The most important platform a Presidential candidate must have is one for the environment. It is the one that they need to be clear about, that they need to work on beyond imagining the environment as mere resource that should be, must be sold, like we have no choice. Here is where we need to hear a pro-people stance, one that will dare say no to big business, irresponsible mining, illegal loggers, oligarchs and transnational corporations.
A real platform for the environment is the ultimate pro-poor platform. It is what will distribute wealth equitably, it is what will allow for our indigenous peoples to continue caring for and earning from their land, it is what can be the impetus for changing the impoverished provincial conditions across the country.
The city and the environment
Lest we imagine that this is merely a “provincial” problem, one that does not affect us in the city, we must think again.
Development is our enemy in the cities, and you know it if you’ve seen how congested, how overly-developed small cities like Tagaytay have become, how tiny and painfully overcrowded Baguio now is. You know it if you’ve wondered how small provincial cities need an SM Mall at all, when what its roads can take, what its small business and entrepreneurs can handle, and what its people can afford, is a town center at most: small-scale, cheap rent, a movie theater or two.
In Manila, you know that development is your enemy when the residential area where you’ve lived all your life is now filled with businesses – everything from noisy bars to restaurants, and too many groceries to count. That of course has meant heavy traffic like nothing you’ve experienced right in front of your gate before – because the roads are too small to accommodate the population that has grown exponentially, what with the creation of “business centers” without the needed preparation as far as infrastructure is concerned.
This of course means flooding, even with rains that last less than an hour. You see water flowing down to the lower parts of the city, and you know that what has been sacrificed for development has been drainage systems, which is to say, common sense urban planning.
I’m talking Mandaluyong City, but of course this could be your city, too.
Or Cavite. In late February a story came out about Ayala Land getting the Supreme Court vote that it can build on 221-hectares of forested hills. “Ayala Land has obtained approval from a divided Supreme Court to exempt 221 hectares of forested hilly lands adjoining its high-end Westgrove Heights subdivision from the comprehensive agrarian reform program. With no less than Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno herself writing the unpublicized decision, the high tribunal last month voted 9-5, with one abstention, and reversed the Court of Appeals decision that would have barred the conversion of the disputed property into another exclusive, gated subdivision” (Vig Agustin, Interaksyon, 26 Feb)
Development versus the people
That decisions like this one do not get the media attention, the social media noise, the public outcry, is telling of what we value: development is good! It means money’s going around, it means the economy is vibrant! It’s a sign of progress! This is what the Daang Matuwid Twins Roxas and Noynoy Aquino have said about traffic before.
Never mind that it means people are unproductive and exhausted. Never mind that development should not mean the break down of infrastructure, the sacrifice of the environment, and living so dangerously in the age of the strongest typhoons and unbearable heat. Let me not even ask where the Daang Matuwid Twins have been bringing the city’s trash.
I’m not saying development is bad, full stop. I am saying that unthinking, unplanned development is now the bane of our existence in too many of our cities.
Realize that when we talk development at this point, it is already about sacrificing people’s sanity and health, it is about the sacrifice of our rights to live peacefully and quietly, in the spaces that are called residential.
I’ve written here before about the Amaia Construction project that’s kept us awake too often, and which still sometimes dares start work at 7:15AM, sometimes continues the work until 2:00AM thinking that we won’t be able to hear a hammer falling here, a tractor digging there.
I am lucky that my City Hall investigated the noisy bar that kept us awake for three months last year, which refused to keep its volume down, and at some point we were told to just close our windows so we would hear their noise less. See, businesses tend to get their way in places like ours, never mind the noise pollution, never mind the traffic it generates, never mind that it is unhealthy and inhumane to be subjected to noise during the hours of rest.
I hear though that it’s unbearable in areas like Pioneer. A friend who lives in Gateway Garden Heights has had to live with a Gustos Food Market that’s open from 8:30PM to 4:00AM (according to its Facebook Page!), Wednesday to Friday. With live bands that keep the residents awake. I hope the Mandaluyong City Hall will rise to their occasion as well.
Political will for the environment
A national government with political will and decisiveness should be able to strengthen and educate local government units (LGUs) to do its job and protect residents even as it supports businesses. This national government needs to see and believe that it is still ultimately a productive and healthy populace that makes this world go ‘round, not business.
This means giving us back our environment. Implement existing laws that have to do with pollution and pollutants. Review and respect traditional zoning laws that were about drawing very clear lines between residential and commercial areas. Build parks and open spaces. Stop cementing over everything imaginable, and recover old drainage systems that predicted the flow of rain waters back to our rivers.
Obviously, a real platform for the environment requires the next president to have a team of scientists, geologists, archeologists, heritage experts, climate change experts, urban planners, cultural workers. It is a formidable team that can put together programs that work towards making living in our cities and provinces – living in this country! – sustainable. It is a presidential team of experts that works towards making sure that development and investments need not mean sacrificing the environment and our natural resources, nor the people and how they live.
Among the allegedly corrupt, the proven incompetent haciendero and anti-poor elitista, the one who turned her back on the Philippines and pledged allegiance to America, the human rights violator and killer, and the one who’s too sick to even speak beyond pick-up lines, one still hopes one of them will come up with a real platform, a real plan, that can happen (finally!) in favor of the environment, and ultimately, the people.
Hope springs eternal.
Written with notes on urban development from Vito Hernandez, on development and the environment from stuartsantiago.com’s series on the environment.
Published in The Manila Times, March 13 2016.