Some Casual Thoughts Behind the “Ideal Filipino Community”
by Glenn A. Bautista
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” — Albert Einstein
If what I had envisioned for our country—my vision of the ideal Filipino community—had been realized, we wouldn’t be where we are now. We would be reaping all the benefits that life has to offer for every Filipino soul. This may be wishful thinking, but I believe this vision makes a lot of sense, if taken seriously... if people will listen.
Too often we attach if (or kung in Tagalog) whenever we express what for us is ideal, or our idea of progress, or our desire to reach an ideal goal. But we must take out the if and work hard and make our dream, this dream of an ideal Filipino community, a reality.
I’m convinced that this is what the good Lord wants all of us to enjoy before He comes back to show us the other world that He promised. Or is it the other world that we have yet to achieve and work hard for? Or will it be handed down to us, just like that, on a silver platter?
It all started, this idea of “the ideal community”, when I was yet a fresh graduate of the University of the Philippines. I had the chance then to visit places in northern Philippines that made me realize the importance of agriculture, fishing, etc., and their role in shaping our communities.
Together with my friend, Ed Nathan Drilon, a trader and a baritone to boot, we trekked the northern trails of mountainous Cagayan Valley and a few other places until we almost reached the tip of Tumawini. This proved to be a rewarding experience for me, although, a usual one for Ed. With towels around our heads to protect us from road-dust, we cruised in an open “Volkwagen Sakbayan” from smooth to rocky roads to river banks to get to our destinations in time for the harvest of the varied crops... corn, string beans and vegetables familiar to most Filipinos. Impressed with the richness of our soil and the abundance of food source produced by our diligent farmers and fishermen, I couldn’t help but dream of doing a drawing board plan that will allow city folks to experience the same, by incorporating the agricultural aspect of rural life into the urban lifestyle. Combinations of agricultural, fish and shrimp ponds and other ventures normally done only in the provinces are enough to bring freshness and excitement into city life, within a grid-plan, I then imagined.
The initial result is a tentative plan that may be applied to minimize the present imbalance we are all experiencing now in the city centers and nearby towns. This plan is imperative for it establishes, once and for all, a balanced approach to catering to the communities’ immediate educational, commercial, agricultural, religious and cultural needs.
Perhaps this is unconsciously what guided Lorna, David and myself to somehow pursue an urban-rural type of lifestyle in Imus, Cavite. Living in the town of Imus is like having a fresh start in life. It has not been easy. But looking back after twelve years, I’m convinced the amount of time, work and patience we’ve invested in this place was worth the try. New acquaintances with farmers and other professionals and craftsmen allowed us to experience the cross-section of the Filipino society. People from all walks of life would knock on our door to offer taho (soy bean flan), or fish balls on a stick, or pan de sal (bread for breakfast) often to the accompaniment of a noisy home-made trumpet, or plastic wares and Tupperware, or cult or religion. Vendors call out our attention on a daily basis, offering goods and services of all shapes and sizes. It seems there is no limit to what they would carry on their backs just to earn a living... even furniture as heavy and bulky as beds and four season mirrors, or wash basins, brooms and house wares, or paraphernalia for services that they can perform right at your doorstep like umbrella repair, tools sharpening, shoe-shine, and many others. Folks here are hardworking, but they also seem to have all the time in the world. Just talk to a farmer who is on his way to his farm and he will stop and spend the rest of his day with you, especially if you offer him something intoxicating. I offer coffee instead, and some of Lorna’s baking experimentation for the day. Twelve years have passed, but I hardly noticed it. My son David is also about to reach the same age for he was just a baby when we got here. He gets to enjoy two worlds for we also find time on weekends to visit our other place in BF Homes where people behave differently.
I just finished taking digital photos of sketches drawn by my architect-friend, Edgar Saban, bringing into plan my basic concept of an ideal community.
Of course, this is tentative, for my purpose is merely to elicit response from those who may want to pitch in ideas so that we can come up with a better concept-plan that would help bring positive changes in the community. My special thanks to a few friends for at least believing that my concept may perhaps work if given the chance and given attention by people who think less for themselves and more for others, and who are in a position to help make it happen.
This plan should carry the word ideal for the simple reason that we all must really start from the ideal. In other words, we shouldn’t make compromises in achieving the ideal goal. At the same time, it also carries the word Filipino, as this plan was conceived with the plight of struggling Filipinos in mind. But the basic concept may also be adapted to other cultural contexts in need of the same approach.
My short experience, after trying to make this concept-plan get started, tells me that this is really not an easy thing to do. This effort requires the cooperation of real-estate developers, the government, the private sectors and most especially, the landowners.
However, the basic concept may immediately be implemented if the government believes in the plan. The government may come up with a policy that encourages real-estate developers and rural and urban planners to seriously consider what I believe to be a well thought out and caring Grid Plan. This tentative plan still has room for changes, for a better plan to materialize. This may serve as a guideline for architects who may incorporate the concept into their design of areas chosen for development.
I believe this concept is the missing link to make the past, present and future planning work to improve the quality of our standard of living, and for the government system to work for the benefit of all Filipinos, and vice-versa. It may never have been attempted before. But I’m sure we will not be lacking in models from our pre-colonial past. Our barangay system, before Spanish colonization, suggests that a more communal approach to social planning could work and brings optimal benefits for all members of the community. In pre-colonial times, the various concerned sectors of society, including the creative sector (poets, artists of both the plastic and the visual arts, engineers and architects) and counterparts of our present day professionals, are consulted and their minds and inherent skills fully utilized to solve common community problems.
This can likewise be achieved now, much more in this technological age where the gathering and implementation of ideas can easily be done with the aid of computers. A vision such as this is what makes a vision work for the good of all, for the creators are both the participants and the observers. This matter must not be left solely in the hands of real-estate developers. It is a serious matter that should be conceived by the community, the only way to paint a beautiful Philippine landscape, like an artwork interaction?
Development has its price. But communities planned idealistically can lead to better yield. People still need to see and feel some amount of freshness in life. Clean air and green surroundings. We can still do this with the large tracts of yet uncultivated land (which I had seen from a Hewey chopper). The Grid Plan can help decongest our city centers. We can live harmoniously with the rest of the Filipino people and the world. The government’s problems with the rebels will eventually cease once the rebels’ families’ needs are met. They are only fighting for the future of their children, against corruption, and to change government policies that are working against the people’s welfare. Joy and peace will never be felt in our native land until we have given direction and purpose for the smallest Filipino. I may become a successful businessman and have everything I want in this world, but if I see my neighbors miserable and hungry, would I be happy?
This concept takes into consideration the poor, the middle-class and the rich. All sectors of society will eventually benefit from the plan. If implemented successfully, there will no longer be a “poor” sector in the community.
I have prepared a “fifty to a hundred hectare grid plan”, a good size for a pilot project, showing the locations where condensed areas of virgin forest or marshlands, educational, agricultural, residential and commercial areas should be. Agricultural areas need not be a well-irrigated location, thanks to recent breakthroughs in agricultural approaches such as “hydroponics”, introduced and presently practiced in Israel and some parts of Europe. Well irrigated areas may not have any need of this, but the use of modern technologies improve quality and harvest. Traditional irrigation methods and alternative technologies may both be applied to maximize benefits. The Grid Plan, as I call it, assumes that no land will lie idle, that every spot of land in the Philippines will eventually be developed for its inhabitants, like what happened to countries like Germany and many other European and Western countries.
Realizing their mistakes, these countries had difficulty reinventing their system for they seem to have started a machine that they themselves cannot stop. In this post-cold war era, unlike these technological countries, the Philippines still has the option to shift gears and do things ideally from the start, instead of following their footsteps. The Grid Plan allows rural and urban planners to strike a balance despite future progress in business, infrastructure and real-estate development, for each module is a balanced plan that is part of the more complete and bigger plan. The Grid Plan will work because it is aimed at the fulfillment of every individual and his chosen vocation as much as it is there to enhance the goals of business. If this meaningful level is achieved in a small scale, and is eventually magnified to a global scale, humans can now dream further and start thinking about inhabiting the next possible planet instead of destroying our own.
The Grid Plan is a self-sustaining and self-sufficient system where the individual need not step on one stone after another to move forward. Instead, the system provides the individual everything he needs to directly hone his chosen craft and to fulfill his vocation. The Grid Plan is a total concept that is not really alien to most Filipinos. There may be slight adjustments from present practices, in terms of culture and traditions. But with proper guidance from the government, church-related institutions and the private sector, we can set a definite direction to strike a balance both in man’s own system and that of nature and man’s environment.
According to the plan, the workers who will build these communities will temporarily live in dormitories. They will work on weekdays but will be with their families on weekends. Eventually, the plan will allow them to become part of the community. These self-sufficient communities will not only help ease the traffic in the city centers but will complement the needs of existing business centers. These communities will further help increase production.
By now, man has realized the mistakes he has done in the past. The “fast countries” can help the “slow countries” put a stop to the mistakes they have committed in the past and redirect the “slow countries” to a better goal for the good of all.
Up to now as in the past, government efforts to ease the plight of the impoverished, especially those in squatters’ areas (now called “informal settlers”), have proven to be futile. For these efforts have failed to strike a balance in providing both shelter and livelihood sources for the communities. There is also the likelihood of more squatters coming in once news of a government housing project gets around. This cycle of events take place because of the government’s inability to see the more long-term outcome of their efforts. The present imbalance we are all experiencing now in the city centers and the nearby towns is a sign that no program in the past has really succeeded in confronting and solving this problem. The Arroyo administration’s sincerity in giving a solution to this problem is a good start, although a bit too late to have a quick solution to a big problem. We seem to have good leaders handling the housing problem, but they seem to have fallen into the same trap that those in the past have fallen into. The solution to this problem cannot come from constructing shelters for the poor within the city centers. It can only be solved if we build more communities outside the city centers, nearby towns and eventually in remote provinces to resolve the imbalances caused by poor and shortsighted design.
We must implement a balanced community plan that can satisfy the needs of the Filipino people for generations to come. A fast solution that offers shelter that the poor can repay through livelihood projects is not the answer. It is the answer for the politician’s need to get reelected when election time comes. Relocating the poor to housing projects consisting of medium-rise tenements, a policy implemented since President Marcos’ time, has never worked for the simple reason that Filipinos like to touch the earth with their hands and have their own garden where their children can play. These unoccupied tenement houses may as well be converted into business offices and offered to ambitious Filipino entrepreneurs since their original owners are already renting them out for an attractive fee; and they are back to ‘squatting’ in areas where they see a better chance of eking out a living. We need not go vertical yet in the old cities. We must go horizontal—from the tip of Jolo to the tip of Tumawini.
Only after we’ve achieved this can we cautiously go vertical in pre-located places. Most, not all, squatter-occupied areas must not be allowed to grow. If the landowners of squatter-occupied areas are willing to work out a program with the government or real-estate developers or with the private sector or other agencies or countries, then a well-balanced community plan could be effected. However, if the landowners are unwilling to undertake any program, the government must help evict these squatters in favor of the landowners for the land to be used more properly for a better community-oriented project. The scanty government funds available for housing must be spent wisely on long-range community plans and their immediate implementation with the help of the private sector, other countries and international organizations willing to initially help “slow countries” make the first proper step in building well-planned and balanced communities. A more immediate plan must take effect that would lure squatter communities back to their respective provinces by building more of these well-balanced communities where they can really belong and thus contribute to the decongestion of cities. Fresh and talented graduates of universities must go back to their places of origin and apply their honed skills in building their own versions of the ideal community for their own town mates and relatives. The present influx of rural folk to the cities will then be reversed if these programs are properly implemented and a more meaningful balance is achieved.
When planning for a community, the total fulfillment and wellbeing of the smallest Filipino must be first in the architect’s mind, intent and passion. Lack of funds to build such communities is not the obstacle. The real obstacle is the lack of practical vision, focus and direction. Once given the chance to materialize, the Grid Plan will allow us to take the first step in building the first ideal Filipino community.
These communities can get infectious when interpreted and incorporated into the varied and colorful customs and traditions of multi-talented Filipinos. The inexhaustible natural talents and skills of Filipinos (e.g., long list of patent pending inventions of Filipinos taken advantage of by other countries) will have an effective channel once a pilot community such as I have envisioned is effected. The Grid Plan is the missing link that has not been given any chance. Let’s give it a try and pray that the good Lord will continue to give us the strength and the guidance to build this ideal Filipino community, which is really just a small version of the ideal community he envisions for us all.