Category Archives: Environment and Social Development

MUST READ: General guidelines for Visitors of Sagada

NOTE: With the permission of Mr. Ivan Henares, our professor in ENRM 257: Sustainable Tourism Development course in UP Open University, I am reposting visitors’ guidelines developed by Steve Rogers and Tracey Santiago for Sagada. The translation in Filipino (courtesy of Tracey) is also shared below.

Let these important words be remembered  and applied not just in Sagada but in all other tourist and heritage sites that you intend to visit. Traveling is always a very precious and memorable gift so the least we can do is help protect and preserve the integrity of God’s and our people’s creations. 

Enjoy traveling through eyes that never tire of being amazed and a heart that never ceases to express joys and gratitude! Namaste!

Sunrise from Kamanbaneng Peak ("Marlboro Country"), Sagada [Image courtesy of Sagada LGU website]

Sunrise from Kamanbaneng Peak (“Marlboro Country”), Sagada [Image courtesy of Sagada LGU website]

by Steve Rogers and Tracey Santiago

1. Please respect the culture. Keep a distance from rituals or any sites you are told are sacred. Do not touch or disturb coffins or burial sites. Do not attempt to join or film any ritual without direct permission from the presiding elders. Do not disturb mass in the church or shoot videos/photos in or around the church during mass.

2. Please respect the people. Sagadans are not exhibits in a museum or zoo. Ask permission before taking pictures or video of people, especially elders. Please don’t ask us “where are the Igorots”. We are the Igorots. We do dress in traditional clothing for special occasions, but please don’t expect any of us to pose in traditional clothing for pictures, because we don’t do that.

3. Please secure necessary permits. If you need to do field research, interviews in the community, conduct pictorials or film anyone and any place in Sagada, please go to the Office of the Mayor and make sure you secure a permit and pay any necessary fees. This permit will determine if your activity is allowed or not in the community. Guides are not allowed to secure any permit for such activities.

4. Please manage your expectations. Sagada is a community, not a museum. If you want to see the way we lived a century ago, there’s an excellent museum in Bontoc; please visit it. Don’t think, or say, that we have “lost our culture” because we no longer live in traditional houses or dress daily in wanes and tapis. We are indigenous people and we are deeply attached to our traditions and culture. We are also modern, well educated people who are comfortable in any living or professional environment the world offers.

5. Please walk whenever possible. Walking is an essential part of the Sagada experience. The air here is cool and clean; you won’t get all sweaty. The views are spectacular, and you’ll enjoy them more on foot than crammed into a metal box. Sagada is a small town and places are close together. If you are going out to browse the shops, walk. If you are going from a hotel to a restaurant, walk. If your hotel is outside the town, drive to the edge of town and walk. If you’re strong enough to walk through the caves, you’re strong enough to walk to the caves. Walk. It’s good for you, you’ll see and enjoy more, and you’ll help reduce our traffic problem.

6. Please conserve water. Sagada suffers from water shortages, especially during dry season and periods of peak tourist flow. This can lead to diversion of water from our farms and rice terraces, where it is desperately needed, to support tourism. If you are going hiking or caving, bathe after, not before. Please bathe quickly and with as little water as you can.

7. Please manage your garbage. Littering and tossing garbage outdoors are unacceptable and disgraceful: just don’t do it. Sagada has no municipal waste disposal system; every household and business has to manage its own waste output. Try to minimize the garbage you generate. As much as possible, what comes here with you should leave with you.

8. Please be kind to the people in our kitchens. Our restaurants are small kitchens that can only handle a few meals. When we say, we don’t have food anymore, it means the stock we bought during the market day have already run out. We don’t serve food frozen from weeks or months ago. To get better service, order your food at least 3 or 4 hours before your meal. That way, we have more time to prepare your food and serve it as soon as you arrive in the restaurant.

9. Please use your vehicle responsibly. Our streets are narrow, and on-street parking creates a serious traffic problem. Parking on the street is prohibited by local ordinance. Please follow the law, even when others don’t or if someone tells you it’s ok to park on the street. If you’re asked to back up or pull to the side of the road to allow passage of a bus or other oncoming vehicles, please cooperate. If you are parked in a way that obstructs traffic, move. Do not load/unload in the middle of a road. Pull to the side so that other vehicles can pass.

10. Please help us keep you safe. Sagada is a mountain town filled with caves, cliffs, canyons, streams and forests. They are beautiful but people can and do get hurt or lost. We do our best to keep you safe, but we need your help. Guides are required in the caves for your safety, not for our profit. Please hire accredited guides and respect the prescribed guide to guest ratio. We do not allow children to guide, for their safety and yours, so please do not hire children as guides. We strongly recommend guides for hiking or exploring. If you choose to hike without a guide, please be responsible and tell your guest house where you plan to go and what time you plan to be back. Bring a mobile phone and make note of emergency phone numbers. If you go missing we will look for you, at any time of the day or night and in any weather. Knowing where to start is a huge help. If you plan to sleep somewhere other than your guest house, get in touch and let them know, because they will report you missing and we will go out looking for you.

11. Please be modest. This is a small, conservative town, and we like it that way. Please save the revealing clothing for the beach, and save the displays of affection for your private space. We are not known for nightlife: business in Sagada closes at 10PM. If you like to party all night that’s fine, but you’ll have to do it somewhere else. There is no commercial sex here, so please don’t waste your time looking for it.

12. Please give your share to help us preserve our environment. All visitors (tourists, non-Sagada residents) must register at the Municipal Tourist Information Center and pay Php35.00 for the Environmental Fee. Your receipt will be checked upon entering caves and other tourist areas.

Below is the Tagalog translation:

Pupunta ka ba ng Sagada? Basahin muna ito!

Ito ay mga gabay para sa mga nais bumisita sa Sagada. Basahin at intindihin ang mga sumusunod bago tumungo doon:

1. Igalang ang lokal na kultura at pamumuhay ng komunidad. Panatilihin ang distansya mula sa mga ritwal o ano mang mga lugar na tinutukoy na sagrado. Huwag hawakan o buksan ang mga kabaong sa kuweba ng libingan. Huwag tatangkaing sumali o kunan ng litrato o bidyo ang ano mang ritwal na walang direktang pahintulot mula sa namumunong nakatatanda. Huwag abalahin ang Misa sa simbahan o kumuha ng mga bidyo o kaya litrato sa loob at paligid ng simbahan sa oras ng Misa.

2. Igalang ang bawat tao sa komunidad. Ang mga taga-Sagada ay hindi mga eksibit o palabas sa isang museo o zoo. Humingi ng pahintulot bago kumuha ng mga litrato o bidyo ng mga tao, lalo na ang mga nakatatanda. Huwag itanong kung “Nasaan ang mga Igorot?” Kami ang mga Igorot. Sinusuot namin ang mga tradisyunal na kasuotan para sa mga mahalagang okasyon. Huwag ninyo asahan na magpakuha kami ng litrato suot ang bahag o tapis para sa inyo, dahil hindi namin gawain iyon.

3. Kumuha ng mga kinakailangang permit o pahintulot para sa pagkuha ng litrato, pelikula, o panayam sa komunidad para sa pananaliksik. Makipag-ugnayan sa Office of the Mayor at siguraduhing ikaw ay kumuha ng permit at nagbayad ng ano mang mga kinakailangang bayarin. Ang permit na ito ang magtutukoy kung ang iyong aktibidad ay pinapayagan o hindi sa komunidad. Ang mga gabay (guide) ay hindi pinahihintulutan na kumuha ng permit para sa nasaad na mga gawain.

4. Pamahalaan ang iyong mga inaasahan (manage expectations). Ang Sagada ay isang komunidad, hindi isang museo. Kung gusto mong makita ang buhay namin noong unang panahon, may isang mahusay na museo sa Bontoc; bisitahin niyo ito. Huwag isipin o sabihin na “nawala na ang aming kultura” dahil lang sa hindi na kami nabubuhay sa mga tradisyunal na mga bahay o nagsusuot ng wanes at tapis para sa pang-araw-araw. Kami ay mga katutubo at malalim ang aming pagkakakabit sa aming mga tradisyon at kultura. Kami din ay moderno at may pinag-aralan, kumportable sa anumang buhay o propesyonal na kapaligiran na inaalok ng mundo.

5. Maglakad hangga’t maaari. Ang paglalakad ay isang mahalagang bahagi ng karanasan sa Sagada. Ang hangin dito ay sariwa at malinis; hindi ka gaanong pagpapawisan. Ang tanawin ay kamangha-mangha, at mas ikalulugod mo ang mga ito kung ikaw ay maglalakad kaysa sa nakasakay ka sa isang metal na kahon. Ang Sagada ay isang maliit na bayan at magkakalapit ang mga lugar dito. Kung ikaw ay lalabas para mamili sa mga tindahan, maglakad ka. Kung ikaw ay pupunta sa mga kainan galing sa hotel, maglakad ka. Kung ang iyong hotel ay nasa labas ng bayan, dalhin lamang ang sasakyan hanggang sa pasukan ng bayan at maglakad ka mula doon. Kung may sapat kang lakas para pumasok ng mga kuweba, mayroon ka din lakas para maglakad papunta sa mga kuweba. Maglakad ka. Mabuti ito para sa iyo, mas masaya, mas marami kang makikita, at makakabawas sa aming problema sa trapiko.

6. Huwag mag-aksaya ng tubig. May kakulangan ng tubig sa Sagada, lalo na sa panahon ng tag-init at mga panahong dagsa ang mga turista. Para matugunan ang mga pangangailang ng mga turista sa pag-konsumo ng tubig, ito ay maaaring humantong sa paggamit ng tubig mula sa aming mga bukid at palayan kung saan ito ay lubhang kinakailangan para sa aming mga pananim. Kung ikaw ay aakyat ng mga bundok o papasok sa mga kweba, mas mainam na maligo ka pagkatapos at hindi bago pumunta. Mangyaring maligo nang mabilis at magtipid ng tubig.

7. Huwag magkalat ng basura. Ang pagtapon ng basura sa daan o sa ano mang lugar ay kahiya-hiya, at hindi katanggap-tanggap: huwag kang pasaway. Sa kasalukuyan, ang Sagada ay walang municipal waste disposal system; bawat pamilya at negosyo ang nangangalaga ng sarili nitong basura. Kaya bawasan niyo ang basura niyo. Hangga’t maaari, kung ano ang dala ninyong basura ay dapat dalhin ito pag-alis para maitapon sa tamang lugar.

8. Maging mabait sa mga taong namamahala ng mga kainan. Maliliit ang mga kusina ng mga kainan namin, at hindi namin kaya magluto para sa marami. Kapag sinabi naming wala na kaming maihahain na pagkain, ito ay nangangahulugang naubos na ang pinamili namin noong araw ng palengke. Hindi kami naghahain ng mga pagkaing linggo o kaya buwan na nakatago sa freezer. Para makakuha ng mas mahusay na serbisyo, mag-order kayo ng pagkain ng hindi bababa sa 3 o 4 na oras bago kayo kumain. Sa ganoong paraan, mayroon kaming sapat na oras para ihanda ang iyong pagkain at maihain ito agad pagdating mo sa kainan.

9. Maging responsable sa paggamit ng sasakyan. Ang aming mga kalye ay makitid, at ang pagparada sa daan ay lumilikha ng malubhang problema sa trapiko. Sa katunayan, ang pagparada sa daan ay ipinagbabawal ng lokal na ordinansa. Sundin ang mga batas, kahit na hindi sumusunod and iba o kaya ay may magsabi sayo na maaari kang pumarada dahil pag bawal ay bawal. Kung sinabihan kang umatras o tumabi para makadaan ang ibang sasakyan, lalo na ang mga bus, makisama ka. Kung ang pagparada mo ay nakakaharang sa trapiko, umalis ka at ilipat mo ang sasakyan mo sa tamang paradahan. Huwag magsakay o magbaba sa gitna ng daan. Tumabi ka para makadaan ang ibang sasakyan.

10. Tulungan kaming mapanatili kang ligtas. Ang Sagada ay isang bayan sa kabundukan na puno ng mga yungib, bangin, kanyon, sapa at mga gubat. Ang mga ito ay magaganda, pero maari ka ring madisgrasya o kaya ay mawala. Ginagawa namin ang lahat ng aming makakaya para panatilihin kang ligtas, pero kailangan din namin ang tulong mo. Kailangan mong umupa ng gabay (guide) bago ka payagang pumasok sa kweba. Para ito sa kaligtasan mo, hindi para kumita kami. Mangyaring nakarehistrong gabay (accredited guide) lang ang upahan, at respetuhin ang nakatakdang bilang ng bisita sa bawat gabay (guide to guest ratio). Hindi namin pinapayagan ang mga bata o minor de edad na maging gabay, para sa kanilang kaligtasan at para na rin sa iyo. Mangyaring huwag umupa ng mga bata bilang gabay. Iniririkuminda din namin ang mga gabay para sa paglalakad o pamumundok. Kung talagang pinili mong maglakad nang walang gabay, maging responsable ka at sabihan mo ang mga tao sa guest house kung saan mo planong pumunta at kung anong oras mo planong bumalik. Magdala ka ng mobile phone at siguraduhing may listahan ka ng mga emergency number. Kung mangyari ang di inaasahan at mawala ka, hahanapin ka namin, anumang oras ng araw o gabi at sa anumang panahon. Pag-alam namin kung saan magsisimula, magiging malaki itong tulong sa amin. Kung balak mong matulog sa ibang lugar, makipag-ugnayan sa guest house mo at ipaalam sa kanila ang iyong balak, dahil sila ay magbibigay-ulat na nawawala ka at kami ay lalabas para hanapin ka.

11. Maging disente sa ano mang paraan. Ang Sagada ay isang maliit at konserbatibong bayan, at ito ang nais namin. Maaaring huwag magsuot ng mga damit na para sa pamamasyal sa dagat, at huwag rin magpapakita ng mga pisikal na ekspresyon na maaaring magpahayag ng malisya sa publiko. Hindi kami kilala para sa nightlife: sarado na ang mga tindahan sa Sagada ng alas-10 ng gabi. Kung gusto mong mag-party sa gabi, humanap ka nalang ng ibang lugar na pupuntahan. Walang commercial sex dito, kaya huwag nang mag-aksaya ng oras sa paghahanap nito.

12. Tumulong sa pagpapanatili ng ang ating kapaligiran. Lahat ng mga bisita (turista at hindi residente ng Sagada) ay dapat magrehistro sa Municipal Tourist Information Center at magbayad Php35.00 para sa Environmental Fee. Ang iyong resibo ay titignan bago ka pumasok sa mga kuweba at iba pang mga lugar na dinadayo ng turista.

Ang mga panuntunang ito ay inihanda ni Steve Rogers at Tracey Santiago, at isinalin namin ni Tracey sa Filipino.




Source: Website of Ivan Henares. You can visit his site for more interesting reads on history, heritage, and travels. The link of this post is at:

For comprehensive guide and tips on Sagada, this is a good source managed by the Sagada Genuine Guides Association:


This is not a paid blog. There is no request for donation but please do plant a tree/s on your birthday/s.

Kazehozonkai’s acoustic music and a simple story of friendship across oceans

Where is the photo bomber? :) Seriously, this is my friend, Michikazu Iseri of Kazehozonkai. This was taken in Germany in 2004, where we met during the International Conference for Renewable Energies.

Where is the photo bomber? 🙂 Seriously, this is my friend, Michikazu Iseri of Kazehozonkai. This was taken in Germany in 2004, where we met during the International Conference for Renewable Energies.

I had closed 2015 and begun 2016 by keeping in touch with old friends. I have traveled quite extensively and can say with gratitude that some of the ‘strangers’ I had met in those travels have eventually become long-time friends.

One of them is Michikazu Iseri. I met him in 2004, when I attended the International Conference for Renewable Energies in Germany. (As I typed this, it made me glad that Iseri and I had managed to be friends for more than a decade already, despite the distance. Thanks to modern technology indeed!)

Iseri (as how we fondly called him in Germany), is a visiting professor at Kumamoto University and a senior writer for the Kumamoto Daily News in Japan. He joined the newspaper after his studies in Keio University and the University of California at Berkley. He began his career in the daily newspaper as a reporter, eventually becoming political editor, cultural editor, and editorial writer. He was later seconded to the Kumamoto University and currently serves as a professor in journalism.

He has been covering mercury contamination and poisoning since 2001. This interest has  led him to study Minamata disease (M.d.) extensively. He then authored the book, Countries that learned from Minamata: Mercury control and management (in Japanese language) If I will recall our conversations during our Germany trip, I think this is a topic that somehow started our bond as friends (not mentioning, of course, Iseri’s light bantering and sense of humor). It was a sad topic, of course, but if I will look back at my own personal and professional journey, I would probably consider my trip to Minamata, Japan (many years ago) as a turning point.

It may be recalled that the methylmercury (MeHg) poisoning in Minamata is a result of one of the most serious environmental disasters in the world. It was caused by effluents containing the highly toxic methylmercury, which was released by the plant of Chisso, a chemical company. The discharge effluent contaminated the Minamata Bay and bio-accumulated in fish and seashells, which form a significant part of the diet of the local population (Allchin, n.d.). (This is a very serious environmental disaster that everyone must read about so I encourage you to read more about it. The article of Allchin is a good start.)

While I had really planned to be involved in social development and environment when I entered UP, the trip to Minamata was somehow a major point where my decision to build my career in these areas had somehow taken a more defined shape and clearer directions. In Minamata, I had seen the horrors of mercury poisoning, a likely consequence of a lack of or poor environmental management systems and negligence in pursuit of economic activities. I am sure no one wanted it to happen but, hopefully, the lessons will remind us constantly of the importance of appreciating (and respecting) the inextricable link between the environment and health. A positive outcome from this sad past is that Minamata is now seriously redeveloping the city based on sustainable and ‘eco-township’ principles (Minamata City Government, n.d.).

That was why meeting Iseri and then later becoming friends with him is somehow another meaningful synchronicity in my life. Iseri might have not realized it yet but I have always been a fan of Japan, its people, culture, arts, and history.  While there are sad realities in our shared history as warring nations, Japan and the Philippines share universal truths and values such as love for the arts and, among them, music. This is where this piece evolves from.

More than a decade later, Iseri and I still manage to keep in touch. My husband (JR) was the one who rummaged through our boxes and found this picture of me and Iseri taken 12 years ago outside a cafe in Germany. (I will welcome an email from anyone in Germany who can tell me the name of this nice cafe!) [I cannot remember it anymore but I have this feeling that this picture was actually sent by Iseri via post. I will ask him!]

More than a decade later, Iseri and I still manage to keep in touch. My husband (JR) was the one who rummaged through our boxes and found this picture of me and Iseri taken 12 years ago outside a cafe in Germany. [I cannot remember it anymore but I have this feeling that this picture was actually sent by Iseri via post. I will ask him!]

As I said earlier, I was in a bit of nostalgic mood a month ago so I sent Iseri (and my other friends) a Christmas-new year note with the announcement of my new email address. Bless his usual kind heart, he emailed back with a very nice update – he is part of an acoustic guitar duo called, Kazehozonkai!

Kazehozonkai (loosely translated as “Wind Preservation Society”) is based in Kumamoto, Japan. It plays and does its best to popularize the songs of Shozo Ise, a Japanese singer-songwriter,  to the next generations. Kazehozonkai, while inspired by the music of Shozo Ise, also plays other songs. Iseri is accompanied by Yuji Tsuyama.

Yuji is currently editor of the Newspaper in Education program of the Kumamoto Daily Newspaper. Born in 1958, he graduated from the Kumamoto University and joined the paper in 1981. He began his career in the newspaper as a reporter, later becoming a copy editor. He  enjoys listening to and playing folk and rock music.

Kazehozonkai is not a ‘big’ name (at least, not yet) but I think that the Japanese community and music lovers will enjoy listening to them (as much as I and my husband did!). I am not a music expert (so please forgive my bias) but listening to their songs made our breakfast that December morning more enjoyable and relaxing. Don’t expect much drama or rock-star-gyrating performance but expect to be serenaded and brought to a place where there are sweet notes of nostalgia, bittersweet memories, and heartfelt joys and awakenings.

Here are links to two of the duo’s performances. I have also asked Iseri to translate the songs into English.

Nijunisainowakare (“22-year-old farewell”)

Lyrics’ translation

That I can say “Good-bye” to you is only today. If I touch your warm hand tomorrow, probably I couldn’t say it. I could no longer wait for you and I have chosen the happiness, which appears in front of me.

You placed 22 candles on the cake on my birthday, and you said “Each candle was your life.”  From the 17th candle, we lit together.

This memory seems to me as if it were only yesterday. Now these 5 years may be called “Too long spring” for me, who is about to marry the man whom you don’t know. If you hear my wish, I hope you to remain you, of now, all the time, from now on. (Translated by M. Iseri)

Kaigandori (“Seaside Street”)

Lyrics’ translation

You have chosen a ship. Is it from your consideration for me?

Why didn’t I notice that a cord that links a person to a departing passenger, to see him off, was cut? The sun setting in the harbor is very beautiful, isn’t it?

 The ship you boarded is getting smaller.

 The sea of the daybreak is sad. It is seen from you by the seaside street.

I should have remained a ‘younger sister’, as you said. I did not want to hear, in your gentle arm, that you will leave this town someday.

The ship you boarded is getting smaller, leaving waves in the sea, just like yesterday. (Translated by M. Iseri)

These two songs really stirred my soul and when Iseri sent me the English translations, I fully understood why I felt some bittersweet kind of emotions when I listened to them the first time. 🙂

Kazehozonkai also performs pop and soft rock music and here is its rendition of Hotel California (by Eagles).

I hope that through this post, you will know more about Japan and find another reason to reconnect with old friends, near and far.  Someday soon, I will be traveling to Japan again (this time with a husband beside me!), reconnect with Iseri and my other friends there, and hopefully, stay longer.





Allchin, D. (n.d.) The poisoning of Minamata. Retrieved from

Minamata City Government. (n.d.). Minamata, Environmental City – Model Environmental City Manual. Retrieved from

Recommended reading: Lessons from Minamata Disease and Mercury Management in Japan, Ministry of the Environment (Japan). Retrieved from

Image credits:

Minamata City image credit (top-most): Act-B Recycling Company (through “Yunoko”), retrieved from


This is not a paid blog. There is no request for donation but I hope you can plant a tree/s on your birthday/s. 🙂

Of sky ways and serendipitous moments – envisioning sky bike lanes for Metro Manila

The proposed (commissioned) project, Klarastaden, a series of apartment structures and elevated sidewalks ("skyways"), planned to be built in downtown Stockholm.(Image credits: Anders Berensson Architects. This image also appeared in TechInsider.)

The proposed (commissioned) project, Klarastaden, a series of apartment structures and elevated sidewalks (“skyways”), planned to be built in downtown Stockholm.(Image credits: Anders Berensson Architects. This image also appeared in TechInsider.)

Note: This article first appeared in my Linked Pulse page. (Image credits: Anders Berensson Architects. This image also appeared in TechInsider.)

UPDATE: I am requesting feedback from Metro Manila residents. If you are from Metro Manila (or usually travel here), please answer a brief survey form here. You may also want to drop by the interim website for this dream project. Thank you!


Metro Manila’s traffic – why this idea came about

Sky bike lanes, anyone?

For a Metro Manila resident like me, this seems like a bright idea. The worsening traffic situation in Metro Manila has always been cited as among the most urgent problems that the country’s administrators should be dealing with. In fact, a study done by traffic and navigation app, Waze, revealed that Metro Manila has the “worst traffic on earth”, on a city level perspective (Waze, 2015). Through the Waze study, it was estimated that travel time here–from home to the work place–is about 45.5 minutes. The article did not indicate actual points of origin and destination but let us assume that the average is a good representation of the respondents’ daily commute. However, there may be some discrepancy if the respondents are mostly commuters who use public transportation. (I assume that Waze is mostly used by private car drivers and passengers at this stage.)

Clearly, the government and private sector need to put their acts together in order to come up with clear solutions. The traffic situation in Metro Manila can only be solved through a combination of policy, infrastructural, and behavior-based interventions. (For this article, let me focus on an infrastructural intervention as I also plan to discuss the other two in one of my future posts.)

One of the steps that we can consider is the building of bike lanes–not on the existing road networks but high up there, on elevated platforms. Obviously, Metro Manila’s roads can no longer accommodate new and separate bike lanes. However, is this idea of elevated bike lanes feasible? It has been lingering in my mind for the past couple of months.

The Klarasden’s sky way – can a bike-focused version be done?

They say that the universe “hears” us if we just verbalize our thoughts. I think what happened recently demonstrates that this saying is indeed true. You see, I came across a TechInsider article about the project, Klarastaden, through Linkedin just the other day. (I must thank my new online friend, Pia K Töre-Wallin, again for sharing the link!)

A bike-focused version of the Klarastaden’s sky way is something that crossed my mind a couple of months ago, as my husband and I were walking and discussing how the lives of Metro Manila urbanites are impacted negatively by the horrendous traffic situation. I told him about my dream to build floating or “sky bike lanes” as I called them. Back then, I was half-thinking it is a crazy idea. However, the other half of my brain is saying that the idea is very feasible.

Biking and the provision of bike lanes had always been proposed by environmental advocates but let us admit that Metro Manila can no longer afford to build separate roads for bike lanes (or even divide the existing roads to allow a portion for bike lanes).

Nowadays, there are brave souls who bike to work (how I admire their courage!), right alongside trucks, buses, jeepneys, and cars, so one can imagine the risks and dangers that these bikers are facing everyday (not to mention the health impacts of pollution). Marikina City was able to allot separate bike lanes, unfortunately, it is a small part of Metro Manila only. Nevertheless, we need to commend the city’s efforts and vision.

I have always envisioned a greener and more sustainable Metro Manila where bikers have their “own” roads and pathways and where they will feel safe and happy as they go to their offices and come home to their families.

I have always envisioned a greener and more sustainable Metro Manila where bikers have their “own” roads and pathways and where they will feel safe and happy as they go to their offices and come home to their families .Unfortunately, the city has no more extra space. And that is why I told my husband, “We should build sky bike lanes!”, in my most resolute voice.

“Fast forward” to Tuesday when I saw the article about Klarastaden – it dawned on me that, perhaps, my idea is not a crazy one! Yesterday, when I opened my Linkedin, I saw that two of my friends (one of them is Pia)  also found the idea cool! I eventually surmised that  I can probably work on this topic as my master’s thesis. (I am completing my course work, Master of Environment and Natural Resources Management, this year, at the University of the Philippines – Open University.) [UPDATE as of 16-Feb-16: I am glad to discover yesterday that two cities–Copenhagen and London–are actually thinking of building this type of bike lanes as well! In fact, as of this writing, Copenhagen has already completed  Cykelslangen (or “The Bicycle Snake”) and a bicycle and pedestrian bridge, which they call Bryggebroen. The London version called, SkyCycle, is still under consideration. These positive news certainly motivate me to continue building this idea on and, hopefully, we can also build similar bike lanes for Metro Manila!]

While the idea is beginning to take some shape, a feasibility study is still crucial. It is also important to know if the group of Mr. Berensson (and other stakeholders) will be willing to work with me on this gigantic project. [UPDATE as of 14-Jan-2016: I received a brief but positive and encouraging reply from Mr. Berensson. Nothing is final and no paper has been signed between us but he expressed his initial interest. If all goes well and there is no obstacle such as conflict in schedules, I am hopeful that his team will be on board.]

I propose the setting up of a team through which we can develop a feasibility study and gather support from partners and stakeholders. A sub-team will take care of the research requirements. For example, we will need traffic data, conduct market analysis  and scenario building, look at the demographics and health outcome, calculate GHG emission reduction, compare policy studies, and do other related tasks. Meanwhile, another sub-team can take care of the design part. A consortium may be established later on (e.g., during the construction phase).

This proposed project considers the thinking that, in an ideal world, commuters who use both motorized and non-motorized vehicles should co-exist and share the roads. In fact, in this kind of world, separate or even partially segregated bike lanes are not significantly necessary. In such a world, bikers have more confidence, knowing that they are respected on the road, in the same way that the bikers also know that they need to respect the rights of other drivers. However, it takes time to build this ideal world. Behavioral change evolves over a long time and sometimes, without the necessary impetus and public cooperation, it may not even be realized. In the meantime, the quality of life of Metro Manila dwellers is continuously deteriorating. Either we continue to work for and wait for the ideal world to happen–without any guarantee for success–or do something about our situation now.

The feasibility study will generate more data and insights, which will help us answer the question on viability in a more scientific and comprehensive manner.

Design features and considerations

Many features and considerations must be laid down on the drawing table as we envision such an infrastructure. Here are some of them:

1. To the extent possible, the sky bike lanes must be near or accessible to and from the existing MRT/LRT lines. (It will be better if they can be integrated.)

2. The primary sky bike lanes should pass through or built alongside EDSA and C5 (the city’s core road networks) but should have connecting lanes to other major roads nearest and within the key business districts like  Eastwood Business District, Ortigas Center, and Makati City.

3. This may be a far-fetched or nearly-impossible idea but industrial-sized air purifiers may be installed along the sky bike lanes. Eventually, with more people taking the bikes and leaving their cars at home, pollution level will hopefully go down – but of course, this assumes that the number of bikers will grow progressively as the population also grows. If this idea is really impossible or expansive to do, we can build natural/organic anti-air pollution systems. (See no. 4 below.)

4. To make the design greener and healthier, we can put up small sky gardens or simple plant boxes along or hanging from the inner and outer walls.

5. We can also put solar panels along the outer walls (or roofs). This will depend on many factors, of course, but we can also look at its feasibility.

Structural soundness

We also need to look at issues related to structural soundness. Two aspects should be at the top of the list.

1. The system should apply a forward-looking design. The bike lanes will most likely become very popular that an increasing number of people would want to use it over the years. How can we ensure a stable design? Of course, we cannot build very wide bike lanes but our design should be wide enough that they can accommodate more bikers in the long term.

2. The design should also consider locational and environmental challenges (e.g., natural disasters or “acts of God” like earthquake, strong typhoons, etc.).

Financing considerations

Moreover, the idea, if indeed viable, requires massive inputs and resources. The following are potential entry points for resource mobilization and financing.

1. Foremost in mind (as well as suggested by a friend and former project colleague, Abby Catucod) is a public-private partnership (PPP) structure that may be established for this undertaking. Development agencies may likewise be tapped.

2. There should be private sector “buy-in” to distribute and share some of the costs. For example, malls and shopping centers can fund the lanes near them but they may be allowed to build small side cafes or drink kiosks–these will be useful for thirsty/hungry bikers; to encourage more bikers, banks may be requested or required to offer loans for the purchase of bicycles (particularly for those who need them).

3. We must ensure sustainable upkeep and maintenance. For example, should the use be totally free for the public? Or should there be minimal users’ fees similar to the practice of toll fees? Will a payment scheme make the people use it less? Are people willing to pay? A market study may be able to help us answer these questions.

Policy scenarios and climate change

Finally, we also need to look at the implication and contribution to the over-arching goals on climate change mitigation and adaptation and sustainable development. For one, it must be stressed that the construction of sky bike lanes should happen alongside other transportation-related policies and interventions such as improvement of mass transport systems, use of cleaner fuels, and better transportation demand management.

I have been part of a study called, Integrated Environmental Strategies, in 2004 and through the project, our team looked at different transport-related policy scenarios and their combination. The analysis– which involved modeling (to estimate emissions reduction), health effects estimation, and economic valuation–predicted a significant improvement in air quality if all or most of the different policies are implemented. While the study team did not see any significant reduction in the level of particulate matter (PM) through the use of bike lanes alone, “applying the combination of measures…is forecast to cause a dramatic improvement in PM levels” (McNamara, et al., 2005).

Our 2004 study did not focus significantly on the impact to traffic reduction so the future team must look at this area. Some of the IES approach may actually be useful. (For those interested to read our Final Report, you may get a copy from this link. The material is also listed in the References below.)

I hope that this exploratory material will excite many potential stakeholders and, together, we can ponder on this further, and hopefully, make it possible. This is rather brief so I hope to keep on updating it in the course of the next few weeks or possibly write new updates.

I would appreciate it if you can respond to a quick/informal survey, which I had developed for this idea. Please go to this link. You may also want to drop by the interim website for this dream project. Thank you!


McNamara, D., Subida, R., Velas, M.A., Andres, F., Vergel, K., Anglo E.,…Ibay, A.C. (2005). Integrated Environmental Strategies – Philippines Project Report Metropolitan Manila (Focus on the Transport Sector), Manila Observatory. Available at

Waze. (2015). Global Driver Satisfaction Index. Available at


This is not a paid blog. There is no request for donation but please plant a tree on your birthday/s.

The National Greening Program and climate action

Mangrove trees need to be protected and planted. They offer multiple uses and benefits. (Photo courtesy of Science Nutshell/M. Berry/S. Karstens/M. Lukas)

Mangrove trees need to be protected and planted. They offer multiple uses and benefits. (Photo courtesy of Science Nutshell/M. Berry/S. Karstens/M. Lukas)

(Note: This is a copy of a paper that I had submitted in ENRM 236: Governance of Upland Ecosystems, in November 2014. I am currently enrolled in the course, Master of Environment and Natural Resources Management in UPOU.)

I. Introduction

The horrors of super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) may probably linger in our minds for as long as we live. Many wondered and are still puzzled as to how a country that is so used to strong typhoons and cyclones seems to be still unprepared to the magnitude of strong typhoons like Yolanda, which caused the loss of more than 6,300 lives and more than 1,000 still missing (NDRRMC, 2014).

The aftermath and damage of Yolanda as well as all the other equally-damaging typhoons paint a gruesome picture to our national landscape. We (those who have not been significantly affected) can go on with our lives without much of ‘psychological scars’ but the memories will forever be painfully etched for those who have lost their loved ones, homes, and properties.

Now, in the quiet after the storm, we are faced with two clear choices: (a) to simply go on with our lives not really caring or (b) doing something meaningful that will have lasting impact to the lives of others. The second choice can be done through an act that is as simple as planting a tree, most especially, a mangrove tree. Why mangrove trees? What program can we look at to give us the bigger picture of reforestation as part of our country’s climate action? Through this brief paper, we are taking a closer look at the National Greening Program of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) with focus on mangrove trees.

II. Multi-tasking mangrove trees (a snapshot from literature)

Mangrove trees do significant environmental services. They are typically medium in height and very tolerant, allowing them to survive in brackish water. The Philippines are believed to be hosting more than 50% of the world’s 70 mangrove species (FPE, 2014).  Mangrove trees’ benefits are summarized below:

  • providing protection and shelter against extreme weather events, such as storm surges, floods, and tsunamis. Mangroves absorb and disperse tidal surges, for example, “a mangrove stand of 30 trees per 0.01 hectare with a depth of 100 m can reduce the destructive force of a tsunami by up to 90%” (Hirashi and Harada, 2003, as cited in Wetlands International, n.d.)
  • acting as carbon sink by absorbing significant amount of carbon dioxide; mangrove trees are capable of absorbing up to 4 times more carbon than their counterpart in tropical rainforests (Ranada, 2013).
  • providing habitat, food and nourishment for rich varieties of animal and plant species (e.g., many marine and fish species reproduce and spend time in the mangroves as juveniles or adults (Wetlands International, n.d.).
  • contributing to ecological balance by preventing sedimentation, which leads to siltation in coral reefs; accumulated soil and debris also facilitates the expansion of lands (FPE, 2014).
    • producing timber and plant products as these species of trees are useful and valuable; wood from mangrove trees are perfect for construction and are commercially used for pulp, wood chip, fuel, and charcoal production; meanwhile, certain species are used for medicinal purposes (WWF, n.d.)
    • Contributing to tourism revenues as they add beauty to  beachfronts and coastal communities; the diversity of marine species in the areas also attracts snorkeling enthusiasts (WWF, n.d.).

Indeed, mangrove trees provide valuable environmental services and are proofs of how rich and blessed our country is. Their significance should also be seen in the context of climate change. More severe weather events are expected in this part of the world. Storm surges, such as those that happened in Tacloban City, are caused by extreme or very strong typhoon winds, which eventually cause sea waters to surge over and submerge coastal towns. Super typhoon Yolanda was observed to have caused storm surges of up to five meters high (McIvor et al., 2012b, as cited in Primavera, 2013).

While mangrove trees will not stop strong tidal waves and storm surges, they do tend to lessen impact and act as buffer zone. They also absorb carbon dioxide, which significantly contributes to the rise in global temperature.  Indeed, mangrove trees are our multi-tasking super-trees! It then becomes necessary that mangrove areas’ rehabilitation be an indispensable part of any greening and reforestation initiative. Let us now consider DENR’s National Greening Program.

III. Understanding the National Greening Program

The NGP is primarily a two-pronged initiative, contributing to climate change mitigation efforts and poverty alleviation by addressing the need for livelihood of marginalized upland communities and even lowland families (DENR, n.d.).  The program involves reforestation in public lands such as forestlands, mangrove and protected areas, ancestral domains, civil and military reservation, sites targeted for urban greening, inactive mining areas, and other suitable lands. (DENR, n.d.) What is noteworthy about the program is its multi-agency approach, requiring government agencies to conduct their own tree-planting activities. For example, agencies such as the Departments of Labor and Employment, Justice, National Defense, and Interior and Local Government, Education, and Public Works and Highways have issued circulars and administrative orders requiring their regional offices to conduct tree-planting activities.

Rehabilitation of mangrove areas is part of the goals of NGP. It is targeted to cover about 380 kilometers of coastline (Ranada, 2013). Region 8, being prone to strong typhoons, is among its beneficiaries. Aside from its participation in the NGP, Eastern Visayas is also conducting the Leyte Gulf Rehabilitation program, which had been allotted a budget of P38 million. It targets to rehabilitate the mangrove and beach forest areas from Palo, Leyte to San Juanico Bridge, Tacloban City, and other areas along the San Juanico Gulf (spanning the provinces of Leyte, Samar and Eastern Samar) and covering about 38.5 km of coastline (DENR Region 8, n.d.).

IV.  Success and criticisms

The NGP covers all the regions and has so far led to the planting of more than 397 million trees (DENR, 2014). Region 8 (Eastern Visayas), which has been significantly damaged by Yolanda, is indeed benefiting from the NGP. In 2013, a report has indicated that the government is planning to reconfigure the plans for Eastern Visayas primarily because of super typhoon Yolanda; more focus will be given to the rehabilitation of coastal areas over reforestation efforts in upland areas (Ranada, 2013). So far, tree-planting activities are taking place in coastal areas in Tacloban City and Dulag town in Leyte; Guiuan, Llorente, and Balangiga in Eastern Samar; and Basey in Samar (Ranada, 2013). Meanwhile, Borongan, Easter Samar has already targeted the planting of mangrove trees in about 1,150 hectares in the Leyte Gulf area (Azura, 2014).

There are accounts of successful implementation. For example, the program had been observed as directly assisting communities because it requires the employment of locals, many of whom have been rendered jobless after Yolanda’s wrath.

However, there had been problems and criticisms as well. The following are just some of them:

  • failure to adopt science-based protocols in mangrove rehabilitation. For example, planting at the seafront is not ideal because it leads to high mortality (i.e., the lower intertidal to subtidal location is not a favorable spot for mangrove trees) (Primavera, 2013).
  • planting of wrong species of trees or devoting more areas for fast-growing species meant for commercial purposes (Ranada, 2014)
  • lack of massive and serious educational and social marketing programs (Primavera, 2013)
  • planting of wrong species of trees (e.g., fast-growing bamboo varieties, which cannot withstand storm surges and low water supply) (Primavera, 2013).
  • expansion of fishponds (many were illegally established) ultimately reduces mangrove areas
  • poor implementation of greenbelt laws (e.g., PD 705 of 1975, PD 953 of 1976, PD 1067, DENR Administrative Order 42 of 1986, DENR AO 76 of 1987, Fisheries Code of 1998, etc.)  (Primavera, 2013)
  • seemingly lopsided view of trees as income-generating goods against the need for protection and conservation; there are reports of intentional burning so that more trees will be funded, ultimately generating income for the planters (Ranada, 2014)
  • weak monitoring instruments (Primavera & Esteban, 2008)

I have also observed that most of the NGP documents and reports focused mainly on the number of trees to be planted and had already been planted rather than the over-all impact to ecological and societal goals. It is understandable that economic gains must be ensured so that the people can benefit equitably from the use of our natural resources. However, I also think that more seriousness and efforts must be given to the meaning of NGP to our long-term survival vis-à-vis climate change and environmental protection.

In the context of mangrove plantation, I think that there is also lesser importance given to it. The projects and reports show small percentage of areas (and funds) given to mangrove rehabilitation. There are also few materials on these very important tree species.

V. Moving forward

We have began this paper by recalling the pains and damages from super typhoon Yolanda. I have chosen this topic because I feel that we need to do more about our coastal ecosystems, primarily, our mangrove areas, in the context of climate change and environmental management. These “multi-tasking” trees deserve more attention than what we are giving them at the moment. The following are just some of the interventions, which we can still do or adopt:

  • our responses should be more “people-centric”; the NGP seems to be partnering with both the public and private sectors, however, I have yet to see a significant number of people or organizations who are actually authentically engaged
  • the NGP managers should also develop reports that meaningfully carry lessons and best practices, and not just show statistics on the number of trees planted or areas covered
  • more massive information dissemination and social marketing must be done and such efforts should not also concentrate on the cold statistics alone
  • the tendency to look at tree-planting as “easy money” sources (thereby, leading to rampant burning) may be prevented by establishing credible third party “Bantay Kagubatan” squads all over the country (e.g., volunteers, students, employees of private offices, etc.)
  • Most importantly, perhaps, we need to “re-appreciate” our forests by connecting them to our spiritual growth—seeing them as our anchor, that ever-nurturing force which gives us strength, refuge, breath, and sustenance. This may be done through more values formation activities and integration in the educational system, faith-based and church organizations, corporate social responsibility interventions, media engagement, and deeper people and private sector engagement.

We need to put our acts together before another Yolanda—probably stronger—hits us again, totally unprepared.


Azura, B. (2014, April 2). CENRO-Borongan to rehabilitate mangroves in coastal areas, Sinirangan News. Available at

Department of Environment and Natural Resources. (2014). National Greening Program Annual Accomplishment Report (2014), NGP Website. Available at

Department of Environment and Natural Resources. (n.d.) National Greening Program, DENR website. Available at and

Department of Environment and Natural Resources – Region 8. (n.d.). EV to benefit from the 1B peso mangrove rehab project. Available at

Foundation of the Philippine Environment (2014, February 17). The Lay of the Land: Ecosystem Diversity in the Philippines (website of the Foundation of the Philippine Environment). Available at

National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. (2014, April 17). Updates regarding the effects of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). Available at

Ranada, P. (2013, November 20) DENR to restore mangrove forests in Yolanda-hit areas, Rappler. Available at

Ranada, P. (2014, June 22). Rethinking the National Greening Program, Rappler. Available at

Rath A. (n.d.). Mangrove importance, World Wildlife Fund website. Available at

Primavera, J. (2013, December 19). Shelter from the storm: Coastal greenbelts of mangroves and beach forests, Philippine Star. Available at

Primavera, J. H., & Esteban, J. M. A. (2008). A review of mangrove rehabilitation in the Philippines: successes, failures and future prospects. Wetlands Ecology and Management, 16(5), 345–358. Available at

Wetlands International (n.d.) Mangrove Forests (Website of Wetland International). Available at


This is not a paid blog. (I do not ask for any donation but I hope you can plant a tree on your birthday/s.)

Environmental Site Assessment Training by INSTEP (Sep 21-22, 2015)

(Note: This is a 3rd party announcement. All inquiries must be sent directly to INSTEP through Mr. Gene Jones. )

Environmental Site Assessment and AAI Training Course (Sep. 21-22, Florida)

Environmental Site Assessment and AAI Training Course (Sep. 21-22, Florida)

The International Society of Technical and Environmental Professionals, Inc. (INSTEP) is inviting interested professionals to attend its Phase I Environmental Site Assessment and All Appropriate Inquiry (AAI) Training Course on September 21-22, in Ft. Myers, Florida.  [There will also be a Licensed Environmental Professional (LEP) Exam. ]

INSTEP has initiated this program to assure that professionals providing Environmental Site Assessments (ESAs) have the acceptable academic background and a minimal level of verifiable appropriate experience.  In this program, elements of the ASTM Phase I ESA Standard E1527, federal standards and practices for All Appropriate Inquiries (AAI), ASTM Phase II ESA Standard E1903, as well as,  ASTM’s E1528 (Standard Practice for Limited Environmental Due Diligence: Transaction Screen Process) will be presented.  The focus of this training course is on these standards and other relevant national and Florida specific issues.

Certification Examination:
All program attendees must apply for and successfully complete an examination covering the following areas:
  •  Applicable federal and state laws and regulations
  • Basic assessment methods and the ASTM E 1527 and
  • E 1528 Standards as well as, federal standards and practices for All Appropriate Inquiries (AAI)
  • Ethical and legal considerations for the consultant

Upon completion and passage of the exam, each participant will receive a certificate stating that they are a Licensed Environmental Professional (LEP) certification from INSTEP.

NOTE:   The course is NOT an Exam Review or Exam Preparation Program and attendance of the Program is not required to sit for the Examination.

Educational and Experience Requirements:
In order to qualify for the LEP certification one must meet one of the following requirements:
  • Be a professional engineer or professional geologist, with the equivalent of three years of full-time relevant experience;
  • Be licensed or certified by the federal government, a state, tribal entity, with the equivalent of three years of full-time relevant experience;
  • Have a 4-year or higher degree in a relevant discipline of engineering, environmental science, or earth science and the equivalent of five years of full-time relevant experience; or
  • Have the equivalent of ten (10) years of full-time relevant experience.
Source: International Society of Technical & Environmental Professionals (INSTEP)

For course and registration information, call Gene Jones at 850-558-0617.

Post Office Box 38070 Tallahassee, FL  32315-8070

Telephone: (850) 558-0617  Fax:  (850) 386-4321

Home Page:


This is not a paid blog. (I do not ask for any donation but I hope you can plant a tree on your birthday/s.) (Full disclosure: I am a member of INSTEP since 2014.)

Landscape ecology page in Facebook!

This will just be a very quick post as I am in the middle of work deadlines, business affairs, school work, and personal and domestic errands (whew!). I also just came back from a short trip to Iloilo City (one of my favorite places down south) and our project team needs to work on important deliverables. I wish everyone–who is also experiencing hectic schedules–positive energies and strength! May we all accomplish our goals for the week and the months and years ahead!

Connect and learn with us! [The image here is a screenshot of our FB Page.]

Connect and learn with us! [The image here is a screenshot of our FB Page.]

Anyway, I am happy to share with you that our Landscape Ecology class in UPOU* has developed a Facebook page called Leaders and Learners for Landscape Ecology! It is devoted to discussions on landscape ecology and environment in general.  [Update: The original site was created and administered by a fellow graduate student (who seems to be very passionate about the environment!), Mr. Anton Antonio, however, we had experienced problems in accessing it the past month so we have created a new page.] For this academic year, I was invited by Sir Jun (Dr. Inocencio Buot Jr., Dean of the Faculty of Management and Development Studies of the UPOU) to help in managing it. I am both pleased and humbled to take on this role and hope to be able to help in small ways in promoting deeper love for Mother Earth, through this FB page. I must also mention my classmate, Ruen Balmores, who volunteered to help me out in managing the site. He is, in fact, overseas so his gesture to help means a lot. Thank you so much, Anton, Dean Jun, and Ruen! Mabuhay kayong lahat!

I won’t keep you so you still have time to visit the page! Please visit it and know more about landscape ecology, climate change, and the environment and connect with like-minded citizens. We will also be happy if you can send questions, comments, and suggestions.

Caring for the environment is the best way to show our love to our fellow brothers and sisters. Most importantly, when we care for the environment, it shows how much we appreciate our roots and our greatest Source.


*I am currently taking the course, Master of Environment and Natural Resources Management (MENRM).


This is not a paid blog. (I do not ask for any donation but I hope you can plant a tree on your birthday/s.)

The meiLBOX 5+1 Project is now in Instagram!

Hello dear readers! I am happy to let you know that  The meilBOX 5+1 Project is now in Instagram (IG)! We can now swap updates and photos there! Here is the link.

I used to enjoy Facebook but I think that Instagram suits me better. For one, I do enjoy photography and being in Instagram allows us to share pictures as well as savor the beautiful work of other photo buffs. Thanks to my hubby and business partner, JR, I was able to learn how IG works! The use of hashtags was so “beyond me” at first but IG is worth the learning curve. Just seeing all those beautiful sites and photos make it worthwhile! Thanks to you guys and gals who created and continue to make IG a free platform for sharing and inspiring creativity.

Here is a couple of the first pictures that I posted there.

See this and other pictures of trees in the meilBOX 5+1 Project IG page. [Photo by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin]

Have you planted a tree recently? Let’s swap stories. Join me in my Instagram page! [Photo by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin]

meiLBOX 5+1 Project_IG post-4

To love and to hold. [Photo by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin]

Since The meilBOX 5+1 Project is about trees and letter-writing, I would be posting mostly pictures that I have taken of trees. [UPDATE as of Jan 2017: I realized it is better to include other subjects as well and make it a personal gallery page instead].

I will continue to use the site in sharing the pictures of tree-lovers and letter-writers who will participate in this project. If you are among them, please send me your pictures* (via the email addresses I had indicated in the project’s page here) and/or you can directly tag me through IG. You can do this by adding @the.meilbox.project and #meilbox in your IG post.

I will also appreciate it a lot if you can help me in passing the word around about this project. The more people who knows about this, the more letters we can send, the more love we can express and share, and the more trees we can plant!

Please help me in making this a greener, healthier, and happier world! Namaste!




*You can share/post any of these pictures: (i) a picture showing you in the post office as you mailed your letters/postcards; (ii) a picture showing the stamped letters that you are sending out (please don’t take a picture unless you are already in the post office and are actually sending the letters out); and (iii) a picture of you planting a tree.


This is not a paid blog. (I do not ask for any donation but I hope you can plant a tree on your birthday/s.)

Solar energy for Filipino households: Is it viable?*

[For a more detailed discussion of this topic, please download the full paper. The link is embedded in this post.]

The Philippines, being an archipelagic nation, is considered as among the most threatened countries in the world when it comes to climate change. In fact, according to the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an increase in annual rainfall and rainfall variability in the Philippines since the 1980s are already being observed and these trends are expected to cause the most serious impacts in the future.  It had been ranked as the highest country in the world in terms of vulnerability to cyclone occurence (CCC, 2011). The Philippines will continue to expect an increase in extreme weather events–the most recent is super typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda)–including tropical cyclones and droughts. Natural disasters in the last 20 years had affected 80 million people, making it as a country with one of the highest levels of mortality risk, scoring 8 out of 9 from the UNISDR’s Mortality Risk Index (CFU, 2011). A continuing rise in the sea level is expected and this will significantly impact residents and communities in coastal areas. Climate change is a daily reality in the Philippines and significantly causing challenges and difficulties in agriculture, fisheries, manufacturing, and almost all if not all of the country’s industries.

The idea of low carbon development (LCD) may have began many years ago but several sources say that it was first used or adopted formally during the Rio Convention of the United Nations Framework Convention (UNFCCC) in 1992. This strategy is being taken by both developed and developing countries that aspire to deal with climate change through the adoption of low carbon development pathways, green growth, reduction of dependency on fossil fuels, and thereby, reduction of greenhouse gases (GHGs) (ESMAP, n.d.).

This post looks primarily at LCD particularly the use of clean or renewable energy (RE) as a form of low carbon intervention. RE is considered as a good example because it can contribute to GHG mitigation, is practical, can be done at the household level, and supported by legislation [1] (with the enactment of Republic Act 9513 or the Renewable Energy Law of 2008).

It is about time that Filipinos appreciate RE more deeply, particularly that the cost of electricity here is very expensive. Tiglao (2014) reported that “based on Meralco’s tariffs (using residential rates of 200 kilowatt hours per month consumption) which averaged 24 US cents per kilowatt hour in 2013, the price we way for our electricity, believe it or not, is the fifth highest in the world.” He further elaborated that “if our electricity prices were the criterion for membership, we are in the league of the richest countries in Europe, and our rates are even a bit higher than Japan (Kansai region), 24 US cents, and Singapore, 23 cents.” Indeed, I have made my own comparisons, and our rate here in Quezon City for April 2014 was higher than a friend’s rate in Boston, US!

There is indeed a strong clamor for lower electricity rates and this can be a very effective intervention where people can feel, on the gut level, the benefit of being more responsible ecologically. Forget about the rah rah rah on highfalutin concepts–people don’t really get them nor do they have the time to think about them when they are still agonizing over their latest Meralco bills–let us show practical ways in which people can really go the environmental way and really feel that they are getting something out of it. Making RE more accessible and understood may ultimately lead to wider household-level application. This will address the question, “What is in it for me?”

Certainly, renewable energy–as with climate change and low carbon development–must be demystified. Ownership of decisions begins with knowledge and acceptance. Renewable energy will continue to be just among those misunderstood concepts, away from personal priorities, as long as it is never made familiar and accessible. And this is why I am writing this piece.

This post (and even the full paper where this came from) is not very exhaustive.  What it hopes to do is develop a simple analysis on the viability of the shift to solar energy at the household level in the Philippines (relying on a small set of data) [2], particularly from seven selected households in the NCR). A quick literature review (online sources) reveals that there are estimates done already but most if not all are done by solar panel suppliers and do not give the complete picture (e.g., actual costs that consider interest rates of loans from banks, etc.) Again, this blog is rather short so if you want to read my full paper (draft and unpublished), you may download it by clicking this:  Low Carbon Development at the Household Level_M Velas-Suarin_19 May 2014

Based on the calculations, these seven families may be able to convert to solar power at an investment of roughly PhP 66,200 (roughly about USD 1,512.11) for a household system with a requirement of 87 kWh to PhP 316,800 (about USD 7,236.18) for a household system with a requirement of 409 kWh. Assuming that the conversion will be made possible through bank loans with loan tenor of 10 years, the families in this study will reach the “recovery point” (vis-a-vis their current costs of electricity and cost of investments) beginning from the last quarter of the 7th to the middle of the 11th years.

In simple terms, this means that the families will begin enjoying “free electricity” beginning from the 8th to 11th years and onwards. Assuming that the solar power systems installed have a life span of 25 years [3], the families will be enjoying “free electricity” for 14 to 17 years, worth about PhP 134,400 (about USD 3,069.89) to about PhP 1,076,675 (about USD 24,592.85).

To look at one household more closely, say, “Household Red” (with consumption of 409 kWh/month), its estimated investment cost of PhP 316,800 (PhP 481,793 including interests) can be covered through a bank loan, which may require an average monthly amortization of PhP 4,014.94 only (again, using a 10-year tenor). This is lower than the household’s Meralco bill of roughly PhP 5,277 a month! See the table below for a summary of the calculations for the seven households. (Note that this is Table 12 in the paper.)

A table summarizing the calculations of investment costs for converting to solar energy, based on 7 households. [Image by M. Velas-Suarin. See the full paper for a fuller discussion.]

A table summarizing the calculations of investment costs for converting to solar energy, based on 7 households. [Image by M. Velas-Suarin. See the full paper for a fuller discussion.]

These calculations did not consider the possibility of earning rebates by being connected to the grid. They also did not consider the yearly degradation of the solar systems and whether the families will have higher level of consumption in the future. Nevertheless, installing a solar system is still a viable project in terms of reducing family expenditure for electricity and being more ecologically-responsible. At the worst case scenario, they will enjoy “free electricity” for a significant amount of time, say, 12 years.

To reiterate, the process of calculation done for my paper (which I consider for further development, for example, for my graduate course work**) is quite simplistic. Other factors and assumptions must be considered in the future. Factors such as reversal or billing or rebates–which may be considered as savings or income if the household systems are connected to the grid–must be considered. For example, Section 7 of the RE law’s Implementing Rules and Regulations have provisions for a net metering system, a system that allows a generator of electricity to have two-way metering scheme where he will be charged for the electricity he consumes and credited for the energy he produces and eventually contributes to the grid. (See Climate Change and Clean Energy Project in the references for the links to the RE Law and its IRR.)

Over all, the conversion to solar energy at the household level is very viable, even for low-income families. However, the government and the private sector should continue to work together to ensure the system’s affordability and availability of better financing, for example, in the form of low-interest loan packages and subsidized/socialized arrangements for the lower income group. The interest rate used in this brief study is 7.5%, based on a commercial bank’s long-term rate (with collateral). The market should appreciate that households can be motivated to shift to more ecologically-friendly lifestyle if there are enough drivers and incentives. The government and market should adequately provide such mechanisms for wider public engagement and positive action.

Low carbon development: What is in it for me?

How can people take climate change and low carbon development more personally and in the process, engage in public discourses and more positive action? How can people actually see it as beneficial to them on a more personal level? Basic things must be considered first, among other things:

  • people prioritize their economic security and for as long as environment and climate change are seen as entirely separate things/concepts, it will be tough convincing people to address them or relate them to their daily decision-making;
  • climate change and LCD ‘compete’ with more urgent, dramatic, and emotional issues of our times–even if climate change actually makes living in a tropical country more risky and dangerous (one cannot think of solar panels when he is hungry!); and
  • a system of reward and incentives must be practiced at the household and community levels so everyone feels responsible, developing or increasing a form of social pact and solidarity.

Therefore, any intervention must consider and respect individual desires and aspirations, which ultimately drive people toward decision-making and concrete actions. For example, a family will not be motivated to shift to more environment-friendly lifestyle such as the use of cleaner energy if it considers the shift as costly, time-consuming, bureaucracy-laden, and technically difficult.It is hoped that this post can contribute to advocacy and social marketing efforts and stronger policy review and implementation. It is also hoped that this will lead to more in-depth studies and analysis in the future.After all, any law’s relevance should be measured in how well it protects the welfare of individuals and communities and such a protection takes the reality–that everything begins in the personal level–into consideration. Any societal transformation requires a personal commitment.

[1] Note, however, that the RE Law is still a relatively new law so certain assumptions must still be done (e.g., performance of household on-grid systems).

[2] The author used the actual electricity bills of seven households in her personal networks, current rate of interest for financing through a bank loan, and quotation from a Philippine suppliers or solar panels and systems

[3] Based on industry estimates. The rated power output of solar panels typically degrades at about 0.5%/year. The majority of manufacturers offer the 25-year standard solar panel warranty, which means that power output should not be less than 80% of rated power after 25 years (Maehlum, 2014). More details and explanation are in the Maehlum article. See references in the full paper for the source URL.

*This post is based on and mainly carries excerpts from the paper that I had submitted in the course, Low Carbon Development-Integrated Course, an e-learning course provided by the World Bank eInstitute. I had been very lucky to have been accepted for the 29 April to 19 May 2014 run of the course. Thank you, WB eInstitute!

**I am currently a student of the program, Master of Environment and Natural Resources Management (MENRM), at the University of the Philippines Open University.


Climate Change and Energy Project. (2013). The text of the RE Law was accessed at while the law’s IRR was accessed at

Climate Change Commission. (2011). National Climate Change Action Plan 2011-2028 (Philippines). Available at

Climate Funds Update. (2011). Update on recipient country – Philippines.

Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (n.d.). Low carbon development. Available at

Tiglao, R. (2014, January 9). High electricity costs root of our backwardness. The Manila Times. Retrieved 7 May 2014 from


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