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Transitioning to a Progressive Green Economy in the Philippines

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Informed by theoretical discussions and statistics on the Anthropocene and sustainable development, this article is focused on tackling Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), primarily SDG 1 (“end poverty in all its forms everywhere”); SDG 7 (“ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”); SDG 10 (“reduce inequality within and among countries”); and related SDGs that are at the nexus of poverty, inequality, and renewable energy. This discussion serves as a springboard for (re)crafting a state-led sustainable development plan for the progressive transition to a green economy in the Philippines, as a pro-active response to global environmental change.
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Transitioning to a Progressive Green Economy in the Philippines
David Michael M. San Juan
De La Salle University-Manila
david.sanjuan@dlsu.edu.ph
Note: This is Version 1 (submitted version) of the following article: “Transitioning to a
Progressive Green Economy in the Philippines, Journal of Developing Societies/JDS
(OnlineFirst, April 26, 2020). Copyright © 2020. David Michael M. San Juan. Reprinted
by permission of SAGE Publications India Private Limited. The author has uploaded
this Version 1, to optimize the article’s visibility online. The final, definitive version
of this paper is substantially shorter than this uploaded file. Hence, those
interested are encouraged to access the final, definitive version at
https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0169796X20912632 This upload is
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author on April 4, 2020.] For further queries, contact JDS or send an email to the author:
david.sanjuan@dlsu.edu.ph
Abstract:
Informed by theoretical discussions and statistics on the Anthropocene and sustainable
development, this paper is aimed at tackling SDGs, primarily SDG 1 (“no poverty” or “end
poverty in all its forms everywhere”); SDG 7 (“affordable and clean energy” or “ensure
access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”); SDG 10 (“reduced
inequality” or “reduce inequality within and among countries”), and other related SDGs
that are at the nexus of poverty, inequality, and renewable energy. Such discussion will
be as a springboard for (re)crafting a state-led sustainable development plan in the form
of a progressive transition to a green economy in the Philippines, as the country's own
pro-active response to global environmental change.
Keywords: climate change; Anthropocene; sustainable development; Philippines; green
economy
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Introduction
Parched tracts of formerly verdant rice fields. Dead fish floating in once pristine waters.
Flashfloods plaguing lowlands. Lungs helplessly breathing the poisonous air.
Unpredictable weather patterns. Snow in the dessert. Strong storms in temperate zones.
Sounds like an apocalyptic poem but this time, it’s fact not fiction. These are the new
realities that citizens around the world deal with as a result of extreme climate change
induced by global warming. Global warming has made life less tenable and sustainable
in many vulnerable communities. Basic necessities such as food, potable water and clean
air have become less abundant as extreme climate change negatively affect planting and
harvest seasons and as over-extraction of resources seems to worsen in many parts of
the world. Corporations are expropriating frontier lands for cattle farming, or mountains
and forests for mining. The global economic system’s sustainability is now in question as
it becomes obvious that not all citizens can aspire to live like Americansfor such will
drive carbon emissions soaring, something that will exacerbate global warming.
According to the Global Footprint Network National Footprint Accounts 2019, we would
need 5 Earths if the world's population lived like Americans (Fig.1).
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Fig.1. How many Earths do we need if the world’s population live liked…Source: Global
Footprint Network National Footprint Accounts, 2019.
Meanwhile, there is still macroeconomic growth globally (Fig.2) but hundreds of millions
still suffer from hunger (Fig.3) and malnutrition. There is massive food waste in a many
developed countries, while millions in developing countries starve. Extreme climate
change has only made the developing countries more vulnerable as the world’s ecology
is put to a test by continuing population growth and rapid urbanization. Urgent action is
needed to halt and try to reverse global warming and the seemingly unsustainability of
the current economic system, if the world is to survive. The key to succeed in this noble
endeavor lies to “going back to the basics.” Collective action on a collective problem may
halt the march of global warming’s ugly cabal of disasters: living simply so that the world
may simply live and ensuring that economic growth and development will be broad-based
so that resources are sustainably maximized for the common good, rather than exploited
by the few. It is in this context that calls for the fulfillment of sustainable development
goals (SDGs) become more urgent.
Fig.2. Global GDP Growth (Annual Percent Change). Source: IMF, 2019.
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Fig.3 Global Hunger Index By Severity. Source: Global Hunger Index, 2019.
Objectives of the Paper
Informed by theoretical discussions and statistics on the Anthropocene and sustainable
development, this paper is aimed at tackling SDGs, primarily SDG 1 (“no poverty” or “end
poverty in all its forms everywhere”); SDG 7 (“affordable and clean energy” or “ensure
access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all); SDG 10 (“reduced
inequality” or “reduce inequality within and among countries), and other related SDGs
that are at the nexus of poverty, inequality, and renewable energy. Such discussion will
be as a springboard for (re)crafting a state-led sustainable development plan in the form
of a progressive transition to a green economy in the Philippines.
Reviewing Global and National Anthropocene Trends: Springboard for Discussing
the Link Between Poverty, Inequality, and Sustainability
The Anthropocene refers to the current epoch when “(h)uman activities have become so
pervasive and profound that they rival the great forces of Nature and are pushing the
Earth into planetary terra incognita,” and the Earth is generally in a “less biologically
diverse, less forested, much warmer, and probably wetter and stormier state” (Steffen et
al., 2007). Prominent ecosocialist researcher Ian Angus (2015) links the Anthropocene
with the dominant capitalist economic system that has “produced unique forms of
ecological destruction in the past half century, leading to qualitative changes in the entire
Earth system” which brings humans not only “extensive pollution, not just rising
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temperatures, not just rising sea levels, but many centuries in which a safe operating
space for humanity may no longer exist.” Maintaining or saving what is left of that “safe
operating space for humanity” can be only possible if the “nine planetary boundaries”
won’t be crossed.
Stockholm University’s Resilience Center identifies these boundaries as follows:
stratospheric ozone depletion, loss of biosphere integrity (biodiversity loss and
extinctions), chemical pollution and the release of novel entities, climate change, ocean
acidification, freshwater consumption and the global hydrological cycle, land system
change, nitrogen and phosphorus flows to the biosphere and oceans, atmospheric
aerosol loading.” These boundaries have been recently crossed or on the verge of being
crossed because of the globally dominant capitalist-driven economic model and the
consumerist culture that it breeds. This is evident in the most updated figures on socio-
economic trends and earth systems trends which shows that the economic activity of the
human enterprise continues to grow at a rapid ratewith “the world’s economy (GDP),
and hence consumptionstill strongly dominated by the OECD world,” while the earth
system trends “in general, continued their long-term, post-industrial rise (Steffen et al.,
2015), thereby making it clear that capitalist macro-economic growth (reflected in socio-
economic trends in Fig. 4) coincide with (if not directly responsible for) the generally
negative earth system trends (Fig. 6). The generally ecologically detrimental trajectory of
these trends helps explain why the Anthropocene was the springboard of the opening
discussions on the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development or
Rio+20 (Clémençon, 2012).
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Fig.4 Global Socio-economic Trends. Source: Steffen et al. (2015).
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Fig. 5 OECD and BRICS Socio-Economic Trends. Source: Steffen et al. (2015).
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Fig.6 Earth System Trends. Source: Steffen et al. (2015).
These alarming socio-economic and earth systems trends also compel many non-
government organizations (NGOs) to emphasize that any credible sustainable
development plan should refer to planetary boundaries limitations to what big business
and humankind in general can reach macroeconomically if the Earth is to survive as a
living planet as the Northern Alliance for Sustainability points out in criticizing the
outcome document of 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development:
“You cannot have a document titled ‘the future we want’ without any mention of planetary
boundaries, tipping points, or the Earth’s carrying capacity.”
The unsustainability of humanity’s Earth-transforming domination is made clearer by the
global economic crisis in 2008, and the “(s)ymptoms were numerous…collapsing financial
marketsrising unemployment, deeper inequalities, a shrinking middle class, extreme
indebtedness, and inability of governments to force through reforms. In addition, there
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were the increasing challenges of climate change and availability of resources
(Sebastian, 2014). Current economic trends point out to a global race to the bottom with
regard to stagnant wages and decreasing corporate tax contribution rates, a socially-
destructive tandem that is in the process of impoverishing millions of ordinary folks while
at the same time weakening governments’ financial muscle to provide social services and
strengthening corporations and its wealthy owners the world’s richest 1% of the
population. On taxes (Fig. 7), as explained by the World Bank (2018), “(t)otal tax rate
measures the amount of taxes and mandatory contributions payable by businesses after
accounting for allowable deductions and exemptions as a share of commercial profits.
The general lowering of this rate in recent years means that business have continuously
reduced their contribution to society, despite record-level profits.
On wages, the International Labor Organization’s Global Wage Report 2018/19 notes that
“(g)lobal wage growth in 2017 was not only lower than in 2016, but fell to its lowest growth
rate since 2008, remaining far below the levels obtaining before the global financial crisis.
Global wage growth in real terms (that is, adjusted for price inflation) has declined from
2.4 per cent in 2016 to just 1.8 per cent in 2017. If China, whose large population and
rapid wage growth significantly influence the global average, is excluded, global wage
growth in real terms fell from 1.8 per cent in 2016 to 1.1 per cent in 2017.” Contrast this
with the fact that globally, one important measure of labor productivity output per worker
(GDP constant 2010 US $) has steadily increased from 21,443.9 in 2009 to 25,662.3 in
2019 (International Labor Organization, 2019). Historical data on the share of global
income going to the top 1% versus the bottom 50%(World Inequality Report, 2018) prove
that the wealthiest gobble up the wealth created (Fig. 8) by labor-powered global
economic growth. The dominant system of regressive scheme of taxation, of endless
wealth accumulation for a tiny minority at the expense of the suffering of a great number
of people and the massive destruction of the environment, is clearly incompatible with the
finite nature of much of the world’s resources.
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Fig. 7 Global Average of Total Tax Rate (% of commercial profits). Source: World Bank,
2018.
Fig. 8 Share of global income going to the top 1% versus the bottom 50% (1980-2016).
Source: World Inequality Lab, World Inequality Report, 2018.
The continuous commodification of the world’s resources from water to air, and from
minerals to forest lands under the current economic system that allows huge
corporations almost unlimited access to such, is bound to exhaust the world’s finite
resources. Maximization of profits from hauling and selling off the world’s resources in the
name of unbridled consumption makes the system unsustainable. There’s no enough
gold, nickel and silver to sustain the world’s need for gadgets if companies will continue
releasing new models almost on a monthly basis. Mining sites are mined until they run
out of gold, and most mining sites now look like abandoned caves. There is no enough
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timber for everyone to have nice wooden furniture replaced annually, or to be turned into
paper money or toilet paper. Truth is, the world will run eventually run out of timber and/or
forest-lands. As per World Bank statistics, the world’s forests covered 41.2827 million sq.
km in 1990, down to 39.9913 million in 2015. Countries like Brazil experienced shocking
decreases in forest cover, from 5.4671 million sq. km in 1990 to 4.9354 sq km. in 2015.
Indonesia’s forest cover decreased from 1.1855 million sq. km to 910,100 sq km. in the
same period. There is no enough Amazon rainforests to be converted to soyabean farms
and/or pasturelands to feed an endless number of cows that in turn can satisfy the world’s
seemingly endless appetite for steaks and hamburgers. Indeed, the deforestation of the
Amazon has been frenetically paced as proven by its aerial pictures then and now. There
is no enough tuna or salmon to satisfy the cravings of those who can afford to eat gourmet
sashimi everyday. The world’s oceans are overfished, much of the world’s corrals are
also dying, and farming fish has its downsides too. Writing for the UNCTAD, Kituyi and
Thomson (2018) warn that “nearly 90% of the world’s marine fish stocks are now fully
exploited, overexploited or depleted…”
The Philippinessocio-economic (Fig. 9 to Fig. 20) and earth systems (Fig. 21 to Fig.
24) trends show that the global issue of sustainable development is also a very relevant
national one. As in the global data, Philippine socio-economic trends point out to generally
continuous macro-economic growth without wealth distribution, and the country’s earth
systems trends reflect an over-all decline due to capitalist accumulation at the expense
of the environment, but without benefits trickling down to the poor and middle classes.
The Philippine population still steadily grows (Fig. 9), a fact that is linked to increased
vulnerability to climate change as “(t)he large number of people and their migration
patterns have led to crowded cities, waste and housing problems, pollution, and
encroachment of upland forests and watersheds leading to denudation and,
consequently, significant reduction of carbon sinks” (Second National Communication to
the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2015). The country’s
“major human-caused environmental degradation” is “aggravated by a high annual
population growth rate, including loss of agricultural lands, deforestation, soil erosion, air
and water pollution, improper disposal of solid and toxic wastes, loss of coral reefs,
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mismanagement and abuse of coastal resources, and overfishing” (Ocampo, c. 2010).
Rapid urbanization (Fig. 10) implies not only relative development of the urban centers
but also highlights the lack of development in terms of high-quality jobs in the
countryside, partly driving people away from the rural zones and into urban areas where
carrying capacity is put into an extreme test. The generally positive national GDP growth
rate (Fig. 11 and Fig. 12) and foreign direct investment data (Fig. 13) point out to macro-
economic growth but conceals regional (Fig. 14) and class-based socio-economic
disparities (Fig. 15).
Electricity consumption per capita has increased (Fig. 16) a sign of modernization, for
sure, and a marker of environmental degradation too as the country’s energy mix has
been more reliant on fossil fuels in recent years (Fig. 18). It must be also pointed out that,
nationally, only 84% of areas are “energized” covering 90% of Luzon, 88% of Visayas,
and 73% of Mindanao (National Electrification Administration, 2018). Fertilizer
consumption (Fig. 17) and cellular subscriptions (Fig. 19) are still generally up partly
leading to more carbon emissions too. Steady increased in annual tourist arrivals (Fig.
20) lead to additional tourism revenues but negatively affects ecosystems in tourist zones
too.
Philippine Socio-Economic Trends in Figures
Fig. 9 Philippine Population. Source: World Bank, 2018.
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Fig. 10 Philippine Urban and Rural Population. Source: Philippine Statistics Authority,
2019.
Fig. 11 Philippine GDP Growth Rate. Source: World Bank, 2018.
Fig. 12 Philippine GDP Per Capita. Source: World Bank, 2018
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Fig. 13 Foreign direct investment, net inflows (% of GDP). Source: World Bank, 2018.
Fig. 14 Regional GDP Map of the Philippines. Source: Philippine Statistics Authority,
2018.
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Fig. 15 Income Shares of Economic Classes in the Philippines. Source: World Bank, 2019
Fig. 16 Electricity consumption per capita (in kWh). Source: World Bank, 2018.
Fig. 17 Fertilizer consumption (% of fertilizer production). Source: World Bank, 2018.
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Fig. 18 Fossil fuel energy consumption (% of total). Source: World Bank, 2018
Fig. 19 Mobile cellular subscriptions. Source: World Bank, 2018.
Fig. 20 Foreign Tourist Arrivals in the Philippines (in thousands). Source: Department of
Tourism, 2018.
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Continuous increases in carbon dioxide (Fig. 21) and methane emissions (Fig. 22) are
recorded. While the country’s forest area coverage has improved in recent years (Fig.
23) but officially-funded researches also acknowledge that deforestation remains a
problem in some areas. Carandang et al.’s study (2013) identified drivers of deforestation
that are instructive in discussing the relationship between environmental degradation and
equity: “poverty and population pressure (landlessness and expansion of farms and
settlements; forests valued for subsistence and cash income); market demand and
economic development (economic growth targets;…over-extraction and unsustainable
harvesting…” In the same research, key informants included mining and “forest
conversion into non-forest uses (i.e., road construction, settlement, conversion into built-
up areas)” as among the main drivers of deforestation.
Agricultural land coverage has increased too (Fig. 24) but it seems to have little impact
on long-term food security, as the country has scaled up rice and vegetable importation
in recent years. Researches on transnational landgrabs in the Philippines (Rutten, 2016;
Lopez, 2017; Salerno, 2018) and a deficient or stalled if not a completely failed land
reform scheme (Elvinia, c.2009; You, 2014; Tadem, 2015; Sharma and Jha, 2016) which
still leave/left millions of farmers landless or land-starved also further highlight the
uselessness of improved agricultural land coverage, in the lens of genuine sustainable
development. Another textbook case of growth without equitable and sustainable
development can be gleaned from the status of the country’s fish resources. Anticamara
and Go (2016) found that the total Philippine fish catch volume (Metric Tons MT) of most
capture fisheries throughout the country has either stagnated or declined over the last
three decades. The decline is even more prominent when evaluating fisheries trends at
the provincial level, suggesting spatial serial depletion of the country's fisheries. In
contrast, the total Philippine fish catch value (US Dollars US$ or Philippine Pesos PHP)
has continued to increase over time, despite the declining fish catch volume. However,
local municipal fishers are experiencing both low fish catch and income, contributing to
observable poverty in many coastal communities in the Philippines. The corporate/big
business-dominated “commercial fisheries”
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and aquaculture sector have a combined
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Amounts in this dataset for Philippine fisheries are in “‘000 pesos” as noted in the source.
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production value of 150,008,476.42 in 2016; 160,423,174.93 in 2017; and
171,374,227.02 in 2018; while the small fishermen-dominated “municipal fisheries”
sector’s production value is just 78,925,620.10 in 2016; 83,478,711.83 in 2017; and
93,974,457.31 in 2018 (Philippine Statistics Authority, 2018).
The aforementioned discussion on Philippine Earth systems trends corresponds to
degrowth theorists’ critique’s of capitalist dominance characterized by maximization of the
Earth’s resources for macro-economic growth, but without equity and sustainability in the
horizon. In a nutshell, the country’s earth systems trends point out to a dystopian reality
of sacrificing the environment at the altar of profit, with the benefits accruing only to a few
rich clans and big corporations.
Philippine Earth Systems Trends in Figures
Fig. 21 Carbon dioxide emissions per capita (in metric tons). Source: World Bank, 2018.
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Fig. 22 Methane emissions (% change from 1990). Source: World Bank, 2019.
Fig. 23 Forest area (sq. km). Source: World Bank, 2018
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Fig. 24 Agricultural land (sq. km). Source: World Bank, 2018.
Paradigms of Sustainable Development and the SDGs
In view of the discussion on the Anthropocene, degrowth is among the alternative models
of sustainable development. A paradigm shift away from the profit motive and towards
the common good, from wants to needs, and from luxury to simplicity seems to be
necessary if the Earth is to survive and be the home to the future generations. The
concept of degrowth encourages people in formulating simple or even simpler demands,
focusing on meeting every-one’s basic necessities first so that the extraction of the world’s
resources for commodity production will not be as unbridled as it is today. In lieu of a
competitive race towards higher and higher GDP, degrowth compels every country to
instead ensure that their citizens have food, jobs, shelter etc., for the world’s resources
can easily be spent out if every man’s whims and caprices will be fulfilled first. Perhaps
there should only be one car per family. Perhaps the use of cars can be banned wherever
there are functioning public train systems. Perhaps in the near future, you can be offered
discounted rates in buying a new cellphone if you bring your old one for recycling.
Researches such as Burkett’s “An Eco-Revolutionary Tipping Point” (2017); Angus’
“When Did the Anthropocene Begin...and Why Does It Matter?” (2015); Foster’s
“Capitalism and Degrowth: An Impossibility Theorem” (2011); Schneider et al.’s “Crisis or
Opportunity: Economic Degrowth for Social Equity and Ecological Sustainability” (2010);
and Wouter’s “De-Growth and Sustainable Development: Rethinking Human Rights Law
and Poverty Alleviation(2018) offer various lessons and reflections on degrowth. They
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all converge on two main points: unbridled capitalism won’t be sustainable and will
certainly lead to humankind’s and/or the Earth’s total destruction at some point in the near
future; hence, alternative modes of development models (e.g. models that don’t prioritize
economic growth at all cost) which will strive to balance people’s development aspirations
and the environment’s sustainability should be pursued. These “degrowth” models offer
varying shades of criticism on the greed of the few that trample upon the environment
and the majority’s aspirations for broad-based development. Essentially, they envision a
world where resources will be maximized for the public good, rather than for a tiny elite’s
opulent over-consumption and/or over-accumulation.
Another alternative development model to the current form of the dominant global
economic system is Latin America’s so-called “Pachamama socialism” which presents
an alternative approach to the law based on the belief that nature has rights. In this view,
a river has the right to flow, species have the right to continue to exist in the wild, and
ecosystems have the right to adapt and evolve over time (Humphreys, 2016).
Pachamama is the name of an indigenous earth goddess. In modern times, its equivalent
is “Mother Earth.” In 2011, Bolivia passed the world's first laws “granting all nature equal
rights to humans. The Law of Mother Earth, now agreed by politicians and grassroots
social groups, redefines the country's rich mineral deposits as ‘blessings’ and is expected
to lead to radical new conservation and social measures to reduce pollution and control
industry...the abstract new laws are not expected to stop industry in its tracks. While it is
not clear yet what actual protection the new rights will give in court to bugs, insects and
ecosystems, the government is expected to establish a ministry of mother earth and to
appoint an ombudsman. It is also committed to giving communities new legal powers to
monitor and control polluting industries” (Vidal, 2011). This Bolivian concept of giving
Mother Earth and all creatures “rights” is the beginning of the realization that humanity’s
anthropocentrism its penchant for focusing on its own survival rather than the whole
Earth’s sustainability must end. This development model still wants modernization for
nations, but not at the expense of the environment. Related to “Pachamama socialism” is
another Latin American concept called “buen vivir.” Eduardo Gudynas, “a leading scholar
on buen vivir, talks...about the limits of capitalism, consuming less and developing a
sense of the collective,” giving Ecuador’s example of “building on its indigenous past by
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incorporating the concept of sumak kawsay into its economic paradigm. Rooted in the
cosmovisión (or worldview) of the Quechua peoples of the Andes, sumak kawsay or
buen vivir, to give it its Spanish name describes a way of doing things that is community-
centric, ecologically-balanced and culturally-sensitive. A far cry from the market-is-king
model of capitalism, it inspired the recently revised Ecuadorian constitution, which now
reads: ‘We...hereby decide to build a new form of public coexistence, in diversity and in
harmony with nature, to achieve the good way of living’” (Balch, 2013). Buen vivir can be
loosely translated as “good living” or “living well,” but its proponents claim that: “These
are not equivalents at all. With buen vivir, the subject of well-being is not [about the]
individual, but the individual in the social context of their community and in a unique
environmental situation” (Balch, 2013). Hence, buen vivir, just like Pachamama socialism,
puts prime importance on the well- being of the larger community of Earth’s inhabitants –
from humans to animals to the very environment that gives them life rather than the
individual species’ survival. Under Latin American progressive governments, buen vivir
and Pachamama socialism leads to a distinguishing role the state can play in resisting
neoliberal development and in effect decentering global capitalism” (Williford, 2018).
Meanwhile, the United Nations in a mainstream level has enumerated a new set of
global goals that nations must strive to achieve, the so-called 17 “sustainable
development goals” (SDGs). These SDGs grew out of the need to expand discussion and
concrete collective action on sustainable development, building up on the limited though
still laudable grand vision for addressing global challenges in the framework of
sustainable development: economic, social, and environmental” which the outcome
document for Rio+20 provided (Clémençon, 2012).
SDGs number 7 (“Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy
for all”), 9 (“Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable
industrialization and foster innovation”), 11 (“Make cities and human settlements
inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”), 12 (“Ensure sustainable consumption and
production patterns”), 13 (“Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”),
14 (“Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for
sustainable development”), and 15 (“Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of
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terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and
reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss”) directly correspond with calls for
reshaping the current economic system to a more sustainable one. According to the
United Nations, these SDGs “officially came into force” on January 1, 2016, and “over the
next fifteen years,” it is expected that for “these new goals that universally apply to all,
countries will mobilize efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle
climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind,” “to promote prosperity while
protecting the planet,” recognizing that “ending poverty must go hand-in-hand with
strategies that build economic growth and addresses a range of social needs including
education, health, social protection, and job opportunities, while tackling climate change
and environmental protection.” The United Nations admit that these goals “are not legally
binding,” but as “governments are expected to take ownership and establish national
frameworks for the achievement of the 17 goals,” the SDG Agenda is a good start to
rethink and reshape our current economic system. Moreover, it is a discreet official
recognition of the fact that the current dominant way of life under global capitalism is
inherently unsustainable, hence the need for new goals that are parallel with endeavors
to make things work in a more sustainable manner, for the present and future generation’s
sake. Parallel to this context, a well-known critic of mainstream SDGs, Jason Hickel
(2020) emphasizes that the SDGs won’t suffice for genuine development, as the
ecological efficiency of human development” needs to be taken into account too.
Wage Hikes and Tax Reform for Income and Wealth Redistribution: Resolving
Poverty and Inequality Towards Sustainable Development
Rio+20’s outcome document pointed out that “(e)radicating poverty is the greatest global
challenge facing the world today and an indispensable requirement for sustainable
development. In this regard we are committed to freeing humanity from poverty and
hunger as a matter of urgency.Considering that “limitless economic growth is not
possible on a planet with finite resources(Coscieme et al., 2019), development cannot
rely on mere macro-economic growth measured in traditional GDP rates. This explains
why the goals of poverty eradication and bridging inequalities are intertwined: wealth
already exists as macro-economic development has been generally continuous, but it is
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concentrated in just a few hands, and hence, some form of income redistribution (via
wage hikes) and wealth distribution (via progressive taxation to fund social services) is
needed.
Ending poverty within the context of sustainability should rely on redistributing existing
wealth, rather than merely expanding growth rates at the expense of the environment.
Stagnant minimum wage rates in the Philippines last raised through across-the-board,
national legislation in 1989 further prove that the wealth produced by the country’s labor
productivity-driven macroeconomic growth failed to even just trickle down to the masses.
In increasing wages, limiting, if not entirely bridging the gap between the minimum wage
and the living wage should be the baseline. There should also be a limit to the gap
between the compensation of entry-level workers and the top-level management. Such
move will be parallel with the European Union’s imposition of “caps on bankers’ bonuses,
and Switzerland’s referendum attempt to limit CEO pay to twelve times the pay of the
lowest worker” (Edmans and Gabaix, 2016).
To complement wages, social benefits should be expanded. Among the social benefits
that must be funded should be sustainable, renewable energy-powered mass housing
and transportation in both rural and urban areas. This will free millions from poverty (as
high rents and high transportation costs negatively affect incomes) and enable them to
have economic power in having an ecologically viable lifestyle away from the monetarily
cheap, yet environmentally destructive retail, “sachet culture.” Funding for the
aforementioned new and improved social services for sustainable development can and
should be provided by a progressive tax system.
Marx and Engels listed progressive taxation as among the items in the Manifesto of the
Communist Party (1848). Now, even mainstream economists such as Piketty (2014) and
Stiglitz (2012) support the same idea. Moreover, progressive taxation is the most massive
and possibly the easiest way of expropriating corporate profits for public services as
proven by international examples of tax-funded services such as free tertiary education
in a number of Latin American and European countries as narrated in Michael Moore’s
documentary Where to Invade Next (2015), free public transportation in Estonia (Gray,
2018), free internet in at least 20 countries (Patrick, 2018), universal/totally free health
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care in countries such as Cuba (as seen in Michael Moore’s documentary Sicko released
in 2007) and United Kingdom (as seen in Ken Loach’s documentary Spirit of ’45 released
in 2013). Progressive taxation can also provide funding for some sort of direct and indirect
redistribution of wealth such an expanded Conditional Cash Transfer/4Ps scheme and
universal basic income which, despite their limitations are generally seen as
redistributive programs. In the case of universal basic income, Lacey (2017) speaks of a
growing body of evidence of the effectiveness of UBI programmeswhich need to be
deployed as part of a range of counter-poverty initiatives that take into account the wider
social and economic context…and wealth distribution.
On wealth redistribution, an interventionist State with the common good as its priority, is
needed to ensure at the very least, no individuals and corporations are allowed to
monopolize and accumulate the wealth produced by services and industries. As
explained by Filipino economist Alejandro Lichauco in books such as Towards a New
Economic Order and the Conquest of Mass Poverty (1986) and Nationalist Economics:
History, Theory, and Practice (1988), the State is the most powerful expression of the
people’s will, and at least on paper, it is duty-bound to focus on fulfilling the common good
rather than feeding corporate greed, as in the case of the country’s Constitution (see the
preamble and Article XII Sections 6 and 16, and Article XIII, Section 1 of the 1987
Constitution, for example). Between the interventionist State and the private sector, it is
clear that citizens will benefit more from the former’s management of profitable industries,
as the State’s “shareholders” or “stakeholders” are none other than the citizens, in
contrast with the private corporations beholden only to a few individuals (the majority
shareholders). Distributing the gains of profitable industries to citizens who typically earn
and spend is way better for the over-all economy than parking the profits into the stagnant
bank accounts of accumulation-crazy billionaires. According to the Philippine Statistics
Authority’s data (2015) on average income, expenditure and average savings of families,
each member of the richest 10% of families in the country’s population earned 786,000
pesos; spent 534,000 pesos; and saved 252,000 pesos on the average. Meanwhile, each
member of the poorest 10% of families earned just 86,000 pesos; spent 89,000 pesos;
and borrowed 3,000 pesos on the average. Some states in the number one capitalist
country, the United States, have mechanisms that directly distribute resource dividends
26
(government’s earnings from natural resource extraction) to citizens, just like the so-called
oil dividends from the Alaska Permanent Fund distributed by the Alaskan state
government to Alaskan citizens yearly (Matthews, 2018). Such mechanisms can be
replicated in the Philippines.
The Philippine government is yet to fully grasp the benefits of implementing progressive
taxation. For example, even the government’s National Tax Research Center (2016)
found out that from 2006-2015, “a number of LTs (large taxpayers)…reported net losses
caused by their declared COS (cost of sales) that almost eat up their entire net
sales/revenues leaving almost nil gross income…with a very low tax base (i.e. gross
income) the computed tax is likewise low. On the other hand, for LTs with substantial
reported gross income, a number claimed large deductions with the same end result of
paying very low income taxes.” Corporations will see even better days as the current
administration has recently reduced corporate tax rate from 30% to 25%. Hence, there is
much room for expanding the tax base, firstly, by ensuring that companies are unable to
abuse tax deductions and incentives, and secondly, by reversing corporate tax
reductions.
Industrialization and Technology Transfer: Keys to A Transition to a Green
Economy
Through progressive taxation, state-led industrialization will be possible. Industrialization
is one of the keys to transitioning to a green economy. State-led industrialization is a very
feasible project that would generate enough, local, and green high-quality jobs possibly
even allowing the economy to approach zero unemployment (a declared goal in Article II,
Section 9 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution). Even the Asian Development Bank admits
that the “weakness in employment generation and the quality of jobs generated” are
among the “main causes of poverty in the country” (Aldaba, 2009). Lichauco (1986 and
1988) gave some historical examples on successful state-led industrialization, such as
China, Soviet Union, Taiwan, and South Korea. Notable mainstream economist Ha-Joon
Chang (2012) echoes Lichauco’s discussions on state-led development. Both Sison
(1970) and Lichauco (1986 and 1988) present a feasible program for state-led
industrialization in the Philippines. In his classic work, Sison (1970) emphasizes that “(t)he
27
state shall run all nationalized enterprises and all sources of raw materials and power. All
enterprises which have a monopolistic character shall be taken over. The state sector of
the economy shall have a socialist character and shall constitute the leading force of the
whole national economy. The national bourgeoisie shall be allowed to develop capitalist
production but only to the extent that it does not dominate or hamper the livelihood of the
Filipino people.” Article XII, Sections 1 and 18 of the 1987 Constitution seemingly echo a
milder version of Sison’s prescription: “…The State shall promote industrialization and full
employment based on sound agricultural development and agrarian reform, through
industries that make full of efficient use of human and natural resources, and which are
competitive in both domestic and foreign markets. However, the State shall protect
Filipino enterprises against unfair foreign competition and trade practices…The State
may, in the interest of national welfare or defense, establish and operate vital industries
and, upon payment of just compensation, transfer to public ownership utilities and other
private enterprises to be operated by the Government.” Lichauco’s and Sison’s writings
point out that the Philippine state should prioritize vital and profitable industries, such as
petroleum, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, metal processing etc. Senator Lorenzo
Tañada (2012) the great nationalist statesman who was with Lichauco and Sison in the
progressive Movement for the Advancement of Nationalism (MAN), and was the founding
chair of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan/New Patriotic Alliance (BAYAN), the broadest
and oldest left-wing umbrella group in the country also listed similar industries and
services that should be nationalized: mining, public utilities, fuel, chemicals and drugs,
fertilizer, and banking. More recently, State-led “national industrialization by developing
and acquiring the capacity to produce consumer, intermediate, and capital goods,” is
among the sweeping reforms proposed by consultants and representatives of the
National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) including Sison in the peace
talks held in Rome Italy on January 2017, through its draft Comprehensive Agreement on
Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER).
The idea of subjecting industries to state control and management is now part of the
political mainstream even in developed countries like the United Kingdom, where the left-
leaning leadership of the Labour Party have popularized a program that has
nationalization/community control of industries at its core. More recently, both the UK
28
Labour Party and the US presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders offered concrete
policy models for what has been dubbed as a pro-environment New Deal for the many,
rather than the few. Their programs aim to “save ourselves” by precipitating the creation
of “a different socioeconomic logic pointing to different human-environmental ends, an
ecosocialist revolution in which the great mass of humanity takes part” (Forster, 2016).
Sanders’ Green New Deal would end US reliance on fossil fuels and re-engineer and/or
create jobs in sectors such as steel and auto manufacturing, construction, energy
efficiency retrofitting, coding and server farms, and renewable power plants sustainable
agriculture, engineering renewable energy and sustainable agriculture,while promising
“complete decarbonization” by 2050. It aims to transform the American energy system
to 100 percent renewable energy and create 20 million jobs needed to solve the climate
crisis. The UK Labour Manifesto aims to create 1 million job opportunities in a global
green economy and pledges to work towards becoming carbon neutral by 2030.
Specifically, it aims to kick-start a Green Industrial Revolution to tackle the climate
emergency by shifting to renewable energy, investing in rail and electric cars, and making
housing energy-efficient.” Both could be role models for the Philippines and for a global
transition to a green economy, as their projects also bank on strengthening the state’s
role in this process. The only positive lesson of the 2008 crisis is that nationalization isn’t
bad considering that big banks that caused the crisis were actually bailed out and partly
or wholly nationalized for a time during the crisis, and these bail-outs are the only reason
these big banks are still standing. Amidst the planetary crisis the world is right in now,
interventionist states will have the necessary tools in transitioning to a green economy.
State-led industrialization will facilitate prioritizing of and supplying for local needs over
the requirements of foreign trade partners, to conserve finite natural resources and
somehow lay the foundations for genuine sustainable development, considering that
massive international trade also contribute to carbon emissions. Interestingly, poorer
respondents in the Philippines AmBisyon Natin 2040 project support such prioritization
of local industries that cater to local needs. Urban poor group KADAMAY’s progressive
vision (2008) on industrialization is anchored on the same hope that collective control of
the country’s productive mechanisms will ensure collective benefits from those means:
“The establishment of basic industries will siphon off the huge labor reserve force. The
29
excess profits created by labor will be allotted, not for accumulation, to expand production,
raise wages, and provide other benefits to citizens. From here, step-by-step and through
planning, the self-reliant and pro-people economy will advance. This will blaze the trail for
a society that is free, prosperous, democratic, and ever-rising living standards for the
people.”
To complement industrialization, technology transfer is also needed in transitioning to a
green economy. Rio+20’s outcome document affirmed “that green economy policies in
the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication should…strengthen
international cooperation, including the provision of financial resources, capacity-building
and technology transfer to developing countries…” The United Nations Conference on
Trade and Development (UNCTAD) defines technology transfer (2014) as “the provision
of know-how and technical expertise in the form of feasibility studies, plans, diagrams,
models, instructions, guides, formulae, basic or detailed engineering designs,
specifications and equipment for training, services involving technical advisory and
managerial personnel, and personnel training; the provision of technological knowledge
necessary for the installation, operation and functioning of plant and equipment, and
turnkey projects; the provision of technological knowledge necessary to acquire, install
and use machinery, equipment, intermediate goods and/or raw materials which have
been acquired by purchase, lease or other means...” Hence, it is clear that “technology
transfer” refers to the transfer of technological knowledge and expertise from the
developed countries that tend to dominate these fields, to the Third World countries that
are typically lagging behind on these matters. For example, technology transfer happens
when Chinese technicians teach Filipino technicians to build cheap solar panels, or when
Cuban scientists share their medical and biotechnological expertise to Third World
medical practitioners. The latest available data from the said UNCTAD report (2014)
shows that substantial technological gaps between the developed and the developing
countries still exist in terms of infrastructure (measured in terms of electric power
consumption and mobile and fixed line subscription), human capital (measured in terms
of ratio of tertiary enrollment), innovative input (measured in terms of total research &
development expenditure as percent of the GDP), scientific output (measured in terms of
30
published scientific and technical journal articles), and technological output (measured in
terms of number of patents filed at the United States Patent and Trademark Office).
At the minimum levels, technology transfers will enable many developing countries
(composed of mostly agricultural or semi-agricultural countries) to modernize their
agricultural sector, and hence more effectively and more efficiently utilize their land
resources for food production. Cooperatives, farmers’ organizations, colleges,
universities, and research centers around the world, particularly schools whose research
in science and technology are advanced, can become partners in this endeavor. At best,
technology transfers should also improve developing countries’ capacity to harness
renewable energy and produce more and more green jobs. The Philippines’ potential for
further renewable energy development and green jobs creation is very promising, as it is
yet to maximize renewable energy in its energy mix (Fig. 25).
Fig. 25 Fuel Share (%) in the Philippines. Source: Department of Energy, 2018.
The Philippines can potentially reap big benefits from full-blast maximization of solar
energy. On this arena, China’s and Germany’s capacity for mass production of solar
panels should be sought. The country can also mull the mass installation of solar panel
roofing which is now common in houses and industrial zones in countries such as
31
Germany, Belgium and many other countries (Gul et al., 2016). From India, the
Philippines can learn how to maximize “solar energy generation potential along national
highways” by “using the land above national road highways by constructing a roof
structure” (Sharma and Harinarayana, 2013) in other words, solar panel as roofing for
expressways. The same study enumerated “fringe benefits including longer road life,
employment generation, reduced CO2 emission in environment,” aside from the obvious
gain of extra gigawatts of cheap, renewable energy. Furthermore, optimization of the
country’s renewable energy potentials can bridge the inequities in access to electricity
and other related services. Reduced costs on electricity will also help lower the cost of
state-led industrialization, while ensuring that it is also sustainable as it relies on
renewable energy.
Finally, the Philippines, for technologies that it does not have a specializationcan either
seek to develop it, if prudent, or, in the case of limited resources and capacity, ensure
that trade and technology transfer help facilitate the adoption and diffusion of
technologies” (Fankhauser et al., 2017). In this context, the Philippines can seek partners
for technology transfer in fields in the green economic activities which include the
following (Jarvis et al., 2011): micro-hydro power, water management and recycling,
planting of mangrove belts (against coastal storms); Irrigation/increase of surface water
storage capacity; hybrid and clean fuel vehicles; green-focused banking and
microfinance; and environment-related tourism. Technology transfer will then eventually
enable the Philippines to graduate from becoming a mere replicator or producer of green
technologies into a green innovator, for which the economic benefits will be more
numerous.
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=lin&ind_y=false&rdim=country&idim=country:PHL&ifdim=country&hl=en_US&dl=en_U
S&ind=false
_______________. 2018. “Mobile cellular subscriptions.”
https://www.google.com/publicdata/explore?ds=d5bncppjof8f9_&ctype=l&met_y=is_veh
_nveh_p3#!ctype=l&strail=false&bcs=d&nselm=h&met_y=it_cel_sets&scale_y=lin&ind_
y=false&rdim=country&idim=country:PHL&ifdim=country&hl=en_US&dl=en_US&ind=fal
se
_______________. 2018. “Population.”
https://www.google.com/publicdata/explore?ds=d5bncppjof8f9_&ctype=l&met_y=is_veh
_nveh_p3#!ctype=l&strail=false&bcs=d&nselm=h&met_y=sp_pop_totl&scale_y=lin&ind
_y=false&rdim=country&idim=country:PHL&ifdim=country&hl=en_US&dl=en_US&ind=f
alse
______________. 2018. “GDP Growth Rate.”
https://www.google.com/publicdata/explore?ds=d5bncppjof8f9_&ctype=l&met_y=is_veh
_nveh_p3#!ctype=l&strail=false&bcs=d&nselm=h&met_y=ny_gdp_mktp_kd_zg&scale_y
=lin&ind_y=false&rdim=country&idim=country:PHL&ifdim=country&hl=en_US&dl=en_U
S&ind=false
38
______________. 2018. “Foreign direct investment, net inflows (% of GDP).”
https://www.google.com/publicdata/explore?ds=d5bncppjof8f9_&ctype=l&met_y=is_veh
_nveh_p3#!ctype=l&strail=false&bcs=d&nselm=h&met_y=bx_klt_dinv_wd_gd_zs&scale
_y=lin&ind_y=false&rdim=country&idim=country:PHL&ifdim=country&hl=en_US&dl=en_
US&ind=false
______________. 2018. “CO2 emissions per capita.”
https://www.google.com/publicdata/explore?ds=d5bncppjof8f9_&ctype=l&met_y=en_at
m_co2e_pc#!ctype=l&strail=false&bcs=d&nselm=h&met_y=en_atm_co2e_pc&scale_y=
lin&ind_y=false&rdim=country&idim=country:PHL&ifdim=country&hl=en_US&dl=en_US
&ind=false
______________. 2018. “Forest area (sq. km).”
https://www.google.com/publicdata/explore?ds=d5bncppjof8f9_&ctype=l&met_y=en_at
m_co2e_pc#!ctype=l&strail=false&bcs=d&nselm=h&met_y=ag_lnd_frst_k2&scale_y=lin
&ind_y=false&rdim=country&idim=country:PHL&ifdim=country&hl=en_US&dl=en_US&i
nd=false
______________. 2019. “Methane emissions (% change from 1990) – Philippines.”
https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.ATM.METH.ZG?locations=PH
______________. 2018. “Agricultural land (sq. km).”
https://www.google.com/publicdata/explore?ds=d5bncppjof8f9_&ctype=l&met_y=en_at
m_co2e_pc#!ctype=l&strail=false&bcs=d&nselm=h&met_y=ag_lnd_agri_k2&scale_y=lin
&ind_y=false&rdim=country&idim=country:PHL&ifdim=country&hl=en_US&dl=en_US&i
nd=false
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https://www.google.com/publicdata/explore?ds=d5bncppjof8f9_&ctype=l&met_y=en_at
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&ind=false
______________. 2019. “Poverty & Equity Data Portal (Philippines).”
http://povertydata.worldbank.org/poverty/country/PHL
World Inequality Lab. 2018. “World Inequality Report.” https://inequality.org/facts/global-
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https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2505635
... The Philippines is prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, typhoons, floods, and landslides. It suffers equally from human-caused environmental degradation aggravated by pollution and deforestation (Juan, 2020). The Philippines is ranked near the tail-end among countries promoting sustainable tourism, and Manila, the capital, has been judged to be one of the least sustainable cities in the 2018 Sustainable Cities Index (Gomez, 2018). ...
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