Friday, 21 December 2012

A City Left to Rot

Travelling within Tagbilaran City is such a trouble and a great discomfort that I would rather stay at home than go somewhere else.  If I have a choice, I wouldn’t go to the city centre where the banks are located or report to my office at Step Up Consulting Services.  It would seem that as I drive, I can hear the shriek and the cry of the poor car coupled sometimes with my son’s loud “ouch” when I hit a pothole large enough to have his head banged against the windows.
Every person who lives in Tagbilaran City will understand when I say that Tagbilaran nowadays seems like a city left to rot.  I highlight three reasons below why I say so.

POINT 1.  Tagbilaran roads are outrageously bad, the streets within the city center are dirty caused by mud on rainy days or by dust when the sun is out.  If you live somewhere in Janssen Heights and would like to go to the St. Joseph Cathedral, you can never have a smooth ride except when you travel through the Dampas-Mansasa Road down to VP Inting St. and back to CPG East Avenue’s occasional potholes.
In the city government website in February 2010, an article appeared that was entitled “Mission Accomplished” . I quote the news item below:

“When Mayor Dan Neri Lim assumed office last 2004, only 15% of the roads in Tagbilaran City were in good working condition. Majority of the city roads were rocky and dilapidated.

According to City Engineer Pianicita Castolo, the city roads have been untouched for almost thirty years.

Thus the improvement and rehabilitation of these city roads started as soon as Mayor Dan Lim took office. Almost 68 million pesos were spent for the improvement, rehabilitation and maintenance of these city roads which started last 2004.”

Reading this article from history sounds like a joke, especially when you read it alongside a Bohol Chronicle article in April 2012 calling for the implementation of road projects.  According to the article, the city government appropriated Php282 million for road projects in the 2012 budget.  But you get to wonder where this money is spent. The only improvement I can see in the last week is the filling-up of potholes along B. Inting and G. Visarra Street with low-grade anapog that will get the streets muddy during heavy rains.

POINT 2.  Water is still a big problem.  At our place in Dampas, water pressure is low at different parts of the day and there is intermittent service interruption. In other parts of the city, water service is not available as both Bohol Water Utilities Inc. and the City Rural Waterworks System are unable to increase service coverage. 

In December 2011, Bohol Chronicle reports that:

“The Tagbilaran City Waterworks System is faced with limitations causing the deteriorating water service to its water subscribers in the city

Newly installed waterworks chief Engr. Servando Acedo admitted the increasing complaints on the water service is due to the limited pumping units amid financial constraints in putting up new water sources.

Acedo, who previously was assigned at the City Engineering's Office, now heads the waterworks vice Engr. Wellington Pilongo who is reportedly on a "forced leave."

Acedo said that as of now, the city waterworks has 19 pumping units with two out of service. However, he said that even if the 19 units will function, it is still no enough to satisfy the water consumers in the city.”

The 2010-2013 Executive Legislative Agenda admits this growing problem in the city and targets a 24/7 adequate supply of potable water in city households.  Its almost the end of term of our city government leaders and this target seems to be nothing but a wild dream.

Point 3.  Tagbilaran’s solid waste are still thrown in Dampas’ open dumpsite.  Everytime the garbage truck passes through our house for the regular waste collection, I become intensely worried, as I know where the waste will go.  Back in 2008, UN Habitat reports that “The city generates about 92.6 tons (92,668 kgs.) of solid waste daily. Households are the biggest waste generators with 38.5 tons (41.46% of the total volume of waste). They are followed by general merchandise stores with 15.5 tons and the public markets with 14.6 tons per day.”  The figures are probably double now, as the projection for population is over 3% every year from 2008, besides the fact that tourism figures and business establishments have increased significantly since the 2008 study. 

Back in October 2011, Bohol Chronicle reports that “The 2.6 has. garbage facility has been recommended closed due to large areas of exposed waste that could leak leachate into ground water and drainage systems aggravating the present health situation of surrounding communities.” This, amidst complaints from nearby towns like that of Barangay La Libertad, Baclayon whose residents complained after the nearest accessible road leading to the city was blocked by mountains of garbage reportedly strewn across the roads.”

What then is the future of Tagbilaran City?
It is alarming that these three problems, bad roads, water supply, and solid waste can very well kill the economic advantage that Tagbilaran holds as an entry point to Bohol’s tourism destinations.  But then, no one seems to be hearing. Despite how much has been written in Bohol newspapers, how loud the discussion gets in the radio, not one among our leaders has taken action.

(photos taken from and

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

How do you help the Boholano farmer?

Since economic reforms started to be implemented in developing countries in the 1980s, there has been a vigorous debate over the nature of the changes brought by market liberalisation and de-regulation, and over their results. As the debates over ‘getting the prices right’ and ‘appropriate incentives’ subsided by the early 1990s, the discussion moved towards, on one hand, the discussion of the role of globalisation in economic restructuring, and, on the other hand, of issues of institution building and good governance. Generally, the literature has focused on issues either at the international, regional, national or sectoral levels. While these debates have generated key insights, relatively little has been said on commodity-specific dynamics of change and on the possibilities (and the limitations) of economic upgrading for developing countries offered by specific markets.

In local economies as Bohol, while there were a lot of discussions and interventions in the sphere of agriculture, initiated by the government, the non-profit organizations and even the private sector, not much has been said and written on the manner by which commodity flows to and from the hands of farmers.  While much of the interventions focused on increasing agricultural production through the introduction of proper technologies and even providing agricultural input assistance, little has been made to analyze the dynamics of commodity chain - from input suppliers to output buyers – to be able to understand as to whether or not the farmer, to whom interventions were directed at, actually profited from his work in the farm.

Back in 2004, I conducted a study in the town of Sierra Bullones funded by the Soil and Water Conservation Foundation.  The study attempts to respond to the need of a data-based commodity analysis that would propel the discussion of appropriate interventions in the field of agricultural economics.  The study, to a large extent, attempts to characterize economic relationships between three players – the farmer, his supplier of agricultural inputs, and his buyer of agricultural outputs with specific emphasis on the movement of goods vis-à-vis price and the related value adding activities of the players in the process.  The particular interest of the study is on transfer prices from one player to the other and as such, it becomes inevitable to include as part of the analysis, the suppliers of the identified suppliers, or the buyers of the identified buyers, in order to deepen one’s understanding of the chain. Samples of the diagrams developed are presented below:

The above graphs show one basic fact; that while the Boholano farmers are the ones tilling the fields and producing the basic agricultural commodities, they are not the ones actually earning the largest profit.  In most cases, their capacity to earn is dwarfed by the middlemen, whose economic power in terms of financing and access to the market facilitates control over farmgate prices.  For lack of alternative and the need for money for sustenance, the farmers are forced to sell their produce to middlemen, though how oppressive prices are.

In the communities subjected to the study, people’s organizations in the form of cooperative or association, have been organized to serve a handful of purposes, one of which is access to capital for agricultural activities.  However, while this intervention would yield productivity, it does not ensure improved earning capacity of the farmer, especially when he does not have control of the prices of his agricultural produce.

The prices of agricultural commodities are not controlled by the farmer. These prices are controlled by an artificial market – that of the trader, whose buying strategies are mandated by his desired profit in the purchase transaction.  In which case, it is pointless for the farmer to account and accumulate his costs on a per kilo of output, since in the rules of local trade, this is immaterial.  While the costs may be high, considering all actual costs (like fertilizer and pesticides) and imputed costs (like the costs of household labor), the farmer can not make use of this to apply a cost-plus pricing strategy (total costs plus desired profit equals selling price). This is because of the fact that the buyer dictates the price, and if he refuses, re runs the risk of not having his produce sold, in as much as there are other farmers like him who are willing to sell at the trader-dictated prices.

Thus, interventions on agriculture that focus on productivity are half-baked strategies because as earlier pointed out, this does not have direct correlation with improved economic condition of the farmer.  Improved economic condition of the farmers happen only when it is the farmer that actually profits in the value chain.

In the past, the community-based organizations have already embarked on some initial steps in addressing the problem.  Some cooperatives have already started going into palay trading – buying member-farmers’ produce at a higher cost and selling them afterwards.  This initial but bold strokes can be extended further. 

Marketing and business models have repetitively emphasized that the goal should be revenue maximization and cost minimization without sacrificing product quality.  Revenue maximization gives us a lot of options, one of which is to shorten the gap or the chain from the producer to the consumer and eliminating the middleman or the trader position in the value chain.  Doing so would mean that the middleman’s profit will now be enjoyed by the producer.

This role replacement is however, not a very easy thing to do.  For one, the farmer must possess the capacities of the middlemen.  He must have the business acumen, the entrepreneurial drive, not just a sense of contentment or a deeply ingrained “bahala na” value.  He must have the financial capability to finance business transactions and the leverage to wait up for profits patiently when they do not yet come.  He must have the appropriate networks and a strategic positioning in the poblacion-centered economy.

It would appear then that no single farmer could possibly realize role replacement. Even a barangay-based cooperative will have a difficulty.  It is in this light that a new scheme needs to be developed for the purpose of realizing the goal of greater economic empowerment for the farmer.

The time has come, for the government to start looking beyond production and fix the market inefficiencies that impoverishes the Boholano farmer all the more.


Saturday, 29 September 2012

(De)constructing Development: Political Spaces and Geographical Boundaries in Tourism Planning

Undated aerial photo of Alona Beach, from
I was reminded of tourism planning, as an aspect of the climate change debate, when I attended a conference on Climate Change and Development Policy in Helsinki last 28-29 September 2012 at the invitation of the United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research.  One of the sessions highlighted the need to decongest spaces and make towns and cities compact for purposes of energy efficiency, carbon footprint reduction, and climate change mitigation, recognizing that cities than the rural places, are the largest emitters of carbon dioxide.  While the argument was done in the context of cities, I believe it is also applicable to the pseudo-cities, or those I call spaces where the characteristic of cities (population density and intense requirements of sanitation, utilities, housing, and transportation) are prevalent and where there is a need to ensure that proper planning and development processes are pursued.

Take the case of Alona Beach, in Panglao, for example.  Visiting Alona Beach, both during the night and the day, you will be able to imagine the extent of human activity in the area, experience the degree of congestion, and approximate energy intensity.  If numbers are right, Alona Beach and its surrounding area is home to at least 6,473 people during the peak seasons of November to April, with population density of approximately 726 people per square kilometre, a figure very close to Cebu City’s population density figure in 2009.  For the last five years, construction activity in Alona Beach, and in the barangay of Tawala has dramatically increased, with permanent structures built almost on one-to-one project per month basis.  While no serious study has been conducted on the matter, the fear that Alona Beach will become the next Boracay in terms of chaos, unplanned development, congested spaces, is valid. 

In 2004, UNESCAP released one of its influential papers in tourism planning and argued that “there is evidence that some tourism destinations have developed without conscious, strategic and integrated planning” and that as a consequence “many of them have experienced unforeseen consequences which have led to their deterioration.” The same paper suggests, among others, that in order to ensure that we avoid these consequences, there is a need to reform tourism policy that considers several aspects impinging on human development, undertake a properly-conducted tourism planning processes grounded on a comprehensive analysis of context and current and potential problems, and ensure plan implementation, monitoring, and evaluation. 

The challenge of tourism planning remains a formidable task in Panglao.  I came across a paper that elaborates the guidelines for Panglao Tourism planning but I still have to see a spatial plan that comes with it.  In the Bohol Tourism Summit in November 2011, Mayor Alcala of Panglao admits that one of the challenges of tourism planning in the municipality is the lack of a Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP), still unfinished during that time.  The CLUP is mandated planning document, and Panglao’s last CLUP has already expired in 2010. 

Though the provincial government of Bohol has a tourism master plan, it may not have an effect on the articulations of priorities of local government units.  The provincial government, while governing a province, does not govern a geographic territory.  The one that has control over how land resources are used are the cities and municipalities.  This is one of the ironies of local development planning in the country.  Provinces do not have land use plans, only municipalities do, and for the many of us who believe that a good plan is grounded on geo-physical characteristics of an area, with strong considerations of economic, social, environmental, political contexts, any plan that provinces will make will only go as far as being instructive, but not prescriptive.  At the end of the day, it’s the cities and towns that decide. 

Physical plans of the province of Bohol, for example, will serve most the intention of the province in defining its priorities and aligning its development programs but may not necessarily connect to the sets of priorities of municipalities. While congruence is likely, this is not automatic.  In like manner, while the province can set its priorities for tourism, and even drastically decide to reconfigure the use of tourism resources, it can not impinge on the right of municipalities like Panglao to do what it deems right.

Here lies the problem of capacity.  I think, there is a little, if not nil investment in building the capacity of local planners on the ground, especially in the context of tourism planning. However, there is an abundance of guidelines for how planning for tourism can be effectively and efficiently conducted.  For example, UNEP published a book on Sustainable Coastal Tourism in 2009, and years before that, a guide to assessing tourism capacity.  Several Panglao-specific studies have already been conducted to serve as planning context documents.  For example, in 2006, EcoGov published the Panglao Island Assessment Report that focused on hydrogeological characterization of the island and puts forward several recommendations.  This is to say that there is no drought of resources from which Panglao can learn from, but there is the problem on how these resources can be translated to capacities that Panglao planners and legislators can use in moving its tourism planning forward.

Sadly, planning is not the only problem.  Implementation is also very problematic.  Three years back, I wrote about the efforts of the municipal mayor in clearing the 20-meter salvage zone that later resulted to a ridiculous temporary restraining order issued by the court. But then, you have new players now, playing with the 20 meter salvage zone and making local leaders look like fools.
I am not anti-development.  But the recent opening of a prime tourism destination praised even by provincial government officials baffled me. In the picture below, that I got from the resort’s website, The Bellevue Resort, it is very clear that the 20-meter salvage zone is again violated. 

(Bellevue Resort, Panglao, taken from the hotel's official website)

The tourism planning guidelines of Panglao specifically states that:

“The distance of 100 meters inland from the established easementof 20 meters shall be known as the “Beach Zone.” The first 10 meters after the easement shall be reserved as “open space” dedicated as “pathway” for public use. Beyond the beach zone will be the “Inland Zone.”

“Resort establishments within the beach zone shall observe height limits of 3 stories or 15 meters from the original ground line for the first 50 meters from the easement, and thereafter, may increase to 5 stories.”

“There shall be a mandatory easement along all coastal areas defined according to the Water Code of the Philippines as the 20- meter easement from the established high water measured landward and perpendicular to it. The beachfront easement shall also include the distance of 10 meters from the mandatory easement which shall be reserved as open space to be dedicated as pathway for public use. No permanent structure and sign of any nature shall be allowed within the beachfront easement.”

The picture above, speaks well of itself. I need not say more.

But in a situation like this, my argument on political spaces and geographical boundaries does not seem to hold anymore.  There seems to be an explicit agreement that laws and institutions can be ignored.  And so while you have a weak capacity in planning, you also have a very weak capacity in implementation. 

I just hope that this is not an indication of a weakening moral fibre of our leaders and our society in the province, a weak sense of what is right or wrong, or the turning of a blind eye to what is illegal all for the sake of development. 

Friday, 31 August 2012

Who Leaves? Who Stays? The Migration of the Young and the Future of this Province

OFWs at the airport. Courtesy of

I sat beside a good friend of mine, a former student, and a former associate of my consulting firm Step Up Consulting Services, in one of my regular plane rides to Bohol one sunny weekend.  We talked about many things but one thing that stayed on me until now is the realisation that several of my students are already out of the country to permanently live and work elsewhere.  She herself is starting her own process of migrating and even encouraged me to do so.  She said, “I already lost hope in this country”.

It’s disturbing to hear these statements from exemplary young people whom we need in order to make that big turn-around in this country. It is already even disappointing to see them leave Bohol and work elsewhere as their competencies are those that we need in several public and private entities within the province.  Our human resources are one of our greatest assets and watching Boholanos leave the province, much more this country, is sad in itself.

Interestingly, it has been said that Boholanos are the first recorded OFWs. In 1800s, skilled Boholanos were recruited as pearl divers to work in Australia (Santiago 2003).  Since then, throngs of Boholanos have already left Bohol to live elsewhere in the country (the phenomenon of internal migration) or abroad (external migration).  The old joke that if all Boholanos all over the world will go home to Bohol, the Bohol islands will sink, may be true. 

OFWs in Bohol plays a pivotal role in its economy. The same case can be true also to this country.  In recent financial crises, it has been argued that OFW remittances cushioned the country from experiencing deep shocks brought about by the volatility in the market.  The effect of remittances - income transfers of migrant workers to their families – to improvements in living condition can not be ignored in the Philippines (Rodriguez 1998).  An empirical study (Yang and Martinez 2005) shows that increases in household remittance receipts resulted to “reduction in poverty migrant’s origin households”.  Moreover, transfer incomes from abroad are not only found to have decreased poverty but also encouraged greater investments in education of recipient households, “the so-called ex-ante brain effect” (Sawada and Estudillo 2006).

Quantitative evidence in Bohol exists to support the claim that remittances from OFWs have positive impact on poverty reduction. The Peace Equity Access for Community Empowerment Foundation study on levels of deprivation in the province (2004) showed that 75% of the poorest municipalities have very low percentages of migrant workers, between 2.9% to 6% of the total municipal population.  Likewise, 60% of the better-off municipalities have high OFW-to-population ratio ranging from 9% to 22.

In another study (HNUCRLG 2004), the presence of migrant workers in the family was one of the indicators used to compare development performance in the years 2001 and 2003.  The study revealed that in 2003, the number of migrant workers in District 1 and 2 increased by 67% and 173% respectively as compared to 2001.  However, the number of migrant workers in District 2 decreased by 67% in the same period.  It is to be remembered that among the three districts, poverty incidence is at its highest in District 2 and poverty reduction in this District between 2003 and 2001 did not significantly improve.

While these figures are insufficient to explain improvements in living condition, because they only represent number of workers but not remittance value, it suggests that Yang’s and Martinez’ theory may be applicable.  However, even when remittance value can be obtained, the “ex-ante brain effect” may not necessarily materialize since it may not necessarily equate to utilization in education. However, despite lack of causality, the figures tell something which may support an anthropological observation that there are many decent and even extravagant houses in Bohol because of OFWs.

But these economic effects come at a great expense.  I do not want to elaborate here the social costs of having parents working outside of the country.  I am more concerned however, that the “ex-ante brain effect” will be submerged by the loss of skills and talent that happens because of people working outside, and by the prospect of those educated out of OFW remittances to leave the province or country and spend the rest of their lives elsewhere. I call this the cyclical negative effect of out-migration which can diminish the number of skilled, talented, and competent people at present but will also result to another wave of loss in succeeding cycles. Simply put, if a young woman migrates and sends money to her family back home for schooling of her siblings, and the siblings as a result of education are more positioned to migrate and later do so, then the out-migration yields not just a single but a double effect which can continue in a cycle.

Considering the push (e.g. hardships, lack of opportunities in Bohol) and pull factors of migration (e.g. better life in Davao, Cebu, Manila, or in other countries), this is not far from happening.  Bohol’s primary economic drivers are agriculture and tourism.  Agriculture, at one hand, has a declining relevance to the young, and generates least attraction as a job or livelihood option.   Tourism, on the other hand, will reach a saturation point for it to be sustainable.  One can only have as many tourist spots and establishments as the carrying capacity of the province.  This, besides the fact that because of inadequate labour absorption (i.e. more employable people than number of jobs), tourism establishments here pay very small when compared to other cities which then becomes another push factor.  It can be possible that if trends will continue, there will be more young people leaving Bohol than those staying; the more brains lost, the lesser people to build a stronger provincial economy.  It is possible, that at a provincial scale, Bohol will experience a demographic problem, where dependency ratio is high as most of the productive workforce resides elsewhere and only the young children and the old retiree, and a few of the in-between remain.

I also left Bohol, in terms of work, both caused by a push and a pull factor.  My capacities in Bohol are valued so outrageously low when compared to how it is valued elsewhere. There is this economics of things that I, a father of two, have to contend with.  I need not elaborate the circumstances that happened that led me to decide to leave Bohol, as a professional, and work elsewhere.  I believe these are the same circumstances that many of us who chose to do work outside of the province had to face.

On a larger scale, these push and pull factors also enticed our young people not only to leave the province, but the country.  It is true there are still opportunities for them here. But to get a raise or a promotion is so stiff that one works hard for a small return. In other countries, an hour of work equates a month of effort in this country, and social security systems are good, crime rates are low, and while it snows some months of the year, one can afford a comfortable bed, a thick duvet, and a good heating system with uninterrupted power supply. 

Who leaves? Those who can.

Who stays? Those who chose to do so, or those who do not have a choice. 

Indeed, even in our aspirations, the world is so unequal.  There are those who are fortunate to be able to dream big and make their dreams come true.