommendations in the project "PDAF Watch".

There was dismal response among majority of the legislators when requested to provide data on how their PDAF was spent. As expected, the widely perceived and publicly-acknowledged problems of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), popularly called "pork barrel", was validated. The three areas covered by the project: roads, IT/computers, and LGU priorities all revealed serious problems. For instance, some roads did not even last for a year before cracks and potholes emerged! Worse, there are even instances wherein roads are supposedly missing!

To my mind, the most important lesson learned from the study is that the technology for monitoring and safeguarding the PDAF must be improved, if it expects to make a more widespread and stronger impact. At the same time, policy instruments that will compel legislators receiving PDAF to be more transparent and accountable should be pushed in Congress.

And the PDAF Watch also run straight into the middle of a long and persistent debate on whether it should be abolished completely or retained, with some modifications.

As if these issues are not enough, PDAF must also be recognized for what it is: a political instrument of the executive branch to exact loyalty and obedience from the legislators. Thus, instead of the popular perception of PDAF as money that can be thrown around by the congressman or senator, it must be viewed also as the money that is essentially doled-out by Malacanang to its allies and supporters. More importantly, it is also the same money that is deprived of the opposition congresspersons, opposition senators, and their constitutents.

A bigger struggle therefore would be how to cut off this fund from the political interests and partisan bickering of politicians!After all, PDAF is widely hailed by many as a mechanism for equitable distribution of government funds. We might as well make it 'true to form'!

Muslim-Christian Interaction

I was invited to take part in a three-day four-country conference dubbed "Culture, Conflict, and Religion: Implications for Southeast Asia and Australia" last August 26-28 at the Ateneo de Manila University. It was jointly sponsored by the AdeMU Political Science Department and the Center for Dialogue of Australia's La Trobe University.

At the onset, I had to hesitate. At the back of my mind, I was thinking the conference is better off being attended by our brothers and sisters from Mindanao wherein various forms of conflict are raging (among which is supposedly a Muslim-Christian conflict). Nonetheless, the political animal in me got excited particularly when there was mention of analyzing the interaction in the context of the September 11 assault into the United States and the subsequent campaign against terrorism.

As it turned out, I was glad to attend the said gathering. Aside from the opportunity for bonding with kindred spirits from other Ateneos all over the Philippines, it also became a chance to interact with seasoned intellectuals and political analyst from the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Australia. Needless to say, the conference turned out to be a treasure field of information and potential research directions in the area of Muslim-Christian interaction and multiculturalism.

And thus I was forced to look closely into the Naga City context. Questions such as "How do we relate with the Muslims in our midst?" and "Do we have biases and prejudices for our Muslim brothers and sisters?" took on a more serious implication. The social scientist in me is itching to start writing the research proposal and actually doing the study. After all, many of my insights and knowledge on this area is based on gut feel and casual observation. Maybe a more rigid scrutiny, subject to the rigors of the scientific research, will give interesting data.

Most importantly, the conference again awakened my wariness towards stereotyping and labeling. Something that is habitually done by society at the expense of the minority. Is Naga City different from other societies in the treatment of the Muslims? Is there a peaceful coexistence of Christians and Muslims in Naga City? And how is such interaction affected by the campaign against terrorism?

Maybe an interesting forum in the locality would soon take shape. "Multiculturalism: Diversity and Solidarity in Naga City". Watch out..

The Wonderful Island of Masbate!

I was in the main island of Masbate province last 18-22 July for a research work. The field work turned out to be an eye-opener not only on the exotic beauty of the island but a lot more on the people of this distant province of the Bicol Region. I venture then to offer an outsider's experience of Masbate Province.

The Place. Masbate Province is a paradise. Composed of three islands, Masbate City is the commercial hub of the province. The rolling hills, fine beaches, clean sea, as well as the cool and fresh breeze is a wonderful experience for anyone who is looking for respite from the pollution of the urban centers.

Mabate City is a curious mix of the urban and rural features. However, the city has managed to retain the placid and peaceful way of life characteristic of Philippine countryside.

Surprisingly, the breath-taking inland mountains and forested areas of the province has managed to survive in the limited land area through the years.

The People. Generally cordial, the kind and gentle people of Masbate can be assertive of their convictions (including political affiliations). It is also noted that the level of familiarity among the residents is hight, providing a prevalent sense of "community" among the people.

The Economy. The main economic sector of the province is agriculture. Fishing, farming, corn-raising, coconut production are the major activities. In the service sector, food shops and repair shops are prominent. Trading and retail is also brisk.

The Politics. The island's political environment may be described by the prevalence of dominant political clans in the various municipalities of the province. Young and old generation of leaders from the same political clans are distributed all throughout the province. Also, violence is sometimes a very real political phenomenon in this island province.


A brief stay in the province has provided so much data on the life of Masbatenos. Social realities observed herein are but the tip of the iceberg. But these initial observations simply inspire more effort to learn about the province and its people. The kindness and solidarity so unselfishly displayed amidst economic difficulties and poor infrastructure says a lot about the people of Masbate. Its neighboring provinces surely have a lot to learn from this phenomenon!