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Post-COVID-19 economic recovery and integral ecological conversion

8 June 2020

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Rowena Soriaga and Brex Arevalo

With the COVID-19 pandemic bringing to a near-standstill the global economy and the prospects of a “new normal” still being determined, the post-COVID-19 economic recovery will need an integral ecological conversion as well.

Integral Ecological Conversion: Post-COVID19 Economic Recovery was the theme of the webinar that Living Laudato Si’ Philippines organized in collaboration with Ecojesuit and the Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM) to celebrate the fifth anniversary of Laudato Si’. Key takeaways and reflections that emerged from the open forum are shared below.

On integral ecological conversion: What does it mean?

Fr Pedro Walpole SJ, Ecojesuit Global Coordinator and Research Director at the Environmental Science for Social Change (ESSC) was asked about the key elements of an integral ecological conversion.

“First, understand what is integral. Do we live integrally in the landscape? If kids do not know where their water comes from, this is not integral living. Do we know where our food comes from? Do we know how much our farmers get from the produce we buy in the markets? Sadly, farmers are not really integrated in the economy; they are integrated into what the markets want from them. Do we know how to integrate with informal settlements in our cities? Do we know how to live an integrated life? Conversion means you can see and feel the changes in yourself now in relation to where you were before.”

On indigenous cultures: What can we learn from them about integral ecological conversion?

The question asked of Fr. Walpole is what the role of indigenous peoples is and other marginalized communities in this whole dialogue of economic recovery.

“First, they require respect and dignity. The most basic is not always there; we look down on them. This is where the conversion has to happen. Indigenous Peoples know much more about water as it is generated. Their lands are the source of water for all, but we do not give them fair prices. Their lands get taken over by migrants from the city. The forest is sacred to indigenous cultures. Our economy however does not recognize this, seeing forest lands only for money that can be gained, so forests get fragmented, affecting biodiversity. We break down their cultures and systems. Indigenous Peoples and small farmers do not have insurance for when their crops fail or when they fall sick.”

Post-COVID-19 recovery plan: Where is the Philippines headed?

Ms Marjorie Muyrong and Mr Jerik Cruz from the Department of Economics of the Ateneo de Manila University provided an indication of where the country is headed and cited key points from Reviving the Philippine economy under a responsible new normal, a statement that their department faculty and the Ateneo Center for Economic Research and Development released on 5 May 2020.

  • Government is proposing over P1.7 trillion to finance the Philippine Program for Recovery with Equity and Solidarity that has four pillars: (i) emergency support for vulnerable groups and individuals (P595 billion); (ii) expanded medical resources to fight COVID-19 and ensure safety of frontliners (P58 billion); (iii) fiscal and monetary actions (P1.1 trillion); (iv) economic recovery plan to create jobs and sustain growth. The fourth pillar is being developed from integrating two bills in Congress that if passed would be a legislation called Philippine Economic Recovery Act.
  • Emphasis is still on government’s Build-Build-Build (BBB) program with focus on health and construction sectors.
  • The National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) stated that large firms especially in tourism and airline industries would be granted “targeted equity support to match bank lending, with conditions.”
  • Three principles for working towards a structural-level integral ecological conversion were gleaned from the panelists, citing also some examples of how this is being practiced in Asia:

    Put the margins at the center, whatever policy or program we are working on.

  • Sustain forest ecosystem services by supporting upland communities, especially where Indigenous Peoples live, and where their roles as forest guards and water security officers are compensated and their communities assisted in basic services
  • Agri-food systems must invest in farmers, and not just for rice programs, traders, and agribusinesses
  • The Departments of Agriculture and Environment and Natural Resources must provide incentives to spread the practice of agroforestry following the guidelines agreed in ASEAN. For example, government can facilitate market access and fair prices for forest-dependent communities who grow abaca (Musa textilis), a non-timber forest product currently in high demand as material for personal protective equipment.
  • photoab

    Forest-dependent communities process abaca (Musa textilis) in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato in Mindanao, Philippines, where a group of Jesuits from East Asia and the Pacific visited in 2007, with Fr Adolfo Nicolás (5th from left), then President of the Jesuit Conference of Provincials for Eastern Asia and Oceania. The country supplies 87% of abaca fiber demand in the world market. Abaca is a non-timber forest product currently in high demand as material for personal protective equipment.

    Channel investments to the margins, where small farms are in the uplands and fishing communities in the coastal areas

    Agriculture has a significant catalytic effect on jobs where the poor are located and it is essential to direct a significant portion of government’s proposed recovery plan towards vulnerable groups and individuals especially those living in the rural margins, where roughly 80 percent of agricultural production comes from small farms.

    Bayanihan is the cultural expression of solidarity in the Philippines and the proposed Community-Driven Development Institutionalization Act and the Balik-Probinsiya (Back to the Provinces) program will only work if they are not used for political gain, and if investments are inclusive and sustainable.

    Build and integrate ecology into the economy

    We need to transition from an extractive to a circular economy. Economists are taught to think of ecological problems as market failures. Problems in the environment such as pollution are explained away as negative externalities. Depletion of fish stocks and forest degradation are viewed as a tragedy of the commons.

    These are also paradigms where conversion has to happen. We need to be reminded that economy, ecology and ecosystem share the same root word – oikos –  the Greek word for household.

    Uncontrolled exploitation of natural resources was never part of the original meaning of the word ‘economy,’ as it originally meant stewardship, thrift, or good household management. Thus, the concept of economy only makes sense if it includes ecology, and if we equitably distribute resources from our common home, as Laudato Si’ put forward five years ago.

    The government’s BBB program should not just be about build-build-build, but should be building-back-better, because our new normal includes not just this pandemic, but also the increasing extreme weather events as a result of climate change.

    Fiscal and monetary conditionalities should be aligned with national commitments to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDGs 11-15 (Sustainable Cities and Communities, Responsible Consumption and Production, Climate Action, Life Below Water, Life on Land).

    The future we want

    In summing up the webinar discussion, Rodney Galicha, Executive Director of Living Laudato Si’ Philippines said, “This public health crisis is giving us a chance to reimagine our economic trajectory, to make it more inclusive and sustainable.”

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