Thursday, June 25, 2015

The old man and the sea

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

In last week’s piece (“My Spratlys ABC”) I said I would write about “The Admiral,” Tomas Cloma, the man who claimed the Spratly Islands for himself and, later, for the Philippines. He was 87 years old when I interviewed him in 1991, the year that group of islands in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) was again in the news and being watched as a “flashpoint.”
While we were talking, Cloma would rock his rocking chair and break into song: “Freedomland, O Freedomland, the home of the free…” With his bright disposition, Cloma did not look like he was about to sail into the sunset. When people called him “The Admiral” he would brighten up because it reminded him of the sea.

Cloma was no officer of the Navy but he was some kind of explorer, a dreamer. A lawyer and founder of the Philippine Maritime Institute, Cloma owned ships that sailed in search of wealth from the sea. From 1947 to 1950, fishing boats of Tomas Cloma and Associates frequented that area where the now disputed Spratly Islands are. He intended to put up an ice plant and a cannery and also mine the guano deposits in the islands.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

How fares PH in hunger department?

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

Soon the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that nations the world over have been trying to meet since 2000 will be transitioning to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Politicians, civil servants, etc. seem so preoccupied with doing somersaults to gain mileage in the May 2016 elections that we don’t hear talk about the MDGs, the monitoring period of which ends this year.
In 2000, or 15 years ago, 189 nations heeded the call of the United Nations Development Programme and pledged to work to free their people from extreme poverty and multiple deprivations. This pledge took the form of the MDGs, battle cries that rang out at the dawning of the third millennium. This year is the penultimate year when nations are supposed to take stock of the MDGs and how well these have been met.

How are we, where are we?

We call to mind the eight goals: eradicate extreme hunger and poverty; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and develop a global partnership for development.

This week the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) announced the great strides made by countries worldwide that resulted in “the near achievement of the MDG target to halve the proportion of hungry people by a 2015 deadline, or bringing it below the 5-percent threshold.”

Note that this is only on MDG No. 1, or the “eradication of extreme hunger and poverty.” The FAO noted that a majority, or 72 of 129 countries monitored (the Philippines among them), “have achieved the MDG target, with developing regions as a whole missing it by a small margin. Out of the total 72 countries, 29 have also met the more stringent goal to halve the number of hungry people as laid out by governments when they met in Rome at the World Food Summit (WFS) in 1996. And another 12 of the total 72 countries have maintained their hunger rates below 5 percent dating back to at least 1990.”

FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva said that since 1990, 216 million people have been freed from hunger. But not to rest easy. One of nine people on the planet still does not have enough food to conduct an active, healthy and productive life.

To find out how the Philippines fared in the hunger department, I pored over the UN “State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015” (Sofi 2015) released last month. In the report was the general observation that improving the productivity of small-scale family farmers (including women and young people) and strong political commitment, respect for basic human rights and development assistance were among the key factors for inclusive growth. The negative factors—conflict, political instability and natural disasters caused by climate change—resulted in food insecurity.

So how did the Philippines figure in Sofi 2015, specifically in the so-called “MDG hunger target” or MDG No. 1c, which requires halving, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffered from hunger? The progress or no-progress was measured by two indicators: the prevalence of undernourishment (PoU) as monitored by the FAO, and the prevalence of underweight children below five years of age (CU5) as measured by the Unicef and the World Health Organization.

Sofi 2015 reveals regional patterns that show Southeast Asia as among the regions with faster progress across the first seven MDGs. The same is true for the hunger target as measured by both the PoU and CU5. Sofi 2015 is one report where charts that show descending lines mean things are looking up.

I was most interested in South-Eastern Asia, where the Philippines belongs. The table for “countries that have achieved, or are close to reaching, the international hunger targets” show the Philippines to be among the 31 countries listed under “MDG 1c achieved.” Alas, it is not listed under “WFS MDC 1c achieved,” where South-Eastern Asian nations Myanmar (Burma), Thailand and Vietnam are listed and which means they did better. The WFS had more ambitious goals. Indonesia is already listed under “close to reaching WFS goal,” which means it is way ahead.

The good news is that the most successful regions in fighting hunger have been Eastern and South-Eastern Asia: “In South-Eastern Asia, the number of undernourished people has continued its steady decline, from 137.5 million in 1990-92 to 60.5 million by 2014-16, a 56-percent reduction overall. The PoU has shrunk by a remarkable 68.5 percent, falling from 30.6 percent in 1990-92 to less than 10 percent in 2014-2016. Most countries in South-Eastern Asia are making progress towards international targets. Cambodia, Indonesia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam account for this performance.

“No country in the [SEA] region shows lack of progress with respect to the international targets. Brunei Darussalam and Malaysia have reduced their PoU to below the 5-percent threshold, which means they are close to having eradicated hunger.”

Western Asia (the Middle East) presents contrasting pictures, with resource-rich economies having achieved both the MDG 1C and WFS hunger targets. Iraq and Yemen show high levels of food insecurity.

With the MDGs transitioning to SDGs, nations will shape a new 15-year sustainable development agenda that will still confront poverty and inequality, plus climate change. In September, world leaders will gather at the UN in New York to work on this new global agenda that will guide policymaking and funding. In December they will meet at the Paris Climate Conference for a global agreement on climate change.

Are we ready to shape the future that we want?

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Batanguenos vs planned coal-fired power plant

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

Amen (or the Archdiocesan Ministry on Environment) is not saying amen to the 600-megawatt coal-fired power plant (CFPP) that JG Summit Corp. plans to build in Barangay Pinamucan Ibaba in Batangas City. Amen and the No to Coal-Fired Power Plant Coalition are leading the citizens’ protest. Coal is among the dirtiest sources of energy.

The furor over the proposed CFPP in Palawan has not drowned out the Batangueños’ own protest against a similar threat to their domain. Being a favorite tourist destination and the so-called last frontier of ecological diversity, Palawan has been getting a lot of attention. But Batangas City protest actions are gathering steam of their own.

Fr. Dakila “Dak” M. Ramos, coordinator of the coalition and director of Amen, has written to Batangas City Mayor Eddie Dimacuha so that he would stand firm against the project that would dramatically change the city’s coastal landscape. Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles has given his support to the protest. The mayor said he has forwarded the letter to the City Council. The archbishop’s letter to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has been acknowledged.

Those against the CFPP have Church pronouncements, scientific findings and legal arguments to back their vehement stand. The coalition quotes from the Catechism for Filipino Catholics: “The ecology crisis today highlights further our moral obligation flowing from our God-given stewardship over the earth… The tremendous advances in modern science and technology have heightened [our] moral responsibility since now, for the first time in history, we have the physical capacity to improve or completely destroy our earthly home.”

Batangas City was a recipient of the Gold Award from the International Awards for Liveable Communities in 2011. Its E-Code promotes development and utilization of renewable and cleaner source of energy in order to reduce dependency on fossil fuel. So the proposed 600-MW CFPP runs counter to the E-Code.

Dr. Evelina C. Morales, expert in ecological toxicology and environmental technology and management, has come out with a position paper that questions the CFPP. Environmental lawyer Ma. Paz Luna has a similar position paper. The proposed power plant will use circulating fluidized bed combustion technology. Wrote Morales: “The rationale for this project to provide a new source of energy for the current existing processes in the petrochemical complex and the planned expansion and production of aromatics and butadiene is not enough to approve this project.”

She said that using raw water from the sea will suck in tremendous loads of microorganisms, larval stages of bigger microorganisms, and adults of marine plants and animals. She cited wastewater issues (oily, chemical and sewage) vis-à-vis the capacity of the treatment facility. Very likely, wastewater will be discharged into the Pinamucan river. The scenario she painted is horrifying. Cited, too, are solid waste issues (bottom ash, fly ash and spent limestone) that, she said, are not specified in the proposal. And what about air pollutant emissions not mentioned (mercury, arsenic, lead, cadmium, copper and zinc)?

Morales’ paper, though using technical language, is not difficult to understand and presents a worrisome landscape. She said a most important part that the proposal has missed out on is environmental risk assessment.

Amen has come up with a detailed eight-point statement that scientifically lays out why the CFPP should be scrapped. Interested parties may contact the coalition at St. Mary Euphrasia Parish in Kumintang, Batangas City (tel. 0915-8613434).

What is Batangas Gov. Vilma Santos’ stand on the issue? Good question.
* * *
Throwback Thursday: “Post mortem: Calaca” was the title of the 1992 Sunday Inquirer Magazine feature story I wrote after I visited Calaca in Batangas and interviewed people in a sooty barangay near a coal-fired power plant. Will Pinamucan Ibaba suffer the same fate that the people of Calaca did?

Of the ghost of a barangay that I saw then, I wrote: “San Rafael is dead. The barangay that bears the name of Calaca’s patron saint is no more. It has been erased from the map. In its place has risen the 300-megawatt Batangas Coal-Fired Thermal Power Plant, also known as Calaca I. Built by the National Power Corporation in 1981 at the cost of $250 million and operating since 1984, Calaca I is a showcase of controversy, a study in conflict… a nightmare-come-true…

“For all the things it has generated—acrimony and electricity among them—Calaca I should, from this day onward, be included among the cases for scrutiny by development planners, sociologists, environmentalists, health workers, economists, technologists, policymakers, government officials, foreign lenders and, most of all, by ordinary citizens whose lives are in danger of being made into a burnt offering on the so-called altar of development.

“If only for the lessons learned on how to pollute a town and send its residents into breathless paroxysms of helplessness against a government agency, Calaca I may have been worth it. Barangay San Rafael has been erased but Calaca, host town of Calaca I and soon of Calaca II, is still around. Sooted but unbowed. Visited by sulfur dioxide (acid rain in doomsday parlance) but somehow surviving. Somewhat weary now but still waving a battered, sooted flag of protest.”

I quoted Monsignor Marciano Dailo’s sarcastic remark then: “Ang sales talk ay ganire… Calaca will develop and become urbanized and progressive.” The Calaca plant is now run by construction giant DMCI.

I asked Father Dak what “ganire” is like 23 years later. His reply: “Adverse effects on the environment and the people. So many are getting sick.”