Classes will reopen at the University of the Philippines in mid-January. As students take up subjects in geography and environmental planning, I plan to remind them of the blessings offered by their physical environment that they and their compatriots have long taken for granted. In pointing out the geographical advantages that other countries don’t have, I hope to make them realize the missed opportunities and goad them to do their share in accelerating their county’s development.
In terms of climate, Filipinos often complain about the uncomfortable hot and humid weather. But if they study the world map and view the wide swaths of deserts in all the continents, they will realize how lucky they are to live in a country with a copious supply of rainwater. In the deserts, people long to plant but there are only a few oases or springs, and even there water is rationed. And yet in the tropics we are not bothered by the sight of water wastage from dripping faucets and leaking pipes. In both rural and urban areas we see lands lying idle while people complain of costly grains and vegetables in the local markets.
When Filipinos look at the Philippine topographic map, they bewail the fact that we are a mountainous country with more than two-fifths of the land having steep, untillable slopes. But this rugged terrain also creates watersheds that can store water for irrigation, industrial and domestic uses, and power production. They should feel lucky to know, for instance, that our islands are not like many flat or low islands in the Pacific Ocean that cannot hold water and have to import it at high cost. And yet there are still many watersheds that need to be developed by the National Irrigation Administration for multipurpose use.
When we look at the archipelagic shape of our country, how we wish we were a compact country that allows easy land connectivity. But we fail to see that the water bodies have actually increased our earth surface area by around four times within the International Treaty Limits and actually present varied opportunities for fishery production and tourism development. Students should look at landlocked countries in Africa and Asia that yearn for easy access to the sea and to engage in fishing and maritime trade. And yet in our country we have failed to maximize the economic potentials of our shores and seas. We also tend to be inward-looking and squabble over limited land grudgingly relinquished by greedy landowners.
Related to our archipelagic shape is our insular location in the South China Sea that has saved us from land border disputes that characterize many conflicts in the world
today. For instance, we can imagine the tension and distraction caused by the boundary disputes between Israel and Palestine and between other states with boundaries arbitrarily drawn by colonizers. Notwithstanding China’s encroachment on our maritime boundaries, our insular location should allow us to focus more on our development.
With regard to location, our situation in Asia shows that we are roughly at the center of East Asian, Southeast Asian and Western Pacific countries, and are positioned as the gateway to the Asiatic land mass. We can develop ourselves as a distribution point for goods and services from Asia, Oceania and the Americas. This could be our strong added selling pitch to foreign investors to locate in our economic zones.
Lastly, I will make my students write term papers expounding on these topics and I will remind them of the blessings of the internet and my generation’s struggle with unwieldy technology. I will remind them of cyber aids at their fingertips for sourcing data and improving grammar and form that they take for granted, and of my generation’s travails in trudging to libraries and maintaining correct page margins with that confounded slow device called the typewriter.
Meliton B. Juanico, a retired professor of geography at UP Diliman, is a licensed environmental planner and is active in consultancy work in urban and regional planning.
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