Bara-bara development

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

I can’t think of a more appropriate English word to describe the way we handle development in our country. The word that seems to capture the essence of what we are doing is bara-bara, a Tagalog word which Google defines as careless, sloppy or messy to describe someone’s work. That’s it. And I believe it is the bane of our existence as a nation that we have been handling the development of our country in this manner.

Take a look at Metro Manila and all our major metro areas from Cebu, Davao, Baguio, etc. from the air. See how we have allowed growth to happen in all directions, like an amoeba, with no regard to the impact of mindless development on the quality of lives that our people live. Compare that to our view from an airliner as it lands in a foreign city with well-organized and properly zoned communities obvious from the air.

I was going through a PIDS report and was shocked to learn that “built-up areas within closed forest increased from 167 hectares in 2010 to 10,388 hectares in 2020.” Looks like Exhibit A of how useless our DENR had been. Or maybe the national leadership through various administrations have simply failed to give importance to the proper preservation of watershed and forest resources. Bahala na. Maybe the consequences in terms of floods and landslides will happen in the next administration. It will be their problem.

In a recent knowledge-sharing forum by PIDS, UP College of Forestry professor emeritus Rex Victor Cruz emphasized an urgent need to optimize watershed zoning and land use plans for sustainable development. Land use practices from urban communities to agriculture and forestry adversely affect watersheds and ecosystems. Cruz identified inadequate planning and enforcement as key drivers of deforestation and ecosystem degradation. Inappropriate land use and land conversion lead to deforestation, loss of habitat and biodiversity.

Cruz cites data showing that “there are areas where we are not supposed to be building or doing certain things, but we are. It tells us we’re not doing a great job of keeping those places as they should be.” This trend highlights the need for stricter enforcement and better land management practices.

Actually, we have a broader responsibility to the world to do better. Our country hosts two-thirds of the planet’s biodiversity and up to four-fifths of its flora and fauna. And it is an uphill battle to preserve our wildlife. We are currently losing an estimated 47,000 hectares of rainforest every year and have lost around 60 percent of our forest cover in the last 80 years. Only around 24.1 percent of our land area remained forested as of 2020.

As always, a good part of the problem is due to the failure of LGUs to do what is right. Perhaps, it is because LGU officials don’t know any better.

Very often too, LGU officials are the first to abuse our watershed areas and forest covers with illegal activities that enrich them. It doesn’t help too that at the national level, there is very little interest in coming up with land use policies that should be codified for national enforcement. Vested interests from property developers and politicians working with all sorts of public officials are more focused on abusing what nature has given us to fatten their wallets.

As the PIDS forum emphasized, integrating watershed zoning with Comprehensive Land Use Plans (CLUPs) can ensure priority alignment among LGUs and various stakeholders to address land use allocation concerns, while protecting vital watersheds. But the mentality of our leaders is focused on their business interests. They don’t care about the impact of what they do on the community and on future generations.

Cruz thinks “the goal is not to include watershed protection as part of land use and development planning but to use watershed as the planning platform.” This entails LGUs prioritizing the protection of watersheds and their ecosystems in all development plans and programs, laying a strong foundation for sustainable and resilient socioeconomic growth. The ongoing pilot projects in Los Baños, Laguna, and San Gabriel, La Union offer learning opportunities for other LGUs.

“Optimize watershed zoning to ensure maximum protection of its ecosystem services, then utilize this zoning framework as the foundation for allocating land or assigning it to various uses,” Cruz urged.

Abuse of our watershed areas and forest cover has resulted in more difficult times during this era of climate change. The El Niño phenomenon we are experiencing now has become unnecessarily more severe for our agriculture sector because of our bara-bara way of utilizing our natural resources.

When will we ever learn? I am not sure we ever will. Population pressure and greedy politicians and oligarchs at the national and local levels make it very difficult to properly care for our watershed and forest resources. People will suffer as a consequence but our leaders don’t care because they believe Filipinos are resilient anyway and will bear any suffering this abuse of natural resources brings into their lives.

That resort constructed in the midst of Bohol’s Chocolate Hills is a good example of how clueless our leaders and people are in the importance of proper land use.

We still have to figure out how to balance development with environmental protection. Or maybe that isn’t a concern we will ever think is important until it is too late. So, for now, bara-bara it is!



Boo Chanco’s email address is [email protected]. Follow him on X or Twitter @boochanco.

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