Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Typhoons and Hazards, Risk and Society: Act of God or Act of Man?

Philippine military, a critical partner in relief operations

Philippine military, a critical partner in relief operations

Two typhoons in two weeks have made searching, recovering, and burying the bodies of over 600 people killed, missing, and presumed dead as well as providing relief goods, evacuation sites, and services to half of Luzon Island in the Philippines unenviable tasks. Typhoon Ondoy’s rainfall and the flooding it caused were the worst according to PAGASA (Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration). Floods of up to 20 feet damaged public and private property, as well as crops and incurred lost revenue. All these cost an estimated PhP15 billion. Metro Manila and 25 other provinces were placed under a state of calamity. Typhoon Parma/Pepang followed after interacting with Typhoon Melchor and slammed into northern Luzon last week causing extensive landslides, mudslides, flooding, and bridge destruction in many provinces. Hundreds were killed and extensive areas isolated.

A week after Typhoon Ondoy, Napindan, Tauguig was still flooded

A week after Typhoon Ondoy, Napindan, Tauguig was still flooded

Eighteen years ago in 1991, an estimated 5,000 people died because of mudslides, landslides, and flashfloods. In the past fifteen years, more than 4,000 been killed, over 7,000, and at least three million people rendered homeless by typhoons. Damage to private and public property and crops have soared to at least PhP70 Billion.

Of the 11 worst typhoons to hit the Philippines since 1946, seven of them have occurred in the last 25 years during the period 1984-2009. The 2009 Pacific Typhoon season is considered one of the worst in decades.

The government says it was nature that caused it- too much rain, consecutive typhoons. The newsreels and photos show otherwise. In past calamities, legally and illegally cut logs rampaged down bare mountain slopes demolishing homes, farmland, roads, and even bridges. Today, mushrooming housing subdivisions have encroached into ecologically critical wetlands or watershed areas.

The years after Marcos was overthrown was a politically tense with right-wing military rebels staging failed coup de t’ats. On the environmental front, debates on environmental conservation, protection, and rehabilitation (E-CPR) were likewise intense, specifically whether the Philippines should adopt a total or selective logging ban. Academics, forestry specialists, environmental activists, politicians, and government officials all mobilized to support one or the other side of the argument. Nearly two dozen years later the debate still rages on. Various logging ban bills, including those filed as long as 20 years ago, have languished in Congressional committees by design and neglect. In the meantime, the human, environmental, and property toll rises as 20-25 typhoons visit the Philippines yearly to exacerbate an already degraded and fragile environment.

Shanty and dumpsite in a wetland

Shanty in a wetland

Back then and up to today at times, my framework for explaining all these was the historical and socio-economic-political structure of Philippine society. Development and social justice were difficult to achieve because of the asymmetrical power distribution within socio-economic and political classes nationwide. The argument remains valid, but after so many years, the argument has acquired a taken-for-granted and reductionist perspective. Logging companies have moved out. There is a partial log ban in some areas. Rebels, secessionists, and lost commands have entered into unholy alliances with illegal loggers. Migration has increased not only to urban areas but into the uplands as well. With a nationwide 2.3% annual population growth rate, population movement into hazardous areas complicates the search for sustainable environmental and development strategies.

In these days of hazards, man-made or natural, understanding risks in its various dimensions vis-à-vis a societal context can provide a nuanced understanding of what is happening. Societal problems have decidedly political origins, but there are also system issues in organizational and institutional settings. While politics plays a significant part in these settings, recognizing and then understanding how parts of a system or institution are coupled and interact with one another in ways that are both expected and unexpected, as the sociologist Charles Perrow emphasized, is a very important perspective.

Because the concept of risk is pervasive in daily life and public discourse, leaders need to understand why the present western, industrialized societies, including those in developing countries, are considered risk societies.

Risk is commonly thought of as a potential threat or harm. Its etymology is either from the Arabic word risq (good fortune or wealth acquisition) or the Latin word risco, the term used by sailors entering unchartered, dangerous waters. Risk pervades everyday life. Awareness of and heightened interest on the concept and nature of risk are evident in various discourses in many disciplines as well as in the public and private sectors.

Accounting for a risk society is necessary because the industrialized world of the 20th century, especially its latter half, has been characterized as a century of significant and rapid socio-economic change, flux, and uncertainty. Perrow notes that a risk society basically is a preoccupation of individuals, groups, and organizations in the private and public sectors with the various risks posed by daily life within a highly coupled and interactive capitalist system. Sociologists and anthropologists have observed that transformations of political, economic, social, and even cultural institutions have had profound impacts on individual, familial, and societal concerns, i.e. changing employment patterns, gender roles, shake up of family relations and social identities, redefinition of class boundaries, rise of states, immigration, environmental issues, and so on.

The effects of globalization have yet to be fully understood as the world entered the 21st century. Nine years into the new century, geopolitics and security issues have taken center stage along with environmental degradation.

Modern society has an organizational base to it. In order for organizations to survive, it needs to be effective. Organizational effectiveness means accomplishing two objectives, namely, continued access to resources and meeting the needs and demands of multiple constituents or stakeholders. It is in the various ways of meeting these two objectives that risk and hazards arise for various parties, be they first, second, third, or fourth party “stakeholders”. Over time, changes to the organizational field or environment are brought about by transformations of political, economic, social, and even cultural institutions that have profound impacts on individual, familial, organizational, and societal concerns.

These issues of economic and social-political flux, multiculturalism, explosion of information and communication flows, environmental hazards, and security/ military concerns recognize no geopolitical, class or socio-cultural boundaries and are not easily resolved. What is significant and is especially true in the Philippines is that institutions established to provide safety nets to citizens, i.e. public policy, economic regulation, industrial relations, insurance and social security, industry, food and drug oversight agencies, media, etc., have been found wanting and maladaptive to rapidly changing conditions. As the past two weeks has shown, the government and politicians’ response have been wanting if not absent. Even its media attempts of showing government relief efforts have been rendered inept and politically opportunistic.

Media, communication and information technologies have made feasible public access to information and resources on economic, political environmental, public health, and etc. issues; which have heightened, public interest, concern, and knowledge of contentious and risk issues. With floods reaching second floor ceiling levels and cars sinking into floods, it seems that Filipinos are left to their own devices and the heroism of fellow Filipinos. In this instance, it is media that has been the source of disaster information and by extension, relief efforts management. As Luis Teodoro wrote, “in these corrupt times, credibility is everything.”

Coupled with the individuation of information and communication flows is the increasing intrusion of the market logic in organizational fields that were once not directly influenced by it. This is seen in efforts to privatize as much as possible government services such as military logistics handling, national capacity building, and possibly even social security services. In the United States, for example, radical tax reform is also being pushed to support this privatization effort, the creation of an “ownership society”, and commodification of all possible transactional relations. Non-profit organizations engaged in various social movements are expected to be even more sophisticated as they incorporate a market logic to their operations.

On the other hand, the pervasiveness of the market logic has a counterpoint to it. The development of a moral economy social movement is burgeoning in response to globalization, workplace anomie, homogenizing pressures, abuses by industry and big business, environmental degradation, etc. Different sectors of society are engaging in what the sociologist Ulrich Beck (1992) labels the “third way” of direct politics.

Although the concept of risk has a long historical development, the risk society perspective is generally attributed to German sociologist Ulrich Beck’s landmark book Risk and Society. Beck’s theses are: (a) The nature of risk has mutated over time, from one that was natural hazards-focused, to that of man-made or manufactured risks, some having catastrophic potential, (b) Industrialized nations have entered a risk society in which institutions previously established to address risks fail to do so causing systemic crises of confidence and accountability; and, (c) A risk society amplifies these uncertainties, with risk-regulating institutions being rendered ineffectual by public cynicism. Individuals are left to fend for themselves, determining what is risky, how risky, and how to address these risks. Thus, the phenomenon is individualized and called risk modernization. In effect, risk becomes even more socially constructed, both on individual and societal levels.

Many criticize Beck for not providing empirical data, his preoccupation with environmental risks (the “bads”) to the exclusion of other types of risk, his call to go beyond Marxist historical materialism and class conflicts, universalizing of risk, negation of “positive” risks, and absence of cross-cultural comparisons, among others. Nevertheless, his thesis has engendered public risk consciousness and concern with man-made risks, discussion on the individualization of risk, heightened scrutiny of risk-regulating institutions, and mobilized political action.

A risk society is one that has or is becoming conscious of: (a) the need to determine the extent of interdependence, coupling, and interactiveness of these further evolving economic, political, social, and cultural systems, (b) the power, legitimacy, and urgency attributes of these systems, and, (c) whether or not and how relevant stakeholders will mobilize to address specific risks. Managers who appreciate the sociocultural dimensions of risk as discussed above are in a position to better identify, comprehend, and attend to the issues of power, legitimacy, urgency, and mobilization in relation to stakeholders and within the context of a changing social, cultural, political, economic and legal landscape.

Understanding risk in its many dimensions inevitably leads to an assessment of power relationships on individual and systemic levels according to Perrow. Modern manufactured risks are both visible and non-visible, especially for the physics, chemistry, and biological-genetic fields, and are primarily based on industrial overproduction. Economic activities concerned with maximizing profit and resource use tend to take more production and operations risks. Significantly, these man-made risks are temporally distributed across society, where in some cases, parties that do not have a direct influence on the proponent-firm carry the largest risk, i.e. border communities being asked to recycle industrial wastes or in the Philippine case, residential villages in hazardous areas.

Stakeholders are not static entities doomed to fear, inaction, and extreme skepticism of risk-regulating institutions. Researchers, in contrast to Beck and Giddens, have noted that risk management has agency. By agency, individuals and groups seek information and knowledge about the current situation and risks. They then act on these risks based on information gathered from family, friends, colleagues, media, the Web, and a multitude other sources. People and communities display resilience in the face of risks, hazards, and “normal accidents”, accidents which are inevitable because of the operation’s tight coupling, high interactiveness, and little room for flexibility.

Beck normatively calls for “subpolitics” or direct, individual action from below to address both global and local (the “glocal”) issues, by-passing discredited representative and responsible institutions, to eventually shape society. The struggle against genetically modified (GM) food, the mad cow (BSE) disease crisis, nuclear and biological weapons, the problems of the nuclear industry, the war of terrorism, the efforts on global warming and others show agency on the part of various stakeholders on “glocal” issues, which originate from business and industry.

What does this mean for the Philippines?

The typhoons and the responses of the individuals and institutions were revealing. Government and politicians, including presidentiables, were exposed as to their incompetence, ineptness, unpreparedness, and callous politicking in what the PCIJ wrote as the politics of relief. In contrast, civil society has stepped up and sought to fill in the gap of government. The exception is the Philippine military. Gawad Kalinga for example, distributed over 200,000 food packs in 10 days of relief work. Over 6,000 volunteers helped them. GK’s Gawad Kalusugan or health program team also conducted medical missions. Three important aspects surface from GK’s relief effort.

6,000 food bags and 15 military trucks to Taytay, Rizal

6,000 food bags and 15 military trucks to Taytay, Rizal

First is that GK had on the ground information from its 400 villages in Metro Manila. Through text messages, phone calls, and even social networking sites such as Facebook, timely and critical information was transmitted. This enabled GK to organize and tailor-fit relief efforts.

Second, GK beneficiaries in these villages, because of their social transformation, community empowerment and solidarity, and relative safety of their homes, were able to be the first on-the-ground rescue and relief volunteers. GK’s Tony Meloto writes of numerous and first stories of heroism by GK beneficiaries, now heroes.

Third, GK was able to effectively mass mobilize individual and institutional volunteers. Six thousand registered volunteers and scores of unregistered ones, dozens of corporations, and donors from abroad enabled GK to collect and repack the over 200,000 food packs. Andok’s Sandy Javier alone donated 90,000 chicken eggs and was bowled over by the organizational efficiency of GK’s relief efforts. GK’s Tony Meloto recounted that 50 homes in a plush Ayala village opened their kitchens and commenced food preparations for typhoon victims. “Walang Iwanan” (No is left behind) became a rallying cry of GK volunteers and supporters who felt they needed to mobilize when government help was inadequate or too slow.

Gawad Kalinga and the military partner up to help Ondoy victims

Gawad Kalinga and the military partner up to help Ondoy victims

The power and potential of GK’s emphasis on community-based development and organizing has borne fruit amidst some of the crumbling institutions of Philippine society.

Importantly, GK was able to coordinate and act in unison with the Philippine military. All branches of the military provided the necessary security and trucks to brave both the floodwaters and sea of humanity desperate for food, water, medical help, clothing, and encouragement. GK penetrated areas in Rizal, Pasig, Marikina, and Taguig that were inaccessible and dangerous because of the Philippine military.

I think that the Philippine military’s partnership with civil society, notably Gawad Kalinga, Red Cross, and ABS-CBN, among others has restored to a significant degree its credibility and reliability. The soldiers were strong, patient, and disciplined. They not only lent an air of security to the numerous relief volunteers, but including those who needed help.

With regards to the environmental situation in the Philippines, a few weeks prior to the typhoons, Manila hosted the Asian ministerial meetings on climate change that resulted in the Manila Declaration. What was clear from that conference attended by over 600 participants was that the effects of climate change do not recognize borders or social class. Depressingly, while the industrialized world caused much of the global warming, it is the developing world, including the Philippines, which will reap the consequences. Further, Asia is being forced to leapfrog into a cleaner production AND address the poverty gap at the same time, which no country has done on a massive scale. It will take the best brains and the shared resources between rich and poor countries to achieve this.

Third, who will suffer indicates vulnerability. Who is vulnerable in this age of risk and hazards? While the typhoons showed that rich and poor were affected, it is still the poor that are the most vulnerable. They have neither the resources nor network to avoid hazardous areas, access timely and relevant information, and after the disaster has struck, rebuild and move on. Poverty is not only the lack of resources; it is the lack of options and choices. They suffer from the quadruple whammy of poverty, social inequity, poor governance, and the external shocks of environmental degradation and calamities. They are caught between their flooded shanty and a rampaging swollen river, with only their wits and determination to survive guiding them.

Choose your boat

Choose your boat

The great ship that is Metro Manila is leaking. The leaks are caused by unsustainable urbanization patterns of a fast population growth rate, environmental degradation, unequal power and income, lack of access to suitable and unaffordable housing, lack of fair wages and employment opportunities.

Disasters of a calamitous nature have a social underbelly.

The question is how will you act?

Walang Iwanan. Ano ang taya mo?

Walang Iwanan! Ano ang Taya Mo?

Walang Iwanan! Ano ang Taya Mo?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

President: Servant-leader or Warrior-Datu? (On Noynoy Aquino as President)

President: Servant-leader or Warrior-Datu?

The debate over whether Benigno “Noynoy” Cojuangco-Aquino Jr. is of presidential timber or not is also a debate on what kind of president we want for the Philippines.

Do we want a strong arm, macho leader of the “Datu” mold? In pre-Spanish colonial Philippines, a datu was a warrior who led his clan or village into battle, either in defense or in raiding other villages. In between battles, he would ensure that his people would have enough land, fishing grounds, and hunting areas to feed themselves and reproduce socially. Thus, a datu kept his people secure; kept them full; and kept the peace.

Since the advent of American-style democratic politics, Philippine presidents have always been from the elite class. They were educated or were exposed to elite culture. They were well-off and well connected. They projected an aura of strength, vigor, courage, decisiveness, and breeding (however you define these terms). Besides, they had the resources to build up a private army if political violence was necessary. They kept their constituents happy with largesse.

Picture Datu Rajah Sulayman confronting the Spanish colonizers or an Erap eating lechon at Camp Abubakar.

However, a reading of leadership from the masses’ point of view reveals that their leader had not only Datu-qualities, but more. I’ve written before that in the Philippines, there is actually a strong culture of servant-leadership. Scholars like V. Enriquez, K. de Guia, R. Ileto, V. Rafael, M. Ramirez, among others, write of leaders that were effective because they led by serving others—like Christ. The Gawad Kalinga social movement easily comes into mind.

Tony Meloto's Builder of Dreams

Tony Meloto's Builder of Dreams

In humility, in service, in providing a deep wellspring of empathy, understanding, healing of self and other, and commitment to the welfare of others, these servant-leaders developed a flock of loyal, committed, ardent, and energized followers. Embodied in the Filipino term, Kapwa, the servant-leader recognizes that Filipino personhood of self is bound up and shared with the OTHER. This is the basis for bayani, bayanihan, bayan- hero, community solidarity, nation.

In Philippine historiography, social movement leaders were infused with kapwa and its characteristics of caring, sharing, a sense of community, family, “an expanded sense of shared humanity” or kagandahang loob, katwiran (straightness), kalayaan (freedom, independence, and free will), talinhaga (imagery and vision), and lakaran (pilgrimage, sometimes for a cause).

Combined with values that are societal in nature such as karangalan (dignity), katarungan (justice), and kalayaan (freedom), these enabled a leader to mobilize, organize, and act. The results were not always favorable, but the country is not short of revolutionary heroes.

Funeral cortege for Pres. Cory Aquino in Makati City

Funeral cortege for Pres. Cory Aquino in Makati City

What makes Noynoy a compelling presidential candidate is not that he is the only son of two national heroes of the Philippines who are well loved. Nelson Mandela was said to quote though to Noynoy; “So you are the son. You know how to choose your parents.” If inheritance of the Aquino mantle was the norm, then Kris Aquino, the most high profile of the Aquino siblings; possibly the richest; and the most charismatic would be the logical choice. Nevertheless, she is not acceptable at present.

Noynoy’s eulogy of his mother to his speech during the book launch of Tony Meloto’s “A Builder of Dreams” a few days ago shows not a Datu-leader, but a potential servant leader. He speaks from the heart. He is articulate. He can communicate with all sorts of folks. His low profile and humble persona is actually appealing to many of us fed up with the macho ineptness of our politicians. He is well read, well exposed, and experienced. Afterall, military rebels tried to kill him.

Noynoy Aquino speaking at the book launch of Tony Meloto's Builder of Dreams

Noynoy Aquino speaking at the book launch of Tony Meloto's Builder of Dreams

What the country needs is a servant-leader that will let Filipinos be the best they can be. That means giving Filipinos the space, the level playing field, the dignity, and minimally, the resources to develop themselves and thereafter, the country. Filipinos are not stupid. They are survivors. They can adapt. They are innovative and creative. All they need is a political and economic space defined by meritocracy and honesty.

Can a datu-president provide this or should it be a servant-leader?

I say that Noynoy is potentially a servant-leader. I would encourage him to go on his personal lakaran (pilgrimage) to determine how he would become an effective, efficient, servant-leader, and president of the Philippines.

Develop a discipline of deep prayer and meditation.

Go on a nationwide listening and consultative tour with both leaders and the masa.

Consult with the best and brightest, but forge your own vision of what the country should be.

Learn the successes, difficulties, potentials, and dangers of social movements like Gawad Kalinga. Afterall, your campaign will be waged on a social movement platform similar to that of Barack Obama.

Marj D., a Gawad Kalinga worker, described it best when she said Noynoy running and possibly winning is “palpable.” I agree. Social movements, which Ninoy and Cory Aquino recognized as part and parcel of resistance and eventually People Power, form the basis of a strong civil society. Gawad Kalinga’s social movement of servant-leadership infused with heroism is a model that Noynoy Aquino can easily relate to. Afterall, his mother once said that “People Power is Gawad Kalinga and Gawad Kalinga is People Power.”

Noynoy running changes the tone of the elections. Will it still be guns, goons, gold, and girls? Or, will it be bayani, bayanihan, at bayan?

As the founder of the servant-leadership school of thought in the U.S., Robert Greenleaf wrote;
“THIS IS MY THESIS: caring for persons, the more able and the less able serving each other, is the rock upon which a good society is built. Whereas, recently, caring was largely person to person, now most of it is mediated through institutions—often large, complex, powerful, impersonal; not always competent; sometimes corrupt. If a better society is to be built, one that is more just and more loving, one that provides greater creative opportunity for its people, then the most open course is to raise both capacity to serve and the very performance as servant of existing major institutions by new regenerative forces operating within them.”

Monday, May 25, 2009

All 85 GK: Ito mismo ang taya ng 85ers

All 85ers from various schools.  Photo by Tonette Mendoza

All 85ers from various schools. Photo by Tonette Mendoza

The late U.S. President John F. Kennedy once said that, “One person can make a difference and every person should try.” But why struggle alone when you can achieve your dreams as a group or as a team? Thus, the eminent anthropologist Margaret Mead’s famous quote appeals more to me. She said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Mead was proven correct last Saturday, 23 May 2009, when the All 85 Gawad Kalinga Village broke ground at Sitio Pajo, Bgy. Baesa, Quezon City. Participating member schools of high school Batch 85 pledged to fund 26 homes for the residents thereat. As long-time informal dwellers on land that was not theirs, they organized themselves and sought the help of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the QC local government to purchase the land they were squatting on. It took years, but working together, they finally gained ownership of the land.

Homes at Sitio Pajo, Bgy. Baesa, Quezon City

Homes at Sitio Pajo, Bgy. Baesa, Quezon City

Sitio Pajo is a high-density slum with narrow streets, poor drainage, lack of access to basic services, and a high risk fire area. It borders middle class exclusive villages including the nearby Quezon City General Hospital. Last February 25, 2009, about 195 families were affected by a liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) explosion that ignited a fire. About 99 families completely lost their homes. It was the second fire that occurred in Bgy. Baesa within the last 12 months. It looked hopeless to many residents burdened by poverty and disaster, but their indomitable spirit and Gawad Kalinga provided hope for a new beginning.

Homes by whatever means and materials

Homes by whatever means and materials

Gawad Kalinga is the path breaking faith-based movement on community development and nation-building seeking to build 700,000 homes in 7,000 communities in seven years. It has been helping the residents of Sitio Pajo build not only new, brightly colored and to-code homes, but also meaningful lives through community solidarity and empowerment. With dedicated Couples for Christ (CFC) caretaker-volunteers and the generous support of Colgate-Palmolive Corp. and their employees, both active and retired, they’re transforming this former slum area into a community filled with “Bright Smiles.” All 85 GK will now follow what Colgate started.

Sitio Pajo community leaders

Sitio Pajo community leaders

For All 85, it can’t be a more fulfilling moment from that day in July 2008 when a few of us were toying with the idea of making our 25th anniversary high school homecoming celebration a more meaningful one. After all, how many parties and dinners can you have to celebrate one’s homecoming? We wondered how we could align our respective homecoming celebrations to that of giving back to our communities and to our country in a way that modeled solidarity or bayanihan.

Bagong bahay, bagong buhay, bagong bayan

Bagong bahay, bagong buhay, bagong bayan

Our inspiration was Gawad Kalinga. Gawad Kalinga enabled us to work as one united Batch 85. The Gawad Kalinga movement and its activities have always modeled audacious goals, persistence based on faith, and padugo—bleeding for the cause and modeling heroic action of loving the poor. GK espoused unity of the family, of the community, and of the nation.

It took eight months to get to here. Each school representative had to convince their own batchmates that sponsoring an All 85 GK Village on top of the respective batch’s commitment to their alma mater, their school’s chosen civic project, and their own homecoming activities and expenses still made sense and were feasible. Each school sought to commit at least one home, ideally two.

The next hurdle was the time commitment. All had to get to know one another and to align each other batch’s capacities, capabilities, and constraints in order to get the village going. Despite work, family, and other responsibilities, the monthly meetings were well attended. ANCOP-GK’s Rose Cabrera, Batch 85 of St. Therese College and her husband, Bong, Lourdes 85, were able to get Tony Meloto and Dylan Wilk to meet and inspire the group. Rose was also able to arrange for monthly All 85 GK activities in different GK villages as a way to familiarize All 85ers with the GK work and the “GK Way” of doing community development and nation building.

GK All 85 groundbreaking. Photo by Cindy Solano Medina

GK All 85 groundbreaking. Photo by Cindy Solano Medina

Apparently, the meetings, talks, and activities were transformational. Assumption’s Emily M.-Y. and Judy C. got things started with Assumption 85’s full commitment to All 85. Emily also got some sizable pledges. A get together of Maryknoll 85ers in the United States led to enough donations for one home. John-John T. of La Salle Zobel, according to CSA’s Nilo T., thought it was just a matter of raising funds for the village. But visiting the GK villages, talking and meeting with GK residents, and helping in community builds have transformed him. John-John has willingly taken on the leadership role along for All 85 and his leadership has been inspirational.

All 85 at GK Bagong Silang. Photo by Marivic Poblador-Pineda

All 85 at GK Bagong Silang. Photo by Marivic Poblador-Pineda

The transformational aspect of GK was also not lost on someone who wrote:

“I’ve always heard about GK but never had the opportunity to visit GK sites or to learn about the true spirit of GK. As you know, anyone who graduated in high school in 1985 is about to celebrate their ‘25th year’ and the village we could build would be in tribute to our 25th year. But this is not all that GK ALL’85 will accomplish. It was an eye opener, to say the least, to actually visit a GK community. Learning that GK is not just about donating funds gave me a perspective on what the ‘big picture’ really is. GK is about community building. It is about bringing our high school graduating class and other batch ‘85 alumni together. We can help build a community by donating not only our funds but our time and our talent/skills…”

Working together works!  Photo by Tonette Mendoza

Working together works! Photo by Tonette Mendoza

It does help that many school representatives knew one another from high school or from college. A number went to University of the Philippines (U.P.) Diliman so it was natural to leverage the U.P. network. In U.P., there was also a corner nook called A.S. 101 where 85ers hung out and friendships were made. Thus, it was easy for those hanging out there, or in the A.S. lobby, or were part of the various UP organizations and clubs to get together in All 85.

Marriage was also a key network link. A number of 85ers from different high schools are married to one another. Couple Raul and Celine P., Ateneo 85 and STC 85 respectively, were not aware of All 85 GK, but met up with Rose Cabrera to discuss donating a home to GK. This serendipitous moment worked well for All 85. CFC is another awesome link with Assumption’s Emily M.-Y., Rose C., Povedan 85er Marivic P.-P. as members and All 85 movers. They even got a fellow CFCer and non-85er to contribute to the All 85 GK village!

We're also not complaining that QC Vice-Mayor Herbert Bautista along with his fellow batchmate Ricky H., are both of San Beda 85. San Beda is coming in with a vegetable gardening program with the QC government and a home.

All 85 GK nation builders!

All 85 GK is composed of the following schools: Assumption, Ateneo, Colegio San Agustin, Immaculate Conception Academy, La Salle Zobel, La Salle Greenhills, Lourdes, Philippine Science High School, Poveda Learning Center, Maryknoll, Xavier, San Beda, School of the Holy Spirit, St. Paul’s Pasig, St. Therese College, Southridge, and Woodrose. We welcome the participation of other schools and hope they will eventually join us.

Nation building means building strong and empowered communities. The residents of Sitio Pajo have shown us that despite all their adversities they continue to work for a life of dignity. We can reciprocate. Like them we can work together. We model solidarity and bayanihan by working as a united Batch 85 in improving the lives of our less fortunate brothers and sisters.

As the Dalai Lama noted, “It is not enough to be compassionate – you must act.” All 85 GK is our little contribution to the GK Way of rediscovering our roots, empowering people, and inspiring change.

For more information, visit us at our Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=83112765474) or


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Earth Day: Environmentalism is now LOHAS

One-Environment Philippines Portal (www.one-environment.ph)

One-Environment Philippines Portal (www.one-environment.ph)

Barack Obama’s election as the 44th President of the United States has dramatically changed the discourse on the environment for the country and the world. As religious studies Prof. Ira Chenus noted in his three part article, a sitting president can set what topics are discussed, can prioritize the issues to be addressed, can choose what symbols to highlight, and can set the tone for the country. Prof. Chernus prophetically wrote a week before Obama was elected; “… the President of the United States does a lot more than make decisions about specific policies. He (or she) is an immensely powerful symbol, doing more than any other person to set the mood and tone of political life for the whole nation, as well as signaling to the whole world what the USA is really all about. Symbolism and mood-setting are a huge, though often overlooked, part of the president’s role…”

In just 100 days of office Barack Obama has radically changed the national discussion on the economy, scientific integrity, foreign policy on Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Cuba, among others, alternative energy, global warming, and climate change. Whether one agrees with his actions and policies or not, he has been inspirational to say the least.

For the environment, Obama is the welcome rain after an eight year drought.

Do remember that during the Bush years, vapid denials of climate change, an assault on scientific research and integrity, support for pollutive corporations, and environmental discrimination were the norm. Afterall, Bush and the Republicans were pro-business with their eyes closed. Further, corporations, legal and man-made creations, argued forcefully in court numerous times that they had the same rights as human beings and citizens of the United States. It is no surprise then that greed and profit-taking no matter what were virtues during the Reagan and Bush years.

For environmentalists, the years after the 1992 U.N. Conference of Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro were a steady decline in their influence and effectiveness. There was a lot of hand-wringing and introspection, best summarized in the article Death of Environmentalism.

Today, it seems we are hopeful. The economic and environmental crises have forced all of us to rethink how we do business, consume, and live our lives. It is simply more costly in terms of money, health, safety, and security to continue on a path of unsustainable energy and conspicuous consumption. In the United States, some of the biggest companies have disappeared because of a lack of foresight. Auto companies, for example, have long used their Washington connections and paid lobbyists to delay the updating of emissions standards and auto efficiency. They look pathetic these days begging for money just to survive. Agrochemical companies look like corporate bullies trying to pressure Michelle Obama to use agrochemicals in the White House organic garden she recently established.

With scientific paper after scientific paper coming out warning us of the dire effects of greenhouse gases and climate change, the climate change denialists have returned to their villages or rather caves and have wisely decided to keep quiet. Has their funding run out?

As a participant and witness to the surge of environmentalism in the 1980s and early 1990s, only to watch it wane with the rise of the go-go neoliberal years worldwide, I am amazed at the comeback of the global environmental movement. I look back at the hand wringing of the environmental activists and debate whether the analysis in Death of an Environmentalist was correct. There are differences and the following show why this time around, environmentalism is here to stay.

1. Mainstreaming of environmentalism

Environmental issues are now part of everyday language and debate. It is now neither esoteric nor the domain of specialists. Environmentalists are no longer the highly educated, snooty, and condescending experts they were perceived to be. Today, the urban gardener, the cancer survivor, the worried mother, the last of the farmers, and the fisherman are all environmentalists and rightly so. Protecting the environment and conserving our finite natural resources are a concern and responsibility of all. More people are now conversant and understand environmental issues. Public education and the mass media, of course, had important roles to play in the mainstreaming of the environment.

Take Earth Day for example. Celebrated every April 22, first held in 1970, and founded by then U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson and Denis Hayes, and separately by peace activist John McConnell, the Earth Day Network has more than 17,000 partners and organizations in 174 countries. They estimate that over a billion people participated in Earth Day activities, possibly the largest non-religious event in the world. For 2009, Earth Day celebrations include the launch of the two-year Green Generation Campaign on carbon footprint reduction and the creation of a new green economy.

2. Rise of LOHAS



Affluence, access to better medical facilities and services, better nutrition, and hygiene have extended lifespans and improved quality of life indicators. Accessible information on the deleterious effects of unhealthy lifestyles such as smoking, chemical drug use, and alcohol as well as that of industrial pollution have forced individuals and communities to confront these challenges.

Today, demographic shifts are towards an increasing number of people have chosen lifestyles of health and sustainability (LOHAS). Not only is this healthy, but in many cases, cheaper and gentler on the environment. The LOHAS sector is a fast expanding market estimated at $209-400 billion.

Lastly, I am also of the view that most people, deep down, have values that are environmentally conscious and consistent with a sustainable, socially responsible, and/or healthier lifestyle.

3. Legislation and litigation have reigned in excesses

In the past 40 years, very public and decisive legal cases in numerous countries, both developing and developed, have forced legislatures to pass environmental laws. In the United States, there is the NEPA, Endangered Species, Clean Air Act, among many others. In the Philippines, which has similar a environmental regulatory framework, the EIA, air and water pollution control, mining, and wildlife laws among others have provided regulatory guidance to officials, corporations, and communities.

Civil society has been proactive and innovative in environmental actions. Governments, corporations, and civil society have been at the forefront and receiving end of legal action on environmental issues.

Thus, pollution and environmental degradation are now perpetrated by outliers. The first outliers are the very rich and powerful sectors, mostly corporations, who bribe and corrupt their way into exploiting natural resources and public goods. The second would be the very poor with limited options and access to environmental, social, and economic services and resources. For the former, their actions are illegal, criminal, and immoral and can be addressed with law enforcement. They can also be societally ostracized.  For the latter, it is addressing poverty and making them partners in development.  

4. Environmental and economic crises are pushing for a green economy.

As noted earlier, energy and fuel consumption has increased significantly worldwide. However, fossil fuels are a finite resource. With greater demand and limited supplies, fuel prices are bound to increase at worse, and fluctuate at best. Also, fossil fuels contribute to global warming with disastrous consequences. As New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said recently, it makes economic sense to invest in green technology, a green economy, and a green lifestyle.

A green economy that generates green jobs is what will start the economic recovery caused by an unregulated FIRE (finance, insurance, and real estate) economy.

FIRE econonmy (Figure from www.fireeconomy.com)

FIRE economy (Figure from www.fireeconomy.com)

Obama has pledged $10-15 billion a year for the next decade to fund the green economy. This will have multiplier effects worldwide as other countries follow suit.

5. The environmental-LOHAS revolution will be digital

Information and communication technologies (ICT) and social networking media will support and expand the above four phenomena. ICT will facilitate information exchange and importantly, mobilizing and organizing for the environment- LOHAS. For those in the green economy, ICT will be important in not only branding and marketing, but in service provision. ICT will open up new opportunities and vistas for environmentalists.

Like the United States, the Philippines is in a unique position to ride this green wave. We have the demographics, a young, educated, and literate population that can harness the opportunities and technologies. We can organize and mobilize to the community level-Gawad Kalinga has shown this- to become environmental and green economy leaders.

The Philippines can leapfrog into a green economy uplifting itself from the morass of poverty, inequality, and social exclusion.

The dawn of LOHAS and the green economy has arrived.  What will you be doing?

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Filipino-American Students Association (FASA) of the University of Arizona celebrated their annual FIESTA last Saturday, 18 April 2009. They held a raffle to benefit Gawad Kalinga. FASA is a strong supporter of GK Arizona.

Maraming salamat FASA at mabuhay!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Gawad Kalinga: “The Filipino is worth living for”

Twenty-eight years ago, a man was shot on the tarmac of the Manila International Airport. Being the most prominent dissident to the Marcos regime, they warned him that he risked death should he return. Unfazed, he said; “The Filipino is worth dying for…” On August 21, 1983, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino was shot upon arrival from the U.S. Nearly three years later, People Power led to the ouster of Marcos after 21 years in power.

Seventeen years after Marcos’ overthrow, People Power was mobilized to address another of the country’s scourge—poverty and social exclusion. Supported by former President Corazon Aquino, Ninoy’s widow, People Power for nation building is what characterizes Gawad Kalinga.

Gawad Kalinga seeks to build 700,000 homes in 7,000 communities in seven years for the poorest of the poor. In a country of nearly 90 million people and close to half living below the poverty line, GK seeks to address poverty from a grounds up, self-reliance, and sharing and caring model. Gawad means to give or award. Kalinga means “care”—Gawad Kalinga is “to give care." Since then, it has established at least 30,000 homes in about 2,000 communities.

Only a holistic program that develops the individual, family, and community will succeed in building strong institutions in the Philippines. Only organized, principled, and economically and environmentally sustainable communities can survive and withstand the vagaries of Philippine politics, poverty, inequality, and social exclusion.

More needs to be done and more poor Filipinos need to be helped. Why wait for an armed revolution or a breakdown in society to change, when there is an alternative way based on love, sharing and caring, and padugo- bleeding for the cause?

Gawad Kalinga is building God’s Kingdom here on earth. GK can be a global template for development. The Filipino is definitely worth dying for. GK shows us that the Filipino is also worth living for. Mabuhay po kayo!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The GK Way

Gawad Kalinga photoset

Last March 17 - 21, 2009, during Spring Break, I drove to Santa Fe, New Mexico to speak at a two part- panel I organized for the Society of Applied Anthropology (SFAA) annual conference. This year’s conference theme was entitled: Global Challenge, Local Action: Ethical Engagement, Partnerships, and Practice. My panel, on the other hand, was entitled: The Possibilities of Doing Good, Social Movements in an age of Neoliberalism. My panel sought to discuss how social change can be pursued sustainably. We were attracted to the perspective of political scientist Karol Soltan looked at social changes as large scale, requiring either revolution or extensive institutional reform, have consequences that are pervasive in society, and have long term effects. My fellow panelists presented on a number of social movements worldwide, from Mexico to Italy to my own presentation on Gawad Kalinga. All noted that working with the bottom of the pyramid and/or the poorest of the poor enabled social change. Many of these have been replicated elsewhere and are “scalable” globally.

When we think of social movements, environmental, nuclear, civil rights, peace, feminist, pro-life, and gun-rights movements quickly come to mind. Common to these groups are a penchant to protest or advocate for their respective causes. They mass mobilize, communicate their message, and seek resources to push their agenda. Lastly, they confront either the state or prevailing cultural codes in the hope of engendering change. Social movements in this sense operate in a conflict environment.

Civil society in America is undoubtedly tied to the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville’s (1835) writings on American democracy and civil society. He highlighted the check and balance role played by civil society in ensuring that power does not centralize toward the state. Traveling across the United States, he cited several examples of how diverse civic, professional, religious, secular, and ordinary groups of citizens engage in varied activities to promote democracy, transparency and accountability, public commerce, public safety, morality, and so on. He contrasted what he observed in America with France’s ancient regime, which failed to channel social pressures and dissent into institutions of politics and social justice designed to address these issues. Tocqueville emphasized the necessity of civil society as a countervailing force to despotism and state’s tendency to centralize power and undermine democracy.

Modernization theorists in the 1950 and 1960s built on Tocqueville’s writings to reiterate the importance of civil society especially in mediating social conflicts brought about social change, economic development, socio-economic mobilization, and political competition. In the 60s, 70s, and 80s, resistance to dictators and authoritarian rule, civil and human rights, as well as environmental, feminist, and cultural issues reignited interest in civil society, praxis, social movements. Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa were arenas of contention as U.S-backed dictatorships as well as communist-states crumbled amidst poverty, inflation, and the weight of their respective despotism. In Asia, the Philippines is one of the first countries that mobilized people power in the pursuit of democracy and governance.

Gawad Kalinga is different in that it seeks to present another side of social movements.

Simply, GK seeks to solve societal problems. While some GK advocates and volunteers may still be involved in protest and advocacy personally, GK activities are primarily focused on problem solving, capacity building, and empowerment. GK even works with those others would consider adversaries to solve problems of poverty, lack of social services, urban blight, environmental degradation, social exclusion, and lack of public education facilities, among others. They will agree to disagree so that urgent problems can be addressed.

From the very home they repaired and the very first they built in Bagong Silang, Kalookan City, there are now up to 2,000 GK communities in various stages of development all over the country. GK continues to replicate and scale up because of the selflessness of the CFC core of volunteers and partnerships with the national government, over 300 mayors, over a 100 corporations, over 150 schools and universities, the Filipino diaspora and their foreign friends, the tri-media, and on-line communities. GK has entered Indonesia, East Timor, Papua New Guinea, Cambodia, India and has Africa in its eyesight. GK has established a decentralized GK Builders Institute (GKBI) nestled in various universities to “converge” their organizational and technical expertise at the most local level—the GK village. This is the hoped for melding of the ‘science and spirit’ of community development.

What is enabling GK’s success? From a social movement perspective, it is passion that drives the movement. In GK, it is passion shared by many who are willing to sacrifice or in GK’s case, padugo. Padugo enables initial success as when GK build the first communities with its resources. Padugo builds character, provides leeway for experimentation and recoverable failure, and importantly, generates credibility. Credibility borne out of padugo attracts partners. Once partnerships reach a critical mass the movement snowballs. It is then nurtured by creativity and innovation in its organizational and mobilization aspects. Gawad Kalinga, at its essence, has always been a movement based on holistic human development that is being upscaled.

What happened to politics and governance? What happened to fighting corruption, which is endemic in the Philippines, some would say? Our answer is: does politics need to be verbalized? Are conflict and confrontation the only tactics and strategies available? How about engagement? How about leading by example, by padugo? How about tapping our cultural values of bayani, bayanihan, and pagbabalik-loob to spur change, reform, and nation building? Heroism especially by martyrdom may spur a revolution, but making the revolution a success needs the heroism of those alive and working day after day at social change.

Thus, in Gawad Kalinga’s perspective, fundamental change in society is possible by making the poor our partners in development. Only when they can provide for themselves and their families; only when they can live in dignity and have their “pagkatao” back, can they participate meaningfully in democracy and make informed choices on national development. The model of what is now known as Gawad Kalinga had started with home building. Providing homes that were comfortable and secure (tenancy-wise) enabled families to save, invest, regain their dignity, and rebuild their lives. From the few homes that they fixed, the results were dramatic. Yet these youth and their families struggled to renew themselves in a slum community. The scale of renewal needed to be enlarged. Stable families could build stable communities.

GK facilitates this process by rebuilding poor communities, make available housing, health and nutrition, education, values transformation, organization at the community level, and productivity and livelihood. This is transformation that is comprehensive and holistic. When people are not hungry and sick, then they can vote in the right politicians or they can demand reform. Political participation requires resources, time, and effort. Citizens must be able to “afford it.” Gawad Kalinga fits into what the late Jesuit historian, Horacio dela Costa outlined for Philippine development. The Filipino people must do three things, namely: (a) build and strengthen communities; (b) link the communities with common goals-ideally national goals; and, (c) recapture the bureaucracy.

I have a particular affinity for what some call the soft aspects of development, the culture so to speak. The anthropologist Oscar Lewis (1959) spoke of a culture of poverty, while James Fallows (1987) spoke of the Philippine’s damaged culture. But a clearer understanding and appreciation of the potentialities of the poor, their resilience, their inner strength, despite what Dominican priest and anthropologist Miguel Rolland said was the “absurdity and impossibility of their situation and existence” holds many lessons for us. It is a window to the resilience of the poor and our own culture. It is also the basis for nation building. Are the patterns emerging for a truly global model of human development and nation building that is a synthesis of family and faith-based human development complemented by capacity building and attention to the needs and aspirations of the household?

U.S. Ambassador Kristie Kenney at GK BASECO with GK kids learning ESCRIMA/KALI

A good society has shared traits that promote the common good. Human liberty, at its core, is about freedom and responsibility. Responsibility implies social interaction and community. Community development denotes collective desire, want, and action to change a political-economic and social situation deemed unjust and unsatisfactory. Social movements are dynamic form of collective action. Their emergence result from the intermingling of individual experience and motivation, framing of the issues and societal structure that give rise to opportunities for mobilization. A complementary rather than competitive approach incorporates the various strands of social movement theorizing. Social movements generate mechanisms for articulating and asserting collective interests that are unmet by established institutions such as political parties, the bureaucracy, and the market. Unlike established institutions, social movements are porous, have high structural flexibility, are adaptive, have broad repertoire of actions including disruptive tactics. It is less bound by the organizational logic. As Melucci (1984:830) noted, “the movement is the message.”

The literature on engendering change and community development, from anthropology to sociology, social psychology, and social economics, among others, call for a values-based paradigm that is creative, transparent, engaging, and participatory. In other words, revolutionary/ disruptive change is really through culture work that is creative, positive, optimistic, and charismatic. The search is for a transformational social movement. In the GK model, we can see discern this “culture work”

The Gawad Kalinga model points to the burgeoning anthropological study of “successful outcomes of civically engaged communities” as the anthropologist David Stoll (2002) noted. Gawad Kalinga shows the inherent value of convergence, of not only individuals, organizations, and communities, but that of the art, science, system, and faith of community development and nation building.

GK’s Boy Montelibano articulates this best when he says that GK is successful when the “GK Way” of community and town development is adopted by communities and cities. The transformation of Bagong Silang, Kalookan and the quest of Taguig to become a “Designer City” are concrete examples of the “GK Way.”

Thursday, April 09, 2009

When Satire Fails, Chip Tsao and his defenders

HK Magazine/Asia City apology

HK Magazine/Asia City apology

Based on web postings, Tsao has apologized twice. His magazine pulled the article and apologized. Nevertheless, a handful of Manila pundits continue to defend Tsao on the grounds that it was: (a) a satire, (b) the country’s political-economic policies and situation have led to the export of Philippine labor as commodities, and (c) Louisa is not real.

The three reasons are not acceptable reasons for insulting people, worse, a nation, worst, a vulnerable population.

Tsao’s cheap satire failed because:

  1. It wasn’t funny at all;
  2. It did not create an exaggerated view or a dissonance or unbelievable scene of what is real and what he wrote about—that is what satire is suppose to do;
  3. It can and was interpreted in different ways by different readers and audiences;
  4. The target audience, what blogger Kenneth Maclean calls the “teachable audience”, in this case, will take some time and more explaining to appreciate/understand Tsao’s piece;
  5. It can and will reinforce racist and elitist stereotypes of Filipinos, OFWs, and the working poor. The rule of thumb in lampooning OTHERS is first to be part of that community;
  6. Those who appreciated Tsao’s piece are a narrow swath of the readers;
  7. The dynamics for ONLINE satire include greater chance for misinterpretation, reaction, including emotional reaction, diverse readership, diverse cultural interpretation of the written word, and the possibility of instant fact-checking, including background checking to establish the credibility of the satirist. These require a greater sensitivity, skill, and nuance, which Tsao obviously does not have.

Thus, Tsao’s intended goal of his piece (satire of HK politics) is vastly different from what Filipino Tsao defenders cite (critic of Philippine government) and from what many Filipinos interpret (racist and elitist).

Contrary to what a few have said, facts do matter. This is especially so when attempting a satire concerning an emotionally and politically charged issue such as OFWs or even the Spratlys. See the Seven Rules of Satire.

When satire goes wrong, the consequences are personal to the author. Rough examples include:

A good discussion on satire and when it goes wrong can be seen in the articles The Carnival Mirror: Political Satire and How it Does, or Doesn’t ‘Work’ and Satire is hard to write, not for everyone. The satire scholar is Paul Simpson and his On Discourse of Satire.

The question is: who would you allow to control the discourse on fundamental issues?

Recent history and events show that insulting and maltreating OFWs is bound to cause conflict. The Flor Contemplacion case, the Desperate Housewives saga, the beheadings in the Middle East, etc. In the US, Google Philip Vera Cruz. In all these, the common theme is OFWs striving for dignity or pagkatao.

When Filipinos post articles related to and supporting Tsao’s satire or actually write and defend Tsao, I interpret it to mean that they support Tsao’s satire, which many of us find insulting. Where does that leave us? I think they are pushing a political or ideological agenda at the expense of the dignity and pagkatao of the OFW. If one doesn’t understand what I’m trying to say, read up on Vicente Rafael and Reynaldo Ileto.

I will be the first to admit my thoughts on not talking ill of the vulnerable are not original. My dissertation research on Gawad Kalinga these past few years made me realize that work with the poor programs start with trying to understand how the poor feel, think about, and experience their situation. The books of Reynaldo Ileto and Vicente Rafael practically rewrote the groundbreaking work of T. Agoncillo and R. Constantino. Katrin de Guia’s Kapwa is another must read. What I realized from them is that when we, “educated, modern,urban, middle class, even western trained” people, look at the emotional or even juramentado acts of the masses as only that we totally miss the point and their worldview. These emotional outbursts were actually a search for “kalooban” and “pagkatao”. In other words the poor are constantly in search of human and personal dignity. The last chapter of anthropologist Fenella Cannell’s dissertation and book on a Bicol community, Power and Intimacy in Christian Philippines, is a great summary of this perspective. In Brazil it is Paulo Freire and his Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

Tsao and his Filipino defenders need to be “transformed” by this realization that the poor need emotional nurturing. As Gawad Kalinga’s Tony Meloto likes to say, “We must treat the poor as if they were our own children.” Filipino pundits and intellectuals, especially those from the University of the Philippines, know this somewhat already, hence the risk of taking it all for granted. They along with other Filipinos “factor in” the poor in their/our lives. So the comment is “alam na natin yan” (We know that already). We risk looking beyond the poor…until the next insult.

Second, migration is caused by both push and pull factors. Corrupt officials and politicians, economic difficulties, environmental crises, etc. push people to migrate. Pull factors include demand for labor, better opportunities, personal ties and networks in receiving areas, an urge for travel, risk, and exploration, etc. The OFW phenomenon is dynamic. Indeed, they have been abused and exploited at both ends. However, OFW are humans, therefore they have agency. They are not passive. In case you have not noticed, they are mobilizing, online and offline. They are making demands. And one thing they will not tolerate is being insulted by a satirist who is then backed up by pundits. Tsao’s article was not funny to them.

My last point about OFWs. Every day abroad is a learning experience. It is experiential, thus they grow everyday. The loneliness and the lonely nights alone, away from their families allow them to reflect on their situation and their lives, i.e. reflexivity. They are more observant, more thoughtful. This is their re-education. They protested with their feet. When they return, they will take with them a more assertive voice, resources to spur change, and the skills and outlook needed in national development. Manila’s intellectual pundits have failed to account for these.

If anyone wants to change Philippine society and promote an ideological agenda, that person should not support and rationalize acts that insult the Filipino identity and insult a vulnerable segment of the Filipino population, the OFWs.

Change starts with identity formation.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

BNPP-Bataan Nuclear Power Plant: Buy Nuclear, Poor Perish

NO to the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (from http://notobnpp.wordpress.com/resources/)
NO to the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (from http://notobnpp.wordpress.com/resources/)

Once again, there are talks about operating the Marcos white elephant Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) with Pangasinan Rep. Mark Cojuangco filing a revised House Bill no. 4631 calling for the “rehabilitation, commissioning and commercial operation of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP)” after immediate and widespread opposition to the first draft of the bill. Rep. Cojuangco and the few pushing for nuclear power state that the country needs a cheap, reliable source of electricity before the energy shortage that is expected to occur in 2012.

Others have implied that nuclear power safety has improved in industrialized countries, including Japan as Inquirer columnist and economics professor Solita Collas-Monsod wrote recently. Therefore, the same standards can be applied to the Philippines. Third, having spent more than $2 billion dollars on initial investments and debt servicing, the BNPP should be put to good use to recoup these investments as Department of Energy Angelo Reyes was quoted earlier. These reasons are, to this writer, not enough to risk operating the BNPP. I have very, very strong reservations AGAINST nuclear power as a source of electricity.

Mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, Philippines (photo by I. Rotaru at IAEA website)
Mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, Philippines (photo by I. Rotaru at IAEA website)
The research field of risk and society posits that the nuclear power sector is a “very tightly coupled” sector. That means that the operations are complex, require a very high degree of coordination and communication, and are very “unforgiving of error” as L.M Lidsky and M. M. Miller write in Science and Global Security. Nuclear power plants have catastrophic consequences when things go wrong. This is because of their complex, tightly coupled, and highly interactive systems of operation. Charles Perrow wrote about this in his best selling book Normal Accidents where he analyzed the Three Mile nuclear plant accident from a risk perspective.

Nuclear plants in particular require a high level of redundant safety and operating systems and procedures, highly trained operators, and up-to-date technology. It is interactive because all these need to be simply in sync with one another. Linear systems are best represented by an assembly line that is relatively loosely organized/coupled. Breakdowns are easily managed and the losses are in monetary and time parameters. Nuclear plants are complex systems and tightly coupled with varying and multiple consequences.

Coupling is a engineering concept wherein loosely coupled systems are flexible enough to address “shocks, failures, and pressure for change without destabilization”(Pickard 2005). Tightly coupled systems are more sensitive to changes and the response could be catastrophic if not handled properly. Nuclear power plants are time and sequential-dependent and leave little room for error because of the chemical reaction processes and safety procedures involved. There is little room for slack, error, and delay. Accidents and incidents occur not only in linear (cause-effect) but in complex ways (multiple causes-multiple effects and consequences over time and space). While redundant systems are possible, this is very expensive and does not fully address the human-error, human neglect, and human laziness aspects.

Assessing the risks, impacts, and costs of nuclear power has to include the nuclear fuel cycle. This includes uranium ore deposit exploration; mining of uranium ores; refining; enriching; processing and fabricating of fuel; construction of nuclear power plant; operation of reactor; re-processing of used fuel; fabricating new fuel; treatment of radioactive wastes; long-term storage of the wastes; and de-commissioning the reactor after its end-life. Emeritus professor at the University of Illinois and adjunct geology professor at the University of the Philippines Kelvin S. Rodolfo recently wrote a position paper on the risks of operating the BNPP.

Specifically for nuclear power, you will also have to create an institution similar to the church with its long lasting existence to take care of the wastes, which degrade only after thousands of years. All these have implications on cost, time, and effort, which make nuclear power generation a very expensive endeavor.

Is this the legacy we want to leave future generations?

Prof. Monsod raised the good nuclear safety record of Japan. On the contrary, Japan of recent times has had serious issues about its safety record. These are easily accessible on the Web. We found a number of serious accidents (systemic and involves multiple parts and processes of the operating system), incidents (localized accidents), including deaths and injuries. Further, Japan has entered an era of increased seismic activity as noted in Ishibashi Katsuhiko’s article.

Steam from the 2004 Mihama nuclear plant accident. Photo from Japan Focus website
Steam from the 2004 Mihama nuclear plant accident. Photo from Japan Focus website

Lastly, a significant number of Japan’s nuclear power plants are up for rehabilitation or decommissioning because of their age. While this presents a significant opportunity for new investments in nuclear technology in Japan, which is poor in natural resources; the investment and depreciation costs for operating a nuclear power plant for 40 years is prohibitive as it is risky. Apparently, there is no consensus in Japan on nuclear power.

One of the nuclear power boosters campaign pledges will be to maintain developed country standards in operating the BNPP. This has cost implications. In the United States, a new nuclear power plant will cost from $14 to $24 billion. The proposed Yucca Mountain radioactive waste storage has a projected cost as of August 2008 of $96.2 billion if ever the project overcomes opposition and pushes through.

Lastly, any elementary economist will state that the $2 billion (mis)spent on the BNPP is considered sunk costs. Sunk costs are unrecoverable. Only variable costs determine whether to continue investing or not in a business activity. As sunk costs, it has no bearing on whether we operate the BNPP even though we are spending PhP40 million annually to maintain it. The variable costs behoove us to decide on dismantling the BNPP and converting it to a safe and alternative energy power plant. It is NOT rational as the economists would say to consider sunk costs in deciding whether to continue a project or not.

These days of economic crisis and climate change present an opportunity for the Philippines to enter an era of sustainability. The investment cost for opening the BNPP can be better put to good use make the Philippines a global leader in alternative energy.

Re-opening the Bataan nuclear power plan is a step back to the stone age…after the mushroom cloud that can happen.

The BNPP is unBearable Nuclear Pain and Plight.