Sustainable Sipalay

HELLO to dear friends and partners in the conservation movement in Negros Island Region and elsewhere!

When I started this column, I hoped to dedicate space to people who care about our planet, and I wish to share their stories here and start discussions on how we can work together for a sustainable future.

This week, I invite you to see what the City of Sipalay has achieved in the field of environmental sustainability so far, and wish we would all be inspired to do our part in private capacity, or in the various organizational and leadership roles that we may have.

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First of all, I admire Sipalay City’s local government unit in their political will to engage communities in solutions to environmental issues. It is a breath of fresh air to see that their Environment and Natural Resources Office (Enro) do invest in their personnel and imbibe a culture of care for the planet.

Some LGUs in the country face challenging tasks in the field of environment and natural resource management, and have real limitations like manpower, as sometimes you’d even find only one or a few heavily multi-tasked Enro personnel.

Sipalay City shows how the LGU commits to this area of development, having more than 100 staff under the Enro, and at least 30 community development personnel. They have dedicated section heads for coastal and marine environmental management, solid waste management, forestry management, enforcement, planning and development. They have a strong foundation in environmental work. I was really happy when I learned Sipalay celebrated World Wildlife Day last Friday while providing a free Wildlife Rescue Training to their constituents.

On February 21 and 22, the Sipalay City Enro invited Communities First, an NGO focused on creative initiatives for development, to conduct a Capability Enhancement Training for their community development personnel.

A circle of friends and professional partners – Len Manriquez, Kath Maguad, John Dave Dueñas, JC Guion, Dave Hernandez, and I – founded Communities First, and found our first active partner in Sipalay City LGU through the efforts of Vice Mayor Gina Montilla Lizares.

We were deeply motivated to nurture a relationship with Sipalay, and the training was the start. Since I also work for and represent the Philippine Reef and Rainforest Conservation Foundation Inc. (PRRCFI), and work with Sipalay City for a parallel endeavor to establish more marine protected areas through the USAid-Ecofish project, my input to the training would be from the environmental sustainability side of development.

In one of the workshops, I brought with me my favorite activity from Danjugan Island’s Marine and Wildlife Camps. We call it “Fantasy Island” where kids would have the freedom to design their own small island (usually 1 meter by 1 meter, using natural found objects) – they could make up its biophysical features like what animals, forests, lagoons or structures are found there.

This is “Fantasy” because the kids pretty much can enjoy building seemingly impossible architecture, or out-of-this-world, sometimes Star Wars-kind of technology. We find “Fantasy Island” to be fun because it engages kids (and adults!) to be creative, imaginative and optimistic while we try to instill in them the concepts of a sustainable community.

For the Sipalay Enro, I modified the activity to be called “Fantasy Community” where the participants can take it to the next level as they are part of the local government unit. The results of their workshop gave us an insight into how Sipalay has done very well in terms of capacitating its citizens in environmental awareness.

Their “fantasy communities” were less science fiction, and rooted on actual solutions that they are already a part of, in real life. It is astounding how all of them integrated the following in their community design, areas where Sipalay has already made steps forward: Wildlife sanctuaries, marine protected areas, watersheds, forest reserves, sustainable agriculture and fisheries, farm-to-market roads, ecological solid waste management and ecotourism. As a conservationist, I was awed by how aware they are of what makes a community sustainable.

While I was facilitating discussions, I asked what they felt during the building of their “Fantasy Community.” They had a mix of fun and serious talk. They had to elect their mayor – so we had to ask serious questions like, “Mayor, a mining project is being proposed in lands part of your forest reserve, will you support it?” and the role play got interesting and insightful. They also prepared Welcome Song and Dances, had a Tourism Officer tour us in their community, and at one point, we even had garlands on our necks.

But what struck me during the discussions is that the participants knew that they were part of building their own actual community in Sipalay. I felt the sense of empowerment in them, that they are needed to achieve certain things for their fellow citizens, and that they could do things together with a shared power and responsibility for our society to be better. They knew that they could be heard, and that they are given opportunities to think critically and ecologically. Their awareness is nurtured and furthered by their leaders, and that they see themselves as leaders. This to me is true empowerment and a key ingredient for building sustainable communities.

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The road to sustainability is bumpy. Efficiency, cost, economy, social readiness, and community participation pose challenges in implementing solutions for issues on energy, water, food, waste, and livelihood. Sipalay has a share of these challenges, and imperfections and obstacles are natural.

However, I appreciate that Sipalay City has risen to a level of being a model LGU when it comes to environmental governance or natural resource management. I feel we need to support their endeavors in the quest for sustainability – meeting the triple bottomline of “Planet, People, Profit” – so we can also learn how to replicate solutions for our communities. (Dave Albao)