Torre, Chit de la

Taking Care of Our Home

by Visitacion “Chit” R. dela Torre


To talk about the universe is to talk about the earth and thus, to talk about the earth is to talk about home.  Thus, every human being’s home, every creature’s home on this planet earth, has the entire universe for his/her home.  Following Matthew Fox’s Creation Spirituality in his book, Wrestling with the Prophets, it is imperative that all humans honor the cosmos since the cosmos, the universe, is their one and only home. 

When one hears about ecological degradation or environmental disaster, it pains every human being’s core.  Since every creature, every life, is interconnected, then whatever happens to the tiniest creature on earth happens and affects all human beings. 

Biologist James Lovelock writes about the “Gaia Theory – how living organisms coordinate their activities around planet Earth to affect the land, water, air and climate to keep everything in balance within the narrow range of condition that support life.  Another scientist, Rupert Sheldrake, who is also a Theosophist, speaks of a “morphogenetic field” – an invisible matrix or organizing field that connects all life and all thought on earth, with each aspect affecting all others.”  All humans, given their body-mind-spirit complex, need to be alarmed and must do something to slow down this environmental carnage.  Otherwise, what might happen is the realization of what mystic Hildegard of Bingen in the 13th century has warned about: “If humanity breaks the ‘web of justice’ that is creation then “God justice permits creation to punish humanity.”  Quantum physicist Thomas Berry has also alerted humans when he cited man’s neglect of our home is a “supreme pathology” as we go about “closing down the major life systems of the planet.”

Unfortunately, today’s current situation sees the uncanny conspiracy of human and other material creatures in a slow, systematic destruction of our home, the universe.  What this paper attempts to do is to draw attention to some efforts of human beings, in particular, Filipinos, in protecting the environment.  Not that these efforts shall translate to something great but to note that these efforts should be replicated many times over, with some variables considered.

Sustainable development is what we endorse.  It refers to using “resources that meet human needs while preserving the environment so that these needs can be met not only in the present, but in the indefinite future.”  Thus, in a sustainable environment, the economy included, there is no room for greed. 

For instance, in promoting sustainable seafood farming, a Filipina scientist’s groundbreaking studies on the life cycles of tiger prawns in the Panay region have helped her come up with a new mission – save the mangroves that act as a vital buffer zone between land and sea.  Jurgenne Primavera, whose work has been extolled by Time Magazine as one of the “Heroes of the Environment”, has suggested that aquaculturists leave the mangroves alone.  Like coral reefs, mangroves have become the victims of the fishermen’s greed to improve their productivity but at the expense of something innately part of the environment.

When aquaculturists destroy mangroves to make way for shrimp or fish farms, land erosion results, removing a “crucial” nursery for wild fish and destroying a plant network that acts both as a giant sponge (by absorbing nasty effluents) and as a barricade (by blocking the fury of typhoons and tsunamis).  Besides, introducing exotic (and therefore foreign) seafood species into local habitats, may disturb and damage the natural delicate ecosystem in that particular area.  By Primavera’s keen advocacy to keep a 4 to 1 ratio of mangroves to farm ponds, nature can be protected while allowing prawn lovers to enjoy an occasional prawn cocktail.  Primavera educates all aquaculturists as she vehemently points to the benefits of saving mangroves.  “People might think the mangroves are just wet trees.  But they give us so much.  All we have to do is use them.”  Indeed, mangroves naturally filter water, and their forests remove farm waste more efficiently than expensive equipment can.

Some five years ago, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatics Resources (BFAR) conceived the idea to put up a mariculture park.  Operating similarly to the industrial estates run by the Export Processing Zone Authority (EPZA), a mariculture park has fishermen investing in a part of the mariculture park where they can culture fish such as bangus (milkfish).  This would empower fishermen to raise fish and earn sufficient income.  One such mariculture park is the Panabo Mariculture Park in Panabo City, Davao del Norte, dubbed as the emerging mariculture hub in the south.

Considering the high cost of investment (a 10 x10 x 5 meter fish cage made of bamboo costs P 470,000 or made of pipe at P 576,000) and other cash outlay such as fingerlings, feeds and labor during the grow-out period, the BFAR has encouraged fishermen to organize themselves into clusters or cooperatives and enroll in the government’s “Rent to-Own-a-Cage Program”.  Under this scheme, groups of fishermen pay only P 80,000 to cover the cost of the fish cage and would be paid in tranches after each harvest.  Well, two years since it was established, Panabo Mariculture Park has 140 operational cages owned by 53 investors.

While the mariculture park covers a total of 1,075 hectares, only 60 hectares has been allotted for fish farming operations while another 20 hectares would be for seaweed farming to ensure sustainability.  According to the BFAR director Malcolm Sarmiento, Jr.  “The combination of fish cage and seaweed farming would ensure natural nutrient cycling as the seaweeds would need the carbon dioxide given off by the fish, which, in turn, would benefit from the oxygen produced by the former.”  In addition to generating additional income for the fisherfolk, a mariculture park, it also creates job opportunities (locals are employed as caretakers, harvesters and divers).  Other locals earn their income from the construction, maintenance and repair of the fish nets, hauling of feeds and handling and sorting of bangus after harvest.

But more importantly, putting up mariculture parks is seen as an all significant conservation measure, particularly in reducing the ill effects of climate change.  And how is this?  Through mariculture parks, the fishermen are weaned from fish hunting to fishfarming.  Director Sarmiento explains, “For the fishermen, a life of fish farming would mean an assurance of fish that would be harvested, less working hours and hazards to  life and limb, as well as to savings in the cost of fuel.  For the environment, it means a respite for marine life to flourish and increase in population.”

A similar example of sustainable development is happening in the island of Panglao in Bohol.  The women of Sugufa, a cooperative engaged in the raising of bangus in fish cages, guard the fish cages and market the fish harvested.  In fact, these members of a people’s organization are all part of Padayon which manages all the protected areas of the Bohol Marine Triangle (the municipalities of Panglao, Dauis and Baclayon).  The maintenance of the marine protected areas is carried out by the local folk who are poor but are taught the long-term benefits of a protected area.  This BMT marine area is protected from over fishing, or diving.  The protected areas are usually coral formations which could act as a “nursery” for fish, thus assuring the fish-farmers a sustainable supply.

Even the local coffee industry has thrown its support behind the policies espoused by Sustainable Agriculture Initiatives (SAI) Philippines.  SAI Philippines was established and modelled after SAI Europe where the coffee sector is one of the most active.

The idea of sustainable farming is already at work.  In 2005, farmer Patricio Castillo, 40 years, asked 28 of his neighbors in the farming village of San Joaquin in Balungao, Pangasinan, to work with him on his three-hectare lot to raise crops and animals for food.  Castillo’s group planted rice, corn and various vegetables and cultivated and raised tilapia, chickens, ducks, goats, pigs and turkeys.

Castillo introduced his idea of integrated farming to his neighbors and today, they are reaping the benefits, both cash and non-cash.  According to the Philippine Rice Research Institute (Phil Rice), Castillo and his neighbors are among the growing list of rice farmers in the country who subscribe to the ‘palayamanan system” coined from the Filipino words “palay” (unhusked rice) and “kayamanan” (wealth).  The key concept in the system is a high level of integration.  It combines rice with other high-value crops and trees, fish, poultry, livestock and business recycling.  Dr. Leocadio Sebastian, a former Phil Rice Executive Director, adds, “It espouses efflicient use of available farm resources and highlights the interconnectivity between each resource and by products through modern available technologies.” 

Echo Store, short for Environment and Community Hope Organization, is a specialty shop that promotes a sustainable lifestyle.  It carries home decor, food and nutritional items, fashion accessories, handicrafts, and other organic products that foster sustainable use of resources and help create livelihood opportunities, especially for the less privileged.  Products from small Filipino producers all over the country are sold at the Echo Store which is located at Serendra in Taguig City.  So far, so good, the Echo Store has attracted buyers of organic products and home décor and food that promote a sustainable lifestyle.

Other small entrepreneurs have proposed some ventures that promise to be life sustaining.  For instance, the “Gold in Garbage” project of Jericho Magbanua of Negros Occidental for his zero waste process technology which transforms all kinds of garbage into building materials or organic fertilizer.  Then there is the “Happy Earth Organic Fertilizers” by Emmanuel Quisol to transform banana peelings into natural fertilizers or the proposal to use native bee propolis extracts for wealth and well-being by Hanilyn Aguilar-Hidalgo of Camarines Sur or the “Durian Fiber Processing by Women” of Betty More of Davao City or the rubber tire recycling business now receiving orders from United Kingdom or the King’s Grill smoke-free charcoal which gets orders from Israel, or the “Rags 2 Riches” venture that transforms scrap cloth into designer hand bags or envelope bags and produced by women from Payatas (formerly a garbage dump site) in Quezon City.

The Rags 2 Riches, in fact, won the Social Enterprise award from the Philippine Business in Development (BID) by the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) and the Dutch BID Network Foundation.  Rags 2 Riches makes use of scrap cloth from various textile mills or fashion shops.  Normally these scrap cloth would end up as pot holders or house mats but now, with the help of professional artists like Rajo Laurel, Bencab and Anita Magsaysay Ho, the pieces of scrap cloth are transformed into beautiful handbags which fetch much higher prices, thereby enabling the poor women weavers from Payatas higher incomes.

As to the war against pollution and greenhouse gases brought about by fossil fuels, the Philippines has passed the Renewable Energy Act which has resulted into an aggressive use of alternative, renewable energy such as those from biofuels, wind, sun and even water.  Biofuel production has increased considerably in various parts of the country while electric tricycles, jeeps and buses are now plying some roads and highways in certain areas of Metro Manila, and nearby provinces.  Energy efficiency is also hugely encouraged with the shifting to the use of non-carbon fluorescent light in households and government offices.  Green buildings and other green architecture, may not be as plenty in the Philippines but already, a few “green” structures and commercial spaces have been designed and in use.

In today’s war on global warming, our Mother Earth cries in pain and anguish.  If we are to take care of Mother Earth which is our own wide home, we need to change our consciousness, and redesign our relationship with nature and energy.

To change our consciousness, we ought to listen to Matthew Fox who offers an awakened cosmology that results in an awakened mysticism.  Mysticism, here, does not refer to an undefinable dark secret that human beings cannot experience.  On the contrary, the mystical experience refers to the feeling of awe one experiences with all the created things on earth and in all of the human being’s relationship with the universe.  Fox enunciates and exhorts, “We need to recover the sense of the sacred as the sense of the awesome.”  Continues Fox,  “Awe is about an increased sense of the sacred in things – and beyond them.”  Thanks to the cosmic story, we are learning how sacred our home is.”

More than feeling as benevolent managers or stewards of the universe, being in awe of the universe means accepting the whole of creation, the whole of the universe, as a blessing.  Fox maintains, “In other words, blessing is cosmological.  Blessing and awe go together, for awe can be said to be our response of blessing for blessing.”

Believing and practicing this sense of awe and blessing in all life forms in this universe, all human beings ought to take care of our home, our environment.  A compassionate outlook and attitude to all that breathes life on this universe is enough to push us to save and protect our environment.

Having redefined or refined our relationship to nature, to energy, then it is much easier to curtail greed and corruption, eliminate pollution and slow down global warming.  Sustainable development does not even have to become an issue.  What matters is how our changed consciousness and perspective towards all of creation has become a warm embrace of shared divinity, of shared godliness with the One Source of all that is in the cosmos.