Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Read and rage

The title for this blog came from my boss who forwarded this legal memorandum by Atty. Neri Javier Colmenares on the proposed amendments to the Philippine constitution prepared by the House of Representatives. The original email she got from another friend was entitled "Read and weep". Indeed, Atty. Colmenares' memorandum noted a lot of things to weep about in the proposed amendments, from the scandalous expansion of the powers and terms of office of the President and legislators, to the deletion or revision of specific provisions that aim to ensure transparency and accountability in the various branches and processes of government. I imagine people who sincerely believe in that thing called "participatory governance" having such terrible fits at the thought of hoodlums in Congress mangling the provisions of the present constitution.

The proposed provision for the utilization and management of natural resources is a nightmare for many civil society actors who are into environmental conservation work:

“The exploration, development, and utilization of natural resources shall be under the full control and supervision of the State. The State may directly undertake such activities, or it may enter into co-production, joint venture, or production-sharing agreements with Filipino citizens [DELETED: OR CORPORATIONS OR ASSOCIATIONS AT LEAST SIXTY PER CENTUM OF WHOSE CAPITAL IS OWNED BY SUCH CITIZENS] or with corporation or association domestic or foreign (new provision in red)

The deletions are in relation to the existing 1987 Constitution. Atty. Colmenares has commented on such omission and on the blatant new provision that according to him would effectively allow utilization of the country's natural resources by corporations that are fully owned and run by foreign nationals. Of course, Atty. Colmenares failed to mention that exploitation of our natural resources by firms that are a hundred percent foreign-owned and controlled is actually already happening, the constitutional ban notwithstanding. Thus, as what our honorable representatives in Congress looking into the Rapu-Rapu mining disaster has recently discovered, LaFayette Mining Limited is actually owned by the Australians and Malaysians. No Filipinos there. Though I'm sure some very enterprising and influential Filipinos benefited from its operations.

But that's one peculiar trait of local hoodlums. Believe it or not, they also have this thing that they unabashedly would like to call their "conscience". They are not contented with their income from illegal foreign plunder of the country's natural resources and the destruction of it's environment. These hoodlums in our policy-making bodies now want to make such activities legal and their own earnings legitimate. So they are now tinkering with the basic law of the land. Like my boss, I don't think weeping would stop these hoodlums in suits. We should rage against their short-sighted economic rationality and insist that the nation's wealth belongs to all Filipinos and the succeeding generations. We should continue to talk about their power-corrupted political logic and continue to fight for popular and accountable social-ecological governance.

For starters, I propose the following amendments to the constitution:

“The exploration, development, utilization and sustainable management of natural resources shall be under the full control and supervision of local people and communities and their democratic organizations who directly benefit from such resources. Local communities and organization may directly undertake these activities or may enter into joint ventures or agreements with other local communities and organizations for the sole purpose of sustainably managing these resources. The State shall provide such services and resources that these local communities and organizations may deem necessary in furthering this objective."

Monday, February 13, 2006

Fleeting NRM policies

In a media advocacy training, a friend who is now the business editor of a major broadsheet here in the Philippines described politics as the fleeting world of alignments, positions, and pronouncements. There was this unmistakable contempt in his voice when he stressed that the realm of politics is essentially nothing but ephemeral phenomena which are just too irrelevant to the lives of ordinary people. Now, what has this got to do with policies in NRM? Nothing too direct. I just thought how this fleeting quality of politics in the country is also very apt in describing the NRM policy arena. Actually, this should apply to policies in other sectors as well.

But NRM policies are particularly notorious in this regard. A case in point is the recent cancellation of all Community-Based Forestry Management (CBFM) agreements in eight (8) regions in the country by former DENR Secretary Mike Defensor. CBFMA is supposed to be the national strategy in managing the country's remaining forest resources. Never mind if the government's pronouncements regarding its supposed efforts in promoting participatory approaches to NRM are all just pretentions or plain hogwash. I'm willing to suspend disbelief just for the sake of argument. A policy is afterall a policy. But to suspend policy implementation midstream, without any benefit of review or evaluation of the policy's impacts, not to mention the lack of any regard for going through a proper policy change process, simply defies rational thinking.

The former DENR Secretary in fact didn't even trouble himself with explaining the cancellation. There was this very vague suggestion that CBFMAs have not really been effective in promoting conservation and sustainable management. There were some references, but no studies or systematic evaluation were really offered to the public to support any such proposition. The DENR website (Forest Management Bureau) claims that holders of CBFMAs and other forest tenurial instruments in the affected regions have not complied with various provisions of the agreements including the submission of Comprehensive Development and Management Plans (CDMPs) and the payment of various rentals and other required fees.

I can just imagine what happened to those belonging to communities of poor upland farmers or indigenous people when the DENR field people approached them some years back with this CBFM strategy. With promises of security of tenure in their small forest landholding, the local people agreed to enter into this supposed partnership with the government towards sustainable management of the forest. They then basically went about with their lives as before, adopting some of the innovations under the government's "community-based" approach. There were supposed to be all these capacity building programs for developing the community's knowledge and skills to enable them to comply with the requirements of the CBFM program (like drafting the CDMP). Unfortunately, along the way, problems arose. For instance, in DENR's report to the International Tropical Timber Council (ITTC), there was this assessment:

"The Philippines still has a large number of staff dedicated to supporting SFM in agencies like the DENR and the various LGU’s. However, the skill mix of these staff often reflects earlier needs and priorities rather than those of contemporary forest management. This is particularly the case in relation to the social planning processes needed to effectively facilitate land use planning in the context of major programs such as community-based forest management. In addition, there is a considerable budgetary overhang in both DENR and other levels of government, with the bulk of resources going to salary support and little financial capacity for other field related activities."

In short, granting that many of these communities involved with CBFM projects failed to comply with the partnership requirements, there is as much reason to believe that the government has not come through with its end of the bargain either. Because of this, I don't think the DENR has any moral ascendancy right now to impose any sanctions based on the agreement, much less to cancel outright the said tenurial instruments.

Public administration experts would probably tell us that the real problem is with our whole political and bureaucratic structure that makes the latter beholden to the quirks of the former. Simply put, as with the case of the CBFMA cancellation, you have an upstart politician basking in the attention of a patron in Malacañang and making all this policy promulgations out of thin air. Promulgations that the entire bureaucratic hierarchy would then have to follow (mindlessly, most of the time). Earlier policies are overturned or set adrift overnight. Any continuity in terms of carrying out the entire policy cycle, from situational analysis and policy agenda setting, to policy implementation, evaluation and change, is nipped in the bud.

So, the young politician goes to his new post in Malacañang. Two sexy ladies from the just-concluded Pinoy Big Brother visit him and pose with him for all these reporters and the viewing public to see. While a poor forest dweller somewhere in the country's hinterlands, anxious about the future of his land and crops, contemplates about cutting down all those trees anew.