October of every year is National Indigenous Peoples’ Month, by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 1906 issued by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2009. In observance thereof, last October 10-12, the Provincial Government of Palawan (PGP), led by Governor Jose Chaves Alvarez, held a three-day Indigenous Peoples’ Summit at the Capitol, which brought together close to 300 delegates from the various tribes of indigenous peoples (Agutaynen, Batak, Cagayanen, Cuyunon, Molbog, Palawa’an, and Tagbanua) in the province.
Activities during the triduum included capability-building sessions and the formal launch of the PGP’s “Community-Driven Development and Poverty Reduction Program” and “New Banua Institute for Resiliency and Green Growth” in partnership with, or with pledges of support from, various national government agencies, business companies, and civil society organizations, including the Villar Foundation, represented by Sen. Cynthia Villar who was guest of honor at the closing program of the summit.
Gov. JCA’s focus on Palawan‟s indigenous peoples aims to reduce poverty incidence in the province from its present 53% (down from more than 60% in 2013) to the current national average of 25% by 2022. A large part of the PGP strategy involves organizing and assisting our indigenous peoples to engage in livestock production.
The good governor should be congratulated for the success of the summit; and, together with him, Madame Ninfa Bagalay-Rubio, and her staff in the Provincial Planning and Development Office, who coordinated the event.
It is really paradoxical that we take pride in Palawan being widely referred to as the country‟s Last Frontier—which has its benefits, to be sure, especially for the tourism industry—because “frontier” also means being underdeveloped: being at the border or at the fringes of civilization; being marginalized, which is especially true of our indigenous peoples (62,000 households that translate into around 450,000 individuals); or, to use a current definition of “poverty”, “being excluded from networks of productivity and exchange”.
Upon his election to office in 2013, many Palaweños shared the hope that, under the no-nonsense management of Gov. JCA, the province could leapfrog (or polevault, or fly) from Fourth World to First World within their lifetime.
Coming from the private sector, the good governor brings with him the savoir faire and character of a self-made billionaire and giant in industry, together with the motivation of a great philanthropist who is out to make history. We want to take full advantage of his genius and dynamism to build the public structures that would enable all Palaweños to be productive, to prosper, and to live happily; to bring Palawan out of the forest and into the 21st century.
Development is a moral imperative. We need to transform “forest” into “garden”. Paradise was never a forest; it was already “the garden of Eden” when God settled the man in it, “to cultivate” even further (Gen 2:15). And, parenthetically, the only way to avert the so-called “tragedy of the commons” is for government to take a proactive lead in the planned use and management of our communal resources.
Of course, the development we seek is “sustainable development” which means, in the language of the Strategic Environmental Plan for Palawan, “the improvement in the quality of life of present and future generations through the complementation of development and conservation activities”. And this must conflate with “authentic human development”; i.e., “the development of each man and of the whole man” (PP, No. 14). These last are words of Pope Paul VI from his landmark 1967 Encyclical Letter, Populorum Progressio (“The Development of Peoples”).
In the same encyclical, the Pope also said: “In the very first pages of Scripture we read these words: “Fill the earth and subdue it‟ (Gen 1:28). This teaches us that the whole of creation is for man; that he has been charged to give it meaning by his intelligent activity, to complete and perfect it by his own efforts and to his own advantage.” (PP, No. 22) Pope Paul VI was canonized last October 14 (Saint Pope Paul VI, pray for us!)
“Development” became a keyword in political discourse in the years following the issuance of Populorum Progressio, along with the creation of the “Palawan Economic Development Council” in the first term of my father, Badong, as governor. I also like to think that a memorable phrase from my father‟s 1971 campaign jingle (composed by the late Manong Booth Remigio of Quezon, Palawan)—Kung nais ay Palawan progress…—was inspired by the encyclical.
In his eponymous turn-of-the-millenium essay, the economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen tells us that Development is Freedom. And, in the final analysis, authentic human freedom is man‟s capacity to direct himself to his end. It is our capacity to love; to direct ourselves, ultimately, to God. (21.X.2018)
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