Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

There’s a need to highlight the islandness of Luzon. It may be the biggest island in the Philippines but it’s still an island. Its unique ecosystem must be studied in its organic wholeness. Dividing it into five regions and dozens of small provinces had served the parochial objectives of pragmatic politics but it prevented the formation of an island mentality which made it difficult to inspire and mobilize the people to support island-wide initiatives like protecting the environment.

There are no Luzonians or Luzon islanders; only Ilocanos, Kapampangans, Tagalogs, Bicolanos and Indigenous Peoples. (Meanwhile, it’s convenient for Luzon folks and everybody to tag Mindanao as an island and the residents there as Mindanaoans).

There are no Luzon coastal areas, mountain ranges, and watershed zones but there are several beach resorts, provincial pilgrim and trekking sites, and tourist hotspots. The pollution in Manila, the loss of forest cover in Sierra Madre, the destruction of marine habitat in Batangas, the coastal reclamation in Cavite, El Nino in Isabela, red tide in Pangasinan – they are identified as place-specific concerns but they should be regarded as disturbing signs of the deterioration of the quality of life in Luzon.

Luzon’s natural beauty, its precious but finite resources, and even its destructive charms are obscured by the artificial division of the island into several sub-political units. Mayon is part of Albay but its eruption is not the problem of Bicolanos alone. The July 1990 earthquake which hit most parts of Luzon revived the dormant Pinatubo volcano in 1991. The West Valley Fault is not just a threat to Marikina and Quezon City.

How can we push Manilans to act against mining in nearby Bulacan if they fail to see themselves as inhabitants of the same island? How can we clean Manila Bay if our coastal clean-up is limited only in cities and municipalities which have adopted the program? Trees are abundant in NLEX and SLEX but the watersheds are denuded. Our backyard is clean but the surrounding community is filthy. A city, a province, is adjudged clean and green but it means nothing if the island, our Luzon Island, is hurting from our dirty activities.

Understanding Luzon’s geography is essential in formulating policies that would produce a broader impact on the greater population of the island. Sadly, we prefer to plan via micro political units. The potential of localization has been distorted when the traditional bureaucracy dominated it. Grassroots empowerment is impotent if not linked to larger political objectives. There must be a conscious plan to integrate the local with the regional, national, and even global campaigns.

Even the military recognizes the organizational value of establishing its presence in big territories through its several formations in Luzon (North Luzon and South Luzon command, for example). Gloria Arroyo’s super regions identified North Luzon as an agri-business incubator, Mega Manila as the country’s key cyber-corridor, and Bicol as part of the central Philippine tourism hub. But Arroyo’s blueprint, even if it seeks to harness the spatial characteristics of the island, adheres to the neoliberal design of restricting the local economy as mere supplier of raw materials and semi-skilled (but cheap) labor as required and dictated by monopoly capital.

On the other hand, the four-decade old revolutionary movement continues to operate in several fronts in Luzon. It maximizes the terrain of the island to survive the military offensives of its better equipped enemies and to expand its influence in the countryside. But it has yet to prove that it has mastered, at least politically, the changing rural-urban dynamics. In particular, its Red Power which almost dominated old Manila in the past, needs to be recalibrated in the new Mega Manila.

What political education is required to breed a new generation of Luzon islanders who understand the importance of linking the parochial with the bigger territorial issue? We need less island mentality in the Visayas islets but Luzon’s change agents must learn to think and act like an islander. We need to imagine ourselves as tribespeople living and interacting in a big island.

Luzon islanders would oppose the magnetite mining in Ilocos, the construction of a coal-fired power plant in Subic (in a protected area of all places!), the earth-balling (read: cutting) of pine trees in SM Baguio, and the reclamation of Manila Bay (in a bird sanctuary) not simply because they wanted to be eco-warriors (not a bad career choice, though) but as an active affirmation of their commitment to preserve and protect their home. Not all Luzon islanders are dedicated environmentalists but they could easily connect the everyday woes of a distant village to their community issues. Manilans, who would not hesitate to express their disappointment and anger against the continuing pollution in Pasig River, are also expected to support the petition of Nueva Vizcaya to ban all forms of mining in the province because it’s a watershed haven (it supports five mega dams in Luzon).

We need tree-huggers, bird watchers, and nature mystics but no less than the mass mobilization of the greatest number of people is required to save our fragile environment. The popular indignation in the online and also remarkably offline communities against the plan of SM to cut pine trees in the City of Pines is an encouraging sign that we are beginning to understand the interconnectedness of our daily struggles in this part of the archipelago.

Related articles:

Filipinos belong to geography
Green Highways

One Response to “Luzon and Island Mentality”

  1. this is a very deep article on environmental justice and the politics that surrounds it.

    thank you


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