IT TOOK a question from Sister Josephine Bacaltos of the Good Shepherd Sisters to voice out what many of the attendees have been wondering all morning: With all of the ordinances which sought to preserve the environment, how had flood-prone Davao City reached this point?
“I grew up here in 1946,” revealed Sister Jo, one of Davao’s stalwarts in gender advocacy. “And yet I cannot recognize it now; Davao is green but now it has become brown.”
A few among the motley group of development workers, civic action groups and non-government organizations in the audience chuckled. It was a question that perhaps defined the whole event, the Green Forum, which was organized to commemorate World Environment Month last June.
Green vs Brown Spaces
Earlier that morning, Executive Director Dam Vertido of the Mindanao Land Foundation, had treated the participants to a timeline presentation of Davao City’s urban spaces.
“This is Davao through the years,” he said as he presented old photos of the municipal park in front of the SP, the Acacia intersection, and the campuses of Holy Cross and Ateneo.
He pointed out that because of expanding population and urban transport, the city has been enlarging common spaces by cutting down trees and concretizing pavements resulting in the modern sprawl that is today’s Davao City.
Such development characterizes the battle between green and brown spaces, he said.
“Open spaces and easements have to be sacrificed in favor of the more pressing need to provide urban spaces for the city population,” Vertido said.
A similar situation exists in the uplands. In her own presentation, Interface Development Interventions Policy Specialist Chinkie Pelino pointed out that the absence of properly delineated and demarcated areas set aside for conservation and protection had allowed monocrop plantations to gain a foothold in identified water recharge areas.
“We need to manage our upland resources responsibly and sustainably because this will have an effect downstream. The health of our urban and coastal ecosystems is inextricably tied into the ecology of the uplands,” she said.
Dr. Ruth Gamboa, from the University of the Philippines in Mindanao, agreed. “More than half of the damage in the coral reefs comes from land based activities,” she said. “Therefore a ridge to reef approach in managing our resources must be implemented to address these problems.”
Coming from the recent intensive lobbying which resulted in the passage of a more environment-friendly City Zoning Ordinance, forum participants were understandably eager to plan the next steps in their collective vision for a Green Davao.
The afternoon workshops yielded a lot of recommendations: the Upland Ecosystem Working Group recommended the streamlining of conflicting guidelines in the implementation of national laws and local ordinances protecting the environment, citing the implementation of buffer zones as an example; the Urban Ecosystem Working Group suggested the relocation of settlements located in danger zone areas and the establishment of greenbelts along river easements to help mitigate flooding, as well as the widespread adoption of rainwater harvesting among the populace; the Coastal Ecosystem Working Group, meanwhile, pushed for community based rehabilitation and management of mangroves and the strict enforcement of the Fisheries Code, putting emphasis on a vigilant Bantay Dagat to protect local fish stocks.
A common thread was highlighted among these recommendations – the need for more widespread Information and Education Campaign, interwoven with sustained lobbying at the City, so that these changes can take root and the dream of a Green Davao will bear fruit.
“Dabawenyos already know what they want now and in the future. Gusto nila yung meeting our resources without compromising the capability of the future generations to meet their own need. Maybe the next question is how to translate this awareness into something significant and with high impact activities,” Dr. Gamboa said.
For Vertido, as he sought to answer Sister Jo’s question, the fight does not end with the passage of the amended Zoning Ordinance. “Like many past ordinances, unless it is linked to the development plan of the city and complied with, it can only be fleeting. CLUP compliances have to be supported by civil society,” he said.
“We need to follow it through, and this is where (CSOs) can do better. Don’t stop at the passage of the ordinance, the best evidence is the availability of the budget and the use of the revenue,” Vertido added.
Councilor Leonardo R. Avila III, who was also at the forum, agreed. “CSOs play a great role because we can’t leave this to officials. People-legislators will always respond to the call for a specific brand of legislation so if CSOs come together to clamor for a sustainable Davao City, then it can happen,” he said. (SUNSTAR DAVAO)