A Critical Perspective to National and Local Policies on Climate Change and Health Resource Access: The Case of South Cotabato

Introduction

It is now an accepted fact that the aggregated impacts of human population size and economic activity on various biophysical systems of the world has drastically contributed to widespread environmental changes. The most alarming and extensive of these environmental changes is anthropogenic climate change, with the hydrological and atmospheric systems of the planet exceeding their regenerative and repair capacities. It is apparent that the rapid economic expansionism of the 20th and 21st century created an unprecedented overload of Earth’s ecological systems that scientists have now concluded that “it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century” (IPCC, Working Group II 5th Assessment Report, 2014).

One impact of climate change is on a population’s health. Higher temperatures trigger the surge of diseases such as dengue, malaria, cholera and typhoid. Changing climate also brings in new health consequences “such as heat-related mortality in Europe, changes in infectious disease vectors in some areas, and allergenic pollen in Northern Hemisphere, high and mid-latitudes” (IPCC Synthesis Report, 2007). Increasingly frequent and intense disasters displace thousands of people in many communities and increases their vulnerability to health risks in evacuation centers. This unfamiliar situation of humankind overloading Earth’s carrying capacity presents a challenge to researchers in the field of Medical Anthropology: given the plausible future scenarios of climatic changes, how can one best estimate its consequences for human health at the same time approximate the adaptive capacities of individuals and communities? How to do these with utmost consideration to the intimate interplay of human systems (political, social and cultural)?

Understanding disease risks brought by a changing environment requires studying a larger contextual framework that will include social, economic, cultural and political structures (Martens and McMichael, 2002: 27). The recognition that there are complex underlying environmental, social, cultural and political systems which, when perturbed or changed, may alter the pattern of health outcomes, has been one of the contributions of Critical Medical Anthropology (CMA) in the field of Public Health Studies.  CMA also recognizes that the fundamental problem of social inequality (e.g. unequal access to health services) expounds the impact of disease risks in vulnerable communities (Baer, et al., 2003: 3).

On the other hand, the prospect that climate change and other environmental changes will affect health poses radical challenges not only to researchers but also to policymakers. Given the uncertainty of the magnitude and extent of climate change impacts, policymakers most often adjust to working with incomplete information and with making “uncertainty based” policy decisions. Often, policymakers work with a “wait-and-see attitude,” falling for the false assumption that scientists can provide final and precise truths with regard to climate change. All the while, civil society organizations and the academe have been raising the concept of Precautionary Principle in order to minimize the chance of low probability but potentially devastating outcomes (Martens and McMichael, 2002: 27).

This paper approaches the climate change and health interplay by employing the critical medical anthropology perspective in the reading of different Philippine national and local legislations on climate change. It will try to dissect these policies to answer the questions: What effect does the global capitalist system have on how these policies were written? How do these policies define and describe how health resources be allocated and accessed? A progressive contextualization will also be utillized starting with the macro-level global economic context and then working towards the micro-level  local context of South Cotabato’s policies on climate change and its impact on health resource allocation.

As an exercise in Critical Medical Anthropology, the bias is towards biomedicine as the medical health system referred to.

The Critical Theoretical Framework in Medical Anthropology

Critical theory springs from the neo-Marxist philosophy of the Frankfurt School, which was developed in Germany in the 1930s. It maintains that ideology is the principal obstacle to human liberation. Modern critical theory has been influenced by György Lukács and Antonio Gramsci, as well as the second generation Frankfurt School scholars, notably Jürgen Habermas. Contemporary critical theory studies the social “base and superstructure” concept formulated by Karl Marx. The critical approach in medical anthropology uses the critical theoretical framework with focus on the political economy of health and health care. Political economy, from an anthropological perspective, includes the study of producing and exchanging goods, and the influence of government policy and capitalism on all aspects of life. When applied to studying health and health care, the political economy of health may include ways in which health services are differentially allocated based on wealth, and ways in which policy impacts health and delivery of health services. Political economy of health is a central component of critical medical anthropology, and a critical approach to medical anthropology seeks to uncover hidden causes of poor health as they relate to capitalism and neoliberal economics while examining health structures on a macro and micro level. In other words, critical theory in medical anthropology seeks to find the social origin of disease (Baer, et al., 2003: 53)

Critical medical anthropology (CMA) has been strongly shaped by the medical anthropologist Merrill Singer. Singer promotes using CMA as an approach to researching health because of its applied focus, noting that medical anthropologists must critically question how situations for their research participants can be improve (Singer, 1989). CMA is therefore a theoretical lens to inspire action and engagement in what Singer terms “system-challenging praxis”;  that is, actions undertaken in order to challenge larger structures with the goal of producing a meaningful social change. Engaging in system-challenging praxis involves “unmasking the origins of social inequity, and exposing the relationship between social inequity and living and working conditions (Singer, 1989). Work from this perspective understands societies as involving class conflict and sees the state apparatus and medical-health systems as mediating this conflict in favour of the ruling class in capitalist societies. The historical developments and political -economic conditions are viewed as primary, with value orientations and beliefs flowing from these fundamental conditions (Singer, 1989).

CMA is a critique and answer to the prior theoretical framework of interpretive medical anthropology where there there is an “obfuscation of restricted microlevel focus” (Singer, 1989). In Interpretive Medical Anthropology where there is focus on “the ritual and symbolic realm in culture, [while] the political and economic issues which affect the health and health behavior of populations [are] not widely considered.” CMA critiques the interpretive framework as reducing medical anthropology to an examination of the cultural determinants of illness, curing, and resistance to biomedicine with little consideration of “the importance of the social formations in which ‘cultural factors’ occur”. CMA further critiques the prior theoretical frameworks as giving no attention to institutional actors with major parts in the health field internationally, such as manufacturers of medical commodities, government health and development agencies, international lending institutions, professional medical associations, and private health foundations (Singer, 1989).

Nancy Scheper-Hughes is also an important figure in critical medical anthropology, arguing that “CMA combines the intersections of personal, social, and political bodies” (Singer, 1989). Scheper-Hughes notes the shortcomings in the work of some social anthropologists and argues that social anthropology fails to explore the meaning of the body beyond a symbol upon which social meaning is inscribed. Similarly, Scheper-Hughes claims that some theorists ignore individual perspectives about illness, highlighting Michel Foucault’s work on biopower –  the inseparability of the body from the will of the political apparatus (the State). Scheper-Hughes argues that Foucault describes the body in a way that is “devoid of subjectivity,” or lacking in a description that encompasses individual perspectives (Singer, 1989). CMA, however, fills the voids left by earlier social anthropologists and cultural theorists by understanding that the body is the “terrain where social truths are forged and social contradictions played out, as well as the locus of personal resistance, activity, and struggle”. In other words, CMA understands that the body and the patient are impacted by larger, unseen social forces but that individuals also have a stake in their bodies, and are not simply agents to these larger social forces. Critical medical anthropology therefore “blends an understanding of how structural forces are acted upon the body with an acknowledgement of individual agency” (Singer, 1989).

Critical Medical Anthropology (CMA) takes a very different approach to looking at questions regarding health. CMA believes that there exists a hegemonic relationship (as per Gramsci’s use where a dominant practice results in a predictable and controllable social consciousness) between the ideology of the health care system and that of the dominant ideological and social patterns. More simply put, a political economy approach. CMA views disease as a social as well as a biological construct (Baer et. al., 1997:35-36). Critical Medical Anthropologists examines issues such as who have the power over certain social institutions, how and in what form is this power delegated, and how this power is expressed (Baer et. al. 1997:33-35). In effect, Critical Medical Anthropologists try to deconstruct the medical science and expose the fact that all science is influenced by cultural and historical conditions, much like the social constructionist approach.

Merrill Singer also delineated some of the concerns within CMA: Examination of the social origins of disease and ill health in light of the world economic system; Analysis of health policy, health resource allocation and the role of the State in Third World Nations; Re-thinking of the contemporary understanding of medical pluralism; Development of a critique of biomedical ideology, practice, and structure; Attending to the role of struggle in health and health care; Re-examination of the microlevel of the individual, including illness behavior and illness experience within the context of macro level structures, processes and relations; and Investigation of health and health programs in socialist-oriented countries (Singer, 1989).

A Brief Survey of National and Local Policies on Climate Change

This section outlines the historical development of Philippine policies on climate change culled from the study conducted by the Tebtebba Foundation (Magata, Helen, et. al. 2010: 224-225).  This brief survey aims to describe the significant milestones of the Philippine government in responding to climate change through various participations in global agreements and conventions and by pushing for local policies and programs.

Inter-agency Committee on Climate Change (1991)

This committee was created to coordinate various climate change related activities, propose climate change policies and prepare the Philippine positions to the the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and other issues relative to climate change.

Signing of the UNFCCC (1992)

The signing of the Republic of the Philippines to the UNFCCC committed the country to the UNFCCC provisions on non-Annex 1 (developing countries) parties. This led to a Greenhouse Gases inventory in 1994 that became the basis of the country’s initial national communication on Climate Change to the UNFCCC in 1999.

Clean Air Act (1999)

This Act outlines the government’s measures to reduce air pollution and incorporate environmental protection into its development plans. This led the government to partner with different organizations such as Partnerships for Clean Air and Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities Center to do information and education campaign and workshops on air quality management and sustainable transport.

Signing of the Kyoto Protocol (2003)

This Protocol sets binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These amount to an average of 5 percent against 1990 levels over the 5-year period between 2008-2012. This led to the setting up of a Designated National Authority for Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). As of 2005, waste management projects, renewable energy and afforestation and reforestation were on the CDM pipeline for the Philippines.

Biofuels Act (2006)

This Act seeks to reduce dependence on imported fuels with due regard to the protection of public health, the environment, and natural ecosystems consistent with the country’s sustainable growth that would expand opportunities for livelihood by mandating the use of biofuels. This led to oil companies submitting themselves to the mandatory use of biofuels in the Philippines.

Renewable Energy Act (2008)

This Act seeks to promote the development of renewable energy resources and its commercialization. It aims to achieve this by providing incentives to institutions that invest in the sector. A National Renewable Energy Board has been created to accelerate the setting up of mechanisms and incentives critical to the implementation of the law.

Climate Change Act (2009)

This Act created a Climate Change Commission that would formulate and implement plans for the country to better prepare for and respond to natural disasters and it also aims to attract foreign financing for adaptation and risk reduction projects.

Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act (2010)

This law mandated a nationwide disaster-risk reduction and management policy that goes down to the barangay level. The law also created the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRMC), an agency tasked with crafting and implementing disaster-risk reduction policies.These policies are implemented by local disaster-risk reduction and management councils with the NDRMC coordinating relief, recovery, and reconstruction operations.

People’s Survival Fund (Republic Act no. 10174 of 2012)

A People’s Survival Fund was legislated to be used in support of adaptation activities of local governments and communities such as: adaptation activities in the areas of water resources management, land management, agriculture and fisheries, health, infrastructure development, natural ecosystems; improvement of the monitoring of vector-borne diseased triggered  by climate change, and in this context improving disease control and prevention; forecasting and early warning systems; supporting institutional development for local governments, in partnership with local communities and civil society groups for preventive measures, planning, preparedness and management of impacts relating to climate change, including contingency planning, in particular, for droughts and floods in areas prone to extreme climate events.

The various Philippine policies and programs responding to climate change have been heralded by different environmentalists and civil society organizations as serious efforts towards a clean and green environment, and mitigation of climate change impacts. The Renewable Energy Law, for example, has caused quite a stir among environmental activists. Even Greenpeace has praised the government for its passage (Magata, Helen, et. al. 2010: 232). Yet despite the passage of these laws, critics argue that they do nor really acknowledge the main roots of the crisis which is unsustainable and destructive global economy and production. The Philippine government has also yet to call for deep and drastic cuts of greenhouse gas emissions from developed counties and impose greater tariffs or stricter requirements, including only clean or climate proof foreign business investment in the country.

Another noteworthy apprehension in these laws is the lack of an explicit health-related provision on funding health resources that would address the perceived rise in climate change- related diseases. Although the RA 10174 provided for “improvement of the monitoring of vector-borne diseased triggered  by climate change, and in this context improving disease control and prevention [italics provided],” it is noticeable that it only deals with monitoring of diseases and precludes any actions to the improvement of access. 

Major National Legislations  on Access to Health Resource

Mandatory Universal Accessible, Cheaper, and Quality Medicines Act (2008)

With regard to access to health resources, a law was also signed in 2008 to provide cheaper but quality medicines to Filipinos. Sen. Loren Legarda, senate committee chair on climate change, describes the health-climate connection in a privilege speech:

“In 1998, when the Philippines experienced the El Niño phenomenon, almost 40,000 dengue cases, 1,200 cholera cases and nearly 1,000 typhoid fever cases, were recoded nationwide. These sicknesses make our population more vulnerable, especially those who cannot afford health care, much less health insurance. We must strengthen our people’s health to make them resilient against diseases that the change in climate may bring. It is for this reason that I advocate the passage of the Mandatory Universal Accessible, Cheaper, and Quality Medicines Act, as well as a bill providing for the nutrition workers in every barangay.

These laws shall ensure that proper healthcare and accessible, cheaper and quality medicines and knowledgable nutrition workers will on hand to help our citizens, especially the poor, avoid diseases heightened by warmer temperatures. (Sen. Loren Legarda, “State of the Climate,” Privilege Speech given on August 10, 2010.)”

The law was signed in 2008 and it amended Republic Act No. 6675 or the Generics Act of 1988, Republic Act No. 8293 or the Intellectual Property Code, and Republic Act No. 5921 or the Pharmacy Law. The law allows the parallel importation of patented medicines from other countries where they are more affordable. It also bars the grant of new patents based only on newly-discovered uses of an ingredient of an existing drug. Generics firms will be allowed to test, produce, and register their versions of patented drugs. The law also empowered the President to “impose price ceilings on various drugs upon the recommendation of the Health Secretary” of the Department of Health (DOH). Drug outlets will be required to carry a variety of medicine brands, which include those sourced through parallel importation – giving consumers more choices. The Law also creates a congressional oversight committee, such as the Quality Affordable Medicines Oversight Committee, to monitor the implementation of the “Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act.”

National Health Insurance Act of 2013 (RA 7875 as amended by RA 9241 and 10606)

The National Health Insurance Program (NHIP) created under Republic Act 7875 implemented by the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PHIC or Philhealth) is the mandatory social health insurance program in the country. The purpose is for every Filipino to have social health insurance coverage and access to quality health care facilities.

The Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) and Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) formalized their partnership to provide and secure health care for the poor as they signed a Joint Order on November 6, 2012. The Joint Order will benefit more than five million poor household-beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) to uplift their quality of life by not only providing financial assistance but also by extending the needed health care benefits should sicknesses come up among beneficiary families. Entitlements also apply to primary care benefits such as consultations, regular blood pressure monitoring, and promotive health education on breastfeeding and counselling on lifestyle modification and smoking cessation. Medicines for diseases like asthma and acute gastroenteritis with no or mild dehydration, upper respiratory tract infection/pneumonia and urinary tract infection are also provided for by accredited healthcare providers.

In South Cotabato, for instance, around 11,000 poor families have been enrolled by the provincial government under the sponsored health insurance program of Philhealth. Under the program, the province allocated P 1,800 each for the premium contribution of the enrolled indigent families. Philhealth has also implemented the expanded health insurance coverage scheme for their members in South Cotabato (Balita.ph, 12 March 2014).

South Cotabato’s Environment Code (Provincial Ordinance no. 4 s. 2010)

The Environment Code of South Cotabato mandates a local network that will promote and sustain relevant, efficient strategies and modern technologies for the protection of the environment and natural resources, as well as ensure ecologically sound and sustainable development in the province. It also establishes policies and mechanisms for the protection, preservation and management of the province’s natural resources, as well as ensuring the strict enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, policies and issuances. It provides provisions for the management and protection of forests and watershed systems in the jurisdiction of South Cotabato; management of air quality, water quality and noise pollution; and provides a framework and management plan for local climate change action. While the most popular provision in South Cotabato’s Environment Code is the ban on open-pit mining in the province, it actually covers an extensive repertoire of environmental conservation and protection which considers principles of “intergenerational responsibility,”  “carrying capacity of an ecosystem,” “precautionary principle,” and “conservation ethic” among others.

What then are the drivers for these national and local legislations? How does the development of national and local laws connect with the patterns of global discussions on climate change? And how does the global economy affect the creation of such laws? To answer such questions, we go back to the general presupposition of Critical Medical Anthropology, that “there exists a hegemonic relationship between the ideology of the health care system and that of the dominant ideological and social patterns” (Baer et. al., 1997:35-36).

Economizing Climate, Impacting Public Health

Capitalism’s inherent tendency to expand serves to escalate commodity production, which necessitates the burning of fossil fuels to power the machinery of production. As this process unfolded historically, it served to disturbed the natural carbon sinks and generate an accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide, resulted to drastic changes in the Earth’s climates which, in turn, forecasted impacts on health. The connection between capitalism, climate change and health has been observed by the IPCC in its 2007 report stating that “until mid century climate change will act mainly by exacerbating health problems that already exist.”

In the Philippines, capitalism with a strong neoliberal attitude first came in “the form of the structural adjustment program imposed by the World Bank in the early 1980’s, in the latter’s effort to strengthen the economy’s capacity to service its massive external debt” (Bello, 2009). Walden Bello in a paper presented to the National Conference of the Philippine Sociological Society said that the neoliberal perspective triumphed by default in the early 1980s due to the ascendancy of several high-powered activist intellectuals and technocrats close to the Aquino administration who had been greatly influenced by the Reagan and Thatcher free-market experiments in the United States and Britain. These included economist Bernie Villegas and Cory Aquino’s secretary of finance Jesus Estanislao. Bello also cited the emergent neoliberalism of the University of the Philippines School of Economics, which had drafted the extremely influential anti-Marcos White Paper on the Philippine economy in 1985. This rise of neoliberalism in the country was also complemented by four developments internationally: the collapse of centralized socialism in Eastern Europe, which seemed to deliver the coup d’grace to the socialist alternative; the crisis of the Swedish social democratic model; the seeming success of the Reagan and Thatcher Revolutions in revitalizing the American and British economies; and the rise of the East Asian newly industrializing countries. All four had an impact on the thinking of the middle class and the elites, which are, incidentally, called the “chattering classes” because of their central discursive role in legitimizing social and political perspectives. (Bello, 2009)

This neoliberal capitalist ideology is reflected in the National Economic Development Authority’s Development Plan for 2011-2016, with its seeming addiction to expansionism and growth: “ investment must continually rise for the economy to grow and absorb labor into productive jobs. Being a bet on the future, investment requires a stable and predictable market environment. Macroeconomic stability, supported by sound monetary and fiscal policy, a strong financial system, and healthy external sector, is thus essential to maintaining positive consumer and business expectations about the future” (NEDA,  2014: 6). With this growth fixation on the economy, it is no wonder that policies on climate change fail to “acknowledge the main roots of the crisis which is unsustainable and destructive global economy and production” (Magata, Helen, et. al. 2010: 232). The Philippine government’s disregard for deep and drastic cuts of greenhouse gas emissions from developed counties and calls for the imposition of greater tariffs or stricter requirements, including only clean or climate proof foreign business investment in the country, is palpable with the seduction of foreign investors to put up more coal-fired power plants and mining ventures in the country.

The global economy is also under this same neoliberal capitalist ideology especially with the growing globalization of the world economy and increased integration of regional economies such as the Association of Southeast and East Asian Nations (ASEAN)-Integration which will be on full blast in 2015 especially with its free trade regime that aims to lower tariffs and minimize government intervention in trade.

This is dramatically confounding because while there were several summits (UN Climate Change Conference, yearly since 1995) on the climate change and how best to address the crisis, the paramount economic ideology of neoliberalism and free trade, is a disconnect to these summits’ general call to decarbonize the economy. Growth, as perpetuated by neoliberalism, means vastly more energy (Pielke, 2010: 62), which would exacerbate climate (and correlatively – health) insecurities.

This economy-environment tradeoff is reflected in the degree of bias against adaptation rather than on mitigation, in most of the Philippine policies on climate change. The Disaster Risk Reduction Management Act and Climate Change Act “has no legally binding targets on greenhouse gas emissions and it has no targets on renewables” (Smith, 2012). For decades, the options available to deal with climate change have been clear: we can act to mitigate the future impacts of climate change by addressing the factors that cause changes in climate; and we can adapt to changes in climate by addressing the factors that influence societal and environmental vulnerabilities to the effects of the climate. Mitigation policies focus on either controlling the emissions of greenhouse gases or capturing and sequestering those emissions. Adaptation policies focus on taking steps to make social or environmental systems more resilient to the effect of climate. Effective climate policy will necessarily require a combination of mitigation and adaptation policies. However, climate policy such as the Climate Change Act of 2009 reflects this bias against adaptation. The People’s Survival Fund also ensures adaptation by focusing on funding mechanisms yet “fails to integrate adaptation with mitigation strategies, such as transitioning to renewable energy systems” ( gmanetwork.com, 5 April 2014).

Although the health impacts of climate change have been seen as a “foreseeable future,” there is some disagreement about the magnitude of those effects, when they will occur and what the right course of action is.  Decisions and policies on public health has to work on a level of uncertainty in terms of what the main threats to health are, in the short, medium and long term.

Underpinning those disagreements in health effects is the acceptance of the fundamental structure of capitalism, with the differences being around whether climate change requires more immediate public policy and health professional intervention or whether capitalism will address the health issues though economic development. The debates run on whether more progress on economic growth and development will answer the health threats. The IPCC itself in its report also states that “rapid economic development will reduce health impacts on the poorest and least healthy groups, with further falls in mortality rates.”  Alongside poverty alleviation and disaster preparedness, the most effective adaptation measures are:   “basic public health measures such as the provision of clean water, sanitation and essential healthcare.” This has clear emphasis on economic development and poverty alleviation which accepts the basic tenets of growth capitalism and stressing the neoliberal attitude of the market able to fix social woes.  The position taken by some conservatives is that humanity needs more capitalist economic and technological development even if that results in a warmer world.  Some points out that we are living longer and healthier lives than ever before thanks to economic development and growth. Therefore, inductively, we need more growth, and that humanity should strive to achieve more in terms of economic development.

Hans Baer, on the other hand, stresses that indeed, the root cause of the climate crisis is capitalism, a global economic system that “systematically exploits human beings and the natural environment”. He concludes that we need “a vision of an alternative world system, one based on two cardinal principles – namely social equity and justice and environmental sustainability.” He adds that environmental destruction is inherent to capitalism because it thrives only on “profit-making” and “continued economic expansion”. Unable to jump off its “treadmill of production and consumption”, the system must continue to generate ever higher levels of waste and consumption, even though this threatens life on the planet in the long run. (Baer, 2012)

South Cotabato’s Environment Code, while it actively promotes for environmental protection and conservation, is still a product of this overarching neoliberal hegemony – which sees the environment as a resource, that is, for eventual exploitation. Provisions such “Forest Resource Management Framework,” “Resource Profiling,” “Genetic Resource Base,” and “Ecological Tourism” among others, suggest a framework that accommodates the overall “development” plan of the government which is inherently defined by a neoliberal ideology. South Cotabato is of course part of NEDA’s Development Framework for Mindanao 2010-2020, which banners the objective of “harnessing the full potential of Mindanao’s rich resources” (p 8). South Cotabato’s Agro-Industrial Zone, with its DOLE centerpiece in Tupi, is an intense drive towards resource-based industrialization which can only be characterized as neoliberal in practice and principle. Addressing the impacts of heavy industrialization and influx of foreign corporations in South Cotabato, the Environment Code sets up mechanisms for monitoring, cooperation between agencies, and penal provisions for violation of the code. Yet, the problem exists when in the same code, utilization and exploitation are coupled with protection and conservation. This may be because of the same schizophrenia which affects the very department that exploits and then protects the environment, that is, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which by its very name regards the environment as a resource. The website of the Provincial Government of South Cotabato itself, in its “General Information” button has a “Mineral Resources” item, enticing prospectors: “South Cotabato is rich in mineral resources especially in the mountainous areas of the municipality of Tampakan where Gold and Copper deposits are found. The municipality of T’boli is also a source of gold particularly in Brgy. Kematu” (http://www.southcotabato.gov.ph/mineral-resources/, October 30, 2014). The Code’s claim to environmental protection and conservation is placed under doubt.

Climate Change action in South Cotabato’s Environment Code is partnered with Disaster Risk Reduction with no explicit provision connecting health and climate. While it indeed adopts explicit measures with regard to protection and management of natural resources, its public health access provision is limited to that of sanitation, specifying that the “Provincial Government shall adopt appropriate measures to assist city/municipal governments improve environmental sanitation by expanding the use of sanitary toilets for waste disposal. Such assistance shall include direct investments in public health education and strict enforcement of the Building and Sanitation Code” (Article III, Section 36). This may be because of the single-subject rule in law which stipulates that legislation may deal with only one main issue, yet the emerging concern for the interplay between health and environmental changes must not be downplayed. As it turns out, local ordinances on health resource access are mere implementations of national policies (i.e. Mandatory Universal Accessible, Cheaper, and Quality Medicines Act), without the necessary connections to the drastic surges in diseases caused by anthropogenic environmental changes which could have been accommodated in the provincial code.

South Cotabato’s health profile is characterized by acute respiratory infections leading the cause of morbidity for all ages in the province. It reaches a total of 490 cases while cancer in all forms remain second, with a total of 314 cases. Other diseases, such as diarrhea, influenza, acute bronchitis and broncholitis, hypertensive and glomerular & renal diseases were also included in the top ten leading causes of morbidity. Lifeystyle related diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer in all forms and diabetes remain as the leading cause of death. Dengue and malaria cases likewise drastically increased. (Provincial Investment Plan for Health, 2010: 14)

In answer to the health needs of South Cotabato, the Provincial Investment Plan for Health (2010) of South Cotabato includes upgrading of facilities, improvement of primary health care service network, expansion of the drug revolving fund, and inclusion of user fees for health services in the local tax revenue code, among others. Implementation of the Plan costs about P 324 million over the five years. More than half was spent for service delivery, while more than 20 percent of the financing component was comprised of Philhealth premium contributions. More than 70 percent are for maintenance and operating expenses. The province was also a recipient of a grant from the European Commission for implementation of the plan.

Although South Cotabato’s Health Plan is being strengthened to provide basic health service, how much of these local health policies are integrated with the climate change framework? How adequate are these measures in addressing the foreseen effects of climate change to health? For instance, it’s been forecasted that climate change will enhance the spread of some diseases. These disease-causing agents or pathogens, can be transmitted through food, water, and animals such as bats, birds, mice, and insects. Climate change could affect all of these transmitters. Aside from the more known impacts of heat waves, extreme weather events, and reduced air quality, some climate change-related diseases are as follows (US Environmental Protection Agency, http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/impacts-adaptation/health.html):

Food-borne Diseases

  • Higher air temperatures can increase cases of salmonella and other bacteria-related food poisoning because bacteria grow more rapidly in warm environments. These diseases can cause gastrointestinal distress and, in severe cases, death.
  • Flooding and heavy rainfall can cause overflows from sewage treatment plants into fresh water sources. Overflows could contaminate certain food crops with pathogen-containing feces.

Water-borne Diseases

  • Heavy rainfall or flooding can increase water-borne parasites such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia that are sometimes found in drinking water. These parasites can cause gastrointestinal distress and in severe cases, death.
  • Heavy rainfall events cause stormwater runoff that may contaminate water bodies used for recreation (such as lakes and beaches) with other bacteria. The most common illness contracted from contamination at beaches is gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and the intestines that can cause symptoms such as vomiting, headaches, and fever. Other minor illnesses include ear, eye, nose, and throat infections.

Animal-borne Diseases

  • Mosquitoes favor warm, wet climates and can spread diseases such as West Nile virus, Dengue and Malaria.
  • The geographic range of ticks that carry Lyme disease is limited by temperature. As air temperatures rise, the range of these ticks is likely to continue to expand northward. Typical symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash.

Few people are aware of the impact climate change may have on health even though the effects are serious and widespread. Disease, injury and death can result from climate-induced natural disasters, heat-related illness, pest- and waterborne diseases, air and water pollution and damage to crops and drinking water sources. Children, the poor, the elderly, and those with a weak or impaired immune system are especially vulnerable to climate change-related diseases. Public policy in the national and local levels have a spiralling impact on an individual’s and community’s health as structural (in this case, State) forces are acted upon the body.

As Critical Medical Anthropology asserts, the body is impacted by larger, unseen social forces. In this case, the neoliberal regime in the global economy impacts decision making in the national level, as in the bias towards adaptation rather than mitigation, then spiralling down to local decision making, as in South Cotabato’s resource framing of its Environment Code. This snowball effect has tremendous impact on the individual who might already be feeling the brunt of climate change-induced diseases.

This exercise in Critical Medical Anthropology proves that national policymakers exert powerful forces that influence how local or regional policies are also crafted, as well as greater global forces that exert their force on these national policymakers. The individual, right in the center of these powerful forces, becomes the locus of discourse, activity, and struggle.

Yet individuals have a stake in their own bodies, and are not simply agents to these larger social forces. Active participation in government processes may be one way of asserting agency in an unjust system, but a serious level of behavioral change is also sought in adjusting to today’s world where the neoliberal attitude of acquisition is pervasive but resources are limited, and where resource exploitation can lead to further human exploitation, affecting not only the current generation but also future generations.

References:

Balita.ph. 12 March 2014. “11000 poor families in South Cotabato enrolled with Philhealth in 2013.” Accessed in http://balita.ph/2014/03/12/11000-poor-families0in-south-cotabato-enrolled-with-philhealth-in-2013, retrieved on October 29, 2014.

Baer, Hans A., Merrill Singer, and Ida Susser. 2003. “Theoretical Perspectives in Medical Anthropology”. In Medical Anthropology & the World System, 31-54. Wesport Connecticut, and London: Praeger.

Baer, Hans A. 2012. “Global Capitalism and Climate Change: the Need for an Alternative World System.” California: Altamira Press

Bello, Walden. 2009. “Neoliberalism as hegemonic ideology in the Philippines: rise, apogee, and crisis.” Paper delivered at the plenary session of the 2009 National Conference of the Philippine Sociological Society held at the PSSC Building, October 16, 2009. Accessed in http://focusweb.org/node/1534, retrieved on October 29, 2014.

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GMA Network. 5 April 2014. “Groups call on government to implement People’s Survival Fund.” Accessed in http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/355661/scitech/science/groups-call-on-government-to-implement-people-s-survival-fund, retrieved on October 29, 2014.

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Agos at Paghamon

Mga bantang dala ng Sagitarrius Mines sa yamang-tubig ng Gitna at Timog Mindanao

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“Ang tubig ay buhay at kabuhayan.”

Saan pa nga bang lugar sa Pilipinas mas higit na nagkakamukha at nagkakatuturan ang katagang ito kung hindi sa mga bayan ng Timog Mindanao na ngayo’y naging sentro ng tunggalian sa pagitan ng mga nagtutulak ng pagmimina sa bayan ng Tampakan at ang mga naglalayong pangalagaan ang yamang likas at tao dito? Sa isang proyekto na binasbasan ng gobyerno, pitong ilog na pinagmumulan ng tubig ng Timog Kotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Davao del Sur, Maguindanao hanggang Kotabato ang nababantaang maapektuhan ng pinakamalaking minahan sa bansa: ang SMI/Xstrata Tampakan Copper-Gold Project.

Maituturing na mga taong-tubig ang mga taga-Mindanao. Sa tubig umiikot ang mga iba’t ibang kultura sa islang ito at kabahin na nito ang kanilang pagkatao’t pagkakakilanlan: Danao, Ranao, Lanao, S’bu, Suba, Kaulo, Pulangi, Agus, Laut, Sug, Salug, E-el… Lahat ng mga ito ay nagpapahiwatig ng tubig sa kanyang iba’t ibang anyo bilang ilog, sapa, lawa o dagat. At sa mga pangalang ito’y makikilala natin ang Min-Danao, Maranao, Maguindanao, Lawa ng Sebu, Manobo na galing sa Man-suba, Taga-Kaulo, ang ilog ng Pulangi, Agusan, mga Sama Dilaut o Badjao, Tau-Sug, Matig-salug, ang mga lugar ng Alab-el at Marb-el na galing sa B’laan para sa tubig, e-el. Tunay ngang sa Mindanao, ang tubig ay siya ring ating buhay at pagkakakilanlan.

Sa bayan ng Buluan, probinsya ng Maguindanao, kakabit ng tubig ang kabuhayan. Dito, sapat ang biyaya ng lawa ng Buluan para buhayin ang pamilya at para mamuhay ng sapat sa pang araw-araw. Ikatlo ang Buluan sa pinakamalawak na lawa sa Mindanao kasunod ng Lanao at Mainit. Pinamamahayan ito ng mga Maguindanao na kung saan tinuturing nila ang lawa at ang pinak ng Ligawasan bilang kanilang cultural heartland – ang sentro ng kanilang pamumuhay, kasaysayan at yamang-kultura. Pangingisda at pag-alaga ng bangus at tilapia ang pangunahing kabuhayan dito. Malayo at hindi makikita ang bulubundukin ng Tampakan dito – para sa kanila isang pangalan ng bayan sa Timog Kotabato lamang ito at ang panaka-nakang kwento na dating sakop ng Sultanatong Maguindanao ang Tampakan. Mangilan-ngilan lamang ang nakakaalam na ang dalawa sa mga ilog na nagsusuplay ng tubig sa lawa ay direktang apektado ng minahan sa Timog Kotabato.  Hindi maikakaila na ang Lawa ng Buluan ay nasa gitna ng mga naguumpugang prinsipyo at interes sa Tampakan.

Ilang kilometro mula sa Buluan ay matatagpuan ang panukalang Tampakan Copper-Gold Project ng Sagittarius Mines Inc. at Xstrata na umaabot sa siyam na libu’t anim na raan at limang ektarya (9,605)ang kabuuang lugar ng minahan o katumbas ng dalawang Lungsod ng Maynila. Maaari rin nating ihalintulad sa dalawang daan at labing siyam na libu’t siyam na raan at walumpo’t dalawang (219,982) palaruan ng basketbol. Matatagpuan ang panukalang dambuhalang minahan sa mga probinsya ng Davao del Sur, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani at Timog Kotabato. Aabot sa walong daang metro ang lalim ng huhukayin para makuha ang pilak at ginto ng bulubundukin ng Tampakan – doble sa taas ng Empire State Building sa Estados Unidos. Limang daang (500) ektarya ang lawak ng hukay nito. Bukod sa malaking hukay na gagawin ng SMI/Xstrata ay mayroon ding dambuhalang estraktura o dam na haharang sa mga ilog para gawing imbakan ng mga nakalalasong bato at kemikal mula sa mina.

Para maisakatuparan ang minahang ito, kinakailangang harangin, ibahin ang landas o tuluyang tuyuin ang pitong ilog na nagmumula sa mga bulubundukin ng Tampakan, Kimlawis, Bololsalo, Columbio at Malungon. Apat na sanga-sangang sistema ng mga sapa at ilog ang direktang maapektuhan: ang ilog ng Taplan na umaagos patungong ilog ng Marbel na siyang dumadaloy patungong Lawa ng Buluan, patungong pinak ng Ligawasan na tuluyan namang lumalabas sa Look ng Illana sa Kotabato; ang ilog ng Alip sa Columbio na umaagos patungong bayan ng Datu Paglas sa Maguindanao, papuntang Ligawasan at Look ng Illana; ang ilog ng Padada sa Davao del Sur na dumadaloy papuntang Look ng Malalag; at ang ilog ng Buayan sa Malungon, Sarangani na dumadaloy patungong Look ng Sarangani.

Matakaw sa tubig ang kahit anong minahan, mas lalo na sa isang dambuhalang minahan katulad ng Tampakan Copper-Gold Project. Bawat segundo, mangangailangan ito ng siyam na raan at walong litro (908 L) bawat segundo na kukunin mula sa ilog ng Mal at gagawing walong daang (800) ektaryang dam, na magsusuplay ng tubig para ipanghalo sa mga nahukay na bato na siya namang ipapasok sa tubo na magdadala nito sa baybayin ng Maasim, Timog Kotabato, upang ibenta sa mga kompanya. Ang siyam na raan at walong litro bawat segundo ay pitumpo’t walong libo’t apat na raan at limampu’t isang (78,451) kubiko metro ng tubig sa isang araw – tubig na sana’y nagamit ng libu-libong magsasaka ng Davao del Sur, Sultan Kudarat, Timog Kotabato at Sarangani. Sa pangambang dulot ng pagbabagong klima o Climate Change, higit kailanman na dapat pangalagaan ang mga natitirang gubat na sumasalo ng tubig sa kabundukan, at ang mga ilog na kabahin ng ating pagkabuhay.

Sa katunayan, nagbabala ang mga dalubhasa sa Manila Observatory at PAGASA na sa loob ng dalawampung (20) taon ay makakaranas ng papaunting pag-ulan ang Timog Mindanao. Tinaguriang buslo ng pagkain o food basket ng Mindanao ang Katimugang Mindanao, at sa harap ng panganib na dala ng pagbabagong-klima kailangan nating tanuning ang ating mga sarili kung alin ang mas importante para sa ngayon at sa darating na mga araw: ang mina o ang pagkain? Ang ginto’t pilak o mga ilog na nagsisilbing patubig sa ating mga bukirin? Ang dambuhalang hukay ng mina o ang mga kabuhayan natin sa ating lawa?

Higit sa lahat, “ang tubig ay buhay”. Siya ay ugat ng pagkabuhay, pagkatao’t pagkakakilanlan. Ngunit magiging tapat lamang ang katagang ito kung magkakaisa tayong mga mamamayan sa pagharap sa hamong dala ng pagmimina. Ang laban para sa tubig ay higit pa sa kahit anong relihiyon, lahi o kulay ng balat. Ang tubig ay biyaya na bigay ng Maykapal para sa lahat, at hindi lamang sa iilang ganid at gahaman sa kinang ng pilak at ginto.

Ngunit magiging totoo lamang na ang tubig ay buhay, kung ang ating mga ilog, sapa, lawa, pinak, look at dagat ay buháy! Tutulan ang pagkasira ng ating katubigan! Tutulan ang SMI/XStrata!

STATEMENT ON ISSUES AND CONCERNS OF ARTISANAL AND SCALE-MINING (ASM) AT THE CONFERENCE ON ARTISANAL AND SMALL-SCALE MINING IN MINDANAO

The Conference on Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining in Mindanao held at the Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU) on 15th-16th November 2012 gathered together various stakeholders of the small-scale mining sector coming from different parts of Mindanao and Luzon, nongovernment organizations (NGOs), government functionaries and instrumentalities, local government units (LGUs), people’s organizations (POs), faith-based organizations (FBOs), mass media, international and local technical experts, environmental advocates and the academe. The two-day confab was ADDU’s continuing bold engagement, after hosting the International Conference on Mining in Mindanao (“Mina para sa Nasudnong Interes sa Katawhang Pilipino?”) in January of this year, to generate a minefield of ideas that extends a far wider discursive arena in understanding both the practical and theoretical truths about mining as an industry, and its impact on the environment and on the lives of various stakeholders.  This appropriate form of academic exercise is a concretization of ADDU’s mission as a Filipino, Catholic and Jesuit university that is committed to “engage(s) vigorously in environmental protection, the preservation of biodiversity, and the promotion of renewable energy” (cf. ADDU Vision-Mission Statement). To the extent that this conference is convened by the ADDU itself (as a university that seriously wants to engage “…in robust research, excellent instruction and formation, and vibrant community service” (cf. ADDU VM), it therefore proceeds with a core understanding of the specific role that it plays in society―that of a corporate change agent that promotes education as a leverage for effecting social transformation.

Among the more prominent issues that surfaced and were highlighted during the conference were the following: The question of mining in the greater context of environmental justice and the pursuit of the common good; the contribution of mining to the complex problem of environmental degradation;  the relationship between large-scale mining (LSM) and the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM); the economic, social and human costs of mining; the mining of extractable mineral resources vis-à-vis the question of national patrimony; the impact on national laws and local ordinances relative to mining as an industry; and mining as an indigenous practice in areas covered within ancestral domain.

The conference became a venue where critical issues about ASM, as a specific sector of the mining industry, were brought to the fore, discussed by a phalanx of experts and advocates who presented not only pertinent issues on ASM but also cutting-edge technology on how to better improved safety measures on industry practice.  Highlighted in these discussions were concerns pertaining to the use of more modern and safe technology, as well as the ill-effects of using mercury and other toxic substances.  It also provided opportunities for the presentation of case studies on current best operational practices of ASM not just in Mindanao, but as far as Benguet and Camarines Sur in Luzon, notwithstanding the showing of some flagrant practices that wantonly disregard concerns for human rights and the environment, as documented in other mining areas in Mindanao.  But inasmuch as these presentations opened more avenues for thorough discourses on the floor, especially during a series panel discussions after each presentation by a group of discussants, there were pressing and recurrent issues which critically defined the collective sentiments among those who attended the conference. These issues, as agreed and concurrent to by the participants themselves, thus form part of the statement which ADDU, as convenor, declares as a concrete by-product of the two-day conference.

The following twenty-point statements and/or declarations articulate the conference’s corporate position in its bold stance to bring the important concerns pertaining to ASM to greater public consciousness.

  1. The conference declares the need to formally organize the federation of small-scale miners. This move for a more organized confederation hopes to address the greater clamor towards the formal recognition of small-scale miners as a sector.
  2. The conference clamors for the legalization of the ASM industry.  This call is born out of the concern that small-scale miners are often perceived as illegal, as compared to large-scale mining corporations (whether local, multinational and transnational) which―because it operates, by and large, through export-driven economy―is generally perceived as a legitimate sector.
  3. The conference expresses desire to create a nationalized mining industry that will look at the best interests not just of miners but of all stakeholders, including stringent measures to protect the environment from hazards, risks and natural and man-made calamities.
  4. The conference calls for a thorough review of the Central Bank policy on the sale of gold, especially as it applies to transactions made by small-scale miners.
  5. The conference calls for a review of the taxation system of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and its bearing on ASM.
  6. The conference expresses the repeal of the Mining Act of 1995 (Republic Act 7942), to be replaced with an Alternative Mining Bill or a People’s Mining Act. This controversial law is said to have favored large-scale mining, notwithstanding its weak mechanisms in protecting the environment from wanton destruction caused by irresponsible mining.
  7. The conference calls for a thorough review of the questionable provisions of Republic Act 7076 or the law on Minahan ng Bayan, and the recently signed and promulgated Executive Order (EO) 79 as this is perceived to be anchored on RA 7942, and therefore, unsupportive of ASM.
  8. The conference calls for assistance extended to Zamboanga and other similar militarized mining areas, and to call for an investigation on human rights violations experienced by members of the local community in these militarized areas.
  9. The conference similarly demands for an end to blatant forms of militarization within mining sites and tenements, and calls for the disbandment of private armies of both LSM and other “big lords” of ASM.
  10. The conference declares its support for small-scale mining operation that is mercury-free.  Corollary to this, the conference also expresses the need to find alternative technologies relative to ASM that are safe and environmentally friendly.
  11. The conference calls for continued lobbying for assistance from line agencies in the government such as the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), as these are appropriate agencies that are better able to assist small-scale miners both in practice and in law.
  12. The conference calls for the recognition of the rights of the indigenous peoples (IPs) in the new and proposed legislation(s) on mining.
  13. The conference demands for the recognition of an authentic free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) instrument issued by members of the IP communities in matters pertaining to their acquiescence in the use of their ancestral land for mining and similar purposes.
  14. The conference demands the strengthening of community livelihood programs in mining areas so that more jobs and employment opportunities could be generated, thus helping the local economy.
  15. The conference demands for the protection of environmentalists and advocates who express and manifest strong opposition to open-pit mining. Towards this end, the conference further demands the passage of a law that protects the rights and welfare of people advocating for the environment.
  16. The conference calls for more support coming from the LGUs to small-scale miners.
  17. The conference calls on the national government to respect the power and jurisdiction of LGUs, particularly in appropriating legislations relative to ASM.
  18. The conference highlights the role of the academe community in providing technical assistance to small-scale miners, as well as in raising public awareness on the mining as an industry.
  19. The conference specifically calls for more international support for ASM as an industry, in the form of continued collaboration through knowledge-sharing and technical assistance through expert know-how in the use of better and safer technology.
  20. The conference supports the establishment of best practice system(s) in ASM for proper and appropriate benchmarking.

Along with these twenty-point statements, the university, through the success and the inspiration generated by the recently concluded ASM conference, continues to promote a comprehensive, holistic and empowering understanding of mining and other environmental issues in pursuit of its university vision and mission.

 

[Proceedings of the Conference on Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining in Mindanao will be made available starting March 25, 2013 at the Ateneo de Davao University]

 

 

In T’boli Land, at World’s End

I never completely imagined myself doing some field work in the hinterlands where the nearest restroom is the most un-glamorous bush, or the only use of the cellphone is anything other than communicating, where comfort means a patched-up mosquito net or an extra pillow made from who-knows-what. The city has always been my jungle, and its sights, smells, sounds and textures have been the limits of my comfort and discomfort. My only inkling of what life was there in the wild mountains lay in the impressions of media that glossed over some lost treasure of Zinj a la Crichton’s Congo, stories from fieldworkers too who spoke of their Indiana Jones adventures, or maybe from books  with their colored descriptions of magical rituals that called the rain from its sleep and people wearing dead animals over their shoulders. I was young then (or maybe still young now) and childhood’s egoism backed up my notion that I define the world as I sensed it.

All’s well that ends well. I suppose that maxim holds truth, but in my case my beginning may also be appropriate, at least as I see it now. What better way to begin than with apprehensions and doubts, right? Those queasy moments between the red light and the green. In truth, I found the same spirit of adventure out of the insipid comings and goings in the city and the ‘comforts’ accorded/afforded to its citizens. Yes, the hinterlands await, but a little boy inside me was still caught between the red and the green light, shuddering, wait!

Now that I’m in the second semester of my Anthropology class, more or less having heard and having finally been exposed to a different version of anthropologists’ experiences from the field (worlds away from my initial notion of it), I found a new courage to face the uncomfortable: to maybe learn how to take a leak (or more) in the nearest bush or find the right angle of the rigid pillow, to ignore that whining little boy in my head. I thought, if those geriatric westerners, with their delicate sensibilities in much hostile tribes did it, I can certainly do it also. I imagined them in their winter-ready melanin traversing the Sahara in search of the Tuareg and the Nuer, or imagined Geertz, with his obviously foreign head sticking out of a Balinese crowd, and all of a sudden living for months with a Filipino indigenous group did not sound hard after at all. That became my motivation.

While thinking of a research proposal for my thesis, Bikol was always on my mind – to continue with my interest in the Bikolano people’s way of life, to unravel their hidden connections with other cultures, and to demystify their weltanschauung which I perceived was firmly grounded on deep-seated faith and belief. But working fulltime in Davao and doing my research in Bikol didn’t seem to be the brightest idea in the solar system. So I was caught between personal interest and rationality. I had to find another group of people that  I can certainly relate to, and make the whole process easier for reasons that I am indeed, fully interested in studying them.

The answer came as a surprise, when during my first month in Mindanao, I was introduced to Jenita Eko, a partner of Ateneo de Davao’s Campus Ministry at that time. Jenita Eko is the President of the Lake Sebu Indigenous Women Weavers Association, Inc. (LASIWWAI) herself a T’boli from Brgy. Klubi in Lake Sebu. On several occasions during my first few months here in Davao, I had a chance to talk to her about her organization – until she invited me to visit Lake Sebu on purely recreational purposes and on that first visit, there and then I felt that the T’boli of Lake Sebu could be a good research subject.

I remember the first time I saw the documentary film “Dreamweavers” back in our Sociology class in college. It featured the T’boli tribe of Lake Sebu in Southern Mindanao and how they weave their cloths inspired by spirits in their dreams. I was amazed watching that film, fascinated at how these people give value to their traditions and at how pre-Catholic animism surfaces in all their arts and crafts even if they have been baptized Christians by early Mindanao missionaries. The T’nalak cloth of the T’boli already captivated me when I first saw that film. It was for me a romantic remembering of our past before the cross gave us a new persona. I thought to myself that maybe this people, with their own arts, worldview, rituals and traditions, hold the answer to that elusive mystery of the Filipino identity. And I longed for that answer.

The T’boli it is then.

I have been fortunate in my work to be able to travel to areas in Mindanao. It wasn’t just a dream-come-true for me but a real chance to see these “original” inhabitants. I would consider it then that fate brought me to Mindanao and to Lake Sebu in South Cotabato. At last, I will be in that lake surrounded by clouds and forests, where people tell the stories of creation in songs and in their weavings.

But then my first visit to Lake Sebu almost brought me to tears. Lake Sebu is no longer the mysterious and charmed place I’ve imagined from that “Dreamweavers” documentary. Fish pens of tilapia crowd the lake and surrounding mountains are almost denuded. A number of resorts have also dotted the lakeside. And yet, there’s still a barely perceptible charm, almost like the humming of a mother’s lullaby.  It is certainly there in the sweeping breeze that tickles the lake’s surface. The sun still bathes the lake with a golden warmth each morning. The mist still covers the mountains and for a moment, houses and resorts are obscured, the lake exhales ancient songs. It was certainly not my imagined Lake Sebu but already a place where the modern world and its many wonders and appeals have slowly crept to the homes of the T’boli people. I have come to a Lake Sebu where people have already embraced the modern tides – with its television shows, capitalist attitudes and current flairs.  I have to ask: did they have a choice or were they pushed in a corner with nowhere to run but to modernity and its lifestyle?

My second visit to Lake Sebu, sometime on the last quarter of 2011, was the more formal moment that I had a chance to talk to Jenita Eko on my plans for research. Initially, I wanted to write about the t’nalak enterprise among their association, in line with discourses on women empowerment. I wanted to be more formal, and so I gave her a copy of my proposal. She shared that she was genuinely interested about this partnership as she was also working on a ‘source book’ on t’nalak weaving. She gave me a copy of the source book and asked me if I can help her edit the book, and of course I said yes, it would be my honor to help her. But to cut the long story short, I had to change my intended research topic to one that fits the ‘environmental agenda’ of the department (yes, there are so many ways on how to kill a plan) and I opted to do a study on climate change and the T’boli.

On that visit, Jenita Eko introduced me to some members of the women weavers association. They told me all about the beginnings and the nature/goals of LASIWWAI, and the more I knew about them, the more my interest in partnering with them grew.

A brief background on LASIWWAI: The Lake Sebu Indigenous Women Weavers Association. Inc. ( LASIWWAI ) is a non-profit community-based organization that envisions T’nalak enterprise to grow, be appreciated and be endorsed in the market through social entreprenuership. They promote t’nalak weaving not only as a source of livelihood for indigenous women but also as an integral part of the T’boli’s rich culture and tradition. The organization, aside from being entrepreneurial, seeks to address the unequal opportunities given to T’boli women by empowering them economically, in planning for their organization and in decision-making. They shared that this was a breakthrough as T’boli society is still patriarchal and ‘feudal’, a term often used in my conversations with Jenita. This may pertain to how T’boli give high regard to the class system of Datu (ruling class), Tau Sool (middles class) and Tau Dok (slaves).

Of course, I still believe that the t’nalak research would have been a perfect study with LASIWWAI but I had to find an alternative that considers the thrusts of AdDU’s Department of Anthropology. And there I was looking piteously at the once-majestic lake of Sebu, and I thought  “why not write about the Waters of Sebu?”, investigate the effects of climate change not only on perceived changes in the weather patterns but also on the cognitive aspect, on how the T’boli re/cognizes, and eventually translate climate change in their behaviour. The lake-dwelling people, mostly living on agricultural means, can share their experiences of climate change, and I can dig deeper, interpret their modes of cognition through myths.

So finally I had a ‘problem’ I can work on. I had another chance to visit Lake Sebu, this time with a group of German visitors from Bavaria. During that visit, I laid out my plan to Jenita. I told her I wanted to do a research on climate change and the T’boli, specifically of Brgy. Klubi in Lake Sebu, and I was mildly surprised to find her genuinely interested in my proposition. She said that I can do the climate change research in her barangay and also get a glimpse on how t’nalak is made by their women weavers – two birds with one stone.

This visit also offered me a chance to talk to their elders in the gono bong (long house, literally big house). It was my first time to be in a circle of elders, barefoot, surrounded by men and women in their traditional attire (most probably because I was with German guests at that time), with the whole gono bong pulsating rhythmically in the beat of the agung. The elders shared that there were only 3 ‘master artists’ living and teaching in the School of Living Tradition and that this school is right below us in the gono bong, hardened clay floor with little educational materials. One of the master artists was a skilled dancer and chanter and he  showed us the kadal tahaw or dance of the bird. The whole house shook with the graceful movements of his feet, mimicking the fast leg and wing gestures of the tahaw bird, with others joining him in the dance. The other elders explained that he was one of the few dancers who teach the traditional dances in the fashion that was passed down to them. They also shared that the only living mewa nga (healer) in their area was already on her deathbed and was not able to pass down her knowledge of herbs and healing to others. I thought that this was sad, frustrating and disappointing to not be able to document her knowledge and to think that all of it, generations of traditional wisdom, will be down the drain. This became a motivation for me – to be able to help, even in my littlest capacity – a dying, or actually, an evolving culture, by documenting as much as possible, this changing way of life.

On April 17, 2012 I was invited to document an international conference on Ikat Weaving.  Ikat is a method of weaving where strands are tied before they are dyed giving them their distinct patterns. One of the most highly regarded ikat fabrics in the southeast Asian region is the t’nalak of the T’bolis – hence the conference was held in Lake Sebu and I was again at its shore longing for imagined worlds and occasionally craving for its delicious tilapia.

In this conference I met Kevin, a graduate of the Ateneo de Davao University and a T’boli of Lake Sebu. He was very patient with my questions about his being a T’boli, their struggles and his dreams not only for himself but also for his people. He also shared with me the same story of this bygone Lake Sebu, when there were no fences yet in the lake and anyone can fish or swim in its water.

Thinking about the stories of old-world beauty and magic, it was very timely when he taught me a traditional song (we were all told to give a short presentation during the cultural night of the conference and Kevin chose this song). He said that it was usually sung during weddings and celebrations, and is about an edenic paradise that may be a fitting reference to Lake Sebu but also an allusion to all paradises lost to the inanity of mankind. The T’bolis call this paradise Lemlunay, and the song goes:

Lemlunay gono setifun ne Lemlunay gono sesotu.

Lemlunay gono kemulo ne Lemlunay gono setambul

e se waten uni sembakung e Lemlunay tey lemobun.

Kevin helped me do a rough translation and we came up with this: Lemlunay is a place where the people are gathered and united and we are all beckoned by the sounds of festivities, the beating of gongs and drums welcome us to this paradise hidden in mists.

This archetypal paradise calls to mind our dreams of a perfect place where differences are set aside and we celebrate our oneness with creation. I asked if this is the T’boli heaven and Kevin answered no, it was a place comparable to the Biblical Eden yet there is no mention of a parting from this Eden, from Lemlunay, because of a sin or transgression. We can only assume that Lemlunay faded to dreams, to the world of mists. I thought that the modern world was surely no place for this Lemlunay.

I would like to believe that Lake Sebu was once Lemlunay and human folly has pushed it to the plane of the mythical, a world that can now only be accessed through songs but is still physically present in the slowly congesting lake of Sebu. In looking for my imagined Lake Sebu brought by that documentary I’ve watched in college, I was also searching for our identity as a people. If I have to be honest, I was looking for my self. Take away all the western, borrowed cultures from my system, what is left of me? Who am I in this sea of foreign cultures? Of modern gadgets and western language? Who are we as a people, tortured and brought to our knees by colonizers? We have become ‘modern,’ parting from our indigenous selves, embracing western, foreign cultures, but who is this indigenous self?

I don’t have the answers right now. Perhaps the journey is still unfolding before me, in my thesis and all the forks in the road that I may walk on. Maybe the answers are in Lemlunay, maybe in Lake Sebu – in their songs, music, in their t’nalak, or their stories.  But I have to constantly remind my self that in this search, I maybe searching for a lost past, a mere fuzzy dreamland of the imagination. What I would like to do is to better understand where we failed in our past in order to build a better future.  The hidden Lemlunay is but a metaphor of what we’ve lost but also of what lies before us.

If only we can part the mists shrouding our vision. Maybe we can find Lemlunay – the sound of gongs and drums welcoming us to our land, to our self, to our identity, to our future even.

Searching for Lemlunay in Lake Sebu

I remember the first time I saw the documentary film “Dreamweavers” back in our Sociology class in college. It featured the T’boli tribe of Lake Sebu in Southern Mindanao and how they weave their cloths inspired by spirits in their dreams. I was amazed watching that film, fascinated at how these people give value to their traditions and at how pre-Catholic animism surfaces in all their arts and crafts even if they have been baptized Christians by early Mindanao missionaries. The T’nalak cloth of the T’boli already captivated me when I first saw that film. It was for me a romantic remembering of our past before the cross gave us a new persona. I thought to myself that maybe this people, with their own arts, worldview, rituals and traditions, hold the answer to that elusive mystery of the Filipino identity. And I longed for that answer.

In May 2011, I transferred from Naga to Davao, to work at the Ateneo de Davao University. I was thrilled at the prospect of being in Mindanao, close to the Lumads – to my romantic phantasm of the genuine and unadulterated Filipino. And undaunted by my parent’s fears of kidnappings and bomb explosions by insurgents fighting for ideologies and lost wars, I went to this strange city in Mindanao, a settler from Southern Luzon.

At first I felt that I had unwittingly cut my self off from my known world of Naga City where everyone knows everyone. But I soon realized from my conversations that almost everyone here is a settler, mostly from the Visayan islands, a number of migrants from Luzon and even some from other countries. I asked them “who are the original inhabitants?” and with a hint of mixed fear, disdain and boredom, would answer me, “mga natibo,” natives, tribal people of the hinterlands, with their un-Christian gods and un-Visayan characters. At least in that sense, I felt a little more at home. I am not the only settler in this strange city.

I have been fortunate in my work to be able to travel to areas in Mindanao. It wasn’t just a dream-come-true for me but a real chance to see these “original” inhabitants. I would consider it then that fate brought me to Mindanao and to Lake Sebu in South Cotabato. At last, I will be in that lake surrounded by clouds and forests, where people tell the stories of creation in songs and in their weavings.

But then my first visit to Lake Sebu almost brought me to tears. Lake Sebu is no longer the mysteriously charming place I’ve imagined from that “Dreamweavers” documentary. Fish pens of tilapia crowd the lake and surrounding mountains are almost denuded. A number of resorts have also dotted the lakeside. And yet, there’s still a barely perceptible charm, almost like the humming of a mother’s lullaby.  It is certainly there in the sweeping breeze that tickles the lake’s surface. The sun still bathes the lake with a golden warmth each morning. The mist still covers the mountains and for a moment, houses and resorts are obscured, the lake exhales ancient songs.

It was certainly not my imagined Lake Sebu but already a place where the modern world and its many wonders and appeals have slowly crept to the homes of the T’boli people. I have come to a Lake Sebu where people have already embraced the modern tides – with its television shows, capitalist attitudes and current flairs.  I have to ask: did they have a choice or were they pushed in a corner with nowhere to run but to modernity and its lifestyle?

Many times now, I have returned to Lake Sebu and have befriended some T’boli residents. One told me a story of a Lake Sebu without the settlers and their modern ways. There was a time in her childhood, she said, when lotus flowers in pink and dark violet covered the whole lake from end to end and when the mists descend, the clouds frolic like playful gods in their pool; a solitary T’boli man in the distance would be in his dug-out canoe fishing or foraging for shells. I confessed to her that this was my imagined Lake Sebu. She remarked that it was also her lost Lake Sebu and the land is a mirror of our very own selves and that whatever worldview we assume for ourselves, we also try to sculpt our environment for that worldview to fit in. I realized that Lake Sebu was such a victim.

Just the other week I was invited to document an international conference on Ikat Weaving.  Ikat is a method of weaving where strands are tied before they are dyed giving them their distinct patterns. One of the most highly regarded ikat fabrics in the southeast Asian region is the t’nalak of the T’bolis – hence the conference was held in Lake Sebu and I was again at its shore longing for imagined worlds and occasionally craving for its delicious tilapia.

In this conference I met Kevin, a graduate of the Ateneo de Davao University and a T’boli of Lake Sebu. He was very patient with my questions about his being a T’boli, their struggles and his dreams not only for himself but also for his people. He also shared with me the same story of this bygone Lake Sebu, when there were no fences yet in the lake and anyone can fish or swim in its water.

Thinking about these stories of old-world beauty and magic, it was very timely when he taught me a traditional song (we were all told to give a short presentation during the cultural night of the conference and Kevin chose this song). He said that it was usually sung during weddings and celebrations, and is about an edenic paradise that may be a fitting reference to Lake Sebu but also an allusion to all paradises lost to the inanity of mankind. The T’bolis call this paradise Lemlunay, and the song goes:

Lemlunay gono setifun ne Lemlunay gono sesotu.

Lemlunay gono kemulo ne Lemlunay gono setambul

e se waten uni sembakung e Lemlunay tey lemobun.

Kevin helped me do a rough translation and we came up with this: Lemlunay is a place where the people are gathered and united and we are all beckoned by the sounds of festivities; the beating of gongs and drums welcome us to this paradise hidden in mists.

This archetypal paradise calls to mind our dreams of a perfect place where differences are set aside and we celebrate our oneness with creation. I asked if this is the T’boli heaven and Kevin answered no, it was a place comparable to the Biblical Eden yet there is no mention of a parting from this Eden, from Lemlunay, because of a sin or transgression. We can only assume that Lemlunay faded to dreams, to the world of mists. I thought that the modern world was surely no place for this Lemlunay.

I would like to believe that Lake Sebu was once Lemlunay and human folly has pushed it to the plane of the mythical, a world that can now only be accessed through songs but is still physically present in the slowly congesting lake of Sebu. In looking for my imagined Lake Sebu brought by that documentary I’ve watched, I was also searching for our identity as a people. If I have to be honest, I was looking for my self. Take away all the western, borrowed cultures from my system, what is left of me? Who am I in this sea of foreign cultures? Of modern gadgets and western language? Who are we as a people, tortured and brought to our knees by colonizers? We have become ‘modern,’ parting from our indigenous selves, embracing western, foreign cultures, but who is this indigenous self?

I don’t have the answers right now. Perhaps the journey is still unfolding before me. Maybe the answers are in Lemlunay, maybe in Lake Sebu – in their songs, music, in their t’nalak, or their stories.  But I have to constantly remind my self that in this search, I maybe searching for a lost past, a mere fuzzy dreamland of the imagination. What I would like to do is to better understand where we failed in our past in order to build a better future.  The hidden Lemlunay is but a metaphor of what we’ve lost but also of what lies before us.

If only we can part the mists shrouding our vision. Maybe we can find Lemlunay – the sound of gongs and drums welcoming us to our land, to our self, to our identity, to our future even.