Wednesday, 26 September 2007

That Airport Obsession

Airport talk, more particularly that of the one proposed at Panglao Island has been in discussion in government and NGO circles since early nineties. (On a personal note, I can still remember May Blanco, then with the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Tagbilaran, who did a research paper on the Panglao Island Tourism Estate and its potential effects). It has resurfaced time and again and is currently a major news item in Tagbilaran recently with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (PGMA) avowing to finish the project before her term ends.

PGMA seemed to be very insistent with the airport project. On 29 December 2004, she created a project management office for the Panglao Airport Development Project (Memorandum Order No. 157). Roughly seven months after, she signed Memorandum Order No 178 that sought to establish the Panglao Tourism Special Infrastructure Program with the development of the airport a major function. Very recently, she announced a timeline for its completion.

Governor Aumentado, Bohol’s chief executive, is equally insistent as well, if not even more. In August 30, 2005, the Bohol provincial government website reported that Gov. Aumentado assured that the Swedish International Development Agency will fund the Proposed Panglao Airport Development Project (PADP). However, this was denied later by representatives of the Swedish government (Bohol Chronicle, 11 September 2005). It was also reported that Gov. Aumentado was “angered by the comment” of Mactan Airport General Manager Yap that an international airport in Panglao will just be a white elephant and would increase the Philippines’ foreign debt (Sunstar, January 5 2006). But very recently, the airport project seemed to near its initial realization, at least, as Gov. Aumentado announced that 73 million pesos were already released to purchase lots for the airport construction (Bohol Chronicle, 29 July 2007).

Several objections have been sounded off from different sectors regarding the airport construction. Resort owners and barangay officials near the airport site consulted on the matter voiced out comments on dislocation of residents, “luring sex workers to the province”, economic infeasibility, tampering of the island’s landscape, and noise pollution that would ultimately affect the tourism industry, the very industry that was seen to be a beneficiary of the ambitious development project. (VGO News, 17 April 2006). Experts have also expressed the finding that Panglao Island is geologically unsafe for an airport ( News, 3 July 2005).
Despite these concerns however, nobody is paying attention. Why?

There seems to be a sense of urgency in the airport project. PGMA promised to finish the airport before her term ends while Gov. Aumentado expressed optimism that the deadline will be met. It is just very confusing why a project such as this, would be as urgent as it has been made, eclipsing all other infrastructure needs of the island province.

The main justification for the construction of the airport was to accommodate the “growing need” of the tourism industry in the province. PGMA’s Memorandum No. 178 did not make explicit what that need was but several reports have pointed to increased tourist arrivals as a justification for airport construction. Or is it?

How persuasive is this justification? Have tourist arrivals increased dramatically that the Tagbilaran airport can no longer accommodate it? Was there any study ever conducted where foreign visitors to the province clamoured for flights directly to Panglao or Bohol? Granting that statistics data is accurate, is an increase of roughly 1,500 foreign tourists a year (or an average of 4 foreign guests a day) enough to make an international airport project an urgent priority? These questions need to be answered since a very expensive project as this can not be just left to “creative speculation”.

Second, if the justification is indeed persuasive, where are the figures to support the claim? Has anyone said anything about the project’s economic feasibility? What about return on investment? What about projected earnings versus borrowing costs? What about social hazards vis-à-vis social benefits? Who has ever conducted marketing, technical, socio-economic, financial, and management studies on this billion-peso project?

It seems that the airport project proponents have left essential questions out but have extensively dealt with trivial questions in the process. Here, we need not discuss advantages and disadvantages of airports because apparently, the need for one has not been established yet. Unless these critical concerns are answered first, going ahead with the airport construction is not realizing a dream but blindly giving in to a desperate obsession.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Is Bohol's Tourism Any Good for the Poor? (a repost....original lost)

The benefits of tourism to the poor in terms of employment, livelihood opportunities, improvements in the local economy, has recently been highlighted in development practice (Ashley 2006). Specific country case studies have shown its effect in generating employment, in enhancing participation of women in the labour force, and in instigating developments in forward linkages (ODI 2007). In the Philippines, tourism is pushed as development strategy, not only to propel local growth but also to combat poverty (Turingan 2006).

Eco-tourism is one of Bohol’s primary development strategy (PPDO 2003). Its competitive advantage is the presence of the famous Chocolate Hills, white pristine beaches in its islands, diving sites, and world-class cultural attractions (Relampagos 2002). Increased investments and promotional activities in the tourism sector have caused the dramatic rise in tourist arrival in the province since 2001.Starting 2001 tourist arrival in the province has significantly increased (in 2003, foreign arrival was 18,385 while domestic was 110,514), especially when compared to 1998 base figures of 11,329 foreign and 28,958 domestic tourists The increase in arrival has fuelled increased economic activity in the capital city of Tagbilaran primarily because of the increased demand for services to cater to the rise in tourist inflow (Acejo et al 2004). Correspondingly, the increased tourist arrival was positively correlated with both increases in the number of manufacturing, service, trading and agricultural establishments as well as employment. (ibid).

Interestingly, the province has an area referred to as a ‘tourism belt’ where all major tourist destinations are situated. This spans from the island of Panglao to the town of Carmen where the Chocolate Hills can be found. The major ports of entry for local and domestic tourists are those located in the towns of Tubigon, Jagna, and the city of Tagbilaran.

Poverty incidence is relatively low in areas where the “tourism belt” and the major tourist sea ports are located, which incidentally are all in Districts 1 and 3. Acejo et al’s argument on how tourism has fuelled the growth of Tagbilaran resulting to increased employment of people may invariably be applied in this case, since unemployment statistics in the municipalities of both districts 1 and 3 are recorded as low, and have significantly decreased between the periods 2000 and 2003 (HNU-CRLG 2004).It is argued that tourism has both direct and indirect impacts to domestic production and employment (WTTC 2005). As the Bohol case shows, it has positively affected living conditions of areas where tourism activity is high. Admittedly however, establishing a solid argument on the role of tourism in poverty reduction by gauging its impact on economic growth and improvements in quality of life is still at its infancy stage and in this respect, future research in the province in this area is highly encouraged.

Tourism, for one, is heralded as one of the two primary development strategies of the province (PPDO 2003, 2006), but provincial initiatives did not go beyond promotion and ensuring infrastructure and services especially within the ‘tourism belt’. With the burgeoning tourism industry, the tourism sector has not been used as a means to benefit directly the poor by fortifying the link between local production of the predominantly agricultural province to the tourism sector. Moreover, ‘leakages’, defined as a “process where foreign exchange earnings generated by tourism is not retained by the tourist receiving country” (WTTC 2005), are neither regulated nor minimized. To illustrate, ownership by migrants, foreigners married to Filipinos, and businessmen based in Manila, of the tourist service establishments in the ‘tourism belt’ is relatively high which may have jeopardized the benefit of reinvesting tourism gains into the local economy.

So there are still questions left unanswered; whether tourism has indeed affected lives of the poor and if local investors are the ones who profit from it. This is not to advance the argument that Bohol is for Boholanos, but to argue that Bohol's development should be steered in a direction where the Boholano benefits from the tourism costs that he/she shoulders.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Is Bohol Really a Model for Peace and Development?

President Arroyo (PGMA), in her recent Bohol visit, lauded again the provincial government as a model for local efforts to reduce poverty and promote peace. Ironically, this declaration was set against a background of a series of robbery cases, unsolved political killings, and undocumented violence across the province. This recognition of Bohol, however, is not a recent phenomenon. Two years ago, the Galing Pook Foundation awarded the Bohol Poverty Reduction, Peace and Development Program as one of the best practices in local governance in the country in trying to promote peace, through poverty alleviation and development (GPF 2006).

Poverty alleviation programs in Bohol started started out as an anti-insurgency solution rather than a design to achieve poverty reduction. As a matter of fact, one of the first maps related to the province’s poverty reduction efforts was an insurgency map which became the basis of the targeting of provincial poverty programs. Barangays were classified as influenced (where 50% or more of the inhabitants support the rebel cause and where local legal organizations are formed to support the armed groups), infiltrated (where at least 25% support the cause and where local leaders were recruited), and threatened (where there were sightings of armed rebels noted but the area only served as passage to other villages) (PPDO 2003).

Initially, the poverty reduction program sought to address poverty condition of 20 towns of the province where insurgency was most pronounced . This was grounded on the assumption that poverty was the primary reason why people joined the New People’s Army, the country’s primary Communist rebel group. Poverty reduction then, was considered an anti-insurgency policy made a primary concern of the Provincial Peace and Order Council and was undertaken in close partnership with the military.

A closer scrutiny of the data, however, will reveal a handful of things. First, the assumptions of the initial impetus for poverty reduction programs in the province need not necessarily be true. Comparing data on insurgency and deprivation for example, one can conclude that not all areas where poverty incidence was high were affected by insurgency (eg. CPGarcia, the island municipality was not identified an insurgency area, but is the poorest municipality in the island), and not all areas where insurgency was high, had high poverty incidence (eg. Batuan was reported as very high in insurgency but was not one of the ten poorest municipalities of the province). Second, it is apparent that most municipalities which had high poverty incidence or levels of deprivation are in the municipalities in the 2nd and 3rd Districts. Third, poverty incidence is higher the farther the town is from the capital city of Tagbilaran.

A further analysis of available data would tell us that the same municipalities remain poor over a three year period, from 2001 to 2004 (PPDO 2006). For example, CP Garcia is still the poorest municipality. Conversely, the same areas were reported as better off over 2001 to 2004, more particularly Tagbilaran City and its adjoining municipalities. If indeed, something has been done to reduce poverty, then the lower bottom rung could have improved over this period. Thus, there is a high degree of probability that improvements in poverty condition in the province, as provided by provincial aggregate statistics, are caused not by improvements in the life of people in the bottom rung, but by improvements in the lives of those who were already better off.

The recent capture of young men who claimed responsibility over the series of robberries in the city tells us something about the things hypothesized above. Majority of the robbers, including its alleged leader Garcia, are from Talibon, a town 109 kilometers from Tagbilaran. Talibon is one of the twenty poorest towns in the province in both National Statistics Coordinating Board (2003) and Peace and Equity Foundation (2005) rankings. Both common sense and development literature will tell us that poverty is one of the primary reasons for intentional appropriation of somebody else's private goods.

Peace is not just about the presence or absence of insurgency and it is not only about what is enjoyed by the majority, but also by that of the oftentimes voiceless minority. On the other hand, development is not just about airports, roads, bridges, and irrigation or about agricultural inputs, research studies, and presence of NGO projects in communities. Peace is not all about silence, as development is not all about the buzz.

I believe, this is where PGMA, and Galing Pook for that matter, erred tremendously.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Giving birth to a monster...

Today, I give birth to a monster. It can be a scary monster, or a monster hit, depending on how the wind blows, and depending on how you, as a reader, will take it.
This monster I call....BoholAnalysis.
Here, we discuss Bohol, not the way politicians would like to describe it, and certainly not the way tourism promoters would label the island.
Don't take me wrong.
This blog is not about the negative side of Bohol. It is a blog that talks about Bohol, critically, beyond the conventional labels. It is a blog about issues in Bohol and how an ordinary citizen like you, or me, views it, from a rather uninvolved and objective lens. It is a blog about Bohol without the hypocrisy, without the hype, absent the intended colors.
This blog is that of a black god, (see photo inset) sitting close to a pool of water, looking intently at it, trying to figure out if indeed the fishes are alive, or if it is just the ripples that create the movement.
If you can take this sense of nonsense, or better still, insanity, I bid you welcome.