October 4, 1991, Quezon City, Philippines
by Sixto K. Roxas
The March 1987 report of the World Commission
on Environment and Development, now known as
the Brundtland Report after its chairperson,
Madame Gro Harlem Brundtland, divided the
“trends that the planet and its people cannot long
bear” into two categories: a) failures of development and b) failures of environmental management.
Failures of development are absolute and
relative poverty within and between nations.
Failures in environmental management have
caused widespread and expanding desertification,
destruction of forests, pollution, global warming,
damage to the planet’s ozone shield, growth of
toxic wastes and the irretrievable loss of important species and genetic strains.
Because of the inseparability, holism or
systemic character of the problems, it is no longer
possible to address them singly. Economic development and environmental issues are intimately
interlinked. Environmental degradation, world
poverty and international inequality comprise one
complex problem. They can neither be understood
nor solved apart.
The planetary interlinking of human activities
means that current crises are globally interlocked
and point to the unsustainable character of much
of mankind’s current economic activities.
The Brundtland Report focused on the depredations man has wrought on Mother Earth–the
devastation of her virgin forests, the erosion of
the topsoil on her crust, the destruction of her
coral reefs, the fouling of her rivers and seas, the
total massacre of whole species of her living flora
and fauna, the marginalization of billions of her
humankind, the waging of destructive wars that
kill human, animal and plant life.
It paid less attention to the men and institutions and their ventures that perpetrated those
depredations, to the policies of government and
the actuations of politicians that aided and abetted
those projects, and to the ideas, belief systems
and ideologies that provided the logical and moral
sanctions for those programs. And yet these really
are the roots of the problem.
The Philippines is an appropriate place for focussing our attention on those men, institutions and
belief systems. It provides a dramatic illustration
of the unbelievable damage they have wrought
and continue to wreak on a whole country and the
nation that lives in it.
The country represents in microcosm what
has happened to the planet and the forces that
have been most determining in the molding of the
The problem may be stated as follows: the
ideology of business as it emerged in the late
eighteenth and early nineteenth century was aptly
stated by Adam Smith: it is not from the generosity of the baker that bread is delivered to your
table but from his avarice. Over time that ideology has been tempered considerably and the profit
motive balanced with the idea of social good.
But in practice the fundamentals of the business ideology remain and dictate the forms in
which we design and organize our interventions in
society and nature. Despite all the unmistakable
signs that those interventions are producing undesirable effects, despite the stark evidence that they
represent a strategy which our life-support systems can no longer sustain, there is not enough
systematic questioning of their foundations and
their appropriateness to the realities of the country’s condition.
Our growth since the 1950s had been accompanied very early by signs of strains in the fundamentals of our structure. Again, more recently in
our so-called recovery since 1986, imbalances in
the economy have now become unmistakable in
the escalating inflation, the growing trade deficit,
the rise in interest rates, the power and food
shortages, the depreciation of the peso. The
stresses in the social structure have broken out
into open conflicts within society. The deepening
poverty of our people, the deterioration in environment and destruction of our natural resources
testify to crises at many points in our whole
We have come to our present condition from
the application of an economic development
strategy dictated by a Western ideology. Westernization and economic progress are inseparably
combined because the technology that is the
engine of progress is basically Western.
Some centuries ago, Roger Bacon crafted a
rather profound observation: “Nature,” he said,
“to be commanded, must be obeyed.”
“To be commanded,” to be serviceable to
man, nature cannot simply be dominated by him;
cannot be made subject to man’s laws. Man must
respect her laws, obey them.
To be obeyed, nature’s laws must first be
understood. Those laws, as they are manifested in
Mother Earth, become dramatically visible in an
island. Nowhere else are the delicate relationships
among land and water, life and habitat, man and
environment more starkly seen than in islands like
Mindoro and Palawan or in clusters of islands, an
archipelago. Nowhere else are the effects of
ignoring those delicate relationships more quickly
evident or more evidently disastrous.
Consider the Philippines.
Geologists estimate that it took 130 million
years of volcanic action, and coral reef growth to
form the over 7,000 islands that make up the
Philippines, 3/4 of the area in rolling foothills,
plateaus and steep mountainous land.
Abundant rainfall over the millennia had
etched river networks on the cooling magma,
formed soils and then nurtured the growth of
thick tropical forests. River systems and their
watersheds together formed some 350 ecological
zones on these seven thousand islands.
On each of these, stream flows had broken up
the volcanic alluvium and carried them to the
plains to endow seven major river valleys with
rich top soil. Along the long coastline, mangroves
and nipa and sea grass had thrived to become the
habitat of crustaceans and the nurseries of thousands of marine species.
Traces of the earliest men first appear on this
landscape 400 to 500 thousand years ago along
with fossils of prehistoric animals in the Cagayan
Valley. But major movements of Homo sapiens
(so-called ‘modern man’) occurred only some
7,000 or 8,000 years ago after the land bridges
with Asia had sunk back into the sea. By the
summer months of 1521, the Filipino communities that Magellan encountered who are described
in Pigafetta’s account already showed the ceremonial trappings and social stratification of a
Man settled on these islands in waves of
migrations, carrying with them, cultural ideas,
norms, practices and institutions formed in other
climes and habitats. First the aboriginal tribes that
fished and hunted and gathered the roots, herbs
and fruits of the forest.
Next came the paddy-growing Malay to settle
on the rich alluvium. Then traders and settlers
from older civilizations on the Asian mainland.
Then the European from the Christian civilization
to conquer both with cross and sword. The
Anglo-Saxon seeking spices for their table and
materials for their workshops and their industrial
machines and later markets for their industrial
Each wave brought with it a culture with its
faith and its philosophy, its science and technology, its ideology and values, its social, political
and economic institutions, its artifacts, its tools
and its weapons. That culture in turn determined
the uses to which man in the Philippines put
What man has done to nature in the Philippines must thus be explained by the proddings of
that amalgam of culture formed over the centuries. We must understand it, if we are to understand the forces that created the present. We must
understand those forces if we are to fashion a
different future from our present.
What establishes patterns of individual and
social behavior that are violative of nature?
Unless we find the answer to this, no amount of
legislation or police action by the government will
succeed in reversing the trend towards full destruction.
An archipelago in the tropics has vulnerabilities peculiar to it. Not only made up of thousands of islands but also of thousands of micro-ecological niches in which, over a period of
several million years, by a process of selection
species of flora and fauna have become adjusted.
Because of the multiplicity of those niches, there
is a tendency to have a multiplicity of species and
subspecies of both flora and fauna but with relatively few individuals in each one.
The Filipino society, Christianized under 400
years of Spain and then transformed by nearly 50
years of American individualism and its enterprise
culture took only a few decades to destroy what it
took nature millions of years to form.
The worst possible force to release on the
Filipino’s island habitat were the waves of development interventions driven by single-purpose,
sector-specialized entrepreneurs pursuing dreams
of amassing personal wealth from the exploitation
of nature. These interventions drew their scientific and
ethical justification from the intellectual and
ideological baggage of the 18th and 19th Century
revolutions in Europe and America–Alvin Toffler’s Second Wave, the industrial revolution:
- Individualism–the idea that society is served
best by every individual seeking what is in his
own best interest. This as opposed to communalism–the idea that the individual achieves
his perfection within the community.
- Corporatism–the idea that economic, social
and political activity should be organized
through sector-specialized enterprises.
- Faith that the free market mechanism would
ensure that private greed would be tempered
by social justice and equity.
- The role of government as referee, formulator
of ground rules, and builder of infrastructure.
Modern technology put tremendous physical
power in the hands of man before it raised his
awareness and his ethic to a level where he would
use the power wisely. The self-seeking, profit-maximizing,
achievement-driven class of so-called entrepreneurs who raped our environment, marginalized
and alienated great masses of our people are the
heroes of present-day society, glorified and
adulated in it. Their virtues are proclaimed.
Theirs are the values we have been taught for the
past four generations to glorify. These were the heroes of the twentieth century–hailed as the men of the modern age, the
prophets of the new spirit of enterprise. The social scientists and prophets of the new
age preached the gospel that gave scientific and
moral justification for their behavior and their
All development involves the acceptance of a
philosophy, an ideology, a theoretical framework
and a set of paradigms that are quite apart from
the specific skills that are imparted. It is important to sort these out–make them specific.
In its historic origins, this ideology was, by
and large, American. It was based on the atomistic philosophy of John Locke who saw the order
and dynamism of society as springing from fiercely competitive individuals rather than from a
divinely ordered organic community. From this philosophy, the basic propositions
we have drawn into our business philosophy are
- First, the businessmen’s primary role is to
carry out those projects that provide satisfactory returns to investments in relation to
the risks involved.
- Second, in doing so, he is also performing the
most useful service he can make to his society, his country and the world as a whole.
- Third, the link between what is profitable for
the businessman and what is useful for society
is established by the free competitive market
which gives the signals to business on what
- Fourth, while the market signals will ensure
that most of the essential chores demanded by
society will get done (provided private enterprise is relatively free of “irrational” constraints), certain residual functions will still
be left that governments must step in to perform such as defense, public safety, health
delivery, education, welfare programs, etc.
This was an economic and business theory and
ideology. But the fact is, the modalities of doing
business became exemplars for all other programs. All problems could be solved by approaching them in a “business-like manner”.
Which meant you organized specialized institutions that were like business-firms. The ideal then
was to operate these institutions with the tests of
performance, i.e. effectiveness and efficiency,
analogous to business.
The real problem was that community was rendered obsolete, and the balance that a community
finds with its habitat. When market behavior is
determined by entities organized as profit-seeking
product-specialized enterprises, the market fails to
arbitrate between individual gain and the imperatives of social and communal and even ecological
The “enclave” approach, with its atomistic,
autistic, sectoral specialization is inherent in the
Western business philosophy. Private enterprise business is basically sectoral in its viewpoint and its organization. Business
is organized into specialized product lines: consumer products, industrial products, food, mineral, etc.
Each business looks at a geographical territory from a specific viewpoint: as a market for its
product lines, as a source of raw materials as a
source of cheap manpower, etc. The assumption is that the atomistic viewpoints are brought together by the “invisible
hand” of market competition so that they result in
the maximization of welfare for the communities
Very often, governments as well are organized sectorally. They do their own “businesses”–defense, agriculture, industry, trade, banking, health, public safety, etc. These are specialized departmental viewpoints that are cut across
the nation. Business and government are the two most
powerful participants in economic life. They are
both sectorally organized.
Communities in nature are formed in families,
villages, towns which find their natural balance
with their environments. Livelihood systems,
integrate with social, religious and political systems. When powerful business and government
forces take a sectoral view, they in fact disintegrate these natural forms and attempt to regroup
them into sectorally oriented and specialized
institution–into sugar town, logging settlements,
mining villages, industrial and commercial centers, export processing zones. This process of
reintegration never succeeds in completely reintegrating the natural communities that are first dis-integrated. Entire segments of the original population in a natural habitat become “marginal” to the
The progress itself, recruits the prime talent
of every community to the ranks of business and
management with this style. The natural communities lose all of their leadership to this process
either through business or government.
The capacity of a country to tolerate this
distortion is a function of the ratio of the rural
population to agricultural land. Sparsely populated countries that are largely urbanized offer the
possibility for the sectoral enclaves to exist side
by side with relatively small traditional organic
societies. The city states are already enclaves
where the “marginal population” may be numerically minor.
Countries with large traditional populations
suffer the greatest distortion from this style of
business and management. Here typically we find
the widening gap between the enclave and the
traditional habitats–the ever brightening light of
enclave prosperity and modernity and the ever
deepening shadow of rural poverty and urban
But certainly the historical success of modern
business must be proof of its basic soundness.
The application of its techniques in the country
where it developed to its present stage of professional maturity, the United States, has produced
the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth.
How does anyone dare challenge that record?
There was no large indigenous population in
America crowding on scarce land, only tribes of
Indians. Development was not construed in terms
of uplifting the life of these Indians but of finding
new settlements for immigrant Europeans. The
disastrous effects of this mode of development on
the indigenous population was not considered
because the focus was on the new colonial settlements. These were the important population.
The application of the same approach to
countries in our part of the world is obviously
fraught with danger. In most countries of Asia,
the indigenous rural population is the principal
population. The disintegration of original communities is no minor phenomenon that is remedied
by relocation and the creation of “reservations”.
The indigenous populations are supposedly
the beneficiaries of development. From this
perspective, the American model is totally inapplicable. What is relevant for Asia in it is not its
success in settling immigrants on a frontier but its
utter failure in integrating the indigenous Indian
populace into its society.
The experience we must find, the technology
that is relevant for our purpose, is one which has
demonstrated success in developing countries with
large indigenous populations.
The approach to the Philippine problem requires
a fresh ideology. We must find a way–and find it
quickly–of bringing on a convergence among the
activities that make people rich, those that give
communities sustainable and adequate livelihood,
and those that restore and preserve the natural
resources. This will require:
- A new view of nature as having laws of its
own which dictate the poise and balance of
self-sustenance, and which man must respect
if his use of nature for his own needs is to be
sustainable as well.
- A new view of economic, social and political
organization that recognizes the natural human community as the modality nature designed which best molds man’s operational
institutions to the imperatives of his habitat.
- The translation of that view into the ethical
norms, values, laws, institutions and project
modalities that govern man’s day to day
transactions in society.
The plea for the village and for the community,
the defense of a community-oriented and an agro-based industrialization is not a rear-guard action
to resist the wave of the future. On the contrary,
it is an advanced guard operation to save the
country from establishing an obsolete economic,
technological, social and political structure. It
rides on the advantage of the latecomer who has
not yet committed its natural resources totally to
uses that have already been rendered obsolete by
the advance of technology and the lessons that
have been learned in the more advanced countries.
The strategy differs from a mere return to
traditional agriculture–to neolithic times. It calls
for the application of the most modern technology
but to economic activities organized not along the
Second Wave sector-specialized enterprise; but on
community lines, based on a new paradigm modeled on nature: communal, intensive production methods, diversified, and conceived from the
viewpoint of the ultimate beneficiary–the human
household and his natural communities.
As it is important to select the unit of analysis
that is appropriate, it is important that this unit be
also a unit of management and a unit of accounting. The country is too large and within each
country, particularly in the Third World, situations too diverse to make any proposition that is
at all meaningful for the country as a whole. They
certainly are too large to manage in ways that will
balance utilization with conservation.
Organization defines the resources to be
placed within the responsibility of a group of
managers, the goals they must achieve and the
standards by which the performance is to be
measured, and the rewards at stake for successful
operations as well as on the downside, the losses
or penalties that will be incurred for failure.
Communities in an integral habitat (considered as an ecosystem) should be as important and
operational a unit of organization, management,
planning. and accounting as business enterprises.
But community organizations must be established
with the same degree of rigorous controls,
technological excellence, managerial discipline
and operational efficiency as any business enterprise.
Carving out resource management responsibilities in a way that allows private individual
businesses to pass on the costs of resource wastage and environmental degradation to society
while retaining the gains from exploitation is
hardly a satisfactory design for social organization.
No amount of policing by government will
preserve resources for as long as sector-specialized enterprises are able to appropriate gains and
escape costs for resource wastage.
The biological homologue provides an interesting
key to a sustainable development strategy for the
Philippines. A new perception of nature provides
the design for both strategy and structure. Understanding the roots of problems in the
Philippine may give an inkling of their causes in
the planet as well. The strategy for addressing the
crises in the Philippines may say something about
what are necessary to meet them globally.
The Philippines shows in a microcosm all the
major issues of the planet: poverty, environmental
crisis and social conflict. The root cause of these problems in the
Philippines: the application of a theory and strategy for development that has been disastrous,
particularly for an island system.
The delicate balances of nature–the genesis of
our cosmos and our habitat, its internal balance,
the genesis of the biosphere, the genesis of man
and the human community–are a cameo of the
planetary process. As are the order and chaos in
the forming here of a dynamic balance between
organic and inorganic matter and between the
living world and its physical habitat and the
coming of man, his socialization and the molding
of his balance with his habitat.
The laws of nature and the laws of his settlements are sharply depicted in this archipelago.
The world may well look at the Philippines in
1991 to say, “There, if the grace of God and the
wisdom of man do not save us, the globe might
Standing in the Philippines in the Fall of
1991, can the grace of God and the wisdom of
man save the Philippines? Or shall we perhaps live up to the description
of our people phrased by our great Nationalist
Claro M. Recto who said of the Filipino that he
was “a nation unique in the annals of mankind, a
sacrificial race with a mysterious urge to suicide.”