by Alan S. Cajes
"Humanity stands at a defining moment in history. We are confronted with a perpetuation of disparities between and within nations, a worsening of poverty, hunger, ill health and illiteracy, and the continuing deterioration of the ecosystems on which we depend for our well-being. However, integration of environment and development concerns and greater attention to them will lead to the fulfillment of basic needs, improved living standards for all, better protected and managed ecosystems and a safer, more prosperous future. No nation can achieve this on its own; but together we can-- in a global partnership for sustainable development."
- from the Preamble of Agenda 21
On 22 December 1989, the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) adopted a resolution calling for a UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). The call was sounded based on the widely accepted need to take a "balanced and integrated approach to environment and development questions."
The historic Earth Summit, as the UNCED came to be known, resulted in the adoption of Agenda 21, which contains certain principles of sustainable development. Agenda 21 "reflects a global consensus and political commitment at the highest level on development and environment cooperation (Preamble 1.3, Agenda 21)."
The Philippine Government is a signatory to the Global Program of Action for Sustainable Development (Agenda 21). In 1995, Pres. Fidel V. Ramos issued Memorandum Order No. 288 entitled "Directing the Formulation of the Philippine's Agenda 21 and Activating its Formulation Process." The said Memorandum Order declared that it is "the avowed policy of the State, in pursuit of its key objectives of global competitiveness and poverty alleviation, to bring about sustainable development, for the benefit of present and future generations of Filipinos." The following year, Pres. Ramos signed Memorandum Order No. 399 which directed the operationalization of the Philippine Agenda 21 (PA 21) and monitoring its implementation. In this Memorandum Order, the government adopted PA 21 as the national action agenda for sustainable development.
2. Meaning of Sustainable Development in PA 21
Sustainable development is derived from "an image of society and a shared vision of the development path of that society." It takes off from an understanding of the "state" of Philippine society and proceeds towards an agreed upon development objective. Three key actors define the goal of development, namely, government, business and civil society. Thus, to promote sustainable development, "there must be an interplay of market forces, state intervention, and civil society participation."
The recognition of the three key actors points to three essential dimensions of Philippine society -- economy, polity, and culture. These dimensions are the "realms where the key actors are active and from which the actors derive the substance for their dialogue interaction with each other." The figure below illustrates the relationship between the key actors, dimensions and vision of Philippine society.
Within the context of this illustration, a "harmonious integration of a sound and viable economy, responsible governance, social cohesion/harmony, and ecological integrity" is essential to promote sustainable development. Thus, the "ultimate aim of development is human development now and through future generations." Short of this, development becomes economically 'jobless' and 'ruthless,' culturally 'rootless,' politically 'voiceless,' and ecologically 'futureless.'
3. Principles of Sustainable Development
PA 21 adheres to the following principles of sustainable development:
- Primacy of developing the full potential of the human being. People are at the core of development initiatives.
- Holistic science and appropriate technology. The search for solutions to the complex milieu of development problems has to be undertaken with the perspective that situates specific problems in the larger social and ecological context. This approach facilitates the development and use of appropriate technology.
- Cultural, moral and spiritual sensitivity. Nurturing the inherent strengths of local and indigenous knowledge, practices and beliefs while respecting the cultural diversity, moral norms and spiritual essence of Filipino society.
- Self-determination. Respecting the right and relying on the inherent capacity of the country and its people to decide on the course of their own development.
- National sovereignty. Self-determination at the national level where the norm of society and the specifics of the local ecology inform national governance. Includes human and environmental security as well as achieving and ensuring security and self-reliance in basic staple foods. Recognizing the crucial role of farmers and fisherfolk in providing the nutritional needs of the nation.
- Gender sensitivity. Recognizing the important and complementary roles and the empowerment of both men and women in development.
- Peace, order and national unity. Securing the right of all to a peaceful and secure existence.
- Social justice, inter-, intra-generational and spatial equity. Ensuring social cohesion and harmony through equitable distribution of resources and providing the various sectors of society with equal access to development opportunities and benefits today and in the future.
- Participatory democracy. Ensuring the participation and empowerment of all sectors of society in development decision-making and processes and to operationalize intersectoral and multisectoral consensus.
- Institutional viability. Recognizing that sustainable development is a shared, collective and indivisible responsibility which calls for institutional structures that are built around the spirit of solidarity, convergence and partnership between and among different stakeholders.
- Viable , sound and broad-based economic development. Development founded on s table economy where the benefits of economic progress are equitably shared across ages, communities, gender, social classes, ethnicities, geographical units and across generations.
- Sustainable population. Achieving a sustainable population level, structure and distribution while taking cognizance of the limited carrying capacity of nature and the interweaving forces of population, culture, resources, environment and development.
- Ecological soundness. Recognizing nature as our common heritage and thus respecting the limited carrying capacity and integrity of nature in the development process to ensure the right of present and future generations to this heritage.
- Biogeographical equity and community-based resource management. Recognizing that since communities residing within or most proximate to an ecosystem of a bio-geographic region will be the ones to most directly and immediately feel the positive and negative impacts on that ecosystem, they should be given prior claim to the development decisions affecting that ecosystem, including management of the resources. To ensure biogeographic equity, other affected communities should be involved in such decisions.
- Global cooperation. Building upon and contributing to the diverse capacities of individual nations.
In summary, the human person has cultural, moral and spiritual dimensions that need to be enhanced by fulfilling his/her right to determine his/her course of development. The inherent value of the human person cuts across gender, age, and time. Thus, every human person, both in the present and future generations, share the same value, which must be enhanced and fulfilled. As a person is sovereign in his/her "pursuit of happines," every State, to which a person belongs, is sovereign in charting the course of its own development destiny. And the exercise of such national "self-determination" is only possible if done in an atmosphere of justice, peace and unity, not only within a State but also in its cooperative dealings with other Sovereign States. At the national level, every State needs to analyze development-related problems using the best available science and knowledge to ensure that economic growth and human population do not threaten both the country's and the planet's ecological security. But this is only possible if State institutions and systems have the capacity to manage the process of development, especially at the local level, where there's a need to harness the people's potential promote their own type of development.
4. Parameters and Strategies
PA 21 "contains 67 cross-sectoral strategies to attain an ecologically- and socially-rational economic growth path for the country." The table below shows the inventory of the cross-sectoral strategies.
No. of Strategies
Science & Technology
Source: PA 21 and Malayang, 1999.
Malayang, 1999 summarizes the 67 strategies in the table below.
Summary of the 67 SD strategies in PA21
Be sensitive to
1. To peoples’ needs and aspirations; and
2. Local cultures and traditions
3. The best science;
4. The most appropriate technologies; and
5. The best local knowledge
To improve its
6. Products and productivity;
8. Markets and marketing systems;
9. Governance; and
11. Higher incomes for all; and
12. Quality ecological and social systems that will support moreincomes to be had in the future.
 Following the tradition of Prof. Dr. Arnold Joseph Toynbee, this writer is in the opinion that culture is the core of civilization, thus, the social, economic, and political structures and systems are mere manifestations of culture. Under this framework, nature serves as the foremost background, followed by culture, which is humanity's "cultivation of nature," and then by the social, political and economic dimensions. Hence, the social, economic, and political systems are subsumed under a larger cultural system, which, in turn, is a sub-set of the ecological system. As Thomas Berry puts it: "Here there is need to state quite clearly that the universe is the only self-referent mode of being in the phenomenal world. The universe is the only text without a context. Every other being is universe- referent. Every other being is a text within the universe context. The universe, it might be said, is integral with itself throughout its vast extent in space and its long sequence of transformations in time. In a proportionate manner the Earth is the basic referent for every being on the Earth. Every mode of being on the Earth must be understood within the Earth context (underscoring supplied)." See Thomas Berry, The Universe: Its Response to the Ecological Crisis. A paper delivered before the
Divinity School and the University Committee on Environment at , April 11, 1996. Harvard University
 This statement is shared by others like Pearce and Turner who define sustainable development as “seeking to enhance diverse forms of human development while maintaining the natural capital stock for future generations.” See Pearce, DW and Turner, RK, Economics of Natural Resources and Environment, Harvester Wheatseat, Hemel Lempstead, 1990. It is also consistent with the first principle of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development which states that "Human beings are at the center of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature."
It should be stressed, however, that others are not comfortable with such an 'anthropocentric' aim of development. Thomas Berry is rather emphatic in saying that the "human neither exists nor functions independently of its relation with the natural world to which it belongs. The human belongs completely within the created order as a part of a more integral whole (see
, 1996)." Here, the ultimate goal of development is not simply 'human development' but 'human and non-human development' because both the human and the non-human constitute a "single integral community." Berry says: "In this new context every component of the Earth community would have its rights in accord with the proper mode of its being and its functional role. Trees would have tree rights, birds would have bird rights, insects would have insect rights. In each case the basic rights would be for habitat and the opportunity of each being to fulfill its role in the natural systems to which it belongs. Humans would be obliged to respect these rights (Ibid.)." Berry
Carolyn Merchant recalls the role of 'nature' as a principle of development, since the term is derived from the Latin word nascere, “to be born”. She said that the word 'nation' is also derived from the same word; "hence the state was born from the state of nature." In this context, it is necessary to put an end to the disunion of human and the non-human, as
proposed. And this would require a "partnership ethic" that "would bring humans and nonhuman nature into a dynamically balanced, more nearly equal relationship." See Carolyn Merchant, “Reinventing Berry : Western Culture as a Recovery Narrative,” in Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Eden Human Place in Nature ed. Wiliam Cronon (New York and London: W.W. Norton and Company, c. 1996), pp. 132-159.
 See Ben S. Malayang III, Sustainable Development: Philosophy, Principles and Philippine Agenda 21. A paper presented to the International Environmental Management Training held on 22 March to 2 April 1999 in the