YSEALI U.S. Fellow Summer 2017 Cohort:
The second and final week here in the Philippines on my reciprocal exchange, with the Fellow I hosted back in Northampton, MA, in April/May of this year has been full of more enlightening conversations with local government officials about planning and sustainability related issues.
The week began with attendance at another House hearing, this time on a bill related to Energy Conservation and Efficiency which has been debated for many years, but with no results. This is a labeling standards bill that will institute minimum performance standards for household appliances among other items. In the end the committee finally voted it forward to full House vote. The committee opted to incorporate “reconciliation” language so that a unified House/Senate version could be voted upon as quickly as possible. The sense of urgency to pass this has been elevated due to President Dutuerte’s interest in seeing it through in order to minimally catch up to all the other ASEAN nations which have such a measure in place. To the disappointment of some on the committee, incentives for end users were left out of the bill.
The afternoon Sophia was able to arrange a meeting for us with Tony La Vina at the Manila Observatory. We were able to discuss his work on climate, environmental and social justice campaigns and the important work that the Observatory completes.
The remainder of my week here was exploring a much different local government practice including rural governance and rural issues arising from the push to address climate impacts. It began with the flight to Dumaguete City, where upon arrival Zeph took me to the Provincial Governor to introduce me and discuss issues our program was focusing on. He was very keen to discuss the work in the province.
We then visited with the Dumaguete Environmental Officer who is overwhelmed with multiple tasks under her department, primarily that of addressing solid waste disposal with the pending closure of the City’s landfill. She highlighted the myriad issues that need addressing including an aging and thus unreliable fleet for collection, locating an adequate replacement facility, attempting to increase recycling, working toward creating market value and obtaining participation from all the barangay captains to participate in collection.
The following morning I participated in a public forum on land use and smart cities. Building Smart Cities was hosted by Kinaiyahan, which is the non-profit co-founded by Zeph Repollo herself. There was a great turnout of local interested citizens, NGOs, local architects, students, and a couple of municipal officials. The surprise attendee was the mayor of Dumaguete who eagerly shared his vision of the city’s master plan upon the completion of my talk. My discussion along with the mayor’s comments were helfpful to the people in attendance. They realized there are many pieces to the puzzle for the future of their community that they would like to understand and have a hand in directing. Some felt that it may be time to revisit the mayor’s vision for the city to make sure that it addresses the community’s needs and isn’t just about creating tourism and roads at the expense of environmental considerations, quality of life and economic welfare of residents.
Themes for this local government and its residents are concern about solid waste removal and management, sanitary waste, geo-thermal energy plant expansion and possible negative impacts on the community, traffic, tourism, quality of life.
The forum generated interested in parties to continue the conversation and to follow up with the mayor so that their voices could be heard. There was a genuine sense that the time was ripe with the people present to act to make change in order to insure an open proves, to think about how to manage growth to protect natural resources, to think about designating preservation areas and to educate the public on how to reduce the amount of garbage that is directed to the landfill.
In the afternoon we travelled part way up Talinis, in the region of the existing geo-thermal power plant and proposed expansion. We learned more about the status of the permitting and approval process from a landowner on the mountain who has also voiced concern about environmental impacts of the proposed expansion.
Friday was a continuation in the lessons and struggles of local officials to deal with climate change impacts as it relates to water resources. Cobbie Palm, at Silliman University has developed a safe drinking water campaign for communities to use in times of crises, natural disasters and as water sources become contaminated because of poor practices. We got a first hand look at efforts to create clean water sources for rural barangays and looked at the newly minted solar generated mobile water filtration device that can be used in case of natural disaster at many locations. The one filtration trailer on site will soon be shipped off to Marawi to the shelter for those displaced due to the ongoing conflict there.
My week wrapped up with a conversation with one of the city councilors of a small local government Dauin. He walked me through their coast management plan and conservation resource areas that protect coral life. The benefits of these protection areas have been an exponential rise in their tourism industry for underwater divers. The city has capitalized on this “eco-tourism” and realized the strength of their conservation measures. Yet, it is still imperfect. The theme of great laws, little enforcement continues even down to the smallest government units.
The packed two-week agenda that covered national government issues relating to environment and sustainability down to local government in action has been an overwhelmingly positive, enriching, educational experience for me and I hope that this exchange has been equally positive for my “fellow” filipinos. I cannot say enough about how valuable I think this program is for communities across the globe to gain greater understanding of each other, our common interests and struggles and hopefully better ability to address our issues at home given the shared experiences and ideas.
So thank you US State, LCP, ICMA and all the Fellows for this wonderful experience!
Carolyn Misch, Senior Land Use Planner/Permits Manager
City of Northampton, MA