The Case for Hope

This site is under redevelopment.  Its content is from 1998, but we will be updating it in the near future.

In a country as poor as the Philippines, economic growth is an essential element in solving environmental problems; as long as a majority of the population (in this case, about 60 percent) is composed of people living below the poverty level in rural areas, the fight to protect forest is likely to be a losing battle. One of the most positive signs for the Philippines in recent years has been a strongly expanding economy; from 1995 to 1997, the economy expanded by about 14.5 percent. After the onset of the Asian economic downturn that began in late 1997, the Philippines was still projected to have the strongest economic growth during 1998 in all of Southeast Asia, but that seemed increasingly uncertain. The growth in the mid-1990s was in contrast to the majority of the Marcos era and its immediate aftermath, when economic growth was less than population growth in all but a few years, actually shrinking by about 14.5 percent from 1980 to 1991 while the population grew by about 2.5 percent per year.

     All of the positive steps described here are necessary for substantive, long-term improvement, but even taken together they do not offer a complete solution to the problem. The reason is that they do not address the root of the problem, which is poverty in a socioeconomic system that has continued to emphasize opportunity for the well-to-do at the expense of the poor, either directly or indirectly. Although the current economic growth is a positive sign, there is reason for concern about its long-term impact. From 1992 to 1997, most of the increased income went to the top ten percent of the income-earners in the country, and the bottom 50 percent of the income-earners actually lost ground because of increases in prices. Until the conditions that promote the continuance of rural poverty are changed, the root causes of environmental destruction will remain. Meaningful change requires effective rural development programs, fair and equitable taxation and subsidy programs, and management ofnatural resources in a manner that specifically requires that all segments of society benefit fairly. These must be coupled with policies that promote economic growth, industrialization, and urbanization, with the inevitable attendant increase in education and decrease in birth rates. These are the only means likely to bring Philippine society into true sustainable development and to avoid the social and environmental catastrophe that looms on the horizon.