A Long Overdue Faxinating (Breaking&) Entry

One of my favorite things about this internship is getting clearance to go into places that say 'don't come in here!'

Since the first stakeholder meeting its been crunch time meeting with different government offices, collecting the studies they’ve done on the state of the Tigum-Aganan Watershed, and plugging the analyzed information into my inventory.  This stage has been mostly talking with the Directors of various Regional*Departments ranging from Mining &

* the Philippines are divided into 12 regions, plus Metro Manila, that are made up of several Provinces and have limited powers as defined by the national government. They vaguely resemble States in the US but have much less legal autonomy and governance power.

Geosciences to Fisheries; Irrigation to Health (one’s got to have a very comprehensive list for such a comprehensive field like watershed management).  We also got to visit seven of the nine municipal governments which comprise the bioregion, a high school of one of these towns, and the municipal water district.  I have been thoroughly overwhelmed by both the difference in how government offices function in the Philippines and the immense hospitality I’ve been greeted with each visit.

So first the frustrating stuff of this process..  In order to ensure maximum transparency in the government (an effort to combat corruption) meetings need to be scheduled via fax addressed not to the person you want to meet with but with the head of the Department.  The letter also needs to be written to the Director while calling “ATTN” to the person the letter is actually for.  From my Western perspective this is incredibly confusing, almost as confusing as the process of learning how to send a fax in general (a surprisingly complicated skill to master which I will probably never use after going back to the States lol)

So the process of starting each of these meetings is always confusing for me just with the totally different way which the bureaucratic process of government operates (which is just as exciting, if not possibly even more, than what you’re imagining it is.. which makes

CUI team Iloilo meets and greats our stakeholders

me sad to say that for the sake of not having this be a novel I’m going to leave that there..) plus language, social customs, etc.  Luckily, however, I’m almost always accompanied by at least one member of our community partner, the Tigum-Aganan Watershed Management Board (TAWMB) for each visit.  In addition to being a great help in navigating through the bureaucratic process of meeting with government officials and doing the grunt work of translating when needed, having them there acts to develop a working relationship between TAWMB and these various entities that will continue long after I’m gone – relationships that will enable future opportunities for collaboration and data sharing.

Also, being the Westerner, my plan for this project would be to go into these offices, meet with the person I need to meet, make some small talk, dive into whatever inventory or data base they have, pull out their sources, say ‘bye, thanks for being awesome’ and split.

Stay tuned for my detailed description of the Philippine fax system!

studying bureaucratic-processes can help restore a healthy REM cycle!

Straight-forward yet warm – and fast.  Needless to say the Philippine government operates very differently.  Meetings compose of hanging out in a Directors office, chatting about what’s going on in their office, what’s going on in our offices, sharing stories and ultimately building a sense of relationship.  This is actually exactly perfect for my process-orientated project as the TAWMB members accompanying me are offered entire hours of sharing stories and drinking coffee with the Region’s head governmental Directors –  ensuring that they’ll recognize the name TAWMB, and recall some friendly faces [e.g. :D] next time watershed research proposals emerge!

a coffee break can be called either before or in the middle of a meeting with the National Irrigation Agency

As for the data, that’s something you don’t just get to pick up on the first outing to a Regional office.  That’s got to wait until at least the second time around..

crazy engineer map of the city's water filtration system

The water before it enters the filter

Now for the fun part.  People LOVE giving tours here and I’ve gotten to see things like dams, the city water cleaning system, a demo farm, a petrified baby sea cow, the grounds for a soon to be constructed theme park (still in giant, abandoned field phase for the moment though..), an education / union center for farmers, the inside of almost all of the mayor offices in the bioregion, and most importantly – many, many, many lunch lines of regional specialties.

I’ve also had some great meetings with the municipal governments in the bioregion area and had an inspiring tour of a sustainable demo farm but both of these definitely deserve their own post in the hopefully near future.

here are the bugs that are beginning to be used to replace pesticides in rice paddies

these little boxes hold the bad guys and are being used to find best practices for getting rid of them

these gears control the dam intake and outflow

everyone's favorite part of the meeting session

correction, THIS is everyone's favorite part 😉

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The Politics of Reproductive Health in a Developing, Catholic Country

A controversial reproductive health bill that would promote family planning education and the accessibility of contraceptives has been branded by some definitions, and also general public misunderstanding, as an abortion bill.

There is a huge controversy in the Philippines right now about a family planning bill.  This bill would invest in family planning services and education.  The Catholic Church feels that this bill would legalize abortion (it considers the use of contraceptives as a form of abortion).  This video does justice to the story and the opinions of those effected by it.

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A New Space for Green Space

In addition to being a head-turning ad space, Coca-Cola has release this really cool billboard in the fashionable city of Makati (one of the main business hubs of Metro Manila).

                                     a refreshment for urban air lol                                                                                         

Read more about this story by clicking through HERE

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Iloilo 101

Maka-Diyos, Maka-Tao, Makakalikasan, at Makabansa (For God, People, Nature, and Country)

So just a month ago I, like probably most Americans, equated the Philippines with a random mess of tiny islands somewhere in the ocean, southeast of China (just like Indonesia only smaller). And while that is mostly right (with 7,107 islands the Philippines is one hot mess of islands 😉 the description is incredibly vague and over the past few weeks I’ve finally developed a sense of what this country looks like besides a bunch of random tiny dots of rainforest green over a giant blotch of turquoise.

all 1,707 of them!

In addition to making the country look all snazzy, these colors mark the three regions of the Philippines. These regions are interesting because they are important enough that they each have a star representing them on the flag and currency but not vital enough to have their own government. So in a since they are like regions like the Midwest, South, and Pacific NW are to the States.

On top is Luzon – where Manila is.

On the bottom is Mindanao – where the US terrorist warning is and where that missionary couple, the Burnhams (remember In the Presence of My Enemies?), were kidnapped.

From Bohol, the world's tiniest apes live here in the Visayas to!

In the middle are the Visayas – known for world famous ecotourism sites like Bohol.

And that’s where I am!

More specifically I am on Panay Island, the one that looks like an angelfish



my new home, I live where the flipper almost meets the rest of the "angelfish"

looks like home to me!

In Panay (and in a lot of other places in the Visayas and Mindanao) people speak Ilongo (or Hiligaynon), one of the scores of officially recognized languages in the Philippines, and are Ilongo, a Philippine ethnic group. Panay Island is a small place with a lot going for it. In the north is Boracay, which is renowned as the second best beach in the world. Towards the northeastern part is Roxas City, which has the best fishery of the Philippines (which says something!). Just northwest of “the flipper”

UNESCO World Heritage Site

(Guimaras) is a city that has one of the leading maritime schools in SE Asia and a UNESCO World Heritage site Baroque church, and of course Guimaras is famous for producing the nation’s best mangoes (and they are AMAZING!). Finally you have Iloilo, directly above Guimaras, the Philippine food capital, is the second densest next to Manila, and has the second largest number of universities, again, only after the capital city, and is reportedly world famous for their hospitality (which is fierce and inspiring).

The island was devastated thoughin 2008 when Typhoon Frank torn through it and accompanied by failing watershed management practices, industrial uses, and the added effects of global warming fluctuating the normal intake (and thus flow) of its rivers, the regional watershed – the Tigum-Aganan is one of the worse off watershed in the Philippines. In fact, only 20% of the city can get potable water from the water district, the rest is at high risk of ammonia. To address this issue everyone who can buys giant (20 galloon) water containers which are filled at filling stations with purified water (although the wealthy just have really nice water filters while those under the sustenance line, or 70% of the urban population, either buys what they can, day-to-day or… well, I’m not sure.

general area of the Tigum-Aganan Watershed

There are seven towns, over 400,000 people, three major environments (upland forest, downhill plains and farmland, and urban settlements), and quite a few universities that make their home here in the Tigum-Aganan Watershed, and these are my project stakeholders, partners, and more importantly, my new neighbors and, one by one, friends.

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Jovial Jeepneys


The master of the roads in the Philippines, jeepneys seem to make up of a third of the traffic on the roads of Iloilo.  These fabulous guys are the backbone of urban transit, each one with its own vaguely marked route through the city (vague bc these routes are not marked and the driver may deviate from their normal route – seemingly depending on perceived demand or  need to make any personal errands).

it's getting a bit crowded in here!

Speaking of driving habits – there are no lights or signs on the roads in Iloilo and driving habits are dictated not by strict legal laws but by loose social codes and through warning honks, ‘body’ language and a bit of courtesy drivers get to their destinations with very few instances of wrecks.  In fact through the chaos driving and being a pedestrian seems to be safer here than back in North America – surprisingly enough!

complete with plastic covered cushions on both the seats and the ceiling, a handrail on both side, and, on jeepneies whose routes go across the whole metro area, a wooden bench down the middle, Jeepnies are equipped for comfort for as many people as you can stuff into them - over thirty including the roof!!

Public transportation in the Philippines includes private use rides like trikes, paddy cabs, taxis, and motorcycles which will all get you where you’re going faster than a jeepney but at higher rates as it costs a mere 7.50 pesos (or like $0.18) to ride.

The first question the novice jeepney rider needs to ask is – how the heck do I use one of these things?!

Well instead of telling you here’s a fun vid that walks you through it

And yes, the contents of this video are mostly true

One thing about jeepneys though is that some of them are smog shooters and it can be really gross to get caught behind one of those guys.  Hopefully you have a handkerchief in hand to help you breathe comfortably

there were easily four rows of hankies at this department store

Luckily the Philippines are getting on this and are pushing for a line of electric jeepneys that will improve air quality and cut back on the country’s carbon footprint (which is only 0.1% of the world’s carbon footprint anyways, but still an important cause).  Unfortunately for me this first wave will only be in Manila (although from what I’ve heard their air quality is much, much worse than Iloilo which I think has the second worse rate), but hopefully they’ll be shipping these new jeepneys down to the Visayas soon!

The Jeepney of the Future!!

UPDATE: So on my morning walk to work today I came accross an Electric Jeepney right here in Iloilo! A very official E-Jeepney to, it had the seal of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and a picture of the Philippine president (who has taken on the nickname Pnoy, short for Presdient + Bengingo Aquino III, and a play on words on Pinoy – slang for Philippino)

Good work Pnoy and DENR!!

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Action is the Anecdote

We had our first stakeholder engagement meeting and it turned out to be a milestone event.  We were working with the technical group of our local community partner but it was the first time they had gathered to plan and then start implementing a project with a clearly defined final deliverable.  There was a great energy in the group as we were identified the government entities we would meet with over the next two weeks (starting this Friday!) to gather and analyze their data on the socioeconomic, political, and (most urgently) biophysical aspects of watershed health and management.

The meeting went totally different from what I had planned, in fact two minutes into it I had to drop my entire outlined meeting plan like it was a hot potato and allow for an organically emerging structure to take its place.  I got a bit lost at times as different group members would jump in and speak a lot of the logistical matters in  Hiligaynon (AKA Illongo) but once things were figured out the planning process went really smoothly and we identified over ten government entities I would visit in the company of a group member (in this way they build social capacity between our community partner and other data-generating entities that will create the relationships needed to coordinate future research and administrative projects).  We also decided to meet every other week to review the collected data, identify gaps in the data, and then map out the next group of entities we would need to collaborate with to further our study.  So after creating our work plan, identifying key informants, and scheduling meetings with those informants.  It’s a great group – a lot of bright, experienced, friendly people and I’m excited to get to work alongside and learn from them as we work together.

After spending all day with eachother (like 8 am to like twenty minutes ago) you’d think me and the rest of the staff would be sick of eachother!  Well we’re actually about to jog the boardwalk on the Iloilo River.  Lots of love here : D

(ps so everyone does smileys here and they do it ALL of the time so I’ve taken up the practice to help me acculturate ; ) Plus Glee and Bruno Mars is all the rage here, which you normally wouldn’t think of as elements of culture shock, but trust me, for this indie kid it kinda is lol

ok, well I gotta run, literally – soon to come on my blog; the wonders of the Jeepney.

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First Steps in My Project

As I learned in school, the only way to make a substantial impact when working with communities is by getting to know them and their needs before starting a project.  Luckily enough, I was able to dive into my project with the Tigum-Aganan Watershed by literally jumping into the Aganan River!

The Tigum and Aganan rivers come from the Maasin Watershed at the very far north end of the Metro Iloilo – Guimaras (MIG) Bioregion.  These rivers then go through the region’s high lands, fall into the lowlands, and then merge together to form the Jaro (like “Hardy’s with an “Oh” instead of a “dy’s”) River which passes through the city.

My literal dive-in could not have been done without the organizing of the outstanding leadership of students from a town near the foot of the highlands of MIG along with other environmentalist leaders.  They organized a walk down the river so to expose the youth to state of the river, promote awareness to the city and residents among the river’s edge, and plant trees.

The walk started at 7:30 am and went on until past eleven, and this wasn’t your grandma’s river stroll – we dealt with on-going stretches of deep, sticky mud, steep climbs, intense humidity and temperature, some ferocious ants, and a lot of water buffalo, or as they’re called here “caribou” (pronounced with an “ow” instead of a long “u”.   This included seeing a rare white water buffalo with her white calf.  It reminded me of an old Dakota legend – something about how a white buffalo (American bison) will bring peace to Earth I think.. Hopefully since my first sight of the Aganan was of it bathing this pair of white water buffalo will bring some sort of great luck to my journey lol

It was great being able to literally be in the midst of my project and hang out with so many people who call its shores home.  It was also very powerful to hear the accounts which natural disasters and global warming has had on the river and its people in the past ten years.  A few years ago Typhoon Frank came through and destroyed many barangays (communities that compose a municipality), public amenities and lives.  Also, global warming has also caused the river to become less predictable, varying wildly from extreme dryness to horrifying overload, disrupting the flow of the region’s social life and economy.  A partner of my organization told me that when he was a kid he would come out here and play in the Aganan but with the recent changes the river has become a much less welcoming host for the camping trips of his youth.  The challenges brought by natural disaster  and climate change as major  threats to long-lasting development in the whole bioregion as this region, and many other parts of the developing world, prepares for the imminently worsening in the interplay between the two.

A triumphant group of youth advocates!

After our exhilarating walk it was time to relax!!  My supervisor/friend and I went to a resort to hang out with the mayor of a nearby town.  A really jolly fellow, and a member of the board of an organization that works very closely with CUI, we were welcomed to rinse off the mud caked on us, jump in the pool, and then go out to a public feast in remembrance and celebration of the life of a resident who had passed away a year before hand (it’s traditional here to morn for a year and then hold a big public party in honor of the deceased).   There were eleven huge things of food including lechon (a giant boar roasted whole!!).

Whole Hog Cafe, eat your heart out

Then it was time to go back to the city proper and begin my move from my CouchSurfing site to my new apartment (more pics of that to come soon) with a much stronger understanding of our partnerships, context, and challenges in constructing a sustainable development plan in the face of climate change and worsening natural disasters.

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