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The Online Magazine for Sustainable Seas
January, 1998 Vol. 1 No.1
 


LEADERS IN OUR MIDST

Governor Emilio Macias,
Negros Oriental
Just Doing His Job


 


He says heís not an environmentalist and heís not a visionary. All he does, he insists, is respond to the need of the time. Yet Negros Oriental Governor Emilio Macias has gained national recognition for his environmental management programs, programs which even now he shrugs off as products of "necessity and accident."
 

 

 

 

 

   
"In the very first month that I took over as governor [in 1988], rebels raided one of our coastal towns," he relates. "It struck me then that I didnít know how to govern. I knew how to hit the campaign trail, but once I got elected, I was lost."

Governor Macias, a physician by training, was quick to get his bearings, however. "I told myself: I went to good schools. There must be something I knew that I could use in my job as governor. I knew how to diagnose ailments by sight, by touch, by asking questions, by listening. In the same manner, I could find out what was wrong with my province. So I went to the community to see and feel for myself what was going on there, ask questions, listen."

What he saw were people needing education, water, health care, roads to bring their produce to the market. In his physician-mind, he pictured the problems as a disease and the province as his patient -- Case No. 88 00001, no less. His diagnosis: If insurgency was rife, it was because people did not feel that government was there for them. "A satisfied Filipino would not submit himself to the shackles of the sickle and hammer," he reasoned.

Governors before him had probably come to the same conclusion and then were frustrated upon seeing how seemingly insurmountable the problems were, especially in the face of the meagerness of the governmentís resources. Echoing a common sentiment among local government executives, Governor Macias says that money, or the lack of it, was a sticking point, at least in the beginning of his term. "I had no money," he relates. "I could not run to the national government, which didnít have the capability to help and, even if it was capable, wouldnít readily come to the aid of somebody like me who was in the opposition."

But he had "sweat equity," and plenty of it, he points out. He banked on the community, the very people who were most affected by the problems besetting the province. He challenged them into building their own hospitals simply by pointing out, "What do you really need to set up a hospital? A roof over your head and a doctor."

Soon, many municipalities had their own hospitals, with roofs made of nipa and sawali, later GI sheets. Then other structures went up, built on the same community effort, and as Governor Macias got his show on the road, he began to draw more people to his cause. To attract President Ramosís attention, he called his schoolbuildings FVR -- FVR, of course, stands for "Fidel V. Ramos" but the acronym is purported to mean "feasible, versatile, replicable." To get his mayors to cooperate, he had their initials added to the acronym. In Dumaguete, the project is called FVRMP -- MP means "modified project," but P also stands for "Perdices" in the city mayorís name. In another town, its FVRMV, meaning "modified version" as well as "Villanueva" after the townís mayor. It worked: the Office of the President gave Governor Macias P2 million in seed money, and the mayors pitched in with cash contributions.

Governor Maciasís approach to environmental management is equally participatory -- and very pragmatic. He insists he never set out to be known as an "environment-friendly" governor, much less as one who espouses conservation. No, he says emphatically, he is not an environmentalist. He only has a "common sense" of what environmental management entails, he only does what he believes needs to be done. Sometimes it means making mistakes, but he learns his lessons well.

Lake Balanan, a scenic nature park that the provincial government has set up, almost never came to be but for an unscheduled stop at the site that the governor was forced to make one day because of heavy rains. The lake has two water inlets -- the one on the northern side, the governor noticed, was gushing brown, murky water, which overflowed the banks. "How often does it get flooded here?" he asked a resident. "This is the first time this has ever happened, governor," the man replied. "Weíve never had this problem until you started building that road on the mountain."

Says Governor Macias, "We discovered that whatever Juan does in the mountains affects Pedro whoís trying to catch crabs along the shore." Cut the trees and you get floods, which wash away soil, diminishing not only the fertility of farms but also the productivity of nearshore fisheries. "We put two and two together and saw that all things were connected, that we could not address any of our problems in isolation of the environment in which we had to operate."

Today, Negros Oriental has a successful agroforestry project which provides forest cover as well as a source of food and income to its 1.025 million population (1995). Farmers are using land contouring techniques to prevent soil erosion. The urban areas are implementing solid waste management programs. And the coastal areas are the focus of projects aimed at putting in place sustainable use and management of coastal resources.

Not everyone is happy about how Governor Macias has spent some public funds. A few members of the Provincial Board recently brought the governor before the Ombudsman for allegedly overspending on equipment for a diagnostic center that he recently set up. (Governor Macias denies the charge, calling it "a malicious accusation.") But in the area of environmental management, Governor Macias generally gets good reviews. Coastal resource managers are especially pleased about how he sustained the Central Visayas Regional Project (CVRP) in Negros Oriental. Funded by the World Bank, CVRP was started in 1984 to reverse the critical deterioration of upland, forest and nearshore resources in Negros Oriental, Cebu, Bohol and Siquijor. By 1992, the Project had successfully eliminated blast fishing in many of its sites. Its sustainability was held in doubt, however: The World Bank funding had ended and the Projectís executive director warned of "the ever constant peril of reversion of some of the communities to their pre-project status," meaning, in the coastal areas, the rampant use of illegal and destructive fishing activities that had all but wiped out the regionís marine habitats.

It now seems Negros Oriental was never in peril, however. Governor Macias, for all his complaint that his administration "had no money," gamely took over CVRP, using local government funds to keep it going going ("My peso goes much further than any peso in government," he explains). And, with the enviable presence of Silliman, a private university located in Dumaguete City, the provincial capital, Negros Oriental has put in place one of the countryís most comprehensive and most successful coastal resource management programs. Sillimanís research efforts provide the scientific basis for many of the coastal resource management programs in the Philippines today.

Some continue to fret: Governor Maciasís third term as governor -- his last -- is ending in June. The governor is set to resign early next year so he can run for Congress, where he plans to push for "greater autonomy for local government units". Will the next governor be as supportive of environment programs as Governor Macias has been? Governor Macias minces no words on the issue. "Iíve begun to construct the infrastructure for many important programs, so the governors who come after me probably have no choice but to continue what Iíve started," he says, pausing only to add: "Theyíd be fools not to continue these programs."



  

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