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Philippine Land Grab – disguised as eco-tourism



Jacques Cousteau the famous explorer and conservationist once described Palawan as the last frontier. For good reason. Here was an archipelago of outstanding natural beauty, and he, more than most, understood that protection was the legacy for future generations.

So how does big businesses, and big property developers, justify their mercenary exploitation of the unspoilt?

To them, natural beauty is a golf course waiting to happen, a resort complex, and an emporium squatted by retail multi-nationals selling designer goods.

They do it by dressing it up as sustainable eco-tourism. The catch all phrase. The tart with a heart. Conservationist capitalism. Mercenary magnanimity. Philippine Profitable Philanthropy.

Ayela Land Inc (ALI) intend to build (purely for altruistic motives of course) a “100-hectare development that shall feature hotels and resorts, tourism and commercial establishments and residential communities with world-class amenities that blend with the natural landscape.”

These are not Cinderella’s, but the ugly sisters which squeeze their feet into jewelled slippers. Convinced that any fit is better than none, and an ounce of blood is worth shedding – even if a scar is the result. After all surely any commercial enterprise which aids the economy is better than none? Right? Wrong!

100 hectares is a substantial chunk of real estate, the first 25 hectares is to become the Lio Beach Village “featuring bed and breakfasts, resorts, shops and dining establishments amid civic spaces” which will be developed by Ten Knots Development Corp, which just happens to be a subsidiary of Ayala Land Inc. (The parent. Keep it in the family!)

This has naturally been lauded and applauded by the Philippines Department of Tourism, whose secretary Ramon R. Jimenez Jr. describes it as “a new jewel of sustainable tourism in the Philippines.” Note the word sustainable – synonymous with ecology and conservation. These are the key words which mask the reality. Cousteau will be turning in his grave.

The problem with the Philippines however is that in a land with over 7000 islands it’s surprisingly difficult to find a free beach. Most pieces of beach, be it white sand, black sand, or volcanic sand is owned by someone, who charge money just for the privilege of sitting on one. A resort takes away the freedom, and more importantly removes the locals. Especially the fisherman, who will no doubt be expected to pay a premium just to sail out and sail in – with a catch or not!

That’s not progress, that is exploitation, and it is ruthless because it has the support of the government, whose raison d’etre is not sustainability or culture, but greed and the fast buck.

You see, resorts are victims of the global economy i.e. how many bangs for the buck! It’s a volatile and precarious business, and when a downturn happens the infrastructure suffers, people lose jobs (non jobs associated with service: rooms, restaurants, etc totally dependant on the number of visitors) and invariably when the bottom falls out, the land is sold on. It’s a downward spiral, which cuts into the very ecology which was promoted in the first place. The land has been raped and the agriculture such as coconut trees, bananas, and most indigenous farming and fishing are lost.

What the Philippines government should be doing, and is always decidedly incapable of, is investment in the people. Ensuring that they have proper sustainable employment, encouraging and maintaining the skills that have been garnered over a thousand years, and if necessary subsidising them, because investing in the people and caring for their greatest asset – the land and the seas around it – will ensure worth, value and ultimately self sufficiency with profits all round. Technology may be the future, but a reputation of being the call-centre capital of South East Asia doesn’t really cut the mustard. Like India it will only exist for cheap labour and the service industry.

UNESCO have been threatening for the past five years that the famed rice terraces of the Cordilleras are losing their integrity and will inevitably lose their status as a world heritage site. The terraces which are unique, have been farmed and maintained by skilled tribal people for over two thousand years. They argue that “the terraced landscape is highly vulnerable because the social equilibrium that existed in the rice terraces for the past two millennia has become profoundly threatened by technological and evolutionary changes. Rural-to-urban migration processes limit the necessary agricultural workforce to maintain the extensive area of terraces.”

In simple English this means that the young generation are not following in their fathers and forebears footprints and heading to Manila to seek their fortune. Between the lines it also says that this “migration” makes the land redundant, cannot be sustained, not fit for purpose and therefore prime targets for commercial land grabbers. If you want to know what that is and the horrors it produces, just go to the city in the sky: Baguio – where concrete is king.

A responsible government should be sustaining it’s heritage, not destroying it systematically for short term financial profit, nor pandering to wealthy developers whose hearts are purely mercenary, and leave a legacy of shame, exploitation and avarice.

It will get worse before it gets better – but time is running out, and it will have probably ran out before the people of the Philippines wake up – perpetually somnambulist – perpetually sleepwalking – and whilst they sleep, the politicians, the investment bankers, the fund managers and the speculators are wide awake – singing, celebrating and dancing obscenely on the land!

April 14, 2014 Posted by | Coconut Trees, Conservation, Culture, Current Affairs, Education, Politics, The Philippines, Travel | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Deja Vu – again! Brian Cox is back!

Dromedary Brian Cox is visiting the Philippines. Who is he you ask?

Well Brian, Professor Brian, has experienced a phenomenal rise to fame, and his documentaries have been accused of excessively loud background music, and he has also been accused of being more style over substance.

This populist dumbing down and pandering to the lowest common denominator is indicative of modern educational programming.

I wrote about Brian a couple of years ago (D:Ream A Pale Reflection of a Blue Dot). I remarked in my post (a most entertaining read) that Brian was a particle physicist, but a rather lightweight particle (I was new to blogging at the time and seeking attention!).

Continue reading

October 8, 2011 Posted by | Arts, Culture, Current Affairs, Education, History, Humour, Science, The Philippines, Travel, United Kingdom | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Gerry Ortega…just another statistic?

Campaigning journalists, particularly those which threaten big business, who stand up to self-interested conglomerates pursuing agendas exploiting areas of conservation, ecology and environment are severely at risk of assassination.

One man cannot be allowed to obstruct the lucrative returns of mining for instance, which will result in deforestation, coral reef destruction, the extinction of natural wildlife, marine and coral decimation and the displacement of local people. The hunger for riches by a few powerful cartels or individuals will always ride roughshod over the many insignificant people who only want a fair crack at life.

It's not too much to ask. Why shouldn't indigenous people have a right to live in harmony with their surroundings, and sustainably manage their environment so that they, and visitors can benefit from it?

Sadly that is not the way of the world, and corrupt, ruthless organizations will continue to exploit the weak, and if by chance they appreciate the earth's natural resources, they will view them only in dollar signs.

Corruption is a cancer, and that cancer is malignant in the Philippines.

The news that another journalist has been killed in the Philippines is just another statistic. The third since the new president came to power, and the 142nd since 1986. Indeed 30 journalists were murdered in a massacre only 14 months ago. If it happened anywhere else in the world it would have been a global outrage – but it happened in the Philippines – so no big deal then?

Gerry Ortega, a radio broadcaster on DWAR Palawan, was shot in the head whilst he was shopping at a stall. The arrested gunman just said he was intending to rob him. There are many foreign tourists visiting Palawan, who would more likely be targets for robbery, but this guy chose a well known environmental activist. Coincidence?

Ortega was an outspoken and active member of the Puerto Princesa citizens group, which sought to declare as unconstitutional an anomalous sharing agreement between Palawan's provincial government and the national government over a $10 billion natural gas project off the coast of the islands – regarded by Jacques Cousteau as one of the worlds last natural frontiers.

Yet he had his brains blown out because he looked like he had a few pesos in his pocket!

A wife has lost a husband and five children have lost a father. Police sources are trying to verify reports that the "hit" was contracted for 100,000 pesos with a 10,000 down payment. That's less than £1500 with a £142 deposit. The Philippines is the cheapest place on Earth to arrange a contract killing.

The new president of the Philippines needs to get a grip. For every day he is in power he grows weaker, and influential powerful factors will exploit him – just as they exploit the country's resources with impunity.

This somnambulant nation needs to get off its arse. There are great people there, but they are served very badly indeed. When will they wake up?

January 24, 2011 Posted by | Culture, Politics, The Philippines, Travel | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

DoT Philippines…..

An article on the GMA News tells us that Lonely Planet has rated the Philippines in the top ten destinations for 2011 – "nearly replacing Thailand as the go-to spot for those who desire nothing more than to find great, undiscovered beaches, surf the odd wave and eat unique, distinctive food for under $20 a day." Palawan

The Philippines Department of Tourism has received a boost from this, and says that in the last year 2.84 million tourists arrived – an increase of nearly 16% from 2009. It sounds a lot, but a lot it's not, or is it? Not by Thai standards, but old Siam is a different ball game.

Mr Alberto Lim (more of him later) wants to take the emphasis away from tropical beaches, and encourage the
culture and history, ecology and biodiversity of the archipelago.That's tough, considering that most of the aforementioned have been ruined, ignored, exploited and decimated.

Indeed, he wants to attract the high paying tourists instead of the mass market. Hmmm. I wonder where they will go? Surely not the luxury resorts which Mr Lim, a high end developer has certain interests in? He wants to double the visitors to 6 million by 2013, and uses the Public Private Partnership (PPP) as endorsed by the new President Aquino's administration.

He has his critics, and lets face it, 6 million visitors to the Philippines every year will severely impact on the very culture and biodiversity which he intends to promote. Surely it will give employment, and if all fails there is bound to be a few golf courses to compensate.

The Philippines rainforests are lost. Most of the coral is dying and any influx of scuba diving tourists must be controlled. Beaches are increasingly being managed by opportunists and cartels, and although there are 7000 islands, access to them is limited.

Palawan (don't click unless you like a song) once regarded by Jacques Cousteau as the most beautiful place he ever saw, and regarded as Earth's last ecological frontier, is being swamped by hotels and guest houses. Three airports service the Palawan islands. Twenty years ago the only way to get there was by  boat. And a pleasant trip it was. Now people can fly to Puerto Princesa (the main city) in an hour from Manila. Cebu Pacific fly four times a day.

So who is Alberto Lim? He's a resort property developer and now the Secretary of Tourism for the Philippines Department of Tourism. He was past President of the Makati Business Club, an exclusive club of 450 of the biggest corporations in the Philippines and former president of Ten Knots Development Corp and the owner and manager of El Nido resorts.

Has the poacher turned gamekeeper?

January 19, 2011 Posted by | Conservation, Culture, Current Affairs, Education, Politics, The Philippines, Travel | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments


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