Tag Archives: Environment

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

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.)

This very timely course allows learners a deeper understanding of climate change vis-a-vis agriculture and natural resources management. [Photo by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin]

Philippine Agenda 21: Setbacks and hopes for the future*

We can no longer take our environment for granted. (Photo by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

We can no longer take our environment for granted. (Photo by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

Given the current state of the environment, the Philippines (along with many countries all over the world) did not fare well in terms of achieving or accomplishing the goals and objectives lined up in Agenda 21. The insights of our class members as well as the authors of different assessment papers reflect the general assessment that the country did not even accomplish half of what was intended or hoped for (Assessment of the Philippine Agenda 21, 2012, p. 29). The official assessment paper (2012) summarized the three glaring developments that somehow contributed to the slow progress of PA 21 and the worsening state of the Philippine economy, society, and environment:

o Economic, environmental, and social problems have persisted and even worsened (e.g., population growth, social disparities, pollution, deterioration of the environment, etc.);

o New challenges and risks have been compounding the already fragile state of the environment and the economy (e.g., climate change and accompanying natural disasters, unsustainable use of resources, etc.)

o Changes in priorities and approaches of the administrations after 1998 have relegated the importance of ‘sustainable development’ as a guiding principle (Assessment of the Philippine Agenda 21, 2012, p. 3)

PA21 had a lot of promises and put a strong message across, however, it “became a weak advocacy when subjected to the economic objectives of the nation.   PA21, in order to work, necessitates the changing of the framework and guardians of development from fundamental economics” (Draft Report: Philippine Rio+20, 2012, p. 37).

This reflection underlines the importance (and necessity) of developing and implementing development strategies that are strongly anchored on ecological principles and considerations. A country cannot be considered rich or its people prosperous if the  environment is degraded and in a sorry state.

Why did PA21 not deliver?

It is not fair to categorically that PA21 is a total failure. It was not. For one, it shows the country’s deep appreciation of ‘sustainable development’ as a concept and as a guiding principle. Secondly, it demonstrated a strong political will amid eras of weak governance structures. Many will agree that the launching of PA21 was probably the highest point of the administration of then President Fidel V. Ramos. As Malayang (1999) succinctly said, “…it carries a high level of legitimacy and has a significant social, political, and moral competence as such.”

Third, while there had been perceived “intervention gaps and omissions,” (Assessment of the Philippine Agenda 21, 2012, p. 29), it sets the foundation for a better and stronger policy environment and institutional development. It is not up to us to justify the seemingly slow progress of PA21 but the reality is that changes do not happen overnight; it is really up to our generation and the next to build on from what others had began and established and fix what needs fixing.

For the sake of understanding the slow progress of PA 21, the assessment paper offered the following insights:

o “The role and nature of the interventions partly explain the low ecosystem score. The available interventions, despite their strategic importance, have had little capacity to change or improve the conditions along the criterion in question, the low scores may be attributed to the low level of PPPP (policies, plans, programs, and projects) implementation and intervention gaps and omissions;

o The presence of intervention gaps and omissions reflects the failure to resolve governance issues and put in place the required governance mechanisms; and

o Although the governance is a determinant of the quality and adequacy of interventions–and hence the resolution of policy gaps and omissions–it does not merely apply to how a particular intervention is carried out. At another level, governance underlies the quality of all interventions across the four criteria.[1] It is substantively a criterion in itself…” (Assessment of the Philippine Agenda 21, 2012, p. 30)

I think that such an assessment is right on the dot. We have accomplished so much in terms of crafting the needed laws and policies and adopting international covenants but we have very weak governance structures, both in the national and local levels.

A perfect example is the governance structure in the environment sector. We have the Department of Environment and Natural Resources as the lead agency in all matters that govern the environment (including conservation, protection, and management) but it is also the same one that issues permits for mining and logging. It is like hiring a gardener who is tasked to protect your garden but equally given the discretion and powers to allow neighbors to harvest fruits and vegetables from it. In an ideal world where everyone is honest, this might work. However, reality dictates that such a conflict of interests within one body invites confusion, inefficiency, and corruption.

Putting PA21 back on track

Clearly, PA21 could have been a good start but it was marred by societal, economic, and institutional/systemic weaknesses and challenges. Even the document in itself had gaping holes, for example, baseline were not discussed and analyzed and most of the strategies do not have objectively verifiable indicators (Assessment of the Philippine Agenda 21, 2012, pp. 4-5).

Trying my best to avoid repeating what others already said about the ways to move forward, I recommend the following steps and strategies with the caveat that some of these may have already been articulated before:

o Improve, ‘re-energize’/reinstate PA21 and the Philippine Council for Sustainable Development (or a similar agency) as clear policy and institutional bases for sustainable development; ensure that PA21 (its improved version) is the framework that will be seriously adopted in development planning;

o Revisit the role of DENR (and other environment-related government agencies) and develop a stronger governance structure (e.g., establishment of an environmental protection agency, among other things);

o Review of all environmental laws and regulations and analyze which ones contradict each other, need enhancement/amendments, and lack enforcement mechanisms;

o Strengthen the capacity of local governments to enforce environmental regulations and protect their environment vis-a-vis the Local Government Code and existing mechanisms such as the local development councils;

o Strengthen environmental education and ensure this is meaningfully integrated in educational curriculum in both public and private schools;

o Launch a nationwide values formation and social marketing campaign to link corruption with poverty and environmental degradation; put media to task and require all media outlets to render public service (e.g., offering free airtime) for broadcasting/publishing of important environmental- and development-focused messages; and

o Establish formal PPP (public-private) mechanisms where everyone can contribute to setting up and management of environmental funds, education, programs, and policy/lobby work.

More importantly, there should be personal reckoning and transformation in every one of us–the environment is our source of life and sustenance; we can no longer regard it recklessly and impudently.

       We are part of the failures and successes of the past and future PA 21; we are answerable to our children and the future generations that they will bear.

[1] Natural capital protection, equity, poverty eradication, and efficiency in resource use.

*This is an essay/reflection that this author had submitted to Dr. Joane V. Serrano, faculty-in-charge for ENRM 221, Socio-cultural Perspectives on the Environment, UPOU, 16 January 2014.


Civil Society Counterpart for Sustainable Development. (2012). Draft report: Philippine Rio+20, country paper (civil society organization). Manila, Philippines: Lingkod Tao-Kalikasan. Retrieved from http://lingkodtaokalikasan.org

 Malayang, B.S. (1999). Socio-cultural principles of human environment interactions. Quezon City, Philippines: UP Open University.

National Economic and Development Authority. (2012). Assessment  of the Philippine Agenda 21: The prospects for a green economy, and the institutional framework for sustainable development (Final draft). Pasig City, Philippines: National Economic and Development Authority. Retrieved from http://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/1033philippines.pdf


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

Environment and its state of degradation: A case of emotional and moral disconnect?*

Children deserve clean rivers where they can swim in full abandon.

Children deserve clean rivers where they can swim in full abandon.

Life is a continuing journey and my understanding of the environment continues to change and evolve over time. I grew up in Manila but spent many summer vacations in Aurora, my mother’s hometown, where the rivers are still crystal clear. Back then, I knew early on that we must be doing something awfully wrong in the city because our rivers are murky and dirty.

It gives me a certain sadness when I see young children swimming in the dirty waters of Pasig River and Manila Bay. How can our society allow this? Children deserve clean and crystal-clear waters, just like the rivers of my childhood, where I can play and wade–I never really learned how to swim properly–in full abandon. I cannot forget when my niece once asked me, during a trip to Aurora, “Why are rivers here in Aurora clean?” She got so used to seeing dirty river waters in Metro Manila that seeing a clean river surprised her immensely (Velas-Suarin, 2011, para. 4).

My UP education and later, my work experiences, opened my eyes further to the realities of poverty, of industrialization that relies on consumerism and extractive industries, of forests that continue to disappear. I hungered for more knowledge and experiences and the more I dig in, the more I realize that we are creating too much imbalance around us. We extract more than we give and return.

I have chosen a profession in the social development and environment sector as it allows me to grow as a person and at the same time contribute, albeit in small ways, toward improving our situation. If I can convince more people to plant trees or clean up rivers and waterways, I would really be grateful. I know that we can never really go back to how things were before but a future where we can be more responsible consumers and stewards is still very possible.

The state of our environment has let me to this path. There are still many questions in my mind and I still have to fathom the meaning of life completely, but one thing that is constant and that is environment. She is that indispensable element of our existence; the completeness of things, those physical objects and living things, those sparks and energies and magic that envelope us, nurture us, and make us live to fulfill our true destiny.

Environment is the cradle where we fall asleep; it is the first light that we see when we are born; the very last sound that we hear as we move on to higher dimensions. It is simple yet complex (Malayang, 1999, p.3). It gives us sustenance, always giving, always forgiving. Yet, it could mean destruction and havoc. No one can completely understand it. Oftentimes, I ask myself, “Is the increasing strength of climate-related disasters the result of our actions and decisions or is a natural feature of disasters, regardless of what we do now?”

I will leave this question so we can ponder about it and perhaps discuss in our virtual classroom.

The Banaue Rice Terraces, Ifugao Province. (Photo by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

The Banaue Rice Terraces, Ifugao Province. (Photo by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

Environment: different lives, different perceptions

We have different perceptions of the environment. Such perceptions are shaped by our needs, upbringing, histories, experiences, culture, and how we consider the living and physical objects that we see around us (Malayang, 1999, page 4). While it is nearly impossible to categorize someone as completely materialistic or purely sacred or spiritual–each person has his good and bad sides–everyone has his or her own predisposition. For example, a person who grew up in a coastal community will likely have stronger affinity with and regard for the ocean and its resources than someone who grew up in an upland environment.

However, despite the differences, we share a common environment. For example, we breathe the same air and drink the same water. We derive similar sustenance and nutrition from the same fruits, vegetables, and animals. Ironically, despite our common sources of life, we continue to act irresponsibly as shown in the level of pollutants in our air, soil, and water bodies. We know that cutting trees excessively affects ecological balance (and contributes to massive flooding), yet we find it difficult to replace the trees that we have been cutting.  

From perceptions to action

What have our different perceptions done to us and our environment?

When we open our eyes and look around us, our decisions and actions show a convolution of behaviors, mostly negative–if we look at the level of degradation–toward the environment. I ask myself whether it is just plain ignorance (not understanding it completely and its importance in our lives), a simple case of forgetfulness or carelessness amid our harried and busy lives (for example, forgetting to bring a reusable bag for shopping), a result of misprioritization (looking at it as not among the higher priorities in life), or rooted from a deeper emotional and moral (or spiritual) disconnect.

When finding the answers, should we explore from the heart?

Perhaps, we have not really considered it close enough, from the core of our beings, in the same way that we had embraced ourselves, our loved ones, and even the more ‘emotional issues of our times–issues like poverty, corruption, violence against women, child trafficking, and the like (Velas-Suarin, 2013, p. 1). We suddenly remember or think about ‘environment’ only when super typhoons like Yolanda knock us down completely, without any defenses. After rebuilding our homes and communities and going back to the nitty-gritty of life, we seem to forget again. It goes on and on, like a vicious cycle. Perhaps we ought to think about it closely enough; to think of it as a very personal and urgent concern and as among our highest priorities in life, or better yet, an indispensable element in the pursuit of our aspirations and priorities in life.

  • Consider the following list, for example:
  • Good health
  • Loving relationships
  • Spiritual growth (and peace of mind)
  • Flourishing career and/or financial independence
  • Societal solidarity/philanthropy

Most people will have a list similar to the above if asked to draw a list of what they consider are the most important things or priorities in life. We may want to test this hypothesis among our family and close circle of friends and we will probably get the same list (or something similar to it).

It will be very rare (or nearly impossible) to see someone writing down goals or aspirations such as the achievement of “ecological balance” or an “environmentally-sound lifestyle”. After all, many of us consider ‘environment’ as an entirely different or separate thing. Or, in many cases, many people see it as not that important side-by-side with their families or careers, for example.

We know that we breathe the same air and drink the same water, yet, we still cannot figure out the whole equation. Somehow, we surmise that our life goals and aspirations are sets of events and accomplishments that are not necessarily connected with the state of the environment. If we think closely enough, we will figure our that we are wrong.

For us to move forward in this so-called green movement or in the more comprehensive and complicated realm of sustainable development, it is important that even with our imperfections and differences in perceptions, we attain a higher and deeper awareness of our natural and inextricable connection with the environment, our source of life. Whether you are a Muslim, I a Christian, and my neighbor a Buddhist, we all breathe the same air.


*I am doing a graduate course work and this is an essay/reflection paper, which I had submitted to Dr. Joane V. Serrano, faculty-in-charge for ENRM 221, Socio-cultural Perspectives on the Environment, at the University of the Philippines Open University.


Gore, A. (2009). Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Inc.

Malayang, B.S. (1999). Socio-cultural principles of human-environment interactions. Quezon City, Philippines: UP Open University.

Velas-Suarin, M. M. (2011, May 23). My niece asks her Mom, “Why are the rivers here in Aurora clean?” [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.meilbox.net/2011/05/23/my-niece-asks-her-mom-why-are-the-rivers-here-in-aurora-clean/

Velas-Suarin, M.M. (2013, October 31). [Reflections on climate change, an assignment submission for an online course]. Unpublished essay submitted in the course, Responding to Climate Risks in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management, UP Open University and SEARCA.


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.)

15 Most Toxic Places in the World

A greener future should not remain as just a dream

It’s been a while since I last wrote here. I miss writing a lot but there had been many things occupying hubby and I lately (one is on the search for a new flat/home!). We have a wonderful option and we hope we can still negotiate for a better deal. The unit is nice and big enough for a couple and in a quiet neighborhood. It’s not too far from Makati and Ortigas – yet it’s still in Quezon City! We are bent on staying in QC so we can bring our Bayantel phone+DSL subscription with us – we really just like their services. This makes me wonder again whether Bayantel will consider expanding their coverage. They really should! Anyway, I will blog again about our search for the new lovenest once we have moved in by end of the month.

I had really wanted to write more about our environmental problems (and solutions) so I hope this blog will start me ‘revved’ up again. :) Here then are the 15 most toxic places in the world (lifted from the website of Mother Nature Network). This list does not want to put judgement against any location, country or nationality. I guess the MNN site only wants to remind us all again about the precarious condition of our environment, and in the process, motivate us to do more concrete and effective steps in arresting the degradation around us! Here is the list then –

1. Citarum River, INDONESIA – considered as the most polluted river in the world (I saw the photo posted with the list and I really cringed because you can no longer see any ‘empty space’ on the river surface – everything is just covered with floating debris and garbage.)

2. Chernobyl, UKRAINE – of course, everyone knows that this is where the 1986 nuclear disaster happened.

3. Linfen, CHINA – the MNN site said it is considered as the place with the worst  air pollution in the whole world. The coal and soot from industries and vehicles make the air so dirty that your laundry will turn black even before it dries, if you hang it outside your window. Actually, this doesn’t seem ludicrous because even in Manila, our white shirts turn grayish-black  on the collars if we stayed outdoors the whole day.

4. North Pacific Gyre, PACIFIC OCEAN – not many of us know that we are already building an island of garbage and debris right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The waves naturally push garbage away from the shores and accumulate in the center. Experts say that the debris there is already about 30 feet below the ocean surface. Imagine?

5. Rondonia, BRAZIL – this is considered the most deforested area of the Amazon rainforest. It has reached this stage because of rampant and uncontrolled cattle ranching. Our very own forests will most likely reach the same stage if we don’t do something more urgent about the continuing forest denudation.

6. Yamuna River, INDIA – this is the largest tributary of the Ganges River and flows through Delhi. It is said that 58% of the city’s wastes are dumped here. (Sounds familiar? Our very own Pasig River may not be entirely different although it is commendable that efforts are now being done to revive it.)

7. La Oroya, PERU – this is where rampant mining operations are being done. It is described as a “soot-covered mining town.” Experts say that 99% of the children living in the area already have high lead level in their systems – levels exceeding the acceptable limit.

8. Lake Karachay, RUSSIA – it is considered as the most polluted spot on earth. It has become a nuclear dumping site where radiation level is too high that an hour of stay there (without a very modern breathing mechanism strapped to your body) will be enough to kill you.

9. HAITI – the whole country is so deforested that the recent earthquake made the place even more fragile. It used to enjoy 60% forested area but that size is now down to 2% and fast dwindling…

10. Kabwe, ZAMBIA – the soil has accumulated toxic levels of lead and cadmium due to rampant mining. The children there have lead levels in their systems 5 to 10 times higher than the permissible levels.

11. Appalachia, West Virginia, US – it is also a mining town where the prevalent system being used is called “removal mining” where whole mountaintops are removed. This system leads to soil erosion – which consequently causes run-offs of toxic chemicals and pollutants to the rivers and streams below.

12. Dzerzhinsk, RUSSIA – this is the most chemically-polluted place in the whole world. Chemical wastes are dumped here leading to death rates 200 to 250% higher than birth rates.

13. Riachuelo Basin, ARGENTINA – the river body easily became a receptacle for the garbage and dump of more than 3,500 factories and 13 slum communities around the water system. It also ‘hosts’ 42 open garbage dumps.

14. Vape, INDIA – it has become a dumping place for chemicals as it lies south of industrial estates. The level of mercury in the groundwater is 96% higher than safety levels. There is an alarming presence of heavy metals particles in the air and even in the local produce!

15. EARTH’s ORBIT (yes, you read it right) – around our home called Earth are 4 million pounds of space debris including nuts, bolts, metals, carbon and even a spacecraft! Can you imagine being thrown up there in the skies and dying NOT because of lack of ‘breathable’ oxygen but because you ran smack a floating spacecraft?

We don’t need a lengthy discourse just so we can be convinced to do something more concrete now, right? So please help us save this Earth. It is our only home.

Have a good life!


This is not a paid blog. Reference: Website of Mother Nature Network.

The privilege of being a leader

Aga Muhlach’s latest interview which was posted in Facebook inspired me to write this blog.

As I posted in my Facebook -

Hubby and I were just recently discussing this thought – “Being a President is a huge privilege because you have that POWER to make meaningful changes. Why waste that once-in-a-lifetime chance? Not everyone can be President. Mrs. President, you have that POWER in your hands, why squander it? And to all our government leaders – please do not waste that once-in-a-lifetime chance to make a great IMPACT to the lives of the Filipino people! Stop corruption! Stop selfishness! Stop politicking!” Go, Aga, you just expressed the sentiments of many people!

And so Aga’s outpouring of frustration reflects how most of us must probably be feeling. We are all frustrated. Some may feel helplessness. Or resignation.

For how can we change the way things are going? How loud must our voices be in order to be heard? I am sure our President and government leaders have been hearing us loud and clear. Haven’t we shouted enough? Haven’t we written enough?

When will our so-called leaders really deserve the title “Leader”? Haven’t they forgotten that the word carries a power so encompassing that it can make this country rise again? They have that one chance to lead this country towards greatness! They have the privilege to touch many lives! They have the authority to make the laws work!

But what are they doing? They travel first-class and dine in fine restaurants while millions cannot even afford three square meals a day. They launder money. They smuggle goods. They receive kickbacks in government projects. They allow tax evaders to go scot-free for a fee. They shamelessly stay in power by ensuring their sons and daughters will ‘inherit’ the positions they are leaving behind (as if they hold the exclusive rights to those positions). They plaster their names on billboards and every space available in the community after they ‘sponsored’ the construction of a basketball court or a barangay hall. They pay millions of pesos on TV ads while the country’s disaster team doesn’t even have enough rubber boats to save people during strong typhoons and floods. The list is endless.

It saddens me because they have that ONE chance to make this country great again and yet, they are squandering this chance. It saddens me because even if we shout on top of our voices, they don’t seem to be bothered anymore. They call for unity. They call for cooperation. But how can we even take their calls seriously if what we see are their corrupt practices, incompetence and lack of concern?

Wake up, Mrs. President! Wake up, Senators and Congressmen! Wake up, Governors, Mayors and Barangay Chairmen! Wake up, Cabinet Members! Wake up, appointed and promoted leaders in government! You have that CHANCE to make this country rise again! You hold in your hands that very rare chance, in fact, a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make a genuine difference.

We, the Filipino people, are reminding you of that great privilege in your hands. Please do not squander it.

The clock is ticking. Every minute wasted could be one more life lost, one more tree fallen, one more river dead.