News Coverage

A few weeks ago CUI attended Iloilo’s first ever business summit.  The emphasis was on sustainability so naturally, with our focus on sustainable development in the Metro Iloilo-Guimaras Bioregion, we couldn’t miss it!

This interview happened really randomly and I’m pretty sure I said “should” instead of “shall” but hey, whatever.  I’m just happy they put me by the ad for Mang Inasal, that place is delicious!

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Sustainable Business for Low-Income Communities in the Watershed

Today I went around with some of the leaders of the Tigum-Aganan Watershed Management Board – Technical Working Group (TAWMB-TWG).  Our mission, to pick-up the Comprehensive Land Use Plans (CLUP) in half of the bioregion along with any other environmental data and management plans that would fit in either this or the next stage of

'Making Wealth from Waste!'

the inventory.  Of course things never go so straight-forward as just going to the municipal halls, saying – hey! where’s those docs I was asking for? – and than just bounce out.  This process is coated with story-telling, meeting people, randomly being asked to give awkward speeches in front of crowds, and touring sights.

Today’s trip was really cool in that there was a common theme in these side-trips – sustainable businesses for low-income communities.  The first being a program facilitated by the Environment and Natural Resource Office of the Municipality of Pavia where disadvantaged citizens are recycling discarded textiles into really cool goods.  Another project is being facilitated by a civic-group in the Municipality of Maasin and is being suppervized by the Region 6 Department of Environment and Natural Resources where people are learning how to take fallen banana leaves and instead of letting them go to waste they turn it into twine.

The MENRO (Municipal Environment and Natural Resource Officer) and leaders from the TAWMB-TWG discussing Pavia's program to include the elderly, handicapped, and other disadvantaged citizens to make new materials out from discarded textiles.

Pier One? Nope, citizens of Pavia!

coin purses and cell phone slips 

This was waiting for us when we arrived at the citizen group in Maasin - a big pile of banana leaf fiber!

Leader of civic group, KAPAWA, and TAWMB member, talks about the importance of the work being done by the sessions students and now potential banana twine producers

DENR officers, KAPAWA director, and myself after our awesome speeches / my incredibly awkward ramblings

after a lot of elbow grease and 'riti-riti' here is the end result of today's session - banana twine!

It was a fascinating day that ended with a journal full of stories of communities pulling themselves into stable jobs while sustaining the health of the watershed and five thick stacks of Comprehensive Land Use Plans.  Time to hit the books!

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EcoFarms: Sustainable Farming to Ease Philippine Poverty

In meeting with different regional government agencies there have been some really fantastic tours.  One of these which I had to make sure I had my camera for was with the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), which, in addition to serving agricultural demands for water, works in developing rural communities and empowering farming communities with policy, best practices, organization, and knowledge sharing.

We spent the morning of our meeting touring a training / organizing site for farmers (where we got to talk about the biophysical watershed inventory) in the western section of the Iloilo Bioregion and then went on to a sustainable demo farm.

Farmer's training/organizing center

A pair of Native Chickens which are part of a learning exhibit on how these birds are better adapt at being raised (and are just plain tastier!) than conventional chickens in this area.

A rice mill donated by a Japanese development agency that is designed to work with a type of rice that doesn't grow well in this area of the Philippines - a costly mismatch of 'project fit'. Now it just sits in the corner of the stock room.

Talking about the crossover of watershed health and what NIA studies and services over coffee (instant coffee, which is common in/around Iloilo anywhere - office, restaurant, home - except for coffee houses)

12 people!!!

Heading to the demo farm we come by a trike (motorcycle + sidecar) with twelve people were on this one!

arriving not quite at the farm

a few rice paddies later we arrive!

The farm, while just a few acres in size, maximizes the efficiency of their crops allowing the owner and 3-5 employees to earn middle-class level incomes. The NIA believes that this model is an accessible and affordable model for farmers in the Philippines that will greatly improve their overall yields, increase rural income, make the Western Visayas the national leader in rice production, and deliver a great blow to rural poverty in the country.

The farm is set-up to maximize the benefits that different crops and animals can provide for each other. In this aguacultural set-up the fish waste fertilizes the squash and the squash, by taking up these nutrients, keep the fish safe and allows for better food to grow in with the fish

koi, tilapia, and greens

wild pig!

main chicken coop - they keep most of the birds in their at any given time but circulate them regularly to spacious areas around the farm where they de-bug and fertilize the crops

Inside the coop

A new mother in the middle of bringing new piglets into the world

And here are the ones that have come out so far - adorable!


chickens fenced-into a rice paddy

its a pretty good sized space

feeding time - just in case some of them aren't the best hunters / they're just so effective at eating bugs they're running low!

Chicken-nesting area - the elevated baskets allow for the warm, tropical air to heat the eggs from below while the hen warms them from above, increasing the yield of chickens from each set of eggs laid

Egg-rearing in action

Functional? Possibly. Either way I think it's awesome!

best farm hand ever! well - at least cutest

a crowd of tilapia/koi pound with a huge catfish passing through

a slightly smaller catfish to the one in the pond

farm fresh papayas!

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Green Spaces of Manila

Metro Manila is a booming metropolis whose infrastructure is overwhelmed by a rate of population growth that adds a thousand new residents everyday.  The demand for real estate is so intense that entire stretches of Manila is barren of trees and even weeds are scarce.   While parks are typically just found in such affluent areas of Metro Manila like Makati, parks, they do illustrate how public-private efforts can provide fantastic public spaces.

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These pictures provide glimpses of the public and corporate parks, green roofs, and plazas which dot the urban environment of Manila, providing spaces for people to both reconnect with nature and to come together and get away from the hustle of a city so intense it makes NYC seem chill.  

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What if… “the Philippines remained an American colony”

On my flight heading back to Iloilo City from my weekend trip in Manila I found this really interesting article that asks the question,

“What if…

…we were still an American colony in 2011? Tim Tayag humors us with what we could have been had the Philippines not won its independence in 1946

SEVERAL MONTHS AGO, Senator Bongbong Marcos made a highly debatable statement: “If my father [Ferdinand Marcos] was not exiled, the Philippines could be a Singapore now.” Or something to that effect. Taking his cue, can we boldly declare: “If the Philippines remained an American colony, the country could be a Hawaii or Puerto Rico or a Guam right now?” How would our lives be different?

Our faux American accents would be justified.
You wouldn’t have to work in a call center or be a DJ to sport a heavy drawl or twang. When people ask, “You talk like you’re from the US, where you from?” you can answer proudly, “I’m from the coffee state of Batangas, biatch!”

Our sari-sari stores would have more PX Goods. 
I love Chocnut, but it would be nice to have a broader variety of junk food at our disposal. Sari-sari stores would carry American items as Twinkies, Three Musketeers, Captain Crunch, fresh milk in a carton and Corona beer.

We wouldn’t need a US visa… 
Or need to line up at most embassies, for that matter. We would enjoy the same “no visa policy” that most of the world enjoys — except for China and other countries that aren’t too crazy about the Yankees. Japan, Europe and the rest of North America would welcome us without that condescending look as if we’re coming to take away their jobs. We could rightfully say, “I’m here to spend money, so stamp my passport and get out of my way!”

American Idol would be dominated by Pinoys.
Ryan Seacrest would learn how to speak Tagalog or Chabacano — after all, the top 24 would all be Filipinos belting out songs like Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, Umbrella, Easy Like Sunday Morning and Anak. And there would finally be an American Idol of Pinoy descent.

Street kids would wear reflectorized vests. 
In true enterprising Pinoy fashion, they would still peddle their wares on EDSA, but at least they would be dressed appropriately to keep them from being run over.

Amusement parks would be scary for the right reasons. 
We would be thrilled by huge drops and scream-inducing speed not worrying about getting tetanus from rusty metal or whether the ride passed the safety inspection.

We would get some of that Obama bailout money. 
We could cry like those on Wall Street and get a piece of the stimulus package pie.Truth is, we’ll never know for sure. We are where we are for a good reason; what it is, I still do not know. What’s clear is we gotta love the Philippines, for better or for worse.”

Article taken from

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If Earth is a Spaceship is Laika the whole Crew?

God can forgive, Environment can not”

– Aganan Integrated Watershed Plan Report

"Adverse environmental disturbance has a domino effect on human life... Once the environment is damaged it will take its own revenge. Aganan Watershed is the source of irrigation water of the National Irrigation Administration. If there will be less supply of water there will be a great impact on food production especially rice. . Rice is a water loving plant and is the staple food of Filipinos."

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A Day in the Life

As I was going through the day at work it struck me that this was a very typical day for me in the field.  And that made me very glad how well this project is going.

My days so far have been split between meeting people / government organizations and p compiling, and analyzing the secondary-data that I gather from them / going to and hosting meetings with stakeholders.

A typical day in the field starts off with either a jeepney ride if I’m staying in the city or taxi ride if I’m going far out into one of the municipalities further out in the bioregion.  Today’s taxi ride started out with the usual chatter of explaining where I from, why I’m here (I’m an intern at the Canadian Urban Institute!) which is followed by an explanation that I’m not a Canadian, talking about Philippine culture and finally comparing Philippine to American weather.  The Philippines, being both a tropical and an island country, keeps a pretty consistently warm temperature of say 32C/90F which only a bit cooler later on in the year.  This makes my stories of Arkansas summers reaching 40C/110F and Missouri winters diving down to -18C/-1F just mind-blowing

This day was interesting because the driver went into an interesting talk about poverty.  When I asked him what he thinks is a solution to poverty in the Philippines I was surprised by the straight-forwardness of his answer – move to another country; China, Japan, Malaysia, or the Middle East and find work (which itself is almost impossible here) even though it probably won’t pay much.  He went on to tell me about how attractive Filipina girls sometimes have to leave the Philippines to find work and take on risque jobs at bars, clubs, or end up in prostitution.  This is actually a big trend in Japan where Filipinas in such situation wind up marrying a Japanese client, and becoming, as my taxi driver put it, a “Japouki”

While on the topic of women was on the table the driver asked me if I had a girlfriend back in America.  I just said I had a boyfriend back home and he does a double take and then asks me with very sincere curiosity “why?!!”  “Well we like each other a lot…” I start explaining and then remembering the importance of the family in Philippine culture I throw in “and my parents LOVE him!!”  The driver starts to chuckle and nod like that’s a totally reasonable explanation and we continue talking about another aspect of Filipino society.

So after a good long drive we arrive at the Municipal Hall where I would be meeting with my community partner and went through what has become the very typical protocol here; get introduced to all the staff members, pose for pictures with staff, sign-in, shake hands with the mayor, pose for pictures with the mayor, talk about how my project is going, have a quick ‘coffee break,’ shake hands again with the mayor, and then leave but not before some random girl is like ‘oh its a white guy!’ and has her picture taken with me.

After this we needed to go to another Municipal Hall to actually get the data.  And the trip there was anything but typical.

The community partner member and I rode A bike for about an hour through breathtaking scenes of the Panay Highlands, dodging ditches, water buffalo and fording a river.  It was awesome.

An hour, maybe two, later we arrive and get introduced to all the staff members, pose for pictures with staff, sign-in, shake hands with the mayor, pose for pictures with the mayor, talk about how my project is going, have a quick ‘coffee break,’ shake hands again with the mayor, and get offered a very kind token from the Mayor.  The municipalities and Regional government organizations I’ve worked with have been fantastically hospitable and there have been many times I’ve left a meeting with some gift like a box of locally made candies (baye-bayes to be exact 🙂 ), a hand sewn tapestry, a bamboo fan, lots and lot and lots of food, I’ve even been offered a pet koi!  That said, Illongos are seriously famous for their hospitality and its been great to be the benefactor from their generous spirits, an attribute I hope I will take with me as the ultimate souvenir.  With that said I was seriously unprepared for this..

“So how long are you here for?”

“I’ve been here since June and am staying until late August”

“So where do you live?”

“In Iloilo City”

“Oh, do you rent a house?”

“No, I’m just in an apartment downtown”

“I have a few extra lodges here in _____, why don’t you take one of those for the rest of your time here for free?”

yikes!! If it wasn’t for the long comute I think I would have jumped at the chance! That and knowing how rude it is to turn down a gift here I would have had a hard time turning anything down unless, you know, it was a whole freaking house!

Back to the normal stuff now

Noon: take community partner out for lunch for delicious Filipino cuisine, talk about the state of the watershed, local politics, etc

Afterwards; go to a government office to discuss research projects done by the organization and gather what will be useful for the State of the Watershed Report which is followed up by a tour of the facilities and its immediate surroundings (in this case the municipal water sources, a tree nursery, and a bamboo forestry facility (with bambbo almost thirty feet long and weighing 25 kilos).

During the tour my tour guide, a volunteer at the site, was telling me his story about Typhoon Frank and the trees that saved him.  Nodding at the house fifty meters away from the river he explains to me that ‘the trees protects our house from the floods, if it wasn’t for the trees Typhoon Frank would have destroyed our home.’

The aftermath of Typhoon Frank

And then a super-intense storm starts up so I end up hanging out in the office until its clears so I can head back to the office.  In the meantime, however, I listen to stories about hikes in the Tigum-Aganan Headwaters like the Ginlumsan sang Ayam Falls, the mysterious three-basin falls were twigs, leaves, and animals (including someone’s dog!!) falls through the first basin to the second basin and then disappear in the third.  There seems to be a great whirlpool that even with scuba equipment has never been sucessfully explored by people.  Local legend says that the falls are guarded by mysterious spirits which cause unexplainable disasters.

Spooky, huh?

Well despite the whole being offered a lodge part this was a pretty typical day for me.  It’s sad to think I’m already halfway through.

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