The next year marks a crucial time for the Filipino people, with the upcoming national elections setting the stage for the kind of future we want for our nation. As we take stock of where the country is at right now—from the state of the ongoing health crisis to the looming threat of climate change—we ask six young leaders in different fields about their vision for a better Philippines, and what we can all do to build back stronger.
Chief Transport Planner, Pasig City
I’d like to see road safety emphasized a lot more as a public health issue. There are two main progress indicators for that: first, more streets with an implemented 30 km/hr speed limit (or lower in school zones). Speed limits are one of the key tools societies have to make streets safe—when streets become slower, they become safer. Ironically, when you have slower streets, [traffic] goes faster: more people use public transport, which improves travel time. You also have more people walking and cycling, making it less noisy and polluted.
Second, I’d like to see a lot more accessibility, meaning wider sidewalks with more ramps to help get more people [with] movement-related disabilities out and about. Wider bike lanes also play a big role here; more interconnected bike lanes around Metro Manila and around the Philippines [will get] more people with different physical ability levels [to] cycle.
The chief problem of transport systems everywhere is the type of development that's dominated by vehicles.
When you develop cities in a pattern that is convenient [only for] motor vehicles, you favor a minority of road users and are really designing it in an unsustainable way. You also have to use a lot more land and resources… you’re basically living on borrowed time, because after a while you will run out of resources, [and] you’ll have to take more from a planet that isn’t making more.
Building an inclusive mobility system, where you have more people being able to go around while being lighter on resources and pollution and social costs, for me is the only way you can develop a city that can go on to sustain life for generations to come.
Dr. Rolanisah A. Dipatuan-Dimaporo
Head, Infectious Disease Cluster (MOH-BARMM)
First of all, I don’t wish to see any more patients [waiting] in the hallways of our healthcare facilities. When we see that, it means our facilities are over full capacity, and we don’t want to see patients not receiving the full intensive care they’re supposed to be given. Right now in the Bangsamoro Region, we’re lucky to have legislators already filing bills to upgrade our government hospitals. Hopefully, we see [the results of that] in a couple of years, and I hope other regions will follow suit in upgrading and improving their healthcare facilities.
Second, this may sound idealistic, but we want to see happier healthcare workers. Yes, we want patients to be cared for properly, but our healthcare workers’ well-being shouldn’t be neglected either—we want them to be at their best when providing service to patients.
Another sign [of progress] is that healthcare workers aren’t leaving the country to seek jobs elsewhere. [To achieve this,] they should be paid accordingly, whether in a private or government facility. As a doctor myself, we’re also pushing for reasonable working hours so we don’t burn out. I know a lot of healthcare workers in other areas who are really overworked, and many of them have not been given any hazard pay—although here in our region, we have. I really hope we become an example so that healthcare workers will feel valued and feel like they’re being taken care of by the government.
Here in the Bangsamoro Region, we're lucky to have legislators already filing bills to upgrade our government hospitals.
If only we had a better healthcare system when the pandemic hit, and were able to handle the situation more properly in its early stages, I don’t think our economy would’ve taken [as huge a] hit. If the healthcare system works as it’s supposed to, our hospitals should be the last line—not the frontline.
President and Founding Farmer, AGREA
[I’d like to see us support] more women and youth in the agriculture sector. [To do that,] we need to develop policies and programs [that allow] them to thrive not just in farming but also doing business—using a comprehensive food systems approach where we make producers accountable to consumers, and vice versa.
The Philippine [agricultural] supply chain is so broken; it’s why we have so many [foreign] traders coming in. We [need to improve] our infrastructure for the supply chain—tracking, logistics, post-harvest processing—and increase our intervention in terms of value chain creation. If we harvest tomatoes, hindi pwedeng itatapon lang sila sa gilid ng kalsada ‘pag nabubulok; pwedeng gawing pasta sauce or dried tomatoes.
We also need to strengthen the connection between our food producers and the markets; [this will] encourage local restaurants to source ingredients locally, and manufacturers to lessen imports from other countries. For example: we import monggo from China and Vietnam. But if we encourage [and equip] our rice farmers to grow monggo after harvesting rice in the dry season, they’d not only have another layer of income, but would also be rehabilitating their soil since monggo is a natural soil conditioner.
Agriculture is [still] a male-dominated industry, so there are also a lot of gender issues. Women farmers typically earn Php 43 less than a male farmer’s daily wage in a plantation. Land titling is also a challenge; women in farming communities can’t make decisions on their land since it’s usually under their husbands’ names. There’s also the problem with age: The average age of a Filipino farmer is between 57 to 60; the average age of the Filipino population is 23. If we don’t encourage young people to get into agriculture, what will happen to us in 10 years’ time?
We need to create a more enabling environment for the agriculture sector to thrive, but to do that, there has to be a priority in infrastructure and policy, especially in local governments. The agricultural sector will really [shape] how we rise up after this pandemic. To build back our economy, we need to build our human capital.
Founder and Executive Director, AHA Learning Center
I’d like to see more of the private sector investing in social capital and capacity-building for long-term projects in low-income communities. Within the last two years, we’ve taken maybe five years back in terms of providing quality education services to those who need it the most; we have to think of the next five years not just as a means to catch up, but to truly focus on how learning can be more equitable, engaging, and inclusive.
These words should be more than just catch phrases; it’s important we understand that if the wide-scale, international education assessments show [the Philippines] lagging behind, that doesn’t only affect poor public schools, or public schools in general. It affects everyone. These will determine the level of talent [our country has], and how far and how much we can build.
When you improve the quality of education in areas with concentrated poverty, you not only create a skilled work force, you also create more [opportunities for] collaboration to [find solutions to] the problems of our country. Very few of us are given opportunities to be educated, to lead. There are few of us that are on the ground or are in positions of power; oftentimes communities with concentrated poverty don’t have a seat at the table, because they don’t have the language, too.
It’s a very bleak situation, and it won’t get any better unless the people who call themselves influencers actually consider and include [the needs of] most of the country when they’re talking about what’s best for the country.
Dr. Deo Onda
Associate Professor & Deputy Director for Research, UP MSI
To do marine scientific research in the Philippines, we need [to increase] our capacity in terms of people, assets, and infrastructure. Right now, there are only around 20 oceanographers in the Philippines—talking about a country that’s made up of 82 percent water, I think that’s a very small ratio. [We need to find ways to] get more people, especially the younger generation, to take up MS and PhD programs in science; and get more Filipino scientist trained abroad to actually come back, teach here, and [help] the country. I also [hope to see] more regularized career positions for these scientists, [since] most of the researchers we have right now are contractual.
As a maritime country, the Philippines needs to start gearing up for a blue economy.
In terms of assets—within UP specifically, we only have one research vessel, so if we want to study the entire maritime region of the country, we need more. There’s this big program in the Marine Science Institute (MSI) called Upgrade CIA, and one of the projects that I’m leading is the establishment of the national academic research fleet. Right now, we’re acquiring more research vessels, but we’re trying to increase that number to five: one for northeast Philippines, one in Visayas, one in Mindanao, and two in the West Philippine Sea because it’s a legacy area. But these vessels are old and refurbished; what I want to see in the next few years is for the Philippines to actually invest in new, high-tech, advanced research vessels, not only for ocean research but for deep sea research, too.
Not all research happens at sea, [so] we should also invest in infrastructures on land. There are efforts to establish a marine scientific research station in Pag-asa Island (in the West Philippine Sea), [whereas] China has already established three operational research laboratories in their illegally claimed areas. Hopefully, we can come up with more research stations not just in Pag-asa, but all over the country.
The Philippines has a lot of deep sea environments, possibly [with] resources that we don’t know how to utilize because we don’t know where they’re located. Marine scientific research allows you to actually know where, what, and how to utilize those resources, and understand how the environment is changing. Looking forward, we want policies that are driven by facts and are actually rooted in science. We will never be able to [do that] unless we increase our capacity for research.
Mitzi Jonelle Tan
Lead Convener, Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines
I’d definitely like to see a change in the way we handle disasters. The Philippines has a lot of climate change and disaster risk management policies, but the implementation [is always lacking]. Every time may bagyo, binabaha. It’s not something we should just accept, it’s something we need to change—and that means we need to support our scientists and engineers [so they can] research and create [local] infrastructure that can adapt to the impacts of the climate crisis.
Aside from adaptation, there’s also mitigation: protecting the existing forests that we have and making sure we don’t [produce] more carbon dioxide emissions. We have a coal fire and power plant moratorium, but it still has a lot of exceptions. There’s also a climate change bill that’s being discussed, [but] I’m critical of it because of how our previous climate polices have been implemented.
The Philippines is the fourth-most vulnerable country in the world to the climate crisis; we’ve had the highest number of extreme weather events in the last 20 years. It’s so clear that the climate crisis is real. We’re facing it, and it’s only going to get worse in the next [few] years. If we want the nation to build—to exist—we have to start now. And not just through policy, [but also] through our government demanding countries in the Global North to drastically cut down their emissions. To do that, we also have to say no to [these countries] extracting natural resources here in the Philippines.
[The youth] cannot wait until we are the ones in power anymore. We need to demand that the leaders of today act now, because it is our future that’s at stake here. We need to vote for leaders that really prioritize people and planet, not profit.