Last Friday, 22 March 2012, I met a Phd student from Belgium Sebastien and his wife Ally at Holy Name University where Sebastien was temporarily stationed while doing his fieldwork in the Philippines. Sebastien studies climate change adaptation and participatory planning in the Philippines for his degree at the University of Namur (F.U.N.D. P) and he chose Bohol as the place to conduct his fieldwork though he plans to cover a few other sites in the Visayas.
I met Sebastien through email when he sent me a letter of inquiry after reading a paper I wrote and presented in the Development Studies Association conference in the United Kingdom sometime in 2008. I explained to him the context of the research he told me his research interests. When they finally decided to come to the Philippines, they went to Bacolod first to explore possibilities of conducting the research there. We met in Manila a few days after they arrived and still offered him assistance, just in case he would pursue his initial plans of coming having Bohol as a base for his fieldwork.
Sometime in February they decided to come to Bohol. I introduced him to my friends at the Centers for Research and Local Governance and to some people in Bohol who are in the best position to inform his research. We met that day to update each other and to show them around as well. They parked their motorbike at HNU and we used my car to go around. I decided to bring them to Dauis Church, and showed them a project which I opposed before within the church grounds (that until now I still do not visit or enter with conviction) and proceeded to Grand Luis Lodge for some fresh air and drinks.
Sebastien is a keen observer and an insightful researcher. Within their first month, his wife and Ally went around the “usual” tourism places in Bohol and like me and the others, lamented over the state of tourism development in the province. He contrasted how Apo Island in Negros managed tourism, with the growing commercialisation of Bohol as a destination. He wondered why we allowed the public beach to be private properties of resorts and whether local people have benefitted from tourism activities. He also mentioned that he find it quite disturbing to see some people begging for money from foreigners like them.
But Sebastien and his wife also noticed the hospitality of the Boholano, the kindness of people around, and the many good things about Bohol - the cleanliness of the sea, the lush greenery, the peaceful and quiet mornings at their place near the Alona Beach. He said they made the right choice in coming to Bohol than spending it somewhere else. The day ended in high note and Sebastien was hopeful that with the assistance of people around, he will be able to complete his research in due time.
I learned days later that Sebastien and Ally lost their helmets. They left them inside the motorbike compartment when I took them out to that mini-tour that Friday. In a succeeding meeting, Sebastien mentioned that it is not good to be that trusting, and one needs to be alert at all times. I felt sad with what happened to them and to the many others that experienced a similar fate. Bohol, for me, is the best place to stay and a lot of tourists would agree, not until things like these shock your day.
Months back, a burglary happened at our rented apartment in Dampas, near the HNU Janssen Heights campus. A computer, cellphone, a camera, were taken away by burglars, aided by a child that entered through the aircon hole in one of the rooms at dawn. We went to the barangay office and the police and reported the incident. The barangay tanods did an investigation of some sort, the police did nothing. It is no wonder that no one gets caught, because our government does not give a damn. I have heard of similar stories after that – burglars sneaking through homes during the night, getting what they can, but no one is doing anything about it. This is the reason why, even in broad daylight, people commit crimes. This is the reason why Sebastien and Ally lost their helmets that day.
But there is more to this than just the failure of our police force to protect its citizens. The reason for this is the nature of development that happened in Bohol and elsewhere in the country. Development has been exclusionary under this capitalist model. As Joseph Stiglitz argued, development under capitalism has not delivered its promise to the billions of the world’s poor (Stiglitz, 2002: 217). If you look around Bohol today, who really profits in development? Undoubtedly, not the poor Boholano, not the poor Filipino.
I was struck by the argument of a friend at a coffee drinking session one time, that the negative consequences of development are social evils – increasing crimes against persons and property, and prostitution. I would have wanted to add, in this current brand of development. Amartya Sen, in his influential book Development as Freedom, argued that “development requires the removal of major sources of unfreedom: poverty as well as tyranny, poor economic opportunities as well as systematic social deprivation, neglect of public facilities as well as intolerance or overactivity of repressive states” (Sen, 1999: 3). Surely, the path of development of this province and this country did not remove poverty, did not remove poor economic opportunities, did not remove systematic social deprivation and so on. Because had it done so, beggars do not ask money from foreigners in Panglao, people can still enjoy the beach which does not have to be labelled as “public”, and Sebastien’s and Ally’s helmets were not lost that day.