THE DENR & SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
(Why The Poor Will Always Be With Us)
In Mindanao, two years after her historic succession to the presidency, President Aquino, a very religious person, appealed for the help of the citizenry, especially institutions like the church and other non-government organizations (NGOs), in reaching “the poorest 30% of the population,” and offered the work of some monks as a model of what can be done. Appropriately enough, the monks of the Monastery of the Transfiguration in Bukidnon, where the President made the appeal, are involved in reforestation and adapting farming methods to sloping lands, and literally lived with the bottom 30%. These Filipinos occupy government-owned “forest land,” do not have access to government agricultural extension-work benefits or credit, and survive off the beaten track taken by the health-services delivery system. They are under the sufferance of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) which, in its capacity as representative of the state, controls 50% of the country’s land area, all its forests including the flora and fauna therein, and all other natural resources.
In callingfor assistance to the country’s poorest 30%, the President could not have done worse than to refer the matter to the DENR which has always treated these 14 million Filipinos as problems, absurd as that may sound, and not as constituents whose poverty may have developed in them the prayerful habits commonly associated only with the likes of President Aquino and monks.
… The rural development strategy of Philippine policy-makers confirms government’s alienation from the people. The Department of Agriculture, for example, bewails the following:
Trade, tariff, and tax policies which strip agriculture of its attractiveness to private investors;
Monopolies and excessive government regulation of agricultural markets which steal from the farmer his fair share of returns from his produce and foster inefficiencies in the marketing system;
An exchange rate policy that overvalues the peso and thus makes exports less competitive than they would otherwise be in the world market;
The insufficient and declining share of government expenditures going to rural infrastructure and support services needed to pump-prime the rural economy;
These policies combining to create a biased incentive structure which favor the urban and industrial sectors and penalize agriculture and the rural sector.
It might help in planning as if the poor really mattered to flesh out impersonal technical terms like “rural sector” and call them what they in reality are: farmers, subsistence fishermen, kaingineros, and landless laborers. It is they who are penalized, not a “sector.” It is defective policies, not their poverty, that drive them to insurgency. Bureaucratese has its own way of annulling the government’s best intentions by reducing questions of ideology to technical cover-ups.
Consider the policy prescription of “fashioning a policy environment conducive to private investments in income-enhancing and employment-generating agro-based rural enterprises.” Thus worded, it effectively masks the fact that the biggest investors in our rural areas are our farmers, upland dwellers, small fishermen, and landless laborers who toil and sweat it out. They should be given control and tenure over the resources they work with. They are the ones entitled to support and incentives to make their investments profitable. A value-added increase the equivalent of Php1,000 per person of our rural population is about the same as a US$10 billion investment in the rural areas and amounts to a scenario far more honorable than foreign investments or even grants.
It was correct of the President to call on the church and NGOs to extend a helping hand, even though in the course of heeding this call many of them will have to develop alternatives to existing policies of government departments and to contend with being stigmatized as “subversive.” But perhaps the President should have first looked around her to see why, given the policies of the men she trusts, the poor may always be with us.
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 5 September 1990