Last week, May 29, 2014, The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation (PDRF) hosted the first ever Upper Markina Watershed Summit. As I have mentioned in posts previous, the Marikina Watershed Initiative began after Typhoon Ondoy in 2009, which killed 464 people. Around 160 people attended the all-day summit at the Bureau of Soils and Water Management in Quezon City, attended by government officials, representatives from peoples’ organizations and indigenous peoples’ groups, and non-governmental organizations. The goal of the summit was to review all of the measures undertaken so far as part of the initiative, then to create a unified action plan under the sub-focuses of climate change issues, water quality, biodiversity, and solid waste management.
Something that really struck me while in attendance at the summit, and especially during the afternoon planning session for the water quality sub-focus, was the sheer complexity of the situation in the Marikina Watershed. I have written at length about the Marikina Watershed in previous posts, being that it has been the focus of my work for the last eight months, detailing many of the sociological and environmental issues there. It really started to occur to me during these sessions that Marikina just might be the most socially and environmentally complex watershed of its size (52,000 hectares), in the world! It has taken me months to really wrap my head around this idea, simply because the situation is so utterly complex there. I’m not even trying to pretend that I know the half of the issues in the Marikina Watershed, but I challenge everyone and anyone that reads this blog to show me another watershed in the world of 52,000 hectares or less that hosts such a complex and diverse sociological, economic, or environmental situation. During our afternoon marienda (snack) time over lasagna and iced tea, I said to a Filipino NGO colleague of mine concerning my new revalation, “I think Marikina might be the most socially and environmentally complicated watershed of its size in the world.” He simply replied, “In the Philippines, everything is complicated.” We then exchanged a high five.
The most telling line that I give people to sum up the social diversity in the watershed is that the watershed contains both communities of indigenous people living in bamboo huts and a Lamborghini dealership. It contains both an armed communist rebel group and the world’s third largest shopping mall (SM Megamall). It contains one of the world’s largest, fastest growing, and most densely populated cities, and some of the most endangered old-growth rain forest and wildlife on earth. All of this is going on within 30 kilometers of one another, and it is truly staggering! I can’t imagine any other place in the world where this social diversity exists on such a fine geographic scale. You name it! It’s happening in the Marikina watershed.
If anything, it has been a truly unforgettable experience to be a part of the team of people that live and work in this watershed. I have been able to catch a glimpse of this complexity from an outsiders’ perspective. I have so many thoughts to share with others about the things that I have observed here. Marikina, is in my mind, one of the most fascinating sociological and environmental petri dishes that I have ever encountered. Much of the identified solutions for the Marikina watershed lie in the enforcement of protection in protected areas. One of the speakers stressed our need to be realistic about what a protected area really means. If logging and mining are occurring in a protected area, is it really a protected area, or perhaps should the area be managed differently? Maybe it’s better to allow some small-scale logging in the area in order to support the livelihood of its human inhabitants.
When I think about the future of the Upper watershed, the rapid population expansion is the first thing that comes to mind. Much of the rehabilitation work going into the Marikina Watershed focuses on restoring blocks of forest, improving wildlife habitat, and preserving the culture and livelihoods of indigenous groups. I can’t say that I can see how any of these focuses will see a net improvement across the watershed unless the influx of migrant populations is reduced. Ultimately, what we are seeing happening there, is that the amoeba of Metro Manila is swallowing Marikina whole, making it a part of itself. There is rapidly becoming little cultural distinction between Metro Manila and the upper portions of the Marikina watershed. Road network improvements and transportation availability have made it possible for people to come out of the upper watershed, conduct business in Metro Manila, then return before the end of the day. It has resulted in a new influx of people able to commute to Manila, then bring back earnings to the upper watershed on a daily basis. It is an attractive proposition for people to come from the outlying provinces, to be able to live on land for next to nothing, and to be able to have access to such a massive market on a daily basis. Land speculation from developers in the upper Marikina has increased dramatically. They say money talks. The voice of money is being heard more loudly every day there.
One of the most glaring ironies of the situation, and something that I spend way too much time thinking about, is that what government and NGOs are really doing in the Upper Marikina watershed is throwing money at the situation. I have repeatedly posted on this blog about most problems and solutions not being a matter of money or poverty, but rather of language and culture. It’s easy to see that culture is a product of human evolution; of environment, climate, and geography. Culture is one of the most glaring results of human biodiversity. Language is easily the most important part of human culture, defining what exists and how things function. My argument has been that as long as we try to quantify the resources of the watershed with monetary value, it will be very difficult to recreate an ecologically sustainable situation. We need to consider cultural and ecological resources as priceless and unquantifiable in order to truly understand their importance and irreplacability. Can we really expect indigenous people to be wholeheartedly invested in their own traditional cultural values when they are given monetary incentive to preserve it? Is a monetary system completely incompatible with an indigenous cultural system? Can we expect them to believe outsiders who live their own lives on a monetary, non-subsistence system? What huge questions these are! The biggest question in my mind is…should we be questioning our own monetary cultural/system because of its reliance primarily on unsustainable practices; on taking out loans from our future generations?
One thing I realized after living in Africa for two years was that it is probably the richest place in the world…that is if money didn’t exist. It is such a conducive place to human flourishment and diversity, its inhabitants holding millions of years of indigenous knowledge. It is the most ethnically diverse continent in the world, having over 3,000 languages even to this day. These are things that resulted from a billion plus years of evolution and a deep relationship with nature. Is it possible for us to put any real value on these things when we speak European languages and our pockets are full of paper?
The restoration of the link between humans and nature, and for us to be wholly involved and dependent on it in the present is what I believe will be the saving grace for our species if the environmental crisis deepens. If it deepens to the point where we need to drastically alter our societies, perhaps, we need to look back in time for some of the solutions.