KASAMA Vol. 10 No. 3 / July-August-September 1996 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

Of Recycling and Corruption

During his visit to Brisbane in May this year we had the pleasure of meeting with RHODERICK SAMONTE, a Filipino teacher from the Global Youth Visions Project of the University of St. La Salle in Bacolod City, Negros. EMERE DISTOR took the opportunity to interview him.

What brought you here to Australia?

Rhoderick: I am in a training program sponsored by Melbourne Zoo in preparation for an education project in partnership with Artists United for Nature, Germany and the Negros Forest and Ecological Foundation, in Bacolod.

So far, have you met many Australian organisations concerned with the environment?

Rhoderick: Yes, I have been enjoying my stay here and learning and re-learning so many things here. I’ve been meeting with so many people and fortunately I’ve met many Filipinos here as well. I have been in contact with people in conservation education not only in the zoos but also in schools and NGOs.

Would you like to tell Filipinos in Australia about the situation of our environment in the Philippines?

Rhoderick: I don’t think that I could speak so much about the whole of the Philippines. But in Negros, we have a fast dwindling forest cover and I think this goes for the whole country. As far as statistics are concerned, right now we have a dwindling cover of 3 to 5 per cent. As far as our coral reef is concerned, only a little of 3 per cent are in excellent condition and the rest are just either totally or partially damaged. But there is a growing awareness right now in the environmental protection of our country especially among our young people, but we don’t have the resources to financially support many projects for young people. In terms of information and resources, it is interesting that I am finding more information about our country’s species which I don’t normally find in the Philippines. It is ironic that most of our materials comes from the West. I think it is about time that we develop our own local materials which is in fact one of the components of the project I will soon be involved in — to develop info-materials that are locally based and that are easily accessible especially to communities and schools.

What more do you think should be done by the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources to protect our natural resources?

Rhoderick: With due respect to the agency, I think to certain point they are doing their job in terms of environmental protection. But of course, we are aware that sometimes even the DENR is involved in scams, and there are many media reports that even officials of the DENR are behind illegal loggings — which is very ironic and frustrating for our people. They have programs that are doing well as far as environment protection is concerned but I believe that there is still so much to be done. Even in Negros if you ask about data about our forest, they are still inadequate to provide us the information. I hope that in due time the government would be able to do its job as far as environment protection is concerned. I notice that the Australian government is very good in protecting its environment and natural resources and I think that this is the kind of support we should get from our own government.

How is recycling being dealt with in the Philippines?

Rhoderick: There is a growing awareness especially in buying products that are recyclable, renewable and helpful to the ozone layer. But the difficulty we are in is that we don’t have a recycling centre. So, as much as people want to recycle bottles, tin cans, etc. they just don’t have the place to send in those materials. People are aware but the practice of recycling is not very consistent because many people still choose the convenience which products that are non-recyclable can offer. All in all there is a growing concern, but in the Philippines we don’t have much facilities. There was an attempt even in our school to come up with a proposal to put up a recycling centre, but we found out that we cannot afford the expense to put up the facility.

You’ve been here for 6 weeks now, what else have you learned from the Australian experience so far?

Rhoderick: Since I arrived I’ve been attending trainings, seminars and visiting groups and learning so many things. Australians are very encouraging. It is easy for Australia to do environmental work and protection because it is a First World country and it is quite difficult for our country. It is also difficult to convince the people from the upland communities of the Philippines to conserve the environment if they have nothing to do with it. We have to address the basic issue of poverty and land reform. I have learned of the progress of Land Care here in Australia and I’ve been sharing with them that as much as this is also very ideal in the Philippine setting but we have first to address the basic issue of land reform. Also I’ve learned that environment protection in Australia is being strongly integrated in schools and I just wish that the Philippines’ Department of Education could also do this. I believe that schools here can somehow be autonomous in implementing very good programs, whereas back in the Philippines we just have to contend with so much bureaucracy at times. My stay here in Australia, though very brief, gave me an opportunity to meet so many people and to establish good contacts and make links continuous and constant to access information, resources and even funding.