(April 2008) The Philippines population, health, and environment (PHE) network has developed into a global leader and a model of how to bring diverse institutions together to improve people’s health and well-being while sustaining natural resources for future generations.
The Philippines PHE Network convened the Third National Population, Health, and Environment Conference from March 5-7 in Tagaytay City, Philippines. The conference, funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and other partners, brought together more than 300 practitioners, policymakers, advocates, researchers, and journalists from across the Philippines and five continents. The previous two conferences provided a foundation of skills and leadership for integrating PHE development efforts in the Philippines. Building on those successes, this conference, “Scaling Up PHE,” challenged participants to explore means of scaling up the integrated PHE approach both in the Philippines and internationally through highlighting successful models, sharing experiences and best practices, skills-building workshops, and strengthening connections for future partnerships.
A Controversial Beginning
The conference got off to a controversial start. One of the keynote speakers was Jose Atienza Jr., the secretary of the Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Secretary Atienza is also the former mayor of Manila and leader of the Catholic-backed organization, Couples for Christ. Atienza asserted that the high poverty rate in the Philippines was caused by mismanagement and not by rapid population growth. He insisted that population organizations should focus on the “sacredness of the human life,” rather than provide access to abortions and family planning services. He also said that continuing population growth in the Philippines would not be a threat to the environment if environmental resources were managed properly.
Congresswomen Nerissa Soon-Ruiz, who chairs the Millennium Development Goals committee in the House of Representatives, quickly rebutted Atienza’s statements. She insisted that “poor Filipinos have big families not because they want to but because they have no access to population services.” Ramon San Pascual, executive director of the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development and the secretariat of the Philippines PHE network, added, “It is rare to have your keynote speaker invoking contrary views to what we are advocating.” Furthermore, San Pascual noted that Atienza’s view, and the resistance of the national government to enact a consistent national population policy, highlighted the importance of grassroots PHE efforts. In the end, Atienza’s remarks energized the participants of the conference to find ways to succeed in integrating PHE even in the face of the national government’s opposition to the spread of information about and access to methods of contraception.
PRB Releases Three Regional Profiles
At the conference, PRB released three profiles in the series “Regional Profiles of Population, Health, and Environment Issues in the Philippines.” The three profiles feature the National Capital Region (NCR), Central Visayas, and Cagayan Valley. These profiles highlight the population trends, natural resource use, and economic status of each region. They also include examples of selected projects in each region that address key development challenges, particularly in a manner that integrates population, health, and environmental concerns.
The profiles complement a PRB data sheet, Making the Link in the Philippines, released at the second PHE conference in Cebu City in March 2006. PRB will release additional profiles over the next few months for the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao and Calabarzon region.
A Grassroots Movement Toward Scaling Up
One of the most innovative developments in the Philippines has been the adoption of PHE approaches by local government units (LGUs). In 2006 in Baggao, Cagayan, for example, the LGU participated in a jointly sponsored PRB and Conservation International-Philippines workshop to train a local community to map and appraise its demographic and natural resource status for health and environmental management. After the workshop, the LGU decided to allocate funding from their 2007 annual investment plan to replicate the workshop in the remaining 46 barangays (villages) of Baggao. Three workshops have been carried out so far.
Since the last conference, the Philippines PHE network has spread to new regions as well. A PHE workshop in Mindanao in the fall of 2007 led to the creation of a Mindanao chapter of the network. Many participants traveled from Mindanao for the conference this year, and the Mindanao chapter has agreed to host the next conference in 2010.
Leadership from the Philippines has also contributed to the scaling up of PHE networks to other parts of the world. The new East Africa PHE Network will work to replicate the success of the Philippines model in five countries of East Africa: Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. Three representatives from the East Africa Network traveled to the conference to learn from the Philippines experience and share their vision and plans.
The Tagaytay Challenge
During the conference, the five Philippine PHE Network regions (NCR, Visayas, Luzon, Mindanao, and International) discussed the actions necessary for scaling up PHE in regional breakout sessions. By the end of the conference, participants and organizers made a commitment for achieving the Tagaytay Challenge:
- Geographically, expand and reach out to other areas of the country and transcend administrative and natural boundaries.
- Organizationally, promote, respond, and innovate within respective organization or domain to rise up to the requirements of scaling up.
- Program wise, broaden integration of relevant sectors, intensify local and national policy advocacy engagements, expand research initiatives, and mobilize resources to sustain and expand PHE programs.
- Diversify the network and partnerships, for only together and as a united front can we overcome our everyday challenges on the PHE front.
The Tagaytay Challenge includes two-year action plans crafted by each regional group. The international chapter’s plan of action includes activities to improve communication, collaboration, fundraising, and policy activities. Already, some of these activities are underway. In addition, PRB will continue to work with the Philippines PHE network to serve as a center of learning and an example for fledgling PHE networks now developing in East Africa, and will work to monitor the action plans developed under the Tagaytay Challenge.
Jason Bremner is director of the Population, Health, and Environment program at the Population Reference Bureau.