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 human condition.

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 structure.

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 complex society.

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 products.

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 nature.

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 grand projects.

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 the following:

  • 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 society needs.
  • 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 optimization.

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 as well.

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 new communities.

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 slums.

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 stand."

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."

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