TIMES of crisis are windows for great opportunity. That is an old Chinese saying. But in these troubling times (for many), what opportunities indeed lie ahead? There are quite a few and the promising thing is they seem to be opportunities that would open up given current trajectories or the way things are unfolding. Indeed, 2017 may be the year that developmental change finally proceeds.
The world is shifting away from the international policies of recent decades that, while they have created well-being for unprecedented billions of people, have likewise resulted in great tensions. Not just tensions between peoples but tensions between people and their environment and even tensions inside people due to an identity overly linked to consumerism rather than their inherent truths; consumerism that threatens the very sustainability of Mother Earth.
One such opportunity is the re-emergence within government of the area development paradigm or development framework under Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Gina Lopez. While Sixto K. Roxas was its initial advocate in the late 1960s it had unfortunately been bastardized in several big government projects that went puff! (just as the autonomous regional experience is going puff!) due to wrongful implementation, which in turn was due to a misunderstanding of what area, development is basically about.
With Secretary Gina at the helm of a major government department that has a direct and meaningful role in national development, the area development paradigm is set to take off and this time under the leadership of a capable and knowledgeable environment and natural resources secretary. For one, Secretary Gina has been a practitioner of area development approaching the various undertakings of the ABS-CBN Foundation in Palawan and other provinces wherein the local people were the implementers and the beneficiaries of the eco-tourism projects that simply highlighted the potential of their area (thus the term area development).
Secretary Gina knows that with the Philippines’ archipelagic territory, the mountain ridge ecosystem connects by streams, creeks, rivers to the various other ecosystems until the final one (within our territory), the coral reef ecosystem, the totality of which was once teeming with life. “Life in all its fullness” was certainly what the Philippines was (before the times of colonization and industrialization. But alas, development was under the unitary and sectoral paradigm).
Area development deepens this understanding of the fragile but critical relationships between and among interconnected ecosystems and working with the local people applies the principle of subsidiarity which states that functions and decision-making should be undertaken at the lowest possible hierarchical level and the role of the higher organizational level is to support those lower units undertaking the functions.
As Secretary Gina says, “area development is about nurturing and helping the local people nurture their local areas to unleash [their]productive potential”. This means making development based on the potentialities of the area. This is the better opposite to what has been going on since the Philippines became a country under colonial masters where the desires of the corporations were simply imposed on local areas that suited their businesses. And since business was all that mattered, they generally left the place worse off and, in many instances killing off the ecosystem that the locals could have relied on for sustenance. The zenith of this “devil may care” attitude seems to be the guiding principle of many large mines that decimate the geological and hydrological functions of the ecosystem leaving the locals in perpetual risk and scamming the Filipino people by leaving behind a permanent pit hole of humongous dimensions. It wouldn’t be surprising if the economic tab left behind by derelict mines long abandoned by mining companies that have been in turn abandoned by their shareholders are simply dumped on you and me, the taxpayers. Secretary Gina calls this “madness”.
Under the principle of subsidiarity, it is government’s role to assist local people co-create local sustainable economies based on the perpetual beneficial use of the local ecosystem bounties for even distant future generations. Thus, the shift towards federalism is timely in that area development and subsidiarity are wholly compatible with federalism. In fact, they are necessary complements to genuine federalism. Where unitarism (our present centralized system) brought us corporate-led sectoral and highly inequitable development, federalism should usher in community-based, ecosystem-sensitive area development that gives everyone who wants a chance to participate in the local economy that opportunity.
Thus, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is leading the way by selecting 29 priority areas to demonstrate area development and is enlisting the help of the Sixto K. Roxas Foundation that targets poverty eradication by creating the template of an expanded local social accounting matrix of the value-adding power of the local sectors and how incomes are distributed (or not distributed locally but remitted out of the local area). Secretary Gina wants all programs of the DENR like the National Greening Program, Bamboo Program, Biochar Program, Mangrove Rehabilitation Programs, and Mining Programs to be re-crafted along the principles of area development with its concrete manifestation of viable community enterprises that are networked to build up to scale and demonstrate the opposite of “trickle-down” (pinatulo) towards the alternative of “nurturing upwards,” or pinatubo.
President Duterte seems to be instinctively aware that the ideological lines are not anymore between the “left vs. the right,” the old Cold War mentality of these old ideologies (that ironically are united in their pinatulo paradigm as both ideologies rely on trickle-down sectors to benefit the locals) but between the primacy of nurturing people and ecosystems versus sectoral corporations (that have grown so large, moneyed and powerful), or in other words “pinatulo” vs. “pinatubo”. Thus, the push for federalism as a government organizational set-up where now, finally, area development can be its favored bride guided by the vow of subsidiarity.
The author, a co-convenor of the Subsidiarity Movement International and the Federalist Forum of the Philippines, advocates for the bottom-up development model as well as proper decentralization, and the strengthening of regional governance. He served for 12 years in the Regional Development Council of Central Luzon as chair of the economic committee. He was a consultant for the Philippine Alternative Fuels Corp. (PAFC) and was on the board of trustees of the HARIBON Foundation. He is currently a member of the board of advisors of CDPI.