Benedicto Q Sánchez: And so our Kathmandu dinner discussions continue, but this time virtually and through the internet. Five days ago, Dr. Sudhirendar Sharma asked me for my comments on his article “Need to rewrite the mountain perspective” that was posted at Climate Himalaya’s website.
Mountains are described as “fragile, remote and marginal,” these three aspects have featured prominently in discussions and deliberations concerning development in the mountains. N S Jodha, Sudhirendar’s fellow Indian researcher has been credited for using these three features to define the “mountain perspective.”
The “mountain perspective” has given a sense of purpose and legitimacy to those working for and on mountain issues at the grassroots, on the tree trunk and atop canopy. The guiding mantras, fragility, marginality and remoteness, have helped generate widespread empathy for those engaged in “development” of the mountain communities.
I might add that Sudhirendar’s concept of the “mountain perspective“ could be comparing citruses of the small Philippine lemon called calamansi versus oranges. My take is on Philippine, especially Negrense mountains situation versus that of the Hindu-Kush, the westernmost extension of the Pamir Mountains, the Karakoram Range, and a sub-range of the Himalayas mountain ranges.
Contrary to common belief, argued Sudhirendar’s “the mountain perspective” has been seriously flawed in the first place. Pitched around the physio-graphic features of the mountains, the narrative had hinged itself on the inherent debility of the region. “Could anything built on a weak foundation end up being robust and durable,” Sudhirendar ask.
The following would be my responses to Sudhirendar’s assertions. Mountain remoteness in his context could be days of travel from one village to the next. But in Negros, travel is just a couple of hours of a habal-habal motorcycle ride. I left there at 9 a.m. for the “remote” barangay (village) of Lalong in the mountain municipality of Calatrava. I went, hiked a bit, and then returned home via the habal-habal and made it to my Bacolod home for dinner on the same day.
Modern transportation adapted to mountain conditions, cellphones and even radio and television have reduced the remoteness. Many Negrense mountain villages can be visited within a day. So no, remoteness is not necessarily the fate of those living in mountains, as Sudhirendar asserts.
Fragility? Let Cagayan de Oro and Iligan City answer that after Typhoon Sendong flooded with mudslide that buried entire villages. Or for that matter St. Bernard and Ormoc in Leyte. Of course, it’s not just steep slopes but denuded mountains that have worsened their fragility to soil erosion, flash floods and mudslides.
Marginal? I can agree that many mountain communities are marginal and poverty-stricken. But not necessarily. Remoteness is being reduced by modern conveniences. Negros Occidental has one of the best national highways passing by mountainous barangay of Bunga in Salvador Benedicto to reach San Cárlos or through the mountainous municipality of Mabinay en route to Dumaguete. Many mountain residents now have access to cellphones, TVs and radios.
In fact, our Negrense barangays, towns and cities are no longer remote or as poor as they were 20 years ago. Or for that matter, Mindanao or Luzon communities are no longer as “remote and marginal.” On the other hand, “fragility” has worsened not because of mountains per se but because of forest denudation or the conversion of secondary growth forests into sugarcane monocultures.
In other words, with the current improved infrastructure, trading mountain goods from the upland to lowlands and vice versa are easily done. Our local government units can easily deliver basic social services toward the least of our Negrense brethren. It is now a matter of priority, sound management of government resources, and political will on the part of our local executives to fulfill their commitments.
Stated in another way, if mountain communities fail to get government resources for their development, no one should blame the steep mountain slopes and terrain. Blame the politicians and administrators of government line agencies for NOT fulfilling their obligations toward our mountain citizens.
About author: Benedicto is an environmentalist, human rights advocate and educator, a nationalist and yet a global citizen. He promotes the UN’s vision of rights-based approach to sustainable development framed along Rio’s Agenda 21, especially Chapter 13. His personal website is http://bqsanchez.webs.com/ Please email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Started in year 2010, ‘Climate Himalaya’ initiative has been working on Mountains and Climate linked issues in the Himalayan region of South Asia. In the last five years this knowledge sharing portal has become one of the important references for the governments, research institutions, civil society groups and international agencies, those have work and interest in the Himalayas. The Climate Himalaya team innovates on knowledge sharing, capacity building and climatic adaptation aspects in its focus countries like Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Climate Himalaya’s thematic areas of work are mountain ecosystem, water, forest and livelihood. Read>>