Sunday, 27 December 2009

The Problem with Representative Democracy


The Bohol Chronicle reported today (27 December 2009) that the Sangguniang Panlalawigan has given a go-signal for the governor of the province of Bohol to sign a joint venture and development agreement (JVDA) with Oasis Leisure Islands Development Inc. (OLIDI) to reclaim at least 450 hectares by building 5 islets at Panglao Bay. The provincial lawmakers believed that the proposal was advantageous to the government, as it will not spend any single peso for the project, from its inception to implementation. Interestingly, the Bohol Chronicle reported that Vice Governor Herrera stressed that "Several discussions have been made and the SP met with the proponents many times. Concerns of each board member have been satisfactorily answered."


I was appalled.


It seems that the Sangguniang Panlalawigan members have not read the proposal in its entirety. I wonder if they could answer questions if reporters will ask them for the details of the proposal. I wonder if indeed they have gone through the pages carefully, and with professional scepticism, scrutinized each component and assumption of the proposed project. I wonder if they understood the document very well. I wondered, because, a project as ridiculously expensive such as this, in terms of environmental, social, and economic costs, can be approved in less than a year. Wasn’t it just two months back that this project was discussed in the legislative body?


It is not surprising why environmentalist lawyer Raul Barbarona commented that the provincial board approved the proposal in haste. He was reported to have said that “"We heard there were board members who vowed the reclamation proposal would 'go through the eye of the needle' and yet deliberations on the matter seemed to breeze through without any hitches." But Vice Governor Herrera said that they deliberated on the issues since October. I wonder again regarding the quality of these deliberations – can the minutes of the Sanggunian prove how extensive these deliberations were?


Why am I asking?


It seemed that the provincial legislature forgot that the provincial vision is one of “eco-cultural tourism destination”. My sister who is a biologist has already commented on the extensive damage this would have on the coastal resources of the province. Where is the opinion here of the management board of the Bohol Marine Triangle? A reclamation project in one of the country’s delicate marine ecosystems, though how many times it would pass environmental compliance (EC) under the country’s current system of EC assessment procedures, will never be justifiable. This means 450 hectares of coral reef destroyed, marine resources displaced, local livelihoods endangered, and coastal terrain alteration that would haunt us for the rest of our lives.


Second, it seems that the provincial legislature forgot the plain economics of land use. The project proposal of the proponents highlighted the demand for land which I believe is very much understudied and grossly overstated. This does not tell you how great the demand is for additional land, at least in the context of Bohol, but provides macro and regional perspective only. My interest in the case is to know how big the demand to justify the alteration of the environmental terrain. Unfortunately, the study did not provide a convincing argument. It presents the sunny side of reclamation, yes, but what about those reclaimed areas where takeup was low? We have strong cases on this in Cebu and in other supposedly economic zones that were unable to provide the supposed economic benefits. What I am interested to see is how the other similar initiatives all over the country fared. The preparer of the study seemed to suggest that just because there were other similar projects that occurred elsewhere, the viability is assured here, in terms of market. That is a great fallacy. Yes, I agree that there is a limitation on space, but why users of space will go to Panglao and locate their business there is still to me, a very vague proposition. Simple questions like who is the market, where are they, what are their preferences, what is their interest in Bohol, or in Panglao in particular, what is their capacity, are all missing. Take a look at this statement, for example:


“At present, the inadequacy of infrastructure facilities has affected the tourism development

of the municipality.” (Chapter 6, page 7)


What infrastructure facilities? It can be water and electricity. But insufficiency of establishments to cater to tourism demands? Yes, only in May and December, but the other months of the year? So why establish islands to cater to tourism activities? Don’t they know that since 2007, while there is an increase in tourist arrivals in terms of absolute numbers, the rate of increase was alarmingly declining? Where is the underserved market? Are our provincial lawmakers ignorant of the fact that tourist establishments in the province have experienced this year a steep decline in revenues? So why create another island?


How about data on housing demand to support a need for the establishment of the second island? Where is it? How about demand for schools and universities? They should know that HNU’s enrolment is on a downward trend in recent years. So why again establish second island? This is ridiculous. The marketing aspect is full of promise, yes, but very hollow. Baseless. I wonder how the Provincial Government of Bohol can believe in this project.


Thirdly, have our provincial lawmakers consulted the provincial accountant’s office for their opinion or the Philippine Institute of Certified Public Accountants perhaps? Because the marketing projections are not there, these are not even overstated or understated in the financial analysis, but altogether inexistent and baseless. Take a look at this, for example:


Revenue Sources: Marina, Golf Course; Residential; Institutional; Schools; Spa/Medical Tourism; Equestrian; and Low Impact Resort.

Estimated Revenue: Sale: Php 1,575 M, Lease = Php 1,260 M/year


And I ask, what is the basis. And when will this occur? I cannot see a time-series presentation of this except total figures indicated in a Table 7.6 of the document. It does not even tell you how this will be achieved. Again, I go back to my argument in above where I indicated that take up in some reclaimed sites in the country is low even in big cities in Cebu. And Panglao?


I can go on lengthily regarding my objections on this document. I wonder if the provincial board have considered these points. Just take a look at this table if it will not blow your minds off.

Development Site

Proposed

Land Use

Island 1 (150 hectares)

Marina, Condos, Hotels, Commercial District, entertainment centers


Mall Strip, F-1 Race Track, Golf course

Island 2 (150 hectares)

Marina, Condos, Hotels, Residential, Schools,


Institutional, Spa/Medical Tourism,


Equestrian, Low Impact Resort

Island 3 (75 hectares)

Small Commercial Establishments,


Souvenir Shops, Boutiques, Hotels, Dive


Shops, Apartment, Condos

Island 4 (70 hectares)

Nature Park, Wildlife & Fish Sanctuary,


Golf Course, Camping Grounds, Marina, Zoo



Island 5 (5 hectares)

Small Private Residential Islets (17) with an


average area of 2,941 sq.m/islet


Sub - Total

Expansion (150 hectares)

Commercial, Residential, Recreation, Resort


As indicated in the table above, this is not just about 450 hectares, but 150 more. Maybe journalists in this province also need to check on their facts. Its 600 hectares of reclaimed land, ladies and gentlemen, the process of which, the proponents argued in the technical section, will “not alter the stream regimes, will not cause floods in the foreshore”. This will do quarrying of materials from the coastal beds, yes, and they will ensure that “it will not interrupt the flow of vessels on the navigational sea lane” and that “protective measures shall be developed so as not to make the sea an industrial waste disposal area”. These are the only promises of the technical aspect. And nothing else. They do not even talk about displacement of the sea inhabitants, your sea grasses, your fishes, your corals, which unfortunately, do not have the power to march the streets and bring placards to voice out their opposition to this ridiculous project.


Indeed, this is one big problem of representative democracy – when we select leaders and they will be the ones to determine how the future of this province, or this country will be shaped in the next 50 years. Our leaders decide on how our resources will be saved or squandered. Our leaders decide on how the lives of the voiceless fishes and coastal resources will be dramatically altered forever. Our leaders decide even without letting us know, without even consulting us, without even considering our fears and apprehensions.


In one of her interjections to this project, my mentor, Ms. Rosalinda G. Paredes questioned, “ISN’T IT FAIR THAT THEY TOO (referring to the non-government organizations), WHO HAVE A BIG STAKE IN BOHOL’S ENVIRONMENT AND WHO IS THE VERY SECTOR THAT HAS CRIED SO LOUD TO MAKE BOHOL’S ENVIRONMENT (WHICH IS NOW THE MAIN ATTRACTION THAT HAS BROUGHT THE TOURISTS DOWN HERE) PROTECTED AND PRESERVED, WOULD KNOW WHAT THIS IS ALL ABOUT TO BE ABLE TO SUBSTANTIALLY COMMENT AND MAKE FEEDBACK?”


I share this lamentation. It is not fair for our leaders to go ahead, make decisions on issues as critical as this, without even conducting extensive research and consultation. Like some of the projects in this province, they will again do things in the horse-after-the-cart fashion. Mr. Norris Oculam, proponent of the project said that the public can openly "participate in the consultation process and see for themselves that we will not take shortcuts". Why is he the one planning to conduct the consultation? Why is it that the provincial legislators did not even have the decency to consult the population before they made their decision?


What is alarming is a statement in the document that reads:


“A reclamation development, although more costly in terms of physical costs, and with all of the above limitations and constraints, will not be a problem. The issue of obtaining permits, licenses and project approval for implementation would be more speedy and the operation of the developed property would be smooth with very minor disruptions or interventions as long as the environmental aspects of the project and its development are well taken cared of.”


I abhor these statements. They point to a quick fix of all requirements. They point to a fact that obtaining permits and licenses would be “very smooth and with very minor disruptions”. If I am a proponent of this project, I would not say that. I would say that obtaining a permit would be very difficult. I wonder again if the local office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources will have the balls to stand against this project. I wonder too, what is the stand of our friends at the Bohol Environmental and Management Office. This project indeed reveals the colours of our officials and our government agencies.


As I end this emotionally-charged essay on the project, let me remind our provincial lawmakers on what governance is all about. I take my inspiration from Neera Chandoke’s essay on Governance and Pluralisation of the State.


First, the government (and its officials) is just one of the diverse agencies, only one among the many, which is concerned of a country’s development. They do not have the monopoly of knowledge and intention, so they need to consult.


Second, the agencies concerned with development are acting from a different standpoints (benevolence, profit, etc) as compared to the state (obligation to citizens). Norris Oculam’s obligation is to his investors, our lawmakers is to us, the citizens. It is our interest that they should protect, and also that of the fishes out there.


Third, modern governance resembles a pluralist model of different actors with different interests. The government is expected to be an arbitrator, a negotiator. They should arbitrate and negotiate for us.


Finally, they should not forget that civil society theory clearly establishes a divide between state and non-state and that social associations are more important than the state to the citizen. They should remember that this province has a wealth of actors in development. Our non-profit players who have had a long history of oppression and active involvement will take this matter to their own hands.


To my friends, now is the time for collective action again.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Where are the people in the Dauis Renaissance Program?

(The Dauis Renaissance Program is about converting the Dauis convent to a museum, souvenir and coffeeshop, and a function room, the construction of decks in the courtyard and the installation of lighting fixtures. It also involved the renovation of the convent roof, the construction and fit out of kitchen and bakery, and the acquisition of implements for dining or banquet services.)


I was informed by a colleague of mine that Bea Zobel de Ayala commissioned a research to ascertain the impact of the things that she was doing in Bohol in the past few years. The assessment was conducted by my friends at Holy Name University and was implemented in two sites – Baclayon and Dauis. They said they were interviewing key people regarding the projects. Unfortunately, I am not a key person, so I did not have a chance to be interviewed. I just hoped it is not because I am against how the project was undertaken, lest I will really conclude that they are only interviewing those that have something good to say, lest, I will really conclude that all the while, the Dauis Renaissance Program is done in such an exclusionary process.....a process that excludes those that negated it.

Indeed, it has been approximately a year when I did the analysis of the cooperation agreement, which landed in our hands not because it was freely provided, but because somebody by luck got a copy. It was in June 24, 2008, when Ms. Beatriz Susana Zobel de Ayala, the Most Rev. Leonardo Y. Medroso, and the Dauis Renaissance Company signed the Cooperation Agreement for the Dauis Renaissance Program. The Dauis Renaissance Program, as the agreement indicated, aims to work for the “betterment of the lives of the people of Dauis”, the “revitalization of the heritage site of the Dauis Rectory courtyard” to “strengthen the spiritual, moral, and religious foundation, cultural identity and pride, and community solidarity of the Dauis people” and to “share in the vision of the Dauis Rectory courtyard as the center of sustainable development of Dauis through arts, heritage, culture, propelling the Dauis people to excellence in creativity and production, and enabling the Parish to better serve the parishioners, pursue its apostolate and provide for the well-being of priests”.

The objectives of the program is loaded with the laudable ideas of “people”, “sustainable development”, “culture”, and “community”, among others. A closer scrutiny of the objectives would reveal that the program is for the “people”, to better the lives of people, to strengthen their spiritual, moral and religious foundation, and to promote their sense of pride and community solidarity.” Thus, it can be said that the program is for the people, and where the people are assumed to participate and benefit.

However, the exclusionary nature of the process, about which the program was conceptualized and implemented, was repetitively questioned by a few lay people of Dauis, the Nagpakabanang Dauisanon . A paper written by an economist and a Dauisanon himself, Dr. Ramon Clarete of the School of Economics in the University of the Philippines, indicated that the corporation, the Dauis Renaissance Company, which is the forerunner of the Dauis Renaissance Program leaves no room for controlling representation to the ordinary Dauisanon as it “accords two-thirds of the equity of the Corporation to Ms. Zobel de Ayala”, and only has a probable “5 percent of the total equity of the Corporation”.

In the beginning of this year, probably the questions of the opposition group stung the implementers that they hired people to conduct community consultations, in the horse-after-the-cart fashion. The lawyer, Atty. Floreindo Columnas presented in these consultations. I remember very well that during my presentation of the analysis paper to members of the senior clergy of the diocese of Tagbilaran in Maribojoc early this year, Atty. Columnas mentioned that the money Bea invested was a grant, not a loan. But I asked Atty. Columnas why the cooperation agreement said that it was preferred shares redeemable in 5 years, he said it was not the intention. Of course, he knows very well, being a lawyer and my professor in law school that what were written were the ones that govern the business arrangement, and not those he said were the real intentions. But revisions to the cooperation agreement have not been done since. But in these community consultations, it was repetitively said that the money was a grant. In a sense, the people are also deceived.

I thought the project was for the people of Dauis, but the ones running it are not from Dauis. You have John Maraguinot, from Tagbilaran, as manager. I also saw one of my accountancy students working there, who obviously is not from Tagbilaran. I wonder if the waiters, the suppliers, and those involved there are from Dauis as well. I wonder if Mr. Maraguinot can give an accounting of how the people of Dauis benefitted. If indeed this is Bea’s intention, they should be able to inform people how these intentions were achieved.......it has been almost a year....and information did not flow.

Information, surely, did not flow. I presented early this year to Bea Zobel, her consultant Inno Manalo, and John Maraguinot my paper, in a meeting at Doy’s Restaurant. There, I presented options for them to consider, like for example, revising the cooperation agreement to truly reflect Bea’s intentions. I also asked during the meeting if they can provide me the business plan and basis of projection for the DRC, which Mr. Maraguinot said he would provide. I wrote two formal letters asking him to provide us the information, but he never gave anything. He even did not have the decency to answer me with a formal letter. He only wrote me a text message that if I have other questions, I should ask Mr. Marianito Luspo and Ms. Josephine Cemini, purportedly partners to the project. I asked Mr. Luspo and Ms. Cemini, they too, could not provide.

So where is the information? If this project is indeed true to its words, where is the transparency? If they could not even answer me, when I am vocal about my views and persistent with my requests, how much more the people for Dauis who would like to know the truth? So today, I dare to ask them these questions:

1. What were the processes undertaken by the Dauis Renaissance Program implementers in ensuring people participation in program development, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation?
2. Who were involved in developing and implementing the program?
3. What is the extent of the involvement of each stakeholder, more particularly those representing the citizen sector, in developing and implementing the program?
4. How has this participation affected the program framework, the consequent implementation, and intermediate results and outcomes?
5. How has the program affected the capacity of local citizens to participate in similar development initiatives?

I challenge the implementers to answer these questions. I challenge them to bring into the open relevant statistics that would prove that indeed this program is for the people. If I am convinced, I surely would camp on their side. It is just that for the past year, nothing has been made visible. I also challenge my colleague researchers at Holy Name University to deal with these questions if indeed it is impact or benefit that they would like to see. If funders are very critical with how programs reach the intended beneficiaries, isn’t it but true that answers to the questions above are demandable?

Unless this is a private venture. Unless this is something that people like me, or the people of Dauis, do not have the right or responsibility to question. Unless, indeed, like how it looked now, this is indeed a private venture on a private property of a church that purports itself as a “church of the people”.

If the the suppositions indicated in the immediately preceding paragraph is what this project is all about, then I rest my case. Afterall, one should not question somebody else's private business.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Intentions, Actions, and Results


In a point and time where the world stands witness to the effects of disaster, famine, war, and disease, it is important to look at how we intended to help, how we acted on this intention, and how our actions brought results in the lives of people whom we wanted to help and reach out. Oftentimes, we think, that doing good is enough, but I argue that this isn’t so. There are many questions we need to answer ourselves.


Figure 1. The Famous Villar Lunchbox



Good Intentions

A good intention alone is not a good barometer to determine the desirability of a development intervention because it does not necessarily make a development project good nor does it condition a good result.


First, a development project, even when imbued with good intention, may result to actions that are not responsive to the needs of people assisted. It is in this case that it is important to know who decides on how intentions are translated into actions - the one with the intent or the one to whom the intentions are directed. Thus, development projects that are dropped down from heaven like an inviolable prescription, without regard of the condition of the ground to which it shall be applied, may result to incongruence of problems and perceived solutions and may even be harmful to local conditions. This usually happens when development agents, be they government, NGO, or private actors, work on a set of presumptions based on their own principles and experiences without regard of local knowledge and cultures. What could be worse is when these agencies work on presumptions, not only on the remedies they want to apply but also on the problem that they seek to address.


Second, good intentions are questionable, especially when they carry with them hues of competing interests - political, economic or social - of the giver. Intentions do not have to be good only, they must also have to be pure, especially in cases where lives are at stake and people are at the receiving end. While I have argued that good intentions need not necessarily result to good actions, they inarguably provide a frame on how the actions are carried out. It is already bad when good intentions do not bring good actions, but it is worse when good intentions while not bringing good actions, are attached with selfish interests of the one who has the desire to help.


Acts of Kindness

To do good – giving food to a child, treating the sick and the wounded, providing potable water - 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).


Giving a group of people food is good if the action is to be judged by itself. However, when giving them food would destroy their natural resiliency and coping mechanisms, the goodness of the act is shrouded by its unanticipated effects. In like manner, giving food to the needy, done without limits and boundaries, may not be desirable when it subjects the recipient to valuing destitution because it warrants help. While people may argue that dependency cannot be created by development projects since the amount spent is so immaterial to cause it, it can also be argued that the amount is not an issue but the act in itself. The thought alone that help will come, though how small, creates a rule of expectations that when continually reinforced at every occurrence of emergency, may result to dependency. This has implications at both the individual and state level. The occurrences of intentional starving of one child to feed a family or the non-reporting of a dead child to ensure the same amount of food supply may illustrate the kind of dependent attitude encouraged by development funds.


This is not to say however, that in situations of a biblical famine, where states and individuals are helpless and when death is at every doorstep, one should not give food. It is important to discern, more than anything else, an appropriate food relief intervention with due regard of not only the present (the act) but the future (the results) as well, in order to manage efficiently transitions in interventions as needs and situations of beneficiaries change.


Nevertheless, even without regard of the results of an action, the goodness of an act may still be questioned based on its attending circumstances. Even the IFRC/RC admits that giving aid is not at all intrinsically good when it says in its Code of Conduct that “giving aid will not be used to further a particular political or religious standpoint”, that aid agencies must “endeavour not to act as instruments of government foreign policy”. The caveats provided in the principles spell the fact that aid giving is not at all desirable in all circumstances and that these should be dispensed with caution and restraint.


Noble Ends

However, it may be argued that despite the misgivings in implementation of development projects, good results were realized. But are good results enough to indicate that good things were done?


Good results may not at all indicate the desirability of the action, nor do they ensure the dignity of the intention. Money may be raised and a hundreds may have benefited but when media and aid agencies resorted to ‘disaster pornography’ and misrepresented the crisis by overstating the facts in order to bring in the cash, or when the desire to help is tainted with an agency’s personal interest, the results are morally questionable.


However, how do we measure good results in development projects? By the number of lives saved from hunger? By the number of rice bags distributed to famine victims? On the surface, figures speak of significant achievements but undoubtedly, they do not carry the dark stories that happened because they only represent cases but not people with stories. This is particularly true in the extreme situations of what is referred to as “complex emergencies”.


For example, figures do not reflect the fact that feeding centres served as catch pointsfor forced relocation of unknowing civilians in Ethiopia. They do not reflect the intentional avoidance of humanitarian agencies to address causes of conflict aggravating famine conditions, or even just addressing the famines in Sudan. They do not carry the stories of rape and violence against women in refugee camps in Kenya. They do not mention the fact that humanitarian agencies were found to have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in Rwanda.


Conclusion

To mitigate, if not avoid the risk of becoming a part of the problem, there are a lot of issues and questions that the development enterprise has to contend with. Indeed, it is not just only about just cause, just means and just ends.


There are questions on approaches in arriving at interventions – whether these interventions were drafted with considerable knowledge of people, context and situations. There are questions on accountability and attribution – as to who takes responsibility not only for successes but also for failures in implementation in order to facilitate immediate mitigation. More importantly, there are questions on humanitarian principles – whether to include in the discernment process of the humanitarian enterprise, the applicability of the rules of human rights and social justice and the unavoidable political and economic causes and consequences that surround the concept and functions of humanitarian assistance.


These questions are necessary for introspection because history shows that development projects, humanitarian aid, disaster relief and emergency responses, despite assertions of neutrality and impartiality, can never remain apolitical.