Saturday, 6 December 2008

Where Will Tagbilaran's Waste Go?

(This is an excerpt of the paper to be presented by MCanares in the upcoming United Nations University Conference in Kolkata India, 15-17 December 2008. The conference topic is "Beyond the Tipping Point: Asian Development in an Urban World. Mr. Canares' paper is titled "The Excluded Poor: How Targeting Has Left out the Poor in Peripheral Cities in the Philippines.)
In 2004, the Provincial Planning and Development Office conducted a poverty monitoring exercise to determine the levels of deprivation of every local government unit in Bohol. Tagbilaran City was part of this exercise which sought to determine the poverty condition of the barangays using a set of indicators including malnutrition, mortality, crime, disability, access to water and electricity, food shortage, health insurance, income, housing, literacy, sanitary toilet, house and lot ownership, and garbage disposal systems.

Interestingly, in the survey, all of the houses in the city were found to have environmentally-unfriendly garbage disposal systems. In Tagbilaran, until now, waste segregation is not practiced though garbage is regularly collected by government-commissioned garbage collection system. Burning of trash is still practiced in some areas, especially those not proximate to the city and household and commercial waste are dealt as one.

Tagbilaran city has an open dumping site, where the garbage, after collection, are accumulated regardless of nature. Before the passage of Republic Act (RA) 9003 (Ecological Solid Waste Management Act) by the Philippine legislature in 2000 that prohibits open dumping systems in the country, garbage collected in Tagbilaran City was burnt in open air. Now, the garbage is just openly stored in an area 3 kilometers away from the city centre, either left to rot while recyclables are collected by scavengers.

Liquid waste also is a problem to the city. The construction company hired to rehabilitate the road and drainage system discovered that there were various illegal tapping of the drainage system; illegal, because untreated water coming from the septic tanks of several establishments were channelled to the public drainage system which should have been used only for grey water.

The bulk of waste as well as grey water is enormous that it caused flooding in some parts of the city during heavy rain. The water can not just be disposed to the sea as these were not yet treated. A water treatment facility is not available and thus the big problem. The city has not yet penalized those with illegal connections and the flooding continued for a while until the city government, without the necessary clearance from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), authorized the opening of the drainage water outfall in 9 November 2008, solving the flooding problem but jeopardizing the marine resources and the livelihood of several people.

The government of Tagbilaran has done little to respond to the alarming problem on waste management. An inter-local government unit sanitary landfill was conceptualized and currently undergoing construction. It should have served Tagbilaran and its eleven adjacent municipalities but the city government opted out to construct its own sanitary landfill facility. It has been a year and a half now since that pronouncement was made, but nothing material has turned out and Tagbilaran’s solid waste still goes to the open dumpsite.

The barangay captain of Dampas, the barangay where the dumpsite is located, expressed concern that his barangay constituents were greatly affected by the open dumpsite and requested for the dumpsite’s closure, citing RA 9003 as basis. The leading causes of morbidity of the city, and more particularly barangay Dampas are respiratory-related diseases as acute respiratory infection, bronchitis, pneumonia, and TB. Also, among the leading causes of death in the last eight years is pneumonia. This does not imply causation though but the issue deserves further interrogation, especially in a city where hospitalization costs are high and a significant number of poor people do not have health insurance.

The city government also acted late on the concern for waste water. An order for disconnecting the illegal tapping to the city’s drainage system was agreed to but not implemented. The negotiations for a wastewater treatment stalled, until such time that people clamoured for immediate action. The national government, through DENR Secretary Lito Atienza, agreed to flush the water to the sea, given the appropriate clearance from the agency. Rich people in the flooded areas acted on their own to protect their houses by piling sandbags, accentuating the flooding. Those who were not able to afford this control measure were largely affected.

It should be noted that Tagbilaran City’s main business establishments are tourism and tourism-support service providers. Unmanaged solid waste and wastewater will risk tourism-related activities, especially so that one of Bohol’s competitive advantages is its white beaches. Several hotels and restaurants are located along the coastline of Tagbilaran. Also, 4% of the population rely on fishing for livelihood. Polluting the seas will have adverse effects on marine resources, and consequently on people’s livelihoods.

It is admitted though that quantifying the risks that unmanaged waste disposal systems pose to poor city residents is a very difficult task. What this paper would like to highlight, however, is the possible repercussions of improper waste management on city residents. Eventually, those with meagre resources will be hit the hardest as their capability to respond to these vulnerabilities will be stifled by their poverty.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Missing Tagbilaran

It’s but normal that when you are somewhere else, you miss nothing but home.

I (together with 3 others) was facilitating a workshop for DISOP Philippines yesterday in Tacloban City and I was appalled by the striking contrast between private service providers (e.g. hotels, transport companies, etc.) in Tacloban and Tagbilaran. We arrived in Tacloban via Ormoc on a cloudy Wednesday afternoon. We were billeted at the conference resort, VicMar Beach Resort at Baybay, San Jose, Tacloban City and the moment we arrived at the venue, we went to the restaurant right away to order food as we were hungry.

The alfresco restaurant was located facing the beach, a stone throw across the reception desk. Three service ladies were watching TV when we got in. We sat down and they never minded us as if not a single soul arrived, though how noisy we were. It was only when I called them to ask if we could order food that they stopped their recreation time. (tsk, tsk, tsk).

While waiting for the food, I went to reception desk to ask for transport arrangements. I told them we need to be picked up by the van-for-hire at 530 pm the following day as I wanted to make sure we will be in Ormoc a night before our trip back to Cebu. They said it was already arranged, and we will pay P2000 directly to the driver. I also asked how much we will pay for our stay, and they said its P1000 per room per night, excluding food. It rained hard outside so I asked for an umbrella to go back to the restaurant, they said, they did not have one. (Tsk, tsk, tsk).

I was soaked in rain while eating pancit bihon and bread. I must be very hungry because I did not mind and the pancit tasted very good. After eating, I went again to the reception to ask when was buffet dinner scheduled for the night. They said at 9 pm, as the participants were still on field.

We worked from 5 to 9. At 9, I called the organizer if they have already eaten and he told me that all of them had, and that the service crew was already cleaning the tables. (Tsk, tsk, tsk). We were left with no choice but to brave the rain and go to nearest restaurant (around 12 minute-ride from the resort).

Tacloban City Convention Center, the one where we went was a gymnasium of some sort with resto bars in the ground floor area. When we arrived there, we surveyed the place and looked for a resto where we could possibly be served fast and found one with only a single table occupied. The place was nice and cozy so we liked it right away. We ordered for food but almost all that we liked in the menu were out of stock that we ended up eating what the service crew suggested (Tsk, tsk, tsk).

The training went well. The sessions were well appreciated. After saying a few goodbyes, we hurried to our rooms to pack. An associate settled our bills and we were told we had to pay P5200, because the rate was P1300 per person per night and that what the front desk told us was not right. Though the price was unbelievable, we paid. The manager told us that the cost of the room per night is P1000, and that the package rate of P1300 included P600 for the room and P700 for the 3 meals and 2 snacks. I objected, asking why we had to pay for the room at P1200 (as two of us were sharing a room) when its rate was only P1000. My associate was also objecting because what we ate did not deserve the P700. The manager only told us that the rate was 5 years old and nobody complained except us. Lousy excuse. (Tsk, tsk, tsk).

I passed by the front desk to ask for the phone number of Vanvans so that we can be picked up earlier. They said they do not have the number as the one arranging the transport was already off duty. I ended up looking for the number myself. (Tsk, tsk, tsk.). I called up Vanvans, they said they could not pick us up earlier but at 530. We were at the lobby at 5. The van did not arrive at 530. I called up Vanvans again. They said it will be around at 6. At 6, the van did not arrive. And they said it will arrive at 630. It was already too much. We cancelled the reservation. The organizer drove us to the bus terminal where we were able to get a van. We arrived in Ormoc safe and sound, but I was so disappointed.

At least in Tagbilaran, service restaurants charge you a good rate for your money’s value. At least in Bohol Tropics, there are available umbrellas when the rain is tough. At least Lugod Rent a Car, Varescon Taxi, or NF, honour your travel arrangements even when made through phone. At least conference package rates are reasonable when compared to the kind of service you get. At least hotel staff are helpful to get you the phone numbers that you need. At least waiters greet you with a smile when you enter a restaurant and not glue their eyes on the screen. At least most, if not all of the menu items are available for ordering. At least you get good and not misleading information when you ask people. Though the service may not be perfect, but at least, it came to a point that professionalism is part of the game.

Over the years, Tagbilaran service establishments have improved greatly. It should, if it wants to be a competitive tourism destination. I just hope that with development, some essential values remain the same – the willingness to help, the service with a smile, the walking the extra mile.

It’s the people that make a place, and not the other way around.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Who's Taking the Panglao Airport Seriously?

Sometimes, people think make-believe stories are true because they are repetitively told.

Okay, GMA was in Bohol sometime middle of this year because she laid (to rest?) the time capsule to signify the start of the airport construction at Panglao. Okay, she and her confreres said that the airport will be funded from the national budget because her government had loan savings equivalent to 2.2 billion, 1 billion of which will be used for the Panglao airport. Okay, Governor Aumentado boasted that the economic internal rate of return of the proposed Panglao airport is 23.6%, by far exceeding NEDA’s required 15%. But were they really serious?

Since the time capsule ceremony, for whatever that was worth, nothing else moved in Panglao (thank heavens!), besides the desperate buying and selling of land, brought about by speculation and fear. Some sources said a bulldozer just paved a few meters of earth just so to make the impression that something was going on for GMA’s visit. Interestingly, I monitored the national dailies that day and watched a few of the newscasts in two of the popular stations in the country and not a single line mentioned an airport, just the highly publicized cabinet meeting. So was she really serious?

GMA also proudly said that the airport will be constructed without foreign loan and the interest savings will make do her promised counterpart. That, she said, 4 months ago. I do not know if she will say the same thing now, especially that the Department of Finance reported a widening budget deficit in July this year, equivalent to 15.4 billion pesos, and a cumulative deficit of 34 billion pesos, or after the worsening economic crisis of the United States, her donor government. Was she really serious or she just plainly underestimated her Boholano audience that fateful 20th day of May?

Governor Aumentado, echoing the words of his ally also boasted that the study conducted by the TCGI Engineers reported a 23.6% economic internal rate of return. UP economist Dr. Ernesto Pernia questioned this claim and demanded for a copy of the study. Dr. Pernia’s major contention was, if this was indeed true, then there would have been any problem for the project to get low-interest loans that would have freed government resources for other more ‘poverty-reducting’ projects. Also, he questioned why a group of engineers were the ones who assessed the financial viability of the project.

But if Governor Aumentado was referring to the documents prepared by Luis Mallonga, Andrelita Sto. Domingo, Cholly Ferolino, Roswel Marasigan, AA Bruce, Cynthia Nario, Ricardo Pinoy, Eugenia Luztre, Ma. Lina Diona, and Bayani Lusica, of the TCGI Engineers with office located at Jaka II Building, 150 Legaspi Street, Legazpi Village, Makati City, I wonder where the figures came from. The team does not have an economist nor an accountant, and contains only all the questionable assumptions of an environmental impact statement on the Panglao airport. Was he really serious?

If it was not the same document, and another one was really prepared, where is it? Dr. Pernia and his group demanded for these documents and a dialogue with the governor. But were the documents made available and has the dialogue really happened?

Now tell me, who is taking the Panglao Airport project really seriously?

Friday, 15 August 2008

Remembering the Children

In May of 2007, I participated in a global exhibit of children’s art in London. The idea of the project was to present through visual art the vision of the world’s children of the future. I represented the Philippines in the exhibit and two months before that, I went home to Bohol to conduct the art workshop with children from the Bohol Crisis Intervention Centre.

The Bohol Crisis Intervention Centre, a project jointly managed by the Provincial Government of Bohol ( and Feed the Children Philippines, Inc. (, is a temporary shelter for abused children. Since its establishment, the centre has handled more than 300 cases already. In March 2007, 37 children were housed in the centre, located in a secure compound in the heart of Tagbilaran City, the provincial capital. The centre provides housing, food, counselling, and educational support to these children as well as coordinates their appearance in court hearings. Centre officers were also active in the campaign against domestic violence and child abuse.

Ten girls, aged 7-16 participated in the art workshop. Nine of these children were survivors of sexual abuse (rape and incest) and one is of domestic violence. The eldest survivor is a fourth year high school student who was gang-raped by thieves in front of her defenceless parents while the youngest survivor is seven years old, who, together with her 8-year old sister, was sexually abused by their biological father. One of the participants was a fourteen year old child, already a mother to a one year old daughter. Most children come from poor families in the hinterland communities of the province of Bohol.

Doing KEEPS with this “special” group of children was both a sad and a happy experience. I was with my wife when I did the workshop and we were both devastated by the fact that these children, at their very tender age, underwent a very painful experience that would probably haunt them for the rest of their lives. It made us ask a lot of questions – how can parents or immediate family members do these unforgivable acts to them? What is wrong with the community where these children live that conditioned these things to happen?

At the surface, they were all normal children. But their experience, I reckoned, damaged their personhood largely. In the first few minutes when we met, they felt uncomfortable with me around, maybe because I represent the sex of their aggressor. For example, one child reacted strongly to physical touch, unknowingly, not only from me but even from her own centre mates. Another could not speak to me straight in the eye, while another one did not even utter a word to respond to any one of my questions. As the workshop progressed however, and with the help of the centre manager’s structured learning activities, we were able to build rapport and the painting session became enjoyable.

The workshop ended with them discussing about their paintings and their dreams in life. One wanted to be a nurse, and another a teacher. One wanted to build a house with separate rooms for her and her siblings while another would like to travel and ride on a plane. When asked what they intended to do to fulfil their dreams, they said they wanted to go home and go back to school and study hard to finish college. Their eyes beamed with hope as they spoke of the beautiful things that they think the future can bring. I was ashamed of myself and happy at the same time – ashamed because these children had more hope and faith in life than I had, and happy because after everything that they went through, they can still see the beauty of life.

The artworks that they made spoke of what they considered most valuable. The prevailing themes were home/family/house and school/community – things that were denied to them because of the pending cases filed for them in court. While the centre provided them distance schooling to finish their studies, as well as counselling sessions and community support, these children were uprooted from the environments where they would have had lived normal lives. The pieces were full of dark colours and phallic shapes, symbols of the painful experience that they wanted to forget.

I left the centre not only with the artworks in my bag, but also with a lot of unanswered questions in my mind. Are poor children more prone to sexual and physical abuse? If they are, what should be done? Is education and advocacy enough? If not, what else are necessary? What is the government doing to ensure that this centre will no longer have children in the future?

It’s amazing how an art workshop on a hot summer afternoon could make you ask these questions.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Independence Day

(This piece was written in 2001 on the occassion of the Independence Day celebration. It originally appeared in Panglantaw, a publication that a few souls wanted to put up and successfully printed for at least three quarters. It is amazing that after eight years, not much has changed. The lines written here, as I read them again, seemed fresh, making me think that sometimes, not much has changed, except that President Arroyo transferred the non-working holiday to a Monday.)

Today is Independence Day and like most of the people in our country, I am tempted to say “What the heck if it is?” Independence Day after all is just another red day in a calendar, another breather to a lousy office schedule, or another real day-off in an often-day-off government work. Yesterday, I watched my cousin hang a flag by the window and sensed the feeling of “its-a-requirement” air in his face. Besides, what meaning has a flag to us nowadays, except for the fact that it’s something we send off to air every Monday morning while singing that anthem that has somehow lost its meaning especially when played before a last full show at a local movie house?

Early this morning, the daughter of my landlady persistently called her brother who was still half-asleep to drive her to the city plaza for the usual then usual early morning program. And in my tiredness, I came to think of the many government employees who are forced to wake up early today to attend to those ceremonies that become more of a gathering by attendance than of a real celebration. Indeed, today is Independence Day, and whether you like it or not, if you’re a member of the government (that building, that group of people), you have to be there during the ceremony or suffer the consequence of an “explain-in-writing-within-twenty-four-hours” memo from your superior.

But where is the Government (that multitude of people that has a say on how they should be governed, has a stake on the realm of governance and, who are the very essence of governance)? Is the Government celebrating? Why is the ceremony attended only by the government and not by the Government?

Answering your own questions sometimes is as hard as letting piles of thread pass through a tight needle’s eye. Most especially, the answering becomes more difficult if you are a part of the question. Like, why am I not celebrating? Why am I not in the plaza today and with all my heart sing the Lupang Hinirang to the top of my voice while proudly holding my hand close to my breast? Have I lost my belief in my independence? Have I tired myself from being a Filipino? Have I made myself believe that there’s nothing more to celebrate in a government and Government that has never learned its lessons after all? Before I went to take a bath to scrub the Chlorine water off from yesterday’s whole afternoon swimming at the pool, I heard the fish peddler cry again the usual. “Isda mo diha! Tamarong, danggit!” outside. The voice was so familiar; she has been crying that line for four years now. It struck me to think that after four years, she hardly changed, crying for her fish every early morning, every day. I remembered my friend at a theologate in Ozamis who said that every day should bring in a change to our lives in order for us to prove that we have learned from the lessons of our history. But then, she has been crying the same line, bringing the familiar basket, and wearing the same worn-out clothes for four years. Now I know why she’s not there at the city plaza celebrating with the government.

The lab-asera is still crying the same line and bringing the same basket, I think not because she still want to and that she wants to and that she wants to do that forever but because there is not much choice. Years back, in my college years, I wrote;

Blame not
The restless figure
Who sits by the corner
Of the sunken church
Who, with hunger in her
Ate all her pride
And bathed herself in shame
While the rich and the mighty
Paid coins and pennies
To share the view.

Indeed, the escalating poverty in our community does not reflect the choice of the poor but the greed of the rich. Who wants to be hungry, homeless and penniless after all? The glaring poverty that greets you every morning is a menace created by all of us; by a corrupt government that fails to deliver basic services, a business sector without a social conscience, and an apathetic majority who never does anything about issues affecting people, not unless it personally affects them. Poverty is characteristics of our growing dependence. Tasing, my friend in the mountains of Malindang said once, “Ang kagawasan hingpit lang kung ang mayoriya, ang katawhan, ang masa, nahaw-as na sa ilang kakabus”. I believe she’s right. Poverty is a chain that binds one person even in his quest to attain the right to live.

I asked the driver of the tricycle I rode on if the celebrations at the city plaza were well attended to which he replied, “Mingaw man.” Asking further if he attended the celebrations, he said, “Ah, wa man tay apil ana.” The statement made me travel across boundaries. I came to think of the failure of the government to include the Government most of the time. When the government privatized basic services, the people were never consulted. When the government wanted to initiate reforms, participation of the majority was sparingly considered. When raising fare rates, consultations were not held extensively. Also, I came to think of the Government’s reluctance and even refusal to participate in the process of governance. When the government privatized basic services, the people never said anything not until they were asked of high registration fees. When the government wanted to initiate reforms, people never cared to participate. When raising fare rates, only a few attended the consultations. When shall this dichotomy end?

Independence is a hard won achievement. Our history has proven that. Some historians and political analysts would say that the Philippine Declaration of Independence is a hoax, for after all, we are still pawns of superpowers, of developed countries that has continued to use us to their benefit. It’s a hoax, for after all, the lab-asera is still the same old lab-asera until now, Tasing is still up in the mountains, and the tricycle driver still excludes himself from the government, and the Government.

But as I look at the flag blown by the wind at the school’s pole, I see a challenge; a challenge of winning that independence, making it come true. And I look forward to that time and day that I’ll come to see everyone, including the lab-asera, Tasing and the tricycle driver, and millions of people like them, like us, joining together to celebrate real independence day.

Today is Independence Day. And it’s not a bad day for dreaming.

Saturday, 31 May 2008

What's With NGOs?

The role of non-governmental organizations in development has been subjected to numerous praise and criticisms in literature. Fisher (1997) reviews these schools of thought and identified two separate sets of views. One view regards NGOs as “apolitical tools that can be wielded to further a variety of modified development goals” while the second imposes large expectations of NGOs as “vehicles for challenges to and transformations of relationships of power”. Other theorists hints on another significant criticism of NGOs: their potential to eclipse the role of the state (Collier 2000, Putzel 2004, Kamat 2004) and succeed as agents of development at the cost of the state legitimacy (White 1999).

NGOs Replacing the Government?

NGOs in Bohol, despite its good intentions to supplement the efforts of the provincial government, have the potential to replace the state’s role as provider of basic services, thereby decreasing the LGUs accountability to the general public in terms of basic service provision. To proceed with the analysis, financial inputs - defined here as funds that were allocated to certain specific expenditures, namely, livelihood development and health, were used to compare NGO and LGU spending in the year 2006.

An analysis of the figures showed several significant interpretations. First, lesser amounts were allocated by both NGOs for health expenditures or programs while greater amounts were allocated to livelihood development, more particularly in the Third District. Second, NGO finances more livelihood development initiatives as compared to LGUs, but the reverse is true for health projects. The difference, in this regard, is very material. Third, NGOs collectively, planned to spend twice more than what LGUs intend to spend in the period covered for health and livelihood initiatives.

A closer scrutiny of the data will reveal significant realizations. For example, there are several towns where the LGUs did not budget anything on health while NGOs spent a considerable sum. This is also true with respect to livelihood development. Livelihood development, despite its importance, is not considered a basic service expected by LGU, hence, its underinvestment, despite its great importance to achieving sustainable decrease in poverty incidence. This is particularly true in the towns of Trinidad, Bien Unido, Alicia, and San Miguel.

The data, however, also points out to a reverse causality – that because municipalities were poor, resources were limited to allocate effectively on different levels of deprivation. Thus, in these types of scenarios, augmentation of local resources through NGO projects were one of the alternative options explored and sought by LGUs. Thus, it was understandable that in one consultative forum on poverty where municipalities were ranked as to levels of deprivation, a handful of municipal heads questioned the researchers why their municipalities were not considered as poor in anticipation of possible project assistance from donors (PEF 2004).

It can be said that the level of engagement between LGUs and NGOs in the province were more on the level of partnership, where NGOs, not having the intention to replace the state, were willing to own a particular problem to address. As such, in this case, NGOs can be seen as part of the process of configuring state institutions and state processes (Kamat 2004).

However, it may still be right to say that in the process, NGOs may have tended to create expectations on the part of LGUs, resulting to under-funding of critical poverty alleviation measures and basic state functions because of the anticipation that this will be handled by NGOs. Consequently, instead of proactively finding means within its boundaries to raise the needed funds, LGUs ,may have relied on NGO projects to fund most of its development interventions, some of which are its basic mandated functions. It is important to mention here, that NGOs are not permanent structures in the localities, and may cease to exist depending of availability of project grant funds or changes in organizational priorities. Thus, sustainability of these local development processes becomes a big question.

NGOs Help Themselves by Helping the Poor?

A very serious critique against NGOs was that NGOs were full of “charlatans only after the money” and were starting to become “entrepreneurial economic entities” or “opportunist pretenders” (Meyer 1995). NGOs were viewed as helping themselves by “helping the poor” (Lofredo 2004). Thus, it is important to ask whether this accusation is applicable to NGOs in Bohol.

Majority of NGOs in Bohol are dependent on project grants. A review of their audited financial statements revealed that most of them rely on grant funds both for project and administrative expenses. There are only a very few NGOs which have earning fund investments and income-generating projects able to sustain operations. Consequently, most of the employees were project-based, working on contracts that were co-terminus with project grant funds. Tenure of most employees were assured to the extent that grant funds were available, except for those considered as “core staff”.

Several key informants from funding agencies interviewed opined that a handful of NGOs were concerned with how much they were able to generate from a project. In a provincial forum hosted by a funding agency in 2006, a representative of the NGO network, the Bohol Alliance of Non-Government Organizations, expressed his concern over the small amount that implementing NGOs would be able to receive from the project grants if the new system proposed by the funding agency would be implemented. While this necessarily did not support the argument that NGOs are self-interested enterprises, this will tell us that NGOs were particular with how much funds they were able to get, whether or not this was for poverty reduction.

A study conducted comparing administrative and project expenses revealed that not all grant funds went to communities that NGOs committed to serve (Cemini, et al 2007). Forty-two (42) NGOs in the province were interviewed regarding their project funds for the period 2005 to 2007. It is interesting to note that among the 42 NGOs, seven (7) NGOs refused to give the project and administrative expense amounts reasoning out that this was confidential.

The research revealed that project expenses only accounted for 43% of project funds while 53% was for administrative expenses of NGOs. Thus, the actual benefit of the communities is lesser than that of the NGO by close to twenty million pesos over a period of three years. This somehow would prove the contention that NGOs exist for themselves as they exist for others. It is not implied here that NGOs are self-interested individuals but to point out to the reality that NGO existence depended on grant funds that they were able to source out in the course of implementing projects in communities and still, NGOs are “vulnerable” to movements and trends in development aid (Fowler 2000).

NGOs Create Dependency?

Finally, the third critique that I would like to mention is the possibility that by helping communities, NGOs unintentionally “overlook existing local capacities and responsibilities” and can “result to doing more harm than good.” (Collier 2000). NGOs, despite attempts to ensure bottom-up approach in development practice, have the tendency to encroach, not only on the state’s responsibility to provide access to basic needs, but also on the individual’s, household’s or community’s capacity to provide for their own.

An evaluation study of an area development program implemented by World Vision Development Foundation in partnership with a community organization in 3 municipalities in Bohol revealed that over-investment on education of children have tended to create dependency on the part of their parents, to the point that some parents were reported to have asked for necessities that they themselves have the responsibility to provide (Canares 2005). Similarly, another evaluation of a project implemented by another NGO in 10 upland barangays in the central part of the province reported that some people’s organizations assisted through the project were becoming increasingly dependent on the project to solve their community problems (Canares 2006).

This reality is not new in development literature. The argument that NGOs create dependency were highlighted especially in the stark context of humanitarian assistance (Summerfield 1996, Vaux 2001). Though it has been argued that NGOs can not create this dependency because the amounts spent were immaterial as compared to the needs of individuals or communities (Stockton 1998), it can also be argued that the amount was not an issue but the act in itself. The thought alone that help will come, though how small, would create a rule of expectations that when continually reinforced at every occurrence of need, may have resulted to dependency. This is an important concern that NGOs need to contend with in the design and implementation of projects and programs because instead of helping to eradicate poverty, they may reproduce it in a certain way.

To do good – giving food to a child, treating the sick, providing potable water, training people for improved livelihood - is oftentimes considered unassailable. But it can always be argued that good actions do not necessarily bring good results and that the goodness of an act is not intrinsic in itself (as contended by deontologists) but is dependent on the results that it later generates (as argued by consequentialists) (Slim 1997).

What I would like to argue, that while what NGOs have done in the province were essentially good but they may have not yielded good results altogether. To have a more nuanced frame in understanding development work is necessary in order to ensure that NGOs do not help in reproducing the same structures and institutions that cause, rather than eradicate poverty.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Joseph and that Unforgettable Loboc River Cruise

I was with my family on a river cruise in the famous Loboc river when our boatman and tour guide Joseph made striking remarks and critical questions that every person thinking about development, whether in local, national, or international spheres, must ponder on. Joseph, to most of us in that brief boat ride, embodied every soul that is forcefully and unjustly included in the ‘development’ process, and even those that are, without choice, excluded from its supposed benefits.

“I used to walk along this riverbank to be able to go to school. I come from a barangay near the ‘busay’ (the waterfalls) that we are about to see in a short while”., Joseph told us as we were cruising the river upstream in a motorized banca (boat). “I am the first person in our village that finished high school. Maybe it’s our poverty condition that prevented most of us to go to school, or just the plain difficulty of walking along this river especially during the rainy season.”, he continued. He mentioned that most of the people in his village rely on farming and firewood gathering as means of livelihood, the latter being prohibited by local authorities due to its supposed effects on the environment. He further told us that it was only recently that they were able to have electricity, thanks to the project facilitated by World Vision.

Joseph pointed to us a new addition to the riverbanks he used to walk on. Surprisingly, these were electric lampposts erected very close to river. He commented that these were a perfect mismatch to the scenic appeal of the river and would halt the firefly watching tours that they normally conduct in some select evenings. Besides this, he also pointed out its impracticality, as the Loboc river is noted for its frequent flooding during the rainy season, which increases water level to as high as four feet beyond the normal, just enough to reach around 40% of the height of some posts.

He said that the lampposts were donated by a certain Mr. Chan, a Chinese investor, and were part of the project of the current mayor to illuminate the river banks during the evening and facilitate the evening river cruise. He however questioned the motivation of the donation, as he opined that businessmen, especially Chinese, normally do not put money for plain selfless reasons. “Those mountains (referring to the mountains serving as majestic backdrop to the waterfalls) have many caves. Caves are rumoured to have treasures. Some people might be after them.”, he sadly remarked.

As we approached the ‘busay’, he pointed at one of the cottages in the riverbank near his home, where around 50 people wearing green shirts and carrying ukuleles congregated. He told us that this was the first riverbank entertainment organized by the local people to participate in the booming tourism business and help improve local economy. But two other groups downstream were organized, heightening competition, and even creating conflict between an influential person in the town and a tour guide.

Joseph presented us with a lot of implicit questions through his narrative, with hardly any answers. “Why did it take too long for us to get electricity and too fast for the lampposts to be erected? What role do local people have in the tourism program of the local government? Who is benefiting largely in this tourism business? How do we increase access of local people to education and other basic social services? Who protects local interests when these are threatened by foreign prospectors?” To me, these questions are very important in every community’s pursuit of local development.

Sadly though, one very important question above all else is “Who is hearing Joseph?”

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Where Have All The Good Roads Gone?

The taxi drivers in Tagbilaran City realized one thing - that it’s better to drive passengers to Jagna than to anywhere in the city. The reason though is not about traffic, but road condition. It seems that repair and maintenance of the city’s roads have become of lesser importance than a planned costly installation of monitoring cameras in several locations within Tagbilaran.

Except for the new concrete roads at CP Garcia Avenue, the city’s main street, which was part of a provincial circumferential road project, not much improvement can be observed in the city’s main thoroughfares. Gallares Street, the one that connects the pier to many of the city’s landmarks – K of C Church, Ramiro Hospital, Bohol Quality, Holy Name University, and the St. Joseph Cathedral - is in such a sorry state. J.A. Clarin also shares the same fate. If these major streets are in this condition, what can we expect of the smaller ones, and the others that still remain unpaved to these days?

They say that development is not just about good roads, and this is true. Development is all else that makes people experience life of quality. Thus, development also includes good roads, as it includes functional health centres, better employment opportunities, quality schools, affordable medicines, productive farms, and more.

In the past, Governor Aumentado (then a congressman) was criticized for building good roads in the second district without doing something significant regarding the poverty condition of the people. This criticism may be right in this particular context but it is also important to point out that several literature have indicated how roads have made the rural areas more visible, facilitated agricultural gains through lesser transport costs affecting prices of both farm inputs and outputs, and improved access of people to basic social services.

If the city government is doing something else gigantic that caused a rapid decrease in urban poverty, for example, then abandoning whatever road maintenance project required might be justifiable. But is this the case for the moment?

In the area where I lived, just a kilometre away from Island City Mall, the roads are muddy and the holes are deep, and they have been like that for the last five years. The people I knew that were facing extreme difficulties in the past few years are the same people that are experiencing extreme difficulties now. This prompts me into asking, what is the city government doing all those years?

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

"Inyong Alagad"

It’s a good thing to listen to Fred Araneta again, sharing the airtime with replacement anchor Chito Visarra in the all-time favourite DYRD radio program “Inyong Alagad”(Your Servant). I was on my way to work one Tuesday morning (19 February) and chanced upon the duo interviewing in their radio show Deputy Mayor Mario Uy and Vice Mayor Toto Veloso, discussing the recent suspension of operations of the “Botika sa Katawhan”(Public Pharmacy), an establishment that provides inexpensive medicines to poor clients in the city of Tagbilaran.

All the fuss started when city Councilor Zenaido Rama, interestingly not politically-aligned with City Mayor Dan Lim, questioned the operations of the said establishment managed by Lim’s strong ally, Deputy Mayor Uy, on the basis that its operations is “too politicized” and that “some of its beneficiaries do not qualify as indigents” (BC, 17 February 2008). In retaliation, Mayor Lim ordered the operations of the pharmacy suspended until such time that the allegations will be cleared in the city council.

Undoubtedly, the issue is controversial, especially for the beneficiaries of the said program and for those who believed that such a program should not be a victim of a war between political loyalties. Conversely, such an issue is also controversial for those who claimed to have been deprived of its services and those who think that it was indeed used to advance somebody else’s political interest.

On his part, Uy said that all he wanted to do was to realize his goal of being of service to the Tagbilaranons and the suspension ordered by Lim is not just a reaction to the political attacks in the city council but also to allow the processing of compliance requirements with the Bureau of Food and Drug. Veloso, on the other hand, interjected that the questions raised by Rama, his partymate, is a valid exercise of the oversight functions of the city council and all that he desired was to make public service more transparent and effective to the people.

I cringe at this hypocrisy. I shudder at the thought that this political bickering is done in the name of public service. I abhor the way that our “public officials” seem to treat all of us as ignorant, naïve, and numb individuals, unable to determine if all these senseless parade is devoid of political colour or not.

If there was one person worthy to say I am “Inyong Alagad” over that 10 minute discussion which seemed like the longest 10 minutes of my life, he would be, definitely, the original anchor of the show.

Monday, 18 February 2008

They Do Not Come Out in the Papers

It’s amazing why a few good things, though how phenomenal they are, do not get printed in our newspapers while all the mudslinging, dirty politics, and boxing matches do. It’s also quite spectacular why a public official who inaugurates a building gets full media treatment (read: words, sounds, and pictures) but not when a non-governmental organization was able to strengthen the livelihood of 536 rural poor households.

Last Friday (15 February), I presented an independent evaluation report on a project implemented by the Soil and Water Conservation Foundation in four Eskaya communities in the towns of Duero, Guindulman, Sierra Bullones, and Pilar and in 8 other barangays within Sierra Bullones. The project was successful in increasing the income of around 345 rural households, from below 2,000 monthly gross income to 2,500 and more. It also made possible the strengthening of 12 community associations, most of which currently have more than P70,000 of capital build up (from almost nothing) to continue their different livelihood projects.

The evaluation report concluded that the project has afforded beneficiary communities with the chances to increase income, improve well being, reduce vulnerability against livelihood shocks, achieve a certain degree of food security, and manage their resources sustainably. These opportunities could not have been made available to these communities without the project and may have taken a longer time to develop.

But news such like these do not come out in the papers. NGOs like SWCF do not have PR people who write news stories every week, and the media may have not regarded these as stories that sell. In print media, as it is elsewhere, there is always the marginalization of the people at the periphery, that their plight, much more their achievements, become virtually insignificant.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Remembering Sir Nits

Atty. Juanito Cambangay, retired chief of the Provincial Planning and Development Office of Bohol, can be considered one of the province’s inspiring development architects. Having served the province in different transition phases – from one governor to another, from centralized to decentralized governmental authority, from economic obscurity to growth and relative prosperity - “Nits”, as he is fondly called by friends and colleagues, was among those who can be credited for Bohol’s successful development efforts.

I do not claim to have known the man personally (He is “Sir Nits” to me, a sign both of respect and admiration). My close encounters with him were on a few occasions only. One time we worked together as member of the Philippine delegation tasked to evaluate a Japan International Cooperation Agency project, when I was still very young and inexperienced in a lot of things. On a car ride with him from Ubay to Tagbilaran, I had my first lessons in Development 101.

Years later, when Holy Name University’s Research Center was commissioned to do a research on the privatization of the provincial water utilities department, he was a very supportive respondent and critic of the work that Cynthia Reyes-Ayco (then Research Director) and I did. The interviews with him were like the classes in political economy that I took at the London School of Economics – insightful and visionary.

I should say I benefited much from these encounters and that his views on development work influenced me a lot. Personally, I think his early demise creates a significant void in Bohol’s development scene, and that his contributions will be remembered by people he shared his thoughts and opinions with.

When death comes at these unexpected moments, I am always reminded by Morrie Schwartz, who held a funeral service in anticipation of his death. If Sir Nits had one, I would surely invite myself to speak.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Pack Your Bags and Move On

I have difficulty packing things up for a trip, especially when going back is not an immediate option. Last January 2, leaving for Bangkok for the second half of my temporary UN assignment was a difficult thing to do, especially because I have to, again, borrow time from my son and wife with whom I have not spent much time for the last couple of years.

I tiredly dragged my luggage towards the airport gate and the more I moved the heavier it became. I thought to myself that this could possibly be the kind of experience public officials have on their last term of office. They are caught in a dilemma of whether to stay on or to move ahead. Staying does not necessarily mean standing up again for another re-election, since this is entirely unallowable under Philippine laws, but fielding in one’s wife, father, sister, brother, mother, cousin, aunt, or what have you, to run for the post one is presently occupying and running for another post, either lower or higher, depending upon one’s capacity and clout. Moving on is simply saying goodbye to the post, permanently or temporarily, and letting somebody else have the experience of handling local politics or giving a chance for the populace to experience another brand of leadership.

But I believe some politicians in Bohol do not experience a dilemma, because the figures show that oh, how they loved to stay. A mayor ran (note: “ran”, and not “served”, as what they usually say) for nine years, asked his wife to run the town for one term, in order to come back again for three terms more. A provincial legislative body member ran for barangay captain with the intention to win in the league of barangays elections so that she could automatically have her seat back in the provincial board. In one town, the husband was once the mayor, then her provincial board member wife took his place, then his Sangguniang Kabataan chairperson son replaced her after her last term while she moved back to becoming a provincial board member again.

The list can go on and long and research on this theme would probably reveal how the structures of power in the province are dominated by the same powerful surnames and clans. But what struck me most is how people, the voters, can go on endlessly joining this parade, how they can allow themselves to just become perpetual victims to this shameless insult to their political sagacity, and how they allowed themselves to become mere stamping pads of somebody else’s desire to run local governments on a dynastical fashion and earn whatever economic and social favours such an arrangement would bring.

I am worried by the fact that the province’s SK federated chairperson studies in Manila while supposedly organizing her office in Bohol and attending provincial legislative sessions in between. I do not underestimate capacities here, or devalue the power of technology – emails, video conferencing, and text messages – in running the world’s greatest businesses. But it is just plainly unthinkable how one can survive in this kind of arrangement, much more function well.

I sound this challenge to the current provincial SK chairperson, who succeeds her sister in the post, to effect a change in the pervasive apathy of the young in the province, without relying on executive secretaries, administrative assistants, OICs, her father congressman or whoever to do the job. I also sound the same challenge to the current league of barangay’s chair to animate the basic political units in the different municipalities in the drive towards good governance and poverty reduction, and establish a legacy that she might have been unable to do while she served the provincial board.

More importantly, I sound the same challenge to all families running the province’s local politics to forego personal gain and work for equity and social justice and for improved standards of living and moral health of the populace. If their stay in power had not steered their constituents to that direction, then I think its time for them to pack their bags and move on.