Friday, April 24, 2009

Earth Day 2009: Sixto K. Roxas and Sustainable Development

by Alan S. Cajes

In partnership with my colleagues at the Center for Sustainable Human Development of the Development Academy of the Philippines (DAP), we invited Dr. Sixto K. Roxas (SKR) to speak before the DAP officers and staff on the current challenges in relation to the pursuit of sustainable development in the Philippines. A brief biography of SKR is presented below based on an entry on his website (
“Educated as a development economist, Dr. Roxas has been at different points in his life a labor leader, a journalist, a lecturer in Economics in New York at Fordham University, and in the Philippines at the Ateneo de Manila University and the University of the Philippines; an economist at the Central Bank of the Philippines and the Philippine National Bank, chief financial officer of a petroleum company, chief economic planner of the government and a member of the cabinet, the first Filipino president of the Asian Institute of Management, CEO of the Bancom Group in the Philippines and in Asia, Vice-Chairman of the American Express Bank in New York, Chairman of Amex Bank, a merchant bank in London; co-founder/ chairperson/ vice chairperson of some of the largest not-for-profit foundations in the Philippines, namely, the Philippine Business for Social Progress, Green Forum, Foundation for the Philippine Environment and the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement, respectively. He is considered a pioneer in investment banking in the Philippines and Asia and is credited with the early development of the commercial paper market in the Philippines and the design and launching of the Philippine government's Treasury Bill market in the late 1960's and 1970's, and was an awardee of The Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) for economics in the late 50's. He retired from investment banking in 1982 and has since been engaged in developing a system of local community-centered ecosystems-based management and accounting that affords stakeholders the primary role in their own development process. Since passage of the Local Government Act of 1991, he has pioneered the development of the market municipal bonds. During the term of former President Joseph Estrada, he was Undersecretary for International and Economic Relations of the Department of Foreign Affairs.”

“At present, he is Chairperson of the Maximo T. Kalaw Institute for Sustainable Development and the Foundation for Community Organization and Management Technology, and an on-call faculty member of the Southeast Asian Interdisciplinary Institute and the Asian Social Institute.”
I opened the forum by narrating some of the important events that led to the formulation of the concept sustainable development, such as the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the rise of the environmental movement in the campuses of the United States, and the adoption of the Global Agenda 21, among others. Fourteen years after the Philippine Government adopted the Philippine Agenda 21, which is the country’s blue-print for national development, the challenge of mainstreaming sustainable development or SD in the country remains difficult. This problem is compounded by the clear and present danger posed by climate change. Hence, the importance of getting insights from a veteran and high-caliber SD practitioner like SKR to prod and inspire us to continue taking the road that is still less traveled by.
SKR opened his presentation with a theological grounding by quoting the Holy Scriptures:
"Jesus spoke to the multitude. 'When you see a cloud appearing in the west, immediately you say, A shower is coming. And it's just like you say. In addition, when you see the south winds blow, you say It'll be warm. And it will be. O hypocrites, even though you know how to recognize patterns in the sky and the earth as you do, why don't you know how to recognize the current hour?,'" (Luke 12:54-56).
SKR told the audience that the Philippine Government is like a hypocrite when it assured the public that the global financial crisis will not have serious negative impact to the country. The truth is, he said, we will not be hit as much as the other countries because if "you have been sleeping on the floor, you cannot say that you will fall from the bed".

This is, indeed, a very sad description of the country. A paper prepared by Karin Schelzig, Social Development Specialist, Southeast Asia Department of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in January 2005 stated that the GNP per capita of the country “lingered” at USD1,000 for the past 20 years.

Let us look at some economic data of the country to appreciate what SKR is referring to.

Proportion of population below USD2 (PPP) a Day (percent)
1994: 52.7
2006: 45.2

Human Development Index (rank)
2005: 90 (Thailand is 78)

Gross Domestic Product at PPP
Current international dollars, Million
2000: 178191
2006: 271985
Average: 218041.7

GDP per capita at PPP
(current international dollars)
2000: 2316 (Thailand: 4952)
2006: 3127 (Thailand: 7403)

GNI per capita, Atlas method
(current US dollars)
1990: 740
1995: 1040
2000: 1050
2005: 1270
2006: 1390
Average: 1104.615

Thailand’s performance is 1550 in 1990 to 3050 in 2006 or an average of 2375.385!

The dismal economic performance of the country can be better appreciated when compared to our biocapacity, which is measured in global hectares, and defined as the area required to produce a global standard volume of mixed biomass, such as food, fiber, wood, carbon dioxide absorption, etc., as well as the ecological footprint that measures the demand and usage of that capacity.

SKR explained that on October 6, 2007, Planet Earth incurred an Ecological Debt because on that day that planet consumed all of the sustainable production of nature for the entire year. According to the Global Footprint Network (GFN), September 23, 2008 is Earth Overshoot Day or the day the most intelligent of all the creatures of the planet used up all the resources that nature regenerated in 2008. As a result, human beings are living beyond the ecological means; hence, we are now moving into the “ecological equivalent of deficit spending, utilizing resources at a rate faster than what the planet can regenerate in a calendar year” (

According to GFN, “we now require the equivalent of 1.4 planets to support our lifestyles”.

SKR also explained the country’s unsustainable path since 1961 by discussing the concepts of ecological footprint and biocapacity. According to GFN, the ecological footprint of the Philippines in 1961 was a little less than 1.2 Global hectares per person while the biocapacity was a little over 1.2 Global hectares per person. But in 2005, the total ecological footprint of the Filipinos is 72.2 millions of Global hectares while the biocapacity is only 45.2 millions of global hectares. Our biocapacity deficit is a total of 27 millions of Global hectares!

The year 1965 or thereabout marked the event that the country’s ecological footprint was equal to the country’s biocapacity. Although the ecological footprint varied significantly from 1965 to 2005, the biocapacity was sustainably reduced on the average. The result is a disaster: we are now using 60 percent biocapacity of another Philippines. Wonder no more why millions of Filipinos are in other countries.

I recognize the possible methodological questions as regards the computation of the biocapacity and ecological footprint. The explanation is a lot more complicated and requires some other time to explain.

Going back to SKR, I told him while we were having lunch that my grandfather and grandmother (mother’s side) have about five (5) hectares of agricultural land. They have nine (9) children. The average family size of their children is four (4). Their farm could certainly not support the ecological footprint of our clan. There are many reasons for this. Let me venture some.

The first reason is natural resources degradation. When I was very young to go to grade school in mid 70s, an overnight rain would make the two streams near my grandparent’s house rumble with the sound of flowing water for two weeks. Today, an overnight rain would make the streams rumble with flowing water for only two days or less. Deforestation has severely reduced the capacity of land to hold water. The ill effects of this are now known: loss of soil fertility, low farm productivity, poverty, etc.

The second reason is related to what Onofre D. Corpuz attributed as causes for the rice production shortage: feudal system, cash crops being favored over rice for exports and primitive technology.

The third reason is explained by my grandfather, Mr. Eutiquio Salces, a veteran of the second world war and a farmer. When they were young, he says, the rain would come on a regular and predictable manner. Now, the season is unpredictable. Nature is confused, he says. And so are we.

In other words, the biocapacity of my grandparents’ farm land has been reduced
by climate change, and primitive technology. And if SKR and Corpuz are right, the government can be blamed for reducing the forest cover of the country and decimating its resources, as well as for its utter failure to invest in improved technologies for agricultural production.

By effectively and systematically destroying our life support systems or ecological systems, I now seriously doubt that we are liable for generational homicide. We should be charged in the Court of Reason with generational murder!
Let me now end this reflection with a quote from the Holy Scriptures:
‘If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments so as to carry them out, then I shall give you rains in their season, so that the land will yield its produce and the trees of the field will bear their fruit...‘I shall also grant peace in the land, so that you may lie down with no one making you tremble. (Leviticus 26:3-6).