Regarding the GMA news citing we only need PhP 10k/month to live decently

The recent discussions on this matter have reminded me of how heartwarming it is to see people fighting for a common cause, to digest what they read piece by piece, and seeing how this all fits in the current government agenda–the implications, repercussions, and so on and so forth. In fact, I personally get disappointed in myself for being “too busy” with my own personal conundrums that I fail to involve myself in public discourse in so many occasions. It really IS high time we exercise our capacity to think critically for ourselves and for others.

However, as readers (and I am calling out particularly to those who had the privilege of education), it is equally important that we also exercise our due responsibility to think outside the confines of what we decide to digest. As people who have endured the painstaking ordeal of conducting research in whatever capacity (be it in school, work, or the in-between), we have due responsibility to not just limit ourselves to what is already being shown. I’d like to believe that we can think and decide for ourselves in matters of high importance–that we can do better than just follow through with the prevailing mindset, especially when other perspectives or contexts exist whose exclusion from the discussion can hinder a better understanding of the matter at hand.

This morning, the GMA Network published a video and news article citing the National Economic and Development Authority (or NEDA) as saying that a monthly budget of PhP10k will suffice for a family of five to live decently. This was reported to have been said in the press briefing on the May 2018 inflation rate that happened this Tuesday.

Today, I am reminded of the importance of public discourse. I applaud those who were bothered and taken aback by the news and also those who have shown criticism towards the statements. This shows logic and empathy, among others. I am also reminded however of how much passion people have to give away—too much in fact that in some occasions we tend to act on impulse, denigrate, and throw harsh, unwarranted derogatory statements in the process.

The same article shows the breakdown of this budget. It gives due attention specifically to the allocation of PhP 3,834 as being deemed enough for food and non-alcoholic beverages. It also quotes Usec. Edillion as saying that the budget does not make one poor. She mentioned in verbatim, “Siguro fifth level ka na nun. Hindi ka poor. Kasi ang poor, mababa ang poverty line.” In layman’s terms, what she is possibly trying to say is that the budget does not make one necessarily poor (or technically speaking, falling below the poverty line), but rather possibly just part of the 5th decile. This means somewhere in the middle if we are to group the surveyed families in ten equal groups based on per capita income. The richest decile would represent the families belonging to the highest ten percent in terms of per capita income, while the poorest decile would represent the families in the lowest ten percent.

Like many others, I find the statement and budget absurd. It does not take rocket science just to share in with the sentiment that the budget is clearly not enough. However, I also find the article suspicious. For what is supposed to be a commentary on the issue, I expected a lengthy discussion on the specific source/study behind the figures, the background/context of the statement released by the undersecretary, as well as the assumptions found therein, among others. Clearly, a 4-sentence article accompanied by a video that shows how a family can divide the food budget is far from being capable of giving a good overview and analysis.

As I read the news this morning, I found the figures odd (even shared these with a couple of others who approached me for my comment on the issue as they waited for NEDA’s statement) as they were incongruent with earlier findings from the Philippine Statistics Authority (or PSA), whose data is what NEDA usually refers to in many occasions. The PSA is the country’s go-to in primary data collection in the Philippines and is also one of the many attached agencies under NEDA. I know this because I have handled PSA data many times before, and have also worked in NEDA a while back.

Comparing the 2015 PSA report with the budget mentioned in the news, one can already see the inconsistency. Yes, the report dates back to three years ago, but with inflation, one can see how a family with a PhP10k budget per month might already fall under the poverty line of PhP 9,140/month. A different situation presents itself for the case of food where PSA data reveals that a family of five needs at least PhP 6,365 for this particular budget item alone. This definitely presents a huge gap from the amount of PhP 3,834, which was mentioned in the news as a “decent” amount.

Hours later, NEDA clarified its position on the matter. The Rappler article provides good coverage on this as found here.

The undersecretary clarified that she did not state in any part of the briefing that PhP10k/month was enough for a Filipino family to live a decent life. She went on to clarify that the given figure was just a hypothetical amount for a minimum wage worker that they provided to show to the press how the current inflation rate would affect that budget, including its allocation per expense item. The budget allocation shown in the GMA news was what they forecast to be the change in the typical budget allocation provided originally in the 2015 Family Income and Expenditure Survey. It should be noted that this survey makes use of sampling weights (or “adjusted raising factors” as PSA calls them). They apply these to the data obtained from the sampled households in order to derive realistic estimates for the entire population.

Also interesting how the actual video of the press briefing shows the undersecretary making no mention of that purported controversial statement (see copy below).

More than anything, I believe this incident teaches us the beauty of taking our time to deliberate and ponder. It is one thing to be concerned, critical, and expressive, but another to be opinionated, rash, and uncivilized.

On the ways forward for the Philippine 4Ps

There has been an ongoing debate on this particular program. One related FB post in particular has been garnering attention showing the views of DA Secretary Piñol and Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin on the matter.

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The post in its entirety says:

A debate? Why not?

LAW SCHOOL PROPOSES
DEBATE ON 4Ps BENEFITS

By Manny Piñol

A dean of a Law School sent me a message early today asking if I would be willing to engage Akbayan Congressman Tom Villarin in a debate on the controversial 4Ps Program.

Obviously, the offer for a debate was an offshoot of differing views Cong. Villarin and I shared on the issue of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) or the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program of government.

Earlier, I shared the view that the funds for 4Ps totalling P70-B every year should be used instead for livelihood programs to contribute to productivity not only in food but other small-scale economic activities as well.

Since the start of the program under the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, government identified millions of poor families all over the country who were given cash grants periodically to help them tide over the Asian Economic Crisis.

Even after the Asian Economic Crisis, the program was continued and was used for political purposes, especially during the last Presidential elections when the candidates of the administration really focused on the 4Ps program as proof of its care for the poor.

Cong. Villarin, in reaction to my pronouncement, said that it would not be wise to abolish the program because it helps millions of poor families nationwide.

He even compared my proposal to an “EJK” (extra-judicial killing) which would affect 4.5-million families nationwide.

I do not want to be perceived as arrogant or cocky but if the debate would result in a better understanding of the program, I would be willing to participate.

There are just several things that I would like to clarify on my position with regards to 4Ps:

1. I am not proposing the abolition of the 4Ps funds altogether. My proposal is to use the same amount of money for livelihood projects for the 4Ps beneficiaries to make them productive, instead of just giving out the cash assistance with very little supervision from government;

2. I believe that there should be a timetable on how long a family would receive livelihood assistance from government. Under the 4Ps cash grant program, it seems like families who are listed under the program could receive the benefits forever. This deprives other families who also need support from government from benefitting from the program.

3. The 4Ps cash grants have taken away from ordinary people the drive to work, especially in the countryside, where many beneficiaries would just wait for their cash grants rather than look for other income earning opportunities. The result of this is very low agricultural and fisheries productivity.

I know that the 4Ps issue is a very touchy and controversial issue, especially among our political leaders. Many other political leaders share my views and thoughts on the amount of money being splurged by government on the program which could have been used for productive endeavours. But the 4Ps is like a tiger which will devour the political leader the moment he gets off it. Politicians are afraid that once they recommend for the review of the program, the 4Ps beneficiaries would get back at them during election time. So, instead of doing what is right, they just enjoy the ride on the back of the tiger.

The question, however, is until when should this situation continue.

In the meantime, this country is seeing the birth of a generation of mendicants who rely on government for their subsistence.

I am sorry but I am not your typical politician. I call a Spade a Spade and I will always stand up and speak up for what I believe is right even if it would cost me political brownie points.

#Changeishere#ProductivityNotMendicancy!

(Credit to the creator of the meme although I was assigned to the wrong department, DAR. It’s actually DA.)

 

However, going at it midway might still be better and is in fact what the likes of DSWD and DOLE have already set out to do.

Converging the 4Ps with existing government livelihood programs can be looked into to ensure that a social safety net is still provided while ensuring better value chain access of small- and medium-sized AFF enterprises. Ultimately, the end goal is to decrease the dependency of these 4Ps beneficiaries on the cash grants received.

On the transit-oriented development of Musashikoyama Palm, Japan

Was having one of those sentimental, quick trips down memory lane when I came across one of the things I rendered back in 2015.

July 16 Map - PALM.jpg
On pic is the integrated map showcasing a serial vision and facade of Musashikoyama Palm Shotengai in Shinagawa, Tokyo.

Japan is littered with and also aesthetically known through these commercial districts named shotengai. While these districts come in various sizes and form, they are usually structured as wide roofed streets (or “arcades” if we are going with the technical term) spanning hundreds of meters connected to the nearest train station.

However, what is commendable about Palm is the combined effect of its strategic size amounting to 635 meters (therefore the longest in Japan) as well as its location having been laid out away from the station.

ms.png

The satellite image above shows the entire length of the shotengai marked in red.

Ultimately, what this means for the ward of Shinagawa is that the arcade is not a mere hub whose economic activity is focused on the immediate vicinity of the station, which is oftentimes the scenario in many planned cases of transit-oriented development. Rather, in the case of Palm, it actually serves as a spine that extends all the way even to the much farther blocks of residential areas, thereby giving the much needed and more aptly distributed benefits of a bustling street life and livelihood support.

Clearly, we also need to consider the same for us here in the Philippines and it is good that efforts are already underway to improve not only the number and quality of infrastructure, but also the interconnectivity thereof.

Of the importance of risk management

For some time now, environmental scientists have been recognizing the need for an undertaking that addresses more than just the physical hazards resulting from the transgression of planetary boundaries as discussed before.

To be specific, the social impacts of pushing beyond these boundaries are not merely limited to how people are affected by these environmental hazards, but also how such communities are socioeconomically resilient in response.

To understand the concept of risk and its corresponding response of resilience is important as it serves as the bridge in determining how communities can direct their environmental management efforts based on socioeconomic improvement.

For instance, two countries exposed to the same environmental hazards may not be experiencing the same risk under such hazards because of their respective phases of development. For a country that has sufficient financial means, a capable and properly functioning government, and an organized civil society structure, the country should be capable of investing in countermeasures against these hazards.

This capability or lack thereof is what we call vulnerability. Thus, coming from this fundamental understanding of risk, the World Risk Index of 173 countries calculates risk as the product of both exposure and vulnerability.

Risk = Exposure x Vulnerability

Where

Risk is the interaction of both factors.

Exposure means that a certain good (e.g., population, infrastructure) is exposed to the impacts of one or more natural hazards.

Vulnerability refers to social, physical, economic, and environment-related factors that make people or systems susceptible or resilient to the harm to which one is exposed.

There are three components of vulnerability, namely susceptibility, coping capacities, and adaptive capacities, all of which share equal weights in the index.

Vulnerability = 1/3 (susceptibility) + 1/3 (coping capacities) + 1/3 (adaptive capacities)

Where

Susceptibility is the likelihood of sustaining harm based on factors such as current state of infrastructure, nutrition, housing conditions, and economic status.

Coping capacities refer to various abilities of societies to minimize the negative impacts of environmental hazards via direct action using the resources at their disposal.

Adaptive capacities are long-term strategic processes aimed at targeting future natural events.

Examples of specific indicators under exposure and the three factors of vulnerability are as follows.

wr1

(c) World Risk Report 2013

wr2

(c) World Risk Report 2013

In the case of the Philippines, the country has been on the index as the 3rd country at most risk to environmental hazards, after small island states Vanuatu and Tongga. It has consistently been at that rank for three years since 2011.

In fact, UNU-EHS Director Jakob Rhyner said, “The World Risk Index reveals global hotspots for disaster risk in Oceania, Southeast Asia, southern Sahel and especially in Central America and the Caribbean. In these places a very high threat of natural disasters and climate change meets very vulnerable communities. [Meanwhile,] in Europe we find countries which are [also] highly exposed to hazards, for example the Netherlands and Greece, but due to their level of preparedness the actual risk is quite low.”

It is thus highly important that the Philippines aim to possess an adaptive capacity as an ultimate goal if the country is to pursue a path of constant progress.

References:

World Risk Report 2013. Rep. Alliance Development Works, 2013. Web. 20 Jun. 2015. http://collections.unu.edu/eserv/UNU:2018/WorldRiskReport_2013_online_01.pdf

Panela, Shaira F. “PH Is 3rd Most Disaster-prone Nation in the World Again.” GMA News Online. GMA Network Inc., 16 Oct. 2012. Web. 20 Jun. 2015. http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/278482/scitech/science/phl-is-3rd-most-disaster-prone-nation-in-the-world-again

On breaking news: 4 planetary boundaries now crossed!

Human activity on the environment has tremendously increased within the two centuries that have passed since the age of industrialization, altering earth system processes to beyond recognition of what has been known for billions of years.

It is for this purpose that planetary boundaries have been established—to inform and guide mankind of the natural thresholds and the ways by which humanity can continue to thrive whilst living sustainably.

Such tipping points must not be met as transgression puts forth the risk of triggering non-linear rates of change–several of which, it is important to note, are irreversible. To add is the multi-faceted nature of ecological alteration—an influence on one boundary is likely to affect mankind’s position in terms of another boundary.

The nine planetary boundaries, as debated and discovered to be in need of utmost attention, are as follows with their current status also being shown.

ideas_envirographic3v7

(c) TedX

As of January 16 of this year, four out of the nine boundaries have already been transgressed.

Meanwhile, for cross-comparison of all nine boundaries, check the figure below. To zoom, simply click on the image and bring it to the address bar.

planetary-boundaries2.png

(c) The Carbon Brief

It should be noted that these transgressions are not a result of natural variability. While Earth system processes do come with extreme events (e.g., the Ice Age), such phenomena were occasional and not increasing in manner. Instead, the causes of these transgressions are anthropogenic in nature.

As validated through systems modeling, the present conditions of let’s say warming temperature do not match the natural rate of greenhouse effect present in the atmosphere but rather the continuous and exponential rise of greenhouse emissions from human activity—mostly from energy supply production.

These being said, with men at the core of the problem and also being subject to the very consequences thereof, there lies the question of how we should strategically respond to such issues.

In this regard, environmental scientists have found it important for nations to understand and incorporate the concept of risk management in their sustainable development goals. See next post for more details.

Reference:

“Planetary Boundaries 2.0 – New and Improved.” Stockholm Resilience Centre. Stockholm University, Jan. 2015. Web. 15 Mar. 2015. http://www.stockholmresilience.org/21/research/research-news/1-15-2015-planetary-boundaries-2.0—new-and-improved.html

Bird Walks: From Metro Manila to Tokyo

While I’m not exactly a birder like my friend Yui, I was nevertheless looking forward to our trip to Tokyo Port Wild Bird Park.

As surprising as it may sound, both my home institution, Ateneo de Manila University, and the neighboring University of the Philippines-Diliman are actually recommended sites for amateur birders located just within the vicinity of the metropolis.

Bird walks are organized periodically in both institutions; in addition, one might be delighted to discover that the latter also offers bird watching as one of its many course choices (as many as 100+) for Physical Education.

Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU)

Known for having one of the more beautiful campus grounds in the country with a lot area of 83 hectares, ADMU is home to 43 bird species as of 2011 count done by the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP). Resident birds amount to 36, of which 30 are endemic while 7 are migratory.

ATENEO CAMPUS MAP_1.png

The terrain is elevated at some points owing to the original hilly landscape where the university now lies. As seen on the map, trees line the streets and the vegetation becomes more dense towards the eastern side of the campus that actually overlooks a valley. Being more forested and untamed, this area grew overtime to be the university’s unofficial wildlife sanctuary as well as the favorite spot of bird watchers.
In fact, just last school year on the month of July, the university held its most recent batch of bird walks in celebration of the Ignatian Festival in honor of the school’s patron, St. Ignatius.

bird walk admu

The latest series of bird walks as sponsored by the Ateneo Institute of Sustainability

Some of the birds seen in the campus include the following (for the name, just hover over the image):

University of the Philippines-Diliman (UPD)

Meanwhile, with a staggering lot area of 493 hectares, UPD abounds with mini forests dotted around the campus. As of 2013, the university is home to 113 bird species, of which 109 are endemic, resident, and migratory while the remaining 4 are introduced and escapees.

UP-Diliman-Campus-Map

Knowing Yui, who’s a long-time avid birder, I know she would especially love it here as this open university town (think of it as like University of Tsukuba) is teeming with its own extensive wildlife set against one of the last remaining vestiges of the country’s urban forests. In addition, unlike in ADMU, bird watching can happen anywhere with birds spotted even around the busiest of areas such as the Main Library owing to the density of the forest ecosystem on campus.

Below, I have listed some of the birds verified by WBCP.

Tokyo Port Wild Bird Park

The park hosts 22 endemic bird species here in Japan, which is rather commendable considering that this is a reclaimed area.

Just last week, our class together with some friends from ANT461 (also under Professor Watanabe) went to the park after lunch and it was good knowing that the weather was clear and fair. From Yotsuya station, we took off for Ryutsu Center Station along the Tokyo Monorail line going to Haneda Airport. From there, the park is just a 15-minute walk.

While I know that Tokyo has its fair share of green patches, it still feels surreal as I am typing this right now to know that a bird sanctuary like this actually exists close by a busy airport. It’s a sharp contrast that leaves one in a dreamlike state upon entering the nature reserve, as if a switch had been turned on.

Some of the fauna that I could remember include:

Note: Pictures not mine. Close-up of the birds are not the actual shots.