Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Issue No. 42                         December 2 - 8,  2001                   Quezon City, Philippines

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Sustainable Development and Globalization in the Philippines: An Alternative View

This paper was prepared by the Philippine Network for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (PHILNET-WSSD) for the Asia Pacific People’s Forum on the WSSD from November 25 to 26, 2001 at The Buddhist Institute, Ministry of Religious Affairs, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The forum serves as a parallel activity of NGOs and POs to the High-Level Regional Meeting for WSSD also held in Phnom Penh from November 27 to 29. The WSSD will be held in Johannesburg, South Africa in September 2002. Originally 30 pages in length, Bulatlat.com reprints only the main article and excludes the six annexes which depict the country’s economic history and salient past and present policies and programs.


Part I | Part II | Part III

Sustainable Development for What and for Whom?

Government and non-government groups routinely invoke “sustainable development” (SD) as part of their raison d’etre. Definitions abound but all claim to be about improving the people’s welfare, not only of the present but also of future generations. Human needs have to be met in a way that succeeding generations will also have the natural resources to assure their well-being.

The way to do this is well-established. Domestic resources must be used for the people’s development—not the needs of foreign monopoly capital and domestic elites. Society’s human and natural resources have to be mobilized towards social goals—not the profits of a few. Conditions which have long been denied countries like the Philippines which are captured by foreign and feudal domination.

By those standards, “sustainable development” in practice means three things. First, the economy must achieve independence and self-reliance. There must be industrial and agricultural development of the kind that generates, mobilizes and uses domestic resources towards meeting the people’s needs. This means building and deepening a financial and technological base that breaks dependencies on foreign capital and technology.

Second, these must be done in a way that natural resources are not wantonly abused. In the goods that society produces and in the way it produces these, land, air and marine resources must be properly managed and maintained. This contrasts with the inevitably reckless degradation of the environment under the profit-seeking imperative of capitalism.

Last is a progressive social arrangement where society’s resources are in the hands of the people. The historical experience is that anything less assures that political and economic elites, sooner or later, will succumb to the exploitative logic of global capitalism.

The Philippines’ experience provides a negative example: imperialist domination has stymied any sort of development in the first place—not to speak of the sustainable sort—and has despoiled the environment for its own ends. The so-called globalization of recent years has in turn intensified the worst aspects of the country’s chronic crisis of poverty and underdevelopment.

The Philippines and “Sustainable Development”

Ever keen to hop on the most fashionable developmental-ese of the day, the Philippine government has been into “sustainable development” since it came into vogue in the 1980s.

A national plan of action for sustainability was adopted in 1989 called the Philippine Strategy for Sustainable Development (PSSD). This aimed to “(provide) a framework to the initiatives of various groups in Philippine society to integrate environmental considerations into economic decision making to ensure sustainable development.”

In 1992 the country signed on to the Agenda 21 which was formulated during United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. To implement this “global blueprint” for sustainable development, the Philippines developed Philippine Agenda 21 (PA21) also called the National Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The Philippine Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) was created in September 1992 through Executive Order (EO) No. 15. The PCSD was supposed to be the convergence point for government and civil society in the pursuit of genuine sustainable development and was tasked to monitor the government’s compliance with its UNCED commitments.

The Ramos administration of the time boasted that the Philippines was the first country to establish a Council for Sustainable Development immediately after UNCED. It also claimed that NGOs and POs were actively involved in drafting the relevant EO as well as in other aspects of organizing and operating the PCSD. Much was also made of how the EO required government members of the PCSD to be “committed environmentalists.”

The PCSD’s mandate is to create “a critical mass of advocates for SD in both government and non-government sectors.” The NGO/PO sector is given a counterpart role in the decision-making process in the exercise of this mandate.

The organization claims to have “reviewed and submitted critical recommendations on landmark laws, such as Clean Air, Intellectual Property Rights, Environment Impact Assessment, Solid Waste Management, among others.” It further adds: “a series of consultation (was also held) concerning trade liberalization vis-à-vis the economics of sustainable development in 1994-1996…(This was) highlighted by the submission of Resolution No 1 (series of 1994) urging then President Fidel V. Ramos and the Senate to postpone the ratification of the (GATT)… in the absence of its environmental, economic and social impact assessment.”

In addition, the PA 21 also implemented Sustainable Integrated Area Development (SIAD). According to the government, this approach takes into account area-based interventions, concepts on integrated island development, and has people and the integrity of nature at its core.

All these have taken place beside various incarnations of the country’s Medium-Term Philippine Development Plans (MTPDP) which, presumably, likewise took SD to heart.

In 1992, then President Fidel Ramos’ unveiled the much ballyhooed Philippines 2000. Ousted President Joseph Estrada followed this up in 1998 with Angat Pinoy 2004. After assuming power in January 2001 as a result of a people’s uprising, current President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo rehashed this. There was one slight change: victimized by the new economy hype, information and communications technology is given peculiar importance.

Ten years after

Yet the question remains: after so many years of “sustainable development,” what is the lot of the people?

The quality of life of Filipinos is dismal even by official statistics. Last year, 40% of the population, or 31.3 million Filipinos, were officially poor (3.2 million more people than in 1991). Of these, 16.5 million were even below the subsistence or food threshold.[1]

The unemployment rate of 11.2% in 2000, the highest since at least 1987, meant 3.5 million Filipinos jobless.[2] Adding the 6.0 million underemployed and the 8.3 million Filipinos forced to go overseas for work, however, means that the country simply isn’t able to provide sufficient livelihoods for at least 42% of the labor force. In all of this the Filipina women—with their multiple burdens and gross discrimination against them in the workplace—have it worst off.

The problem, simply put, is that SD was all but reduced to an embellishment—a developmental and environmental gloss—to the Philippine government’s more determined effort at “globalizing” the economy. The period 1990s saw the most intensive free-market restructuring of the economy the country has ever seen.

Part I | Part II | Part III

[1] With the poverty line set at an absurdly low PhP 13,916 (US$ 0.73) per person per day and the food threshold at PhP 9,183 (US$ 0.48) per person per day (both computed at PhP 52: US$ 1).

[2] This is in contrast to the promise of the Department of Labor and Employment in 1994 that the unemployment rate will range from 6.3% to 7.0% with the ratification of the GATT.

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