Environment Secretary Regina Paz L.Lopez is right: More and better jobs can be created if we pursue a greening strategy to develop poor communities nationwide. Millions, literally millions, of jobs can be generated by a green development strategy. How?
Aside from the ecotourism projects that the good secretary mentioned for communities devastated by unregulated mining activities, the government may institute the following:
First, undertaking greening and climate change-proofing for all barangays nationwide. These are growth locomotives and job generators, especially in depressed barangays that require renewal. Some United Nations agencies, the Department of Social Welfare and Development and local government units have community-re-building experiences that show how idle or unemployed workers can be mobilized to do low-cost but climate-change-important fortification projects, such as dredging of waterways; concreting of flood walls and pathways; fortifying or rebuilding of multipurpose community centers (which also serve as refugee centers in times of disasters), strengthening of dikes, building cheap but stronger homes, etc.
In short, community rebuilding can address the damaging impacts of CC in an economically productive, sustainable, participatory and anticipatory manner while creating jobs for the estimated 3 million unemployed Filipinos. At least, a quarter of the 42,000 barangays in the country need some rebuilding and CC-resilience fortification.
Second, strengthening the greening program for our forestlands. Despite the National Greening Program (NGP) of the past administration, satellite maps indicate that we still have a long way to go in greening our forestlands, not to mention the need to reforest mangrove areas around our vast archipelago. The poor who forage the forests or even harvest trees should be transformed into communities of forest keepers, as advocated by Haribon and the Visayas State University. Part of the huge conditional cash transfer (CCT) funds should go to those managing and keeping the forests.
In addition, there are other job-creating green programs: enforcing all the environmental laws (air, water, etc.) and transforming the dumps in each city and locality into integrated solid-waste facilities (for example, organic waste transformed into organic fertilizer, nonorganic materials into “brick” construction materials, and methane gas as fuel for power cogeneration).
And yes, the greening program should include the greening of the “brown” Philippine economic sectors—industry, agriculture and services. Again, how?
First, we need to restore and sustain “industrial dynamism” by pursuing an industrial policy to upgrade and diversify the industrial structure. The various DTI-led industry road maps should focus on how each industry can go up the industry ladder with the help of the academia. As a 2012 ADB study put it, this is the only way we can create more values/jobs and become more competitive. This is also one way of reversing industrial stagnation brought about by the country’s past adherence to neoliberal economic fallacies. Incidentally, this approach will also strengthen industrial peace because going higher means going away from the traditional labor-intensive processes (but not necessarily job-intensive economy-wide) and the practice of short-term hiring, which fuels labor unrest (due to emphasis on wage and union restraint). Finally, going higher value added means getting out of smokestack industries. The point is that the Philippines should get out of the rut of the failed labor-intensive, low-technology, low-skill and uncompetitive industrial production, which is also generally environmentally degrading.
Second, we need to modernize agriculture by going organic. Despite the 2010 law promoting a shift to organic agriculture, the percentage of the total farming sector practicing organic farming is still less than 2 percent, per estimates by University of the Philippines Los Baños agronomists, like Dr. Ted Mendoza. Greening the agriculture sector through ecologically sound farming approaches, such as organic, biodynamic, natural farming and quantum agriculture methods, among others, will not only help revive the soil poisoned by a century of chemical agriculture but will also create more agricultural jobs. Modern organic or sustainable agriculture is science- and labor-intensive, for it requires careful seed selection and preparation, and consistent caring of the farm and nature, from seed production to harvesting.
Agricultural modernization is also a key in the country’s efforts to regain self-sufficiency in staple crops, vegetables and other agricultural products. Hence, what is needed is more policy consistency in the promotion of organic farming, the greater popularization of good practices in organic farming, and the formulation by the DA of a doable national action program in support of the shift from chemical to organic farming.
Third, the huge services sector needs to be greened, as well, through the adoption of more eco-friendly and eco-oriented business practices, including better treatment of workers through the culture of social partnership and respect for the rights of both workers and employers. Some of the premier tourist destinations in the country today are those espousing the principles of ecotourism, such as Subic, Bohol and Palawan. If the country can be cleaned up and greened, it has the potentials of rivaling its Asian neighbors in attracting tourists, from the current 5 million to 6 million visitors a year to 15 million to 20 million.
Finally, the government needs to be resolute in its support to the clean renewables (wind, solar, hydro and geothermal). They can all create jobs. And so are the various green industry and green agriculture initiatives of CSR-conscious corporations and civil-society groups. In fact, we have an abundance of green CSR/CSO ideas and projects. The challenge is how to make these initiatives the dominant practices in each town or community.
Overall, it is clear that the Philippines has the means to achieve full employment while greening the archipelago. However, for this to happen, economic planners and policy-makers need to rethink the existing development paradigm. A good starting point is to examine if the Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022 reflects the green aspirations of a nation, which is considered one of the world’s most vulnerable to climate-change risks.
Rene E. Ofreneo (BusinessMirror)