Analysis: Ondoy, Pepeng and the Bane of Development Illusion

Meanwhile, import substitution, trade liberalization, land conversions, and other strategies were implemented transforming vast agricultural lands for commercial export while the domestic market was pried open for the influx of cheap foreign imports. The result, as even architects of globalization would admit later, was unprecedented economic corrosion. GDP growth – as claimed by economic managers – could not hide rising poverty levels, the displacement of small producers, job losses, and an increasing number of urban poor families.

Critical Levels

As development strategies were increasingly adopted, the destruction of the environment approached critical levels and so is the vulnerability of bigger populations to all types of calamity. Profits reaped by developers and investors increased in proportion to human and economic losses, burying hopes for a better life in a vast sea of poverty. Disasters used to wreak havoc mainly on the poor; nowadays, even middle-income communities are uprooted as can be seen in the onslaughts of Ondoy and Pepeng.

The economy and human development is in a worse shape courtesy of these flawed development strategies and the widespread corruption where much of the funds earmarked for projects line up the pockets of erring politicians.

Take the case of the San Roque hydro-electric dam in San Manuel, Pangasinan. Planned by the Ramos administration in 1994 as Asia’s biggest, the construction of the $1.2 billion dam was begun under Estrada and completed under Arroyo. From the start the project was opposed by the Ibalois and the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) not only because it threatened to submerge their ancestral lands, as their fellow Igorots had experienced in the Ambuklao and Binga dams in Benguet, but that it also lay close to the Digdig earthquake fault zone. Independent scientists and an EIA warned that the dam’s life will be short due to expected siltation and mine tailings that are worse than in the Benguet dams which are now barely inoperable. Three mines operate in the San Roque watershed – itself already denuded.

Because the San Roque dam’s reservoir is designed to contain only small floods, warned Dr. Peter Willing of the U.S. Water Resources Consulting, severe flooding would engulf the whole Pangasinan and most of the Tarlac plains. That was 10 years ago. The private consortium which runs the dam, the San Roque Multipurpose Project (SRMP) under a power purchase agreement (PPA) with the National Power Corporation continues to rake in profits while millions of farmers and other residents suffer incalculable losses.

In the years ahead, the number and magnitude of disasters will increase with more colossal human and economic losses. With government’s deep bias for private gain at the expense of public interest and its disaster “management” bedeviled by fund shortages and corruption, the task of rescue, recovery, relief and rehabilitation will have to fall more and more on the people themselves as they have in fact done in recent years. Because of this the people through their organizations, NGOs, and citizens’ groups earn the right to intervene in crafting disaster preparedness and prevention programs along with the allocation and management of state resources. Decades of government neglect as well as criminal negligence and incompetence make people empowerment and alternative governance more imperative.

In the short term, there are minimum interventions that can be pushed. Among these are: The investigation and prosecution of those accountable for the loss of human lives and economic destruction which could have been prevented or mitigated by competent disaster management; compensation and adequate rehabilitation to all victims and survivors of recent tragedies; the immediate rehabilitation if not de-commissioning of monster dams, with the costs to be billed on government and private operators; moratorium to debt payments and the use of funds allocated for rehabilitation and recovery; complete ban to logging and limiting mining operations only to local production and industrialization;

Reactivate constitutionally mandated people’s councils in the LGUs; convene a rehabilitation and recovery citizens’ council; immediate review of all major existing and programmed infrastructure projects; higher budget for research and development for disaster prevention as well as alternative, eco-friendly sources of energy; and the overhaul of economic strategies by closely integrating disaster prevention with development goals. (CENPEG/

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