The Multinational Monitor



Agenda for Sustainability

An interview with Maximo Kalaw

Maximo Kalaw is president of the Haribon Foundation and the Green Forum Philippines. Haribon is the Philippines' largest environmental research and conservation group, and has spearheaded efforts to save the forests of Palawan, the "last frontier" of the Philippines. Green Forum is a coalition of national, grassroots and church groups working for environmental protection, social equity and sustainable development.

Multinational Monitor: What are the most pressing environmental problems in the Philippines?

Maximo Kalaw: The environmental movement is now focused on sustainable development. Poverty and destruction of natural capital are the two major problems. They interrelate the environment and development.

One important problem from the Green Forum's sustainable development perspective is the destruction of value systems. When we have held discussions trying to define sustainable development, our indigenous people have pinpointed the coming of foreign belief systems, like the Catholic religion, which put the divine very high up in the heavens. We fail to see it anymore in our forests and in our trees and in our fellow human beings.

Therefore, we have devalued our indigenous people. Instead of treating them as primary communities, we have looked at them as minority issues. We are trying to recover that sense of identity through protecting our culture and protecting our indigenous people. And we are trying to recover what we call a theology of development and theology of creation in the Philippines. Our church groups are involved in trying to redefine a new view of creation; what has evolved from a theology of liberation to a theology of creation to a theology of development.

A second area of concern is the whole concept of social equity, in natural resources especially. Here the major problems are the vested interests of politicians, multinationals and big business, the control they exercise over resources - land, forests, water and so on. When we talk about development, the whole issue of "development for whom?" is critical, whether we are addressing the land reform, land for indigenous people or some other concern.

The third area is the whole economy-ecology relationship, as well the process of economic activity. Export-oriented strategies are not really attuned to ecological processes in our island systems. So in considering the whole range of economic activities from natural resources use to waste management, we are looking at new economic models that are community-based. We are looking at units of management like ecosystems and communities.

A fourth area is government, the whole gap between the state and community, between politicians and people, and the role of civil society in the new evolving governing system. We are looking at participatory democracy as a process of development, at new concepts of security which shift from national security based on militarization to national security based on clean air, fresh water and so on.

Right now, the whole NGO [non-government organization] movement is redefining the role of civil society, vis-a-vis the state and the economy. This is quite an evolution for NGOs. We have evolved from mere bringers of relief goods. We became project managers after awhile because our donors wanted us to run projects. After a while more, we learned we couldn't change anything in society, in the community, unless we become civil workers. But now we are also learning that unless we do something on a macro level, all of that project work is just wiped out by major policies. So, we are looking at our role, really, as facilitators of political processes, as the catalysts for bringing about the relegitimization of civil society.

MM: How does an issue like logging fit into this analysis?

Kalaw: The logging issue is an example of the whole problem. It starts with a resource policy which shifts away from resources being communal in our tribal communities, which they still are in the rice terraces [in Northern Luzon] and in Palawan. When we started copying the Western system, the State took control of all of the resources, away from the community. But the politicians have treated the state as belonging to them, and natural resources, especially logging, as a free patronage resource. All the political families have owned the major logging resources in the last 20 years.

The logging issue also shows you what happens when you give a resource to a small group that takes it out of the community. In the last 20 years, the logging industry produced US$42 billion in profit for 480 families. That is bigger than the foreign debt in the Philippines, and it created 1S million poor people now in our outlands, where the resources are.

It also brings out the point of why it is so hard to get the loggers out of the way; it is the congressmen, the governors and the mayors who own the logging concessions. When you're trying to stop that process, then you run against all the political powers who have a tremendous interest in keeping it going, because of the huge profits they are making. The forest industry was paying rent to the government for cutting the trees, 3,000 pesos [US$120] a hectare. They were selling the logs for about 200,000 [US$8000] pesos a hectare. That's a tremendous amount of profit for those participating in it.

This all translates to the value system. When the loggers get out of a forest area, because the big companies and the big politicians treated the forest like a free resource, the people think that they themselves can now do it. It is a public commons without anybody taking care of it, without any value attributed to it.

MM: Could you describe Hariboyi's logging campaign?

Kalaw: The initial environmental activism started in our campaign in the forests of Palawan, two or three years ago. We were trying to get a total logging ban there; the island was being logged by one businessman who owned two logging concessions and who was supported by the then-speaker of the house of Congress. When we were working on that campaign, we went through a lot of difficulties with the military trying to arrest us for being subversive - because we were trying to cut into logging in that area.

Our efforts escalated into a campaign in Congress and the Senate to have a log ban, not only for Palawan, but for the whole country. We passed the legislation in the Senate, but the Congress did not come across. More members of the House are loggers, so they delayed it and delayed it. Now we are up against the same thing again; we have again passed the total log ban bill in the Senate, but a big bloc in the House is trying to delay it and trying to get a compromise out of it. So it still is there.

In the meantime, by an executive ban, we succeeded in getting commercial logging out of Palawan. We have bans in two critical areas: in Cagayan, where we a did a lot of active support for the communities; and in Bukinol, where people are putting themselves in the road in front of logging trucks.

MM: When you succeed in forcing the adoption of tough regulations, how stringently are they enforced?

Kalaw: The regulatory function is the weakest function, especially if you are talking about high-value resources being exploited by powerful political interests. When you talk about imposing logging rules and regulations, they are hardly effective at all, primarily because of the lack of forest guards. The Department of the Environment and Natural Resources has one forest guard for every 4,000 hectares. They are underpaid persons who are supposed to stop all of that logging. It's really very ineffective. Unless the community takes care of the forest itself, it's not going to work.

MM: What's the role of foreign investors and foreign buyers in the logging industry?

Kalaw: The logging industry was sparked by wasteful Japanese demand. A lot of our hardwood was used to do construction scaffolds in Japan and then thrown away, and a lot of the softwood was used for paper.

The logs have been very, very undervalued as a natural resource. In the logging industry, none of the costs of soil erosion, the loss of water, are internalized into the industry itself. It is paid by the remaining farmers, the remaining tribal people who suffer the costs. The multinational corporations, the Japanese corporations, a lot of the import-export organizations, several American multinationals, including Boise- Cascade, were logging in the Philippines during the 1980s, and they reaped the benefits of this.

MM: Is the export ban really being enforced?

Kalaw: Yes, in the sense that there is no legal trading. But there is a lot of smuggling of logs through Borneo to Japan from Palawan and Quezon. That's still going on. There are a lot of islands in the Philippines, a lot of water coastlines. So, the ships just come in and haul the logs out In Palawan especially, there is a lot of that.

MM: How does the country's high level of militarization affect the environment?

Kalaw: In authoritarian regimes, the military is there to prop up the political powers and the ones that have a monopoly on resources. That is precisely what the military's role has been in the rape of the forest in the Philippines. They've been part of the syndicate that were paid off to allow continuous illegal logging.

So, that's one effect on the environment - that the military is a major instrument in mining the resources, whether it's dynamite fishing or mining of the forests.

Then you've got the problem of the effects of actual military actions in the field, all the way from the toxic waste from the military bases in Clark and Subic, to the bombings in Marag Valley.

Then, I guess you can go all the way to the fact that for a long time most of our aid coming from the United States went into military expenditures instead of addressing environmental poverty. That whole system is something that contributes to poverty and destroys the environment.

MM: How does the militarization affect environmental activists, especially at the local level?

Kalaw: About 120 government forest guards have been killed in the last two years, for example, and some of them were volunteers. This work is a high-risk thing, in the sense that a lot of money for private politicians and the military is at stake. And basically, we have the mentality of warlords here, where logging concessionaires employ the military as a private army.

Our experience in Palawan is that all of our members have been continually harassed as communists and insurgents. They tried to come over and arrest me at some point a couple years ago. But this is something that is part of the terrain, if you are going against the livelihood of a lot of military people. In protecting the environment, you are usually in a territory where they always say subversives are. It is very easy to pick you off in the process.

MM: What is the solution to the country's energy crisis?

Kalaw: That's an interesting issue, because I think that over time there will be less emphasis on the military problem and more on the whole developmental issue. We are redefining the fields of struggle. '1 he armed struggle is no longer where it will be decided; it's going to he decided within civil society, in the struggle for developmental agendas, and part of this Ls energy.

It is basically a question of not building energy infrastructures over the last decade when we should have. With the government's development program from now to the year 2000, there is going to he a 12,000 megawatt shortage. When you have that kind of a situation, then you get energy projects which are promoted irrespective of environmental consequences, irrespective of indigenous peoples' rights. People are pitted against each other; it becomes a difficult to push when all the population is losing a hell of a lot of money from their jobs because there are brownouts. We are caught in a position where a project hurts a small community, or an environmental resource area, but not doing anything about the energy shortage also affects part of the community in terms of livelihood. The obvious answer is that it should have been planned for, in terms of the supply side, looking at alternative sources, but also on the demand side.

We are one of the most inefficient users of energy. Japan uses 15 gallons of fossil fuel equivalent to produce $100 of production. The United States uses 58. We use about 120. If the Philippines were as efficient as Thailand alone, we could recover half of our energy shortfall without building any more plants. It all boils down to consumption patterns and industry consumption patterns.

MM: What is the effect of foreign investment on the environment and the economy?

Kalaw: I think that there are three things that we have to frame properly. Foreign investments have come in to this country to satisfy foreign demands and needs. Most of the time they are done at the cost of environmental degradation, through poisoning of the soil by herbicides, for example. All of the businesses, such as Del Monte, have incurred a huge ecological debt to the country that future generations of Filipinos will pay. If Del Monte leaves, the land will be barren for farmers because of the constant use of fertilizers for pineapples. This is a major ecological carrying capacity problem. In other words, we have allowed foreign trade and investment to the point where we have traded not just ecological surpluses, we traded ecological capital. That has tremendously jeopardized our future carrying capacity, especially of the local communities where the trees and forests were, where the fertile agricultural land was.

Second, the foreign exchange earned from foreign investment and trade is usually used to finance the needs of the elite in our country, not really the bigger mass of people.

The third major element requires looking at the whole earth's economics. We are arguing that there is no room for sustainable growth in the aggregate of the system. The old concept was that the more the North consumes, the more jobs there will be for us through exports. But the more the North consumes, the more it fills up the ecological space available for the future generations, so this is not the right way to go. All the foreign trade and the foreign investments, especially if it is not trading on surplus carrying capacities, and especially if it increases aggregate demand of the wealthy, is a negative. It is an environmental disaster.

That's the real dilemma we have to face. It's not an easy one. We are saying that the poor need development and the rich have to cut down their throughput, their use of natural resources, to give an equitable space for the poor to develop.

MM: Which companies or types of foreign investment would you rate the worst in the Philippines?

Kalaw: I think the U.S. military business is one of the worst.

Then there is the destruction of the natural resource base, which is the forest systems. With a small island, you have a very critical ecosystem, and the top of it is the mountains, and under that the forest. Once you take that down, then you lose the fertile topsoil. Because of our loss of forests, we are losing fertile soil for agriculture at the rate of 100,000 hectare equivalent a year. We are silting our marine resources for food because of the soil that goes into the ocean. Seventy percent of our coral reefs are destroyed. Those are the fundamental destroyers of life support systems and destroyers of the forests and ecosystems.

Then comes the destruction of the land ecosystem, the pollution of pesticides and fertilizers that foreign companies have sold us. A lot of even banned pesticides in the United States have been sold here. Those are the major pollutants.

MM: When you talk about production for local needs as an alternative to a foreign investment-driven economy, what do you mean?

Kalaw: What we are advocating is that the development model focus on community-based enterprises. The Medium Term Development Plan is seeking a growth rate of 4,5 percent, but this will not guarantee that the community net worth is increased. Though the aggregate production is higher, there might be more poverty in the rural areas and communities might be losing assets.

The alternative is to manage the community as a basic enterprise. The community should quantify its natural resources and endowments as assets in its books; then it can trade with an outside entity with knowledge about what should remain in the community. So you make sure the resources stay in the community and that adds stability. Community assets can't be in private or public ownership. There must be a community body that looks at what is gained or lost from the operations of the enterprise.

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