YSEALI U.S. Fellow Summer 2017 Cohort:
It has been a whirlwind here in the Philippines on my reciprocal exchange, with the Fellow I hosted back in Northampton, MA, and also with our wonderful and energetic group of hosts here who were all dispersed throughout the country in April/May of this year.
I began the week meeting Zeph and Ashley who gave us a cultural tour of Metro Manila at the National Museum and Luneta/Rizal Park. This appropriately began with an Uber ride that confirmed how intensely congested the streets of the metro area are. What seemingly would be a relatively quick journey to the historic sites took much longer than I anticipated and it was Sunday! I was now armed with the knowledge not to expect quick transitions!
The real backstory, however, was presented through the Museum and the Kalesa trip to Luneta Park where were able to absorb the long history of struggle for independence and the bonds established between the US and Philippinos
As Sunday was a crash course in cultural and social history, Monday was a crash course in governance history, with particular focus on the relationship between the local government units and national government and all the entities in between. Zeph and Sophe accompanied us where we were warmly welcomed by the League of Cities Philippines staff and via Fidel Pamintua’s presentation along with other LCP Staff we received a comprehensive and complicated look into the governance structure established in the country and were able to begin to understand the challenges facing communities as they attempt to develop and implement solutions for climate adaptation, economic development, transportation etc.
This presentation outlined what has become a typical theme of what we have heard this week. Specifically, there are very passionate people with good intentions and there are fabulous laws passed, but the ability to act, implement, respond over the long term, in order to realize goals is the heart of the problem.
Following our lunch with partners at LCP, we were taken to IBON International where we learned about climate action research work from the international NGO perspective and how such organizations and entities can provide opportunities and technical assistance to local governments. We ended our experience here just before the afternoon rush hour which afforded us the opportunity to experience mass transit. I was glad for the chance, as this is my preferred way of travel in any urbanized area. However, seeing the congestion and hearing about the deficiencies of the system, I can see why opting for the automobile mode is preferred!
We trekked to the MRT and easily boarded, having beaten the long lines that would follow us. The train rapidly filled with passengers, exceeding capacity. That was no concern. Riders continued to step on as it was clearly their only option. We suffered the heat and humidity for the four stops until our turn to push our way off. It is hard to complain about a once-in-a-life experience that results in overheating when millions of others are forced to become accustomed to this mode of travel—unit greater efficiencies and expansion of the system are installed.
Wednesday we were picked up by Sophe, who was more than willing to brave driving the streets of Metro Manila to introduce us to the University of the Philippines & Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards/UP Resiliency Institute. There we were met (warmly!!) by Jake and a whole host of wonderfully enthusiastic researchers and analysts who are all doing great work on providing information to local governments about risk assessment, predictive modeling for storm events and mapping. While on the UP campus we were able to safely try another form of mass transit, the Jeepney, to go to lunch and it was capped by meeting the very busy President of the University who took a few minutes of time in between meetings to chat with us about our visit.
Aubrey then guided us off campus to meet with the Congressional Research Board directors at the Congressional Complex in Quezon City. Again I was struck by the time that these folks carved out of their schedules to explain the work they do and how it relates to local governance, implementation of initiatives and complexities of political climates constantly changing.
Wednesday we continued our conversations about national governance and legislative initiatives by visiting with the budget research board at the Senate in Manila. Afterward, we were able to make an impromptu visit to committee hearings and listen in on a hearing related to a recent interception of drug smuggling by Bureau of Customs.
Our next stop was a visit to the US Embassy where we had a briefing by Cultural Affairs Officer Ryan Bradeen, and Assistant EJ Bautista. We then were given a tour of the Embassy by Ryan Madrid, who provided additional historical background regarding the US/Philippine relationship.
We closed the day by touring Intramuros with Zeph and Aubrey and having dinner within the city walls. This provided an interesting contrast to the sprawling metro area that exists outside.
Thursday we embarked on our first excursion outside of Metro Manila. I could spend pages writing about the communities and experiences we had in this short window of 2 days and one night. Again we were met with a warm welcome at every stop on the way by mayors and city staff more than willing to take time from their very busy schedules to talk with us about their passions for making good change and progress in their communities. This began in Angeles with the Mayor describing his goal of addressing services from “womb to tomb” for people at the poorest level within the community on up. We received the same sense from staff that providing for and protecting residents from natural disasters and impacts of climate change are paramount, while also providing opportunities to diversify and strengthen their economies.
This was echoed in Dagupan as well where there is so much effort being laid to fortify resources, be well-prepared for disaster response, both natural and climatic, and enhance support for traditional economic sectors. This is seen in their efforts to expand capacity and foster the sense of strong image of the city to other regions in the country. Patrick planned a packed day showing us emergency evacuation shelters, the fishing industry, mangrove replanting areas the comprehensive land use plan and historically important beach where the General MacArthur landed. The cap of our Dagupan visit was with the Mayor who shared a very proud and recent accomplishment, a signed contract with a private company to convert plastics to diesel through technology sourced from the US.
We returned to Metro Manila in the van as we had left, with Bobbit, the driver provided by LCP. We were grateful to have such a reliable and safe means of transport and feel lucky to have had him deliver us promptly and safely!
Ashely, Aubrey, Sophe, Jake, Zeph, Patrick and LCP staff as well as coordinator Fidel Pamintua have put so much time and effort into shepherding Adam and myself around to meet with local and nationally elected officials. I cannot begin to express my deeply felt gratitude to all the Fellows here and to Fidel at LCP for providing such rich experiences for us. Even though I still have a week full of experiences to come, I can say now that I do hope that we will be able to continue connecting into the future!
Carolyn Misch, Senior Land Use Planner/Permits Manager
City of Northampton, MA