AKRA Consultancy for Community Empowerment

Friday, January 20, 2006

Rebuilding an Edifice of Hope with the People in Batasan Island

By Isidore Ancog

(A Summary Report of the author in his three year stay as Community Organizer of Haribon Foundation for the Community Coastal Resource Management Project in Batasan Island, Tubigon, Bohol, from July 1997 to December 2000.)


I Island Profile

Batasan Island already existed since time immemorial. It is a reef located in the middle of the sea Northeast of the Municipality of Tubigon, and Southwest of Clarin. It was already a recognized barrio before the Japanese occupation in the early 1940’s under the political jurisdiction of Tubigon municipality. However, no one in the community can ever remember when exactly was the date it became a barangay.

Long before, the island was thickly covered with mangrove forest. The coral reefs and seagrass beds were all healthy. With only few people in the village, they have all the abundance they want from the rich marine resources surrounding the island. After World War II, dynamite fishing and advance type of fishing nets became a fashion. Simultaneous with the growing inhabitants, marine resources like fish, shells, crabs and crustaceans slowly depleted.

Inhabitants of the island were mostly coming from mainland Bohol, Cebu, and the nearby provinces. To mention a few, the decendants of Dolera, Oldenaria, Mejares, Salomon, Carillo were common among the villagers.

On December 20, 1981, Batasan Island became part of Presidential Proclamation 2152 which proclaimed some islands of the Philippines as Mangrove Swamp Forest Reserve. After the enactment of R.A. 7586, otherwise known as the National Integrated Protected Area System or the NIPAS Act of June 1, 1992, Batasan Island being under Presidential Proclamation 2152, became part of the Tubigon Group of Islands identified as one of the initial components of the system under the category Protected Landscape and Seascape. Now, the island is onward to be proclaimed as a Protected Area by the National Government.

The island is within the coastal waters of Tubigon. It is a reef with a very wide tidal flat. About 20% of this is covered with mangroves both naturally grown and the newly planted. The inhabited part is only about 50 meters wide and approximately 800 to 900 meters long. This is where house dwellings and buildings are built on top of piled corals. Without the intentionally piled corals, the whole island is submerged to proximately more than a meter deep of water during high tides.

Batasan has relatively low rainfall. Rainy days are equally distributed throughout the year, except during months of March and April where it is often times dry. Average range temperature is 27 to 29 Degrees Centigrade.

The population of the barangay is 1,074 including children. There are presently 516 females and 558 males (Barangay Health Center Data). This population is expected to grow by 1% per year. In about five years, it will have more than 1,137 inhabitants. There are 192 households with an average size of 5.6. Population density is at 97.18 persons per hectare.

As per Cadastral Survey, the total land Area of the island is 11.0519 hectares. These only includes the inhabited part but excludes the vast tidal flat and the mangrove forest. The island can not be classified as residential area because it is declared as government land. Residents’ claim of their lots are only through tax declaration issued by the Assessors Office of the Municipal Government of Tubigon.

The island has 52-hectare mangrove plantation initiated by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), a little over seven years ago, through the community-based forest management project. There are about 30 hectares of centuries old mangrove stands inter-cropped with those that were planted by individuals in the community.

Around the island are undetermined size of seagrass beds and live coral cover. White sand areas and rocky shorelines can also be found.

On the recent Participatory Coastal Resource Assessment (PCRA) conducted by the community, it was found out that seagrass beds have already experienced stress due to destructive fishing methods. Only less than 10% of the coral cover remained in excellent condition, about 48% is fairly good and 44% is considered dead and rubbled.

The wide sea circumventing the island is utilized mainly for fishing ground and other related livelihood. It is the main source of income of the people. Marine products caught in the area ranges from fish, shells, crabs, shrimps, sea cucumber, etc., with varied species, sizes and commercial importance.

Major fishing gears used are pumpboats, paddle/sail boats, crab nets, fish nets, fish pens, fish corals, spears, compressors, hook and line, etc.. Seaweed farming is also one source of income.

Drinking water is rain water through rain collectors. Communal water tanks are visible beside public buildings like schools and chapels. Likewise, privately owned water tanks are common among most of the houses. However, during dry spells, they get water from the mainland specifically Tubigon and Clarin for domestic water consumption.

Fishing is the main livelihood of the people in the community. More than 70% of the population engaged in fishing: men, women, and children. At an early age of nine (9) or ten (10), the children already go fishing either with their parents or go shell gleaning by themselves. By nature fishing is seasonal. Fishers shift gears depending on a particular type of fish in a particular season/time. The average monthly income of a fisher ranges from P2,000 to P3,500.

For one day, a fisher in Batasan can get an average of P100 to P200 worth of fish. They use at most, five to eight hours for fishing in a day (or night). However, seldom can a fisher go straight fishing daily in a week. They only fish four to five days a week or an average of 16 to 20 days per month. The rest of their time are spent to unproductive activities like gambling and drinking spree or by not doing anything at all.

The most common type of fishing are the crab net fishers, the squid fishers using hook and line, and the shell gatherers who are usually women and children.

Women are bound to be domesticated as culturally practiced. Child rearing and household chores such as cooking, washing laundry and house cleaning are always and ever associated with women. These chores are not considered productive except when it is done to earn a living. For them “productivity” is something that could generate income.

At a glance, in the village, it seems women are easy going and care free, very dependent of what may come after their husbands return from fishing. This may be true to a few, but looking deeply, it is not. Most likely, a good number of women participated in one or more economic activities. They either do both shell gleaning and managing a sari-sari store, or dress making and go seaweed farming, buying and selling fish as middle intermediaries, vending goods and ready to eat foods, and many more others, to add the family income. Thus, adding their burden as wives and mothersl.

Child labor and domestic violence in the community is never treated seriously as social issues. Whether it is associated with poverty or not, these two issues co-exist with gender issue in the community and are undermining socio-cultural behavior. Specific attention may be recommended.

Other source of income in the community are: carpentry, dress making, potable water business, sari-sari stores, and seaweed farming (as a new venture).

Migration pattern is high during June to December. Most of the younger generations often go to urban centers like Cebu and Manila to look for jobs. Often times they land as factory/industry workers and househelps. In February to May they return to the island especially to be present during fiesta in May 24-25. In this time of the year, it is presumed that fishing activity increases.

Most of the villagers are conscious in sending their children to school. They valued education as wealth. Already about 7.5% of the population have college degrees and are now professionals. Most of them work somewhere else in the country and abroad. They often send money to their parents and relatives to add the family income.

Batasan Island is accessible only through sea transport. It is a 20-30 minutes ride from Tubigon wharf through a motorized outriggered boat, called pumpboat. Such is always available daily except on stormy weather. Other access is from Clarin wharf but boats are not always available.

There is only one considered barangay road traversing the one-kilometer length of the island. About 60% of it is made of concrete pavement. Transportation can be by bicycle or by just mere walking. There is one pedicab that serves at P2 per ride.

There are four public water tanks built besides public buildings like schools and in the Catholic Chapel. Galvanized roofing of these buildings were used as rain collectors. Rain water is sold to the public and is 100% cheaper as compared to those privately owned. Proceeds of the water will go to the maintenance of the water tanks.

There is one barangay hall which is used for public gatherings like meetings, trainings and other public affairs. Part of this building is utilized as Barangay Health Center.

About 45% of the houses are built with good materials like concrete walls, good lumber and galvanized iron. These houses maintain at least one rain water tank. The rest are made of light materials such as nipa, bamboo, coconut lumber, etc.

There is one Barangay Health Center managed by a Midwife. It is under the supervision of the Municipal Health Office of Tubigon. Together with the Midwife are four (4) Barangay Health Workers (BHW) who are voluntary in nature and are serving directly the community. Services includes pre and post natal care, emergency assistance, first aide, distribution of free medicines coming from various donors, child delivery assistance, etc.

The Midwife who is also covering two other island barangays, Ubay and Mocaboc, is only available in the community two days in a week. Some tasks are delegated to the BHW’s.

There is one public elementary school in the island. A day care center is also catering pre-schoolers. These are located in a campus with three school buildings, a community stage and a playground with a basketball court.

Five school teachers attend to the primary and elementary school pupils. One of them handles grades three and four classes. While a day care teacher also attends pre-schoolers.

Higher education is accessible in Tubigon and Clarin where most of the youth go for high school education. For some who wanted to get a College degree, go either to Cebu City or to Tagbilaran City.

Below are breakdown of educational attainment in Batasan:

Education Level Percentile

College Graduate 7.5%
College Level 6.5%
High School Graduate 9.3%
High School Level 9.3%
Elementary Graduate 10.2%
Elementary Level 11.2%
Poor Literacy 13.9%

The data above were taken by an actual household headcount as part of the PCRA process. Not included in the data are the 12.3% that are actively studying and who are currently enrolled in both elementary, high school, and college. Also not included are those 19.8% young children who are not yet legally qualified to go to school.

The 13.9% poor literacy indicator refers to individuals who have either: not able to go to school; have gone to school only up to the lower grade level; and the undetermined.

There are 16 deputized Barangay Tanods headed by a chief. They are responsible for the peace and order of the community. They are accountable to the Barangay Chairperson through the Barangay Kagawad who is the Chair of the Committee on Peace and Order.

Social welfare and development of the community are tasked mainly to the Barangay Leadership. The BHW’s whose primary tasks are health concerns also assume social welfare responsibilities together with the lone day care teacher.

Garbage disposal and waste management is not practiced very well by the villagers although they have been very effective in cleanliness drive as compared to other neighboring island barangays. Majority of the households have water sealed toilets. Everyone is very conscious in cleaning their respective backyards. However, there is no definite place for garbage disposal. Garbage are thrown in the open and eventually go to the sea.

Non-government Organizations (NGO’s) come and go in Batasan Island. Once they are there, they organize the people according to their objectives. When they leave, the organization fades away. Presently, there are two organizations actively involved in coastal resource management. The United Batasan Fishers Association (UBFA) and the Kababayen-ang Alagad sa Katawhan sa Batasan (KAKBA). They became very involved especially in the establishment of the Fish Sanctuary and other coastal resource management related activities.

For how long these two organizations will work for resource management is yet to be determined and to be measured. Like any past organizations, they too could also fade and die a natural death if they can not internalize their organizational vision, mission and goals.

II The CBCRM Under CRMP

The Municipality of Tubigon is a recipient of the Coastal Resource Management Project (CRMP) of the Philippine Government which is under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Along with Tubigon are four other municipalities considered to be core learning areas: namely, Calape; Clarin; Inabanga; Buenavista; and two expansion sites: Loon and Getafe. All are found is the Northwest of Bohol province.

Coastal Resource Management Project (CRMP) has many components. One of them is the Community-based Coastal Resource Management (CB-CRM). This is an approach that is anchored on the principle of people empowerment wherein the communities, as primary users and stakeholders, are given preference to manage their own resources for sustainable use.

Community-based Coastal Resource Management have already been a fashion in the Philippines as far as resource management is concern. It is popularized by different development oriented institutions, be it NGO’s, PO’s, academe or even some government agencies. It is an alternative model oftentimes called “bottom-up” approach to address issues and concerns related to wise and sustainable resource use and management.

Haribon Foundation, an environmental NGO which have been into CB-CRM for many years, is tasked to implement the same approach in selected communities within Bohol CRMP Learning Areas. To recall, Haribon Foundation is also implementing Project Seahorse in Handumon, Getafe, Bohol. A project that is focused on seahorse biology and conservation but is adapting CB-CRM together with the community. An experience which is relatively effective, at least in Handumon, is being replicated in some other communities in parallel with the CRMP. Thus, Batasan Island came to light as one of the pilot sites.

III Hard Community Entry

July 1997. The first month of work did a lot of integration activities. It began within the staff. For a month-long adjustment, co-workers have been familiarized and good working relationship have been established.

Integration with the people in Tubigon at the first instance of the job has a lot of sense. Familiarizing and building good relationships with the working partners at the municipality level, and establishing contacts at the community level was highly valued in order to gain their trust and confidence.

On July 9, 1997, an island hopping was conducted in three islands of Tubigon; namely, Bilangbilangan, Panggapasan and Batasan. The Local Government through the MPDC recommended only three island-barangays to be considered in selecting possible CB-CRMP site. The purpose of the visit was to gather some information that may help in site selection. Data gathered during the visit also confirmed the secondary data already compiled by Haribon.

On July 10 and 11, together with the Haribon CRMP Team, criteria for site selection was formulated. The following criteria was then the basis of identifying the site in Tubigon:

1. Biodiversity - - - - - - 40%
2. Acceptability by the Community - - 20%
3. Absence of Catalysts - - - - - 20%
4. Accessibility - - - - - - 10%
5. Probability of Success- - - - - 10%

It was learned later, that Feed the Children Foundation was already having initiatives in Panggapasan. Hence, it was deleted among the list of three prospective sites.

On July 14, a manta tow was conducted in the two islands to survey the marine bio-diversity. The result favored Batasan Island. On July 18, it was initially decided that Batasan Island will be the site, with strong consideration of its biodiversity.

On July 23, in an informal meeting, the Tubigon CRMP Working Committee headed by the MPDC, was informed of the decision.

Prior to the identification of Batasan Island as the focal site, there were already minor contact building initiatives made. The first formal contact with the Batasan folk was on July 23. This was also the first day of integration with the community.

The issue of a fish sanctuary suddenly became so hot in the village. Some expressed strong opposition to it. The reason why some opposed to the project is that they were afraid to lose another portion of their fishing ground like what happened to their mangrove plantation. Five or six years ago, the DENR, through community participation planted around 50 hectares of mangroves to the valued tidal flat north of the island. Some fishers were displaced especially shell gatherers.

During the regular Barangay Council Meeting on August 2 (set regularly on the first Saturday of the month), the Barangay Council decided not to accept the CB-CRM Project. Instead, they called for a Special General Barangay Assembly to let the people know and decide whether to accept the project or not. The General Assembly is set on August 9, Saturday.

The integration made in the island was then very minimal. Only about a little more than a week. At this point in time, no significant event happened except that Haribon-CRMP was projected in the village.

On the other hand, networks and linkages were limited only at the municipal level of Tubigon, between Haribon’s CB-CRMP and the Municipality’s CRMP Working Committee. Good working relationship so far have been translated into concrete actions especially during community entry phase. Strong linkage with Mr. Camilo Cimagala, the CRMP Learning Area Coordinator was then at work.

Simultaneous with integration, in-depth social investigation and data gathering took place. At this point in time, the concept of Participatory Coastal Resource Assessment (PCRA) was in the process of formalization. The data gathering activity made was within the framework of informal and unstructured procedures such as casual talks, informal gatherings, participation in some social events, church activities, etc.. However, the data gathered (although from primary source) was not always technically reliable.

The fate of CB-CRM Project in Batasan was finally decided on August 9, during the Special General Assembly Meeting called for the purpose. It was evident then that many people opposed the project primarily because of their “negative” experience regarding the 50-hectare Mangrove Plantation implemented by the DENR. Their main concern was the fear of displacement ‘again’, by some fishers once a fish sanctuary is established. Two barangay councillors openly expressed opposition for the same reason. Nevertheless, majority of the people present were in favor in as much as a fish sanctuary is only an optional component of the project. But then, a great number of villagers were absent during the meeting and it was not certained whether those who were not there were in favor or against the project.

In the process, the actual condition in Batasan was not always “smooth sailing” as far as the project was concerned. On August 18, a special meeting again, was called. This time the meeting was for the Barangay Development Council (BDC) to discuss and ‘iron-out’ some misunderstood points regarding the project. Even then, there were still few members of the BDC who expressed very strong opposition to the project. This prompted a heated debate during the session which resolved nothing except that the pros asked for a special orientation seminar regarding CB-CRMP.

It was best viewed then to focus first in strengthening the Barangay Development Council. By doing so, a barangay development plan (although not comprehensive at first) shall be laid out with the hope that development plan will become the pressure point for CB-CRMP advantage. Eventually, strengthening BDC was the primary point of entry used in Batasan.

A BDC orientation session took place that also garnered positive result. One of the outputs in those session was the commitment of the BDC to conduct PCRA in the island. However, it was not until February of 1998 that the conduct of PCRA was carried out.

In the month of September 1997, most of the days were spent for community capability building and "in-door" activities. Community capability building activities include meetings and group sharing/discussions, while "in-door" activities include house visitations.

An existing fishers organization called “United Batasan Fishers Association” or “UBFA” was tapped and consulted regarding the project. In one way or another, officers and members were convinced to become partner in the project implementation. However, the organization was very weak. Officers were not intacted and there was no defined organizational structure. The situation prompted the project to give enough time for organizational strengthening activities. Functional committees were then installed in the organizational structure in addition to the existing set of officers.

Eight to ten women were also gathered in a consultation meeting that led to the formation of an informal women group to support the project. In the process, they were given assistance in framing their action plans and directions. In four months time, they were able to formally organize and call themselves “KAKBA” or the “Kababayen-ang Alagad sa Katawhan sa Batasan”. Set of officers were elected including the functional committees.

On the following months, two seminars ( one on October and one on November) were conducted in the island. The first, was the Values Formation Seminar for UBFA, the members of the BDC; and second was the Woman and Ecology Seminar for KAKBA. Most likely, these activities went smoothly in the community with a significant impact not only to the people who attended the seminars but to the rest of the villagers as well. As a matter of fact, all the activities which followed through gained community support manifested by the increase of attendance (new faces) every time a meeting is called in both organizations.

From then onwards, three collective bodies worked closely with each other in implementing the project, namely: The Barangay Development Council; the UBFA, and; the KAKBA. Strengthening of these organizations was intrinsic and basic as the project went along in the process. Trainings and seminars, both outside and within the community became important parts in their organizational development.

As the time went on, successes and failures were both taken as good learning experiences which became their guide individually and collectively. But one of the best experiences they have was the gradual and subtle consciousness raised among themselves and the community, about the importance of a marine sanctuary. Consequently, the awareness ripened into a collective action.

The very important highlight was on October 17, 1998, when the community formally accepted the proposed marine sanctuary. The most significant aspect of the event was the preparation. Leaders and members of UBFA and KAKBA together with the Barangay Officials, conducted massive advocacy and campaign both in informal and formal gatherings. When the general assembly meeting came, the proposal to establish a marine sanctuary was already unopposed.

Momentarily, the three collective bodies: BDC, UBFA and KAKBA are doing their respective organizational concerns. Although they plan and act independently from each other, they share common directions and attitudes towards CRM not only as a project, but a long term community program.

IV Formation of People’s Organization(s)

Formation of people’s organization(s) or community organizing was an important and inherent component of CB-CRM. It builds people’s individual understanding and awareness of a particular community situation into a more comprehensive and collective outlook of events and circumstances in a bigger and wider spectrum. It also encourages mobilization and conscientization for collective actions in order to address simple and complicated issues that may affect day-to-day lives of the people in the community.

What happened in Batasan Island was a comprehensive and integrated type of community organizing. It did not only address a single sector (e.g. fisherfolk) as in solid organizing type. Although the latter still holds as the most effective and well tested among the few types of community organizing, the experience in Batasan is more encompassing. Its aim is total empowerment of the whole community (e.g. fisherfolk, women, youth, LGU’s, etc.) and not only of one sector.

In the early part of the organizing process, it was already learned that by achieving resource-based stability in the island, strengthening and enabling the barangay governance is not enough. Strong barangay leadership must go simultaneously with an independent, dynamic and organic people’s organization of fisherfolk to further solidify efforts and initiatives necessary for sustainable resources use and management. However, the concept of CB-CRM also believed that PO alone would find it difficult to address community-based resource management without a strong-willed barangay political unit like the Barangay (Development) Council. Thus, this paper’s definition of people’s organization (PO) in CB-CRM is not only limited to sectoral groups but includes barangay political units in the coastal communities.

In this context, solid organizing do not apply. Solid organizing is a long and tedious process that focus on the total empowerment of a single sector (e.g. fisherfolk), and everything that revolves around (be it individuals, organizations, institutions, policies, objects, events, issues, etc.) are treated as elements that are directed to respond into the process.

On the other hand, comprehensive and integrated type of organizing is also a long and tedious process. Its focus is also total empowerment but of more than one sector (e.g. fisherfolk, women, youth, LGU’s, etc.) to be interdependent with each other towards common vision, and all aspects in the process, and even the process itself are directed to respond to everything that revolves around (individuals, organizations, institutions, policies, objects, events, issues, etc.).

What is important in community organizing is the processes that is created along the way. Whether bad or good experiences; be it successes or failures; every experience must be treasured because it is where the learnings begin.


1. Strengthening the Barangay Development Council (BDC)

Barangay Development Council in Batasan already existed prior to the entry of the CB-CRM project. It was created as a mandate by the Local Government Code to perform functions stipulated therein. Its formation was inspired by the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG). Despite its critical role in administering barangay governance, BDC in Batasan was only created for formality purposes as it is the basic requirement of the Barangay Local Government Unit, especially in the preparation and approval of an annual barangay budget. Worst, the actual membership within the BDC was not even clarified and defined according to its original mandate, vis-a-vis its functions as the barangay’s highest planning body.

Incidentally, the situation became a good avenue for the project’s entry. Strengthening BDC became a priority believing that the BDC, as the highest planning body of the barangay, has the inherent power essential for wise utilization and management of the community’s marine resources. Besides, it is in this body that almost all sectors in the barangay are ought to be represented including the fisherfolk sector which is the prime user of the existing marine resources.

On November 29, 1997, CRMP orientation for the BDC was conducted. Topics discussed were: the concept of CRMP vis-à-vis CB-CRMP; coastal environment and ecology; resources users and managers, and; the most important was the roles and functions of BDC in barangay governance as mandated in the Local Government Code of the Philippines. In this activity, BDC was clarified and defined. In the later part of the activity, an action planning workshop for CRM was made by the participants. It was in this plan that Participatory Coastal Resource Assessment (PCRA) was reflected as their major and priority undertaking for CRM before anything else.

From then onwards, the BDC played a very important role in the project’s implementation. Aside from the PCRA conduct, BDC took initiatives in formulating ordinances and policies related to CRM. It also took the lead in law enforcement activities. The establishment of Batasan Marine Sanctuary was the handy work of the BDC, as an offshoot to the ongoing PCRA.

Efforts made related to BDC strengthening were not only limited to the above mentioned activities. These also include trainings and seminars conducted outside of the community, which were part of what they have identified in their action plans. Exposure trips helped them reflect their community vis-a-vis other communities in terms of coastal resources management. But above all, their willingness to accept and learn from their mistakes every time they have an activity, were among the best attributes that made them stronger as they progressed towards empowerment.


2. The Batasan United Fishers Association (UBFA)

It is within the framework of CB-CRM that its best practices must be founded by a strong and solid mass-based support from the fisherfolk sector. This can only be materialized if fishers themselves are strongly organized. They are the primary resources users and stakeholders, and therefore, coastal resources management initiatives must emanate from them before anybody else. In this light, community organizing became a mandate in CB-CRM project implementation.

United Batasan Fishermen Association (UBFA) was already a year-old organization of fisherfolk when the project was launched in Batasan Island. It was originally created by the people with the help of a representative from the Office of the Provincial Agriculture assisted by the Municipal Agriculture Office of Tubigon. Its organizing approach was an initiative motivated by financial assistance in a form of a loan that will be provided to them for livelihood. At the first glance, it was incidentally fortunate to have UBFA in Batasan. Believing that the association can be a viable PO to rely on, UBFA was tapped as partner for CB-CRMP implementation.

Not long after the first consultation, it was learned that the association was yet very weak. There was no clear membership and most of the officers were inactive. They met only once and that was during its organizational meeting on April 1996. About 18 months ago in August 1997.

Organizational strengthening was then the primary concern. Series of consultations and meetings were held simultaneous with the BDC strengthening. Vacant positions for officers were filled-up. Functional committees were formed.

On October 5-7, 1997, UBFA held the "Basic Self-awareness and Personality Development Seminar for CRM". Essentially, this activity was a values formation initiative, agreed upon by the association during one of its organizational meetings. Contents of this seminar includes; environmental (ecological) awareness; national environmental situationer; personal strength and weaknesses; action reflection analysis on personal relationship towards the environment; and most especially the formulation of an organizational vision and mission which was done on the later part of the training. Organizational structure was also fixed and various working committees were formed. The latest part of the seminar was a planning workshop.

The next activities thereafter were the series of meetings and planning sessions, especially with the committees. New faces were coming up almost every time there was a meeting, a manifestation of the good impact brought about by the seminar. However, no significant events happened as a result of the series of planning sessions. Action plans remained plans without implementations. A semblance of poor leadership by some leaders as well as dependency on the part of the members. An example of a leader-centered leadership.

In the month of January 1998, all efforts were geared towards rebuilding their interest and enthusiasm. Organizing approach was redesigned to the extent of starting from the very basic - building new core-group. This time, it was per Purok or per sitio. There are three purok in Batasan which characteristically differ from each other in many ways. The differences include some behavior, clan conflict, political affiliations, livelihood, etc.

Three core-groups were formed with seven to ten members, most of them new. These groups eventually became UBFA chapters. Each group represented UBFA in their respective Purok or chapter and became partly autonomous from each other. They elected their own sets of officers and ran independent but coordinated activities. Each group elected among themselves representatives to the UBFA assembly which compositions were defined later.

Admittedly, the process was very slow considering that there were already three small organizations to attend to instead of one. However, the approach gained favorable support from the fisherfolk. It gave them wider area to express themselves democratically as individuals as compared to the bigger group where they only have little chance to be heard.

The UBFA finally had made their general election on July 20, 1998. The elected officers were those leaders coming from the three chapters previously organized. Their members were finalized before the election was conducted. More or less, they have filled-up all the positions required by their organizational structure. In the roster list of UBFA members, majority are chapter-based and about 50% were new names. This meant that solid, active and organic membership of about 15-20 per chapter is working for CB-CRM in Batasan.

After the election of officers, the organization was left for themselves to plan for their respective activities at chapter level. These processes allowed them to feel the pressure of leadership specially that almost all of them were newly elected. Consequently, not all of the three chapters were able to formulate chapter plans, and those who did also failed to implement it. Later during the assessment and evaluation, successes and failures were concretely discussed.

The most promising achievement of UBFA was their very active role in the establishment of the Batasan Marine Sanctuary. Prior to that, five of them (officers and members) went with a group of exporsurist fishers from different communities for an exposure trip to Apo Island in Negros Oriental, to observe their well-publicized marine sanctuary. When they came home they initiated massive information drives and campaign in the community together with some barangay officials. Not long after, the fish sanctuary, which was a very controversial issue in the island, was established.

The UBFA also took the lead in the celebration of the “World Environmental Day” which was celebrated in Batasan for three days - June 3-5, 1999.

Each chapter had their respective plans which primarily focused on the identification and establishment of viable livelihood projects. Establishment of viable livelihood projects is a major component of CB-CRM. With the intention to lessen the pressure of the sea, another source of income for alternative livelihood was seen as an important factor to consider in wise resources management.

Among the many livelihood options explored, UBFA focused on four, namely; seaweed culture, pugapo culture, dress making and hog raising/dispersal. As part of their regular group activities, they made feasibility studies as to the viability of the livelihood options they have identified.

Capitalization is always and ever their main problem to start any of the identified project. Momentarily, each chapter maintained a small scale income generating project to raise capital. These are in forms of: lending small amount of money to their members with reasonable and affordable interest; buy and sell of groceries for their members; a communal seaweed farming; buying and selling of kitchen utensils.

The accumulated proceeds from these initiatives may still be very far from the realization which is to provide financial support to each members. Yet, the rich experiences that they have learned in the process will surely lead them to the right direction towards economic empowerment.

3. The Kababayen-ang Alagad sa Katawhan sa Batasan (KAKBA)

A group of 11 women were formed in Batasan island. They were initially "organized" as future support group for CB-CRMP implementation. They met three times within September of 1997. All they did in the meetings were situational discussions related to environmental issues, gender issues, community intra/inter personal relationships.

On October 16, 1997, a seminar on “Women and Ecology” was held. The group agreed this upon on one of their meetings. Participants during the trainings numbered 24 including three (3) from Jagoliao and two (2) from Handumon. In Batasan, the participants exceeded from the expected 11 which composed the original working group. Contents of the seminar includes women (gender) orientation, general women situation in the Philippines, gender sensitivity orientation and woman’s relationship towards ecology (environment).

On October 30, 1997, the women group decided to meet again and formally agreed to establish the organization. As a result, the “Kababayen-ang Alagad sa Katawhan sa Batasan” (KAKBA) was born. Officers were elected and regular meetings were set including the working committees meetings. At least five (5) new faces were again noticed during the meeting whom the group obviously accepted as new members. Presently, there were about 43 women in the group.

The organization has been formally formed by electing officers and functional committees were installed within. Committees formed were: the Education and Membership Committee, the Livelihood Committee, the Finance Committee, and the Audit Committee. Series of committee meetings were held in order for these committees to experience the basics in committee planning.

On February 10-12, 1998, KAKBA conducted the “Fish Processing and Utilization Training”. Twenty-eight women attended the activity who were all KAKBA members. Two personnel from the regional office of the Department of Agriculture were the Resource Persons. After the training, KAKBA planned out future activities in order to utilize their newly learned skills. During the culmination program, representatives from the municipal LGU were present to express support.

The activities of KAKBA focus on income generating projects like buying and selling of rice and meat for its members; and the cooking and production of fish chips and fish pulvoron which they have learned from the fish processing training.

The buying and selling activity of the organization is a growing venture. From a starting capital of less than a thousand pesos, they buy and sell rice and meat for their members every week. In a month time, their running capital was already over two thousand pesos. Just recently, they include some grocery items like milk, coffee, sugar and laundry soap for their stuff. They also expanded their services to small scale lending venture.

The idea of organizing the women in Batasan came only as an after-thought, when during the early period of immersion, many women were seen “unproductive”, an outsider’s impression which came out later to be false. In reality they were not unproductive. It is true that many women are seen drinking liquor, gambling, roaming around the vicinity carrying with them their little children. But in most cases, the women in the island also have their own way of coping for survival. Theirs were just another form of expression of an age-long gender stereotyping like any other place elsewhere in the country.

As far as CB-CRM is concern, organizing the women in Batasan did not miss the point after all. In fact it surely to hit bulls-eye. Because there is a saying that goes; “for what and for whom are these initiatives for people empowerment, if one half of the population is left behind?”.


V Participatory Coastal Resource Assessment (PCRA)

Participatory Coastal Resource Assessment (PCRA) is a technology that aims at popularizing research and community planning. Its main focus is to achieve a comprehensive evaluation and inventory of coastal resources at the community level, in order to come-up with a popular and acceptable management plan that directs sustainable future of a fishing community. By “popularizing”, it enables ordinary fishers to learn and understand their own situations; express and ventilate their dreams and aspirations; participate in the discussion of vital issues affecting their lives; and eventually formulate strategic and concrete plans of action brought about by participatory decision making.

Participatory Coastal Resource Assessment is also a participatory learning method. The approach can provide outsiders a key on how people in the fishing village think and act. It is a participatory experience by which both outsiders and insiders discover certain level of dynamic relationship, that shares, understands and eventually develops into mutual respect of knowledge and opinion.

It is important to understand that PCRA should not be perceived as a tool to be “used” by outsiders to collect data from the village, only to be put into a pre-arranged formula and framework. Worst of all, sometimes, data gathered from them are even used against their interests. It also refutes the stereotype thinking that research are only for experts and that only experts are capable of shaping the community’s future.

Strictly, PCRA is not only data gathering. However, it is a cycle of activities participated in by both outsiders and the insiders of the community. All done at the community level, these activities are: PCRA orientation and planning; data gathering; data collation; data interpretation; data analysis and problem identification; intervention identification and analysis; community CRM planning; implementation; and, monitoring. The community plan reflects the community’s own concept and understanding of a development that will address their needs, and what they want for themselves. Said plan is aided with concrete implementing and monitoring mechanisms.

In Batasan, PCRA was done entirely by the community, spearheaded by the Barangay Development Council. There were only very minimal interventions from outsiders. It was only during the training and orientation that outsiders took on stage. In the later part of the conduct, outsiders’ part was only up to facilitation and technical assistance.

To adequately develop knowledge and skills in handling PCRA and to provide them with an idea of a participatory research, a training and orientation was conducted. In three days time, participants: learn the theory of PCRA; experience the hands-on operation of team working; and, initially developed individual skills in facilitating, data gathering, documentation, problem identification, intervention analysis and monitoring. Using the suggested PCRA tools, the team was encouraged to develop creative innovations or even invent suitable models that would fit specific purpose.

On February 21,22 and 23, 1998, PCRA orientation was held for all the members of the Barangay Development Council. Few selected villagers were also present. In this three-day orientation, they were able to understand the concept, principles and methods of PCRA and the Tools to be used. In response, the group was very eager to conduct PCRA at once in their community. There were six (6) teams formed: (a) the Supervisory Team; (b) the Resource Map Team; (c) the Fish Catch Data Team; (d) the Habitat Assessment Team; (e) the Social Map Team; and, (f) the Socio-Demographic Team. Each team organized themselves according to their respective needs and functions.

As a result of the PCRA orientation, the Barangay Development Council became inspired to pursue PCRA in the community. Surprisingly, on that orientation, 100% of the Barangay Council was present and almost all were determined to lead every activity. They have decided to spend the month of March for the PCRA data gathering. Unfortunately, data gathering was not accomplished on the target month since not all of the participants were skilled enough to do the task, and/or the task was very complicated that it needed enough time to accomplish. One problem also was the lack of equipment like a computer for encoding in order that the results can be made available every time data are needed for a follow-through activity.

The ongoing PCRA was a dynamic activity. Every experience in the process was highly valuable and was maximized for the community’s advantage, specifically as a capability building instrument for the individual and for the group. In this particular experience in Batasan, PCRA was not used merely as a resource assessment tool but as a mechanism for a popular and alternative development initiative. It was modified and flexed into the simplest form in order that it can be understood by a common villager right from the start.

More importantly, the whole PCRA process became in itself the organizing mechanism, which guided the organizer in the efforts to enable and strengthen the BDC. Many activities like trainings, a dialogue, policy formulations, enforcement of laws, etc., were decided within the PCRA framework and conduct.

One of the most significant output of the PCRA was that, on July 1998, the Barangay Development Council created an Ad hoc Resource Management Committee composed of 26 people within its present structure. Its immediate function after the formation was the finalization and preparation of PCRA data that was presented during the data validation in the same month. The committee also assumed responsibility in the conduct of the validation itself.

As an offshoot of the data validation, a dialogue was set between the village folk and the DENR personnel to clarify some grey areas related to the inclusion of Batasan as Protected Area. The BDC through the Ad hoc RMC was also responsible for its materialization.

The creation of such body, although ad hoc in character, was a product of a long process of self- realization. Inspired by the continuing capability building initiatives, gradually, they became aware of their inherent capacity and potentials as individuals and as a group. The RMC may not be a good committee as of the moment, but if it is guided accordingly, it can turn into a very effective CRM body in Batasan in the future.


VI Formulation and Approval of a Five-year Barangay Development Plan

As the PCRA process moved on to the next phases, the partakers also learned in the process. After the series of sessions for data interpretation and analysis, comprehensive barangay development planning followed. As part of the PCRA process, they have scheduled series of workshops, of about 25 days, for strategic management planning.

The first session was held on February 22-24, 1999. It was attended by at least 12 participants most of them barangay officials, who also representing other organizations in the barangay. Although the process was a bit slow, the participants have expressed willingness to go on with the activity because they also learned in the process. In three days time, they came-up only with basic assessment of the situation in the barangay using mostly PCRA data.

The BDC held two separate sessions for the ongoing strategic management planning in March, 1999. The first one was on March 4 and 5 while the second one was last March 23 and 24. On the next months that followed, they only spent two days per month. Everytime a workshop objective is achieved, a community meeting is called to present and validate the output.

The process was very slow, yet very effective indeed. In one of their sessions in April 1999, they were able to make their zoning map based on the existing resource map they made during the data gathering. This zoning map is geared towards establishing a zoning plan as mandated in the NIPAS Act and will be presented to the PAMB for approval. Batasan Island as we know is a proposed protected area under NIPAS Act.

As soon as the strategic plan was completed, the BDC called for a meeting on November 5, 1999 to approve in final reading the “Komprehensibong Plano sa Kalamboan ug Pagdumala sa Barangay sa Batasan”, of the Comprehensive Plan for Development and Management of Batasan. The approval was in a BDC Resolution No. 1, Series of 1999.

On December 6, 1999, a barangay assembly was called to consult the community about the approved plan. Representatives from the municipal government headed by the Vice Mayor was invited. The plan was read and deliberated by the community. At the end of the meeting the barangay assembly finally approved the development plan.

Shortly after, the Barangay Council drafted and approved a Barangay Ordinance adopting the comprehensive five –year development and management plan of Batasan Island.

VII Establishment of the Marine Sanctuary

Since the start of the project, most people in Batasan were already against the idea of establishing a fish sanctuary. Most of the time they equate fish sanctuary as CB-CRM itself, and that the sole purpose of CB-CRM was to establish a fish sanctuary. That is why, when the project was presented to them, the community refused to accept it.

Those who opposed the project were based on three reasons:

First, they do not want the project because they do not want a fish sanctuary to be established in their area. They were afraid that another huge area will again be “taken away” from them in addition to the 50-hectare mangrove plantation initiated by the DENR which “displaced” many fishers. Those people who used this as an argument were very vocal and overt. They even spread misleading information that the whole area of Batasan will be converted into a fish sanctuary. This kind of misconceptions worsened the situation.

Second, those who opposed because they have illegal activities in the community ranging from, gambling (which is illegal but accepted in the village), to illegal fishing (except dynamite fishing which was already eradicated in the community since the time when two from the village were caught and convicted to prison), to illegal drugs. They have the notion that as long as there is an ongoing conservation initiative in the island, there are always people to monitor their activities. It seems they were right and their fear was founded by it. Consequently, these people overtly used the argument of the first type mentioned above to hide their rationale behind their opposition.

Third, those who opposed for the reason that they found it very difficult to implement a fish sanctuary because the people do not want it. Their fear was that the project would only bring chaos to the community once implemented. It would just make them fight with each other. They always want to live simple lives and they do not want to be disturbed. They do not want complications that may cause conflicts within the village. This kind of attitude is typical of islanders living in an isolated community like Batasan.

On one side, relying on the few who favored the project did not sound very interesting. Only a handful of them really believed on the value and merits of the project. Some of them expressed interest believing there was money in it - especially loan grants for livelihood. They were wrong, that was why they later distanced themselves from the project.

During a span of more than a year of the project’s visibility, little by little the people realized the importance of marine conservation. Trainings, exposure trips, IEC’s and most especially the built-in participatory community organizing approach within the PCRA framework, made the people work closely with the project. Little successes in the process were always coupled with pain and frustrations especially by the community leaders.

Three collective bodies were formed independently to work for the project: the Barangay Development Council; the UBFA, and; the KAKBA. Each one had their share of tasks to do according to their respective organizational mandate. The three organizations led by the BDC, did the PCRA altogether but, specifically, BDC focused on the policy formulation and law enforcement while UBFA and KAKBA were doing education campaign and livelihood identification within their membership.

Part of the big task at hand was to identify CRM options fitted in the island. Thus, the idea of a fish sanctuary was again explored. Headed by the BDC, they went for an exposure trip to Handumon, Getafe on June 4, 1998. To note, the following day (June 5) was the “World Environment Day Celebration”. They only celebrated it ahead because Handumon community would not be available the following day. Close than thirty people went there who were given warm welcome by the Barangay Officials and the KANAGMALUHAN in Handumon.

Obviously, they were enlightened by what they saw and heard from Handumon. When they got home, they became like “fresh flowers spreading fragrance all over the island unmindful of the beetles and the bees”. Campaign and advocacy were made both formal and informal during meetings and casual gatherings. This, they were able to sustain.

On August 27-30 of the same year, five leaders from UBFA had the opportunity to go with a group of fishers from the Bohol CRMP Learning Area for an exposure trip to Apo Island in Negros Oriental. A chance that “lit the fire burning” in them. Eventually, during one session on that trip, they set the phase of work, and planned to establish a marine protected area in Batasan.

Campaign and advocacy again were made when they got home with the help of other members. But now they set the timetable themselves. They promised to themselves that before the end of the year there shall be a fish sanctuary in Batasan. They made a formal representation to the Barangay Council during its regular meeting on October 3, 1998.

On October 17th the Barangay Council, through their Barangay Captain called for a special general assembly meeting for that purpose. On that morning prior to the meeting, officers and some members of KAKBA together with the Barangay Tanods went for a house-to-house signature campaign just to ensure attendance to the meeting in the afternoon. The result was a 70+% attendance. The biggest ever since the project began in the island.

In the meeting, when the MPA discussion was opened, not one of them opposed. The only conflict then, was the place where it shall be placed and how big it is. Somehow, the issue was later resolved. On the other hand, nobody can tell whether the non-attendance of the minority was an expression of opposition or just mere passivity. But then, the success that they gained in this process will surely guide them to respond whatever threat these few may pose.

Few days after that meeting, the Barangay Council adapted a resolution creating part of Batasan coastal area as Batasan Marine Sanctuary. This resolution was passed to the two offices concern for approval, namely: the Local Government of Tubigon through the Sanguniang Bayan, and the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) of the Tubigon Group of Islands.

On January 26, 1999, a team of Sanguniang Bayan Members came to Batasan for an ocular inspection of the proposed marine protected area. Weeks after, the resolution was returned with an endorsement note urging the Barangay Council to transform the resolution into a Barangay Ordinance declaring the same portion as Batasan Marine Sanctuary. A move which confused the barangay folk because in the New Fishery Code (R.A. 8550), a barangay has no power to declare marine sanctuaries because only municipal governments has full jurisdiction over municipal waters. Therefore, only the Sanguniang Bayan can adapt an ordinance for a marine protected area.

However, the Barangay Council, with the ardent desire to legalize their sanctuary converted the above mentioned resolution into Barangay Ordinance No. 1, series of 1999 and send it back to the Sanguniang Bayan on February, 1999.

Two months after, the Barangay Council received the SB Resolution No. _____ Series of 1999 declaring the Barangay Ordinance No.1, Series 1999 of Batasan as valid. From then on, with only a municipal resolution as legal basis, the Batasan Marine Sanctuary was literally enforced. But the question remain: “Is it really valid?”.

VIII Other Capability Building Initiatives

A. Research

Aside from the PCRA, five fishers were selected by the BDC to be members of the local monitoring team for the marine sanctuary. They were trained by the biologist on how to do fish survey in the sanctuary in order to monitor its progress. This activity gave them an opportunity to be active in safeguarding their protected area.

B. Education and Training

From time to time, local fishers were called if there were opportunities for them to attend seminars and trainings outside the island. To name a few, these tranings and seminars were: the Legal and Jurisdictional Forum in Clarin, five people attended; the Alternative Dispute Resolution and Para Legal Training in Jandayan, four people attended; Local CO Training also in Jandayan, two people attended; the PCRA Trainors Training in Batasan, three people attended; and, the Fish Warden Training which was held in Batasan but municipal-wide in scope was attended by 16 people.

C. World Environment Day Celebration

The CB-CRM project implementation would not be complete without mentioning the World Environment Day celebration on June 5, 1999. It was a wholesome affair because they made it a three days celebration (June 3-5). Its theme was: “Pag-amping sa Kinaiyahan Kaugmaon sa Kabataan” (To Care for the Environment is the Children’s Future). It was highlighted with a booth exhibit competition featuring different exhibits such as: handicraft especially those made out of garbage; food delicacies especially made from fish and other marine products; and many others.

On the first day was the preparation of booths and exhibits by six participating groups: namely, UBFA Chapters 1,2 and 3; Barangay Council; KAKBA; and the Youth Group. On the second day was the different contests like: folk dance contest; original balak contest ; and the original song contest. On the third day was the different parlor games competition. The celebration had three important objectives:

1. To celebrate the World Environment Day with the task of educating people about the importance of environmental conservation. This was very elaborate in the arrangements, designs and decorations of their respective booth, and in their original compositions of environmental poems and songs which was written in Cebuano. The local setting and atmosphere of these presentations were very alive and concrete.

2. To discover the people’s skills in handicraft and other related venture that can be developed into an alternative livelihood. As expressed in their booth exhibits, there were few potential craft made especially those that were made out of recycled garbage like plastics and other recyclable materials.

3. To explore possibilities of developing a community-based eco-tourism in the island considering its vast resources and talented populace. The idea of a community-based eco-tourism have been floated as one arena where people’s economic upliftment can be addressed.

The celebration, aside from being lively and recreational, was also an avenue for learning and self discovery not only for the participants but also for the whole community in general. It was a realization for their inherent capacity to lead big activities for the good of the community.

Genderising Community-based Coastal Resource Management:

By Isidore O. Ancog

Abstract

“Sexual discrimination”, “violence against women”, “gender bias”, “domestic violence”, “sexual harassment”, “unequal gender relations”. These are few words associated with “gender”. It is true that “gender” is about men and women, but more accurately, it is about the unequal relations that exist between women and men (J. Francisco, 1996). In a developing country like Philippines, gender inequality is a silent battle cry of women in the workplace in almost every establishment. It is also the bottom line of the struggle for women empowerment in the rural areas. The NGO/PO communities recognised this “gender problem”. Yet, oftentimes, women issues are set aside and are not defined in most development efforts. Except those development initiatives that are really intended for women, gender concerns are only add-ons because most development projects undertaken are confined to specific mandates isolating gender development framework.

In the coastal communities of Bohol, Coastal Resource Management initiatives are becoming popular. Recognising the challenge posed by fishery depletion and the strong lobbying against environmental deterioration, development institutions (NGO’s/PO’s), the government, academe and private individuals put their efforts together to address coastal environment threats. However, gender concerns are still put in isolation when it comes to project implementations. Development workers and community organisers take pains in addressing gender issues in order to become relevant in the communities. The experience of incorporating gender concerns in CB-CRM implementation in Batasan Island is only one of the many cases of initiatives undertaken by community organisers. It was not clearly defined in the project framework. Eventually, it broadened the project’s scope and in the process, widened the constituency, but it surely slows down the process.

Actually, genderising development work is faced with confusion and difficulties. In rural areas, it is an issue associated always with poverty and culture. It needs time, effort and enough resources. It needs focus. Amidst the contrasts and conflicts of globalisation’s super-imposed industrialisation, are people buried in extreme poverty. Adding to this reality, are the intensifying insurgency crisis in the countrysides, the increasing peasant and labor tensions and the inability of the government to address these problems. In this situation, women are affected twice just because they are women.

Hence, gender issues are always confronted with many obstacles brought about by the ills of society. The challenge of change should not only lie on the women’s shoulders. Gender issue is everybody’s issue no matter what our political belief and our status in society. It cut across ideologies and social classes.

Nothing to Gain, Everything to Lose: Developing Country Prospects

By Walden Bello

(Walden Bello is executive director of the Bangkok-based Focus on the Global South and professor of sociology at the University of the Philippines. He is author of Dilemmas of Domination: The Unmaking of the American Empire (New York: Metropolitan, 2005) and numerous articles on the World Trade Organization and the developing countries.)

(Talk delivered at the Forum "What is at Stake in Hong Kong?," co-sponsored by Stop the New Round Coalition and Focus on the Global South, Sulo Hotel,Quezon City, Philippines, Nov. 25, 2005.)



The negotiations leading up to the World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial in Hong Kong are apparently getting nowhere. The draft ministerial reports on the state of negotiations in agriculture, non-agricultural market access, and services are out, and while all try to put a positive spin that there is a movement toward "convergence.," there is very little of that. A close examination of the document shows that there is agreement only on at the most 10 per cent on key negotiating points and divergence, indeed, wide divergence on 90 per cent. When the draft ministerial declaration does come out, it is likely to be what the WTO secretariat calls a "heavily bracketed" document like the draft declaration for the Seattle ministerial.

Defensive Warfare

Since the so-called "July Framework" was rammed through at the General Council meeting in late July 2004, the developing countries have been engaged in what might be characterized as defensive warfare at the WTO. In the three key negotiating areas, services, non- agricultural market access (NAMA), and agriculture, they have had to defend their markets from aggressive efforts to further liberalize them by the developed countries led by the United States and the European Union. In two of these, NAMA and services, owing to their much higher tariff levels than developed countries in manufacturing and industry and preferential treatment for local service providers, they had everything to lose and little to gain by liberalizing.

In agriculture, they were also on the defensive but at least they could relieve pressures for further liberalization of their markets by mounting a counterattack on the massive agricultural subsidies that have enabled European Union and United States agricultural interests to dominate and distort global markets.

In the three sectoral negotiations, the most immediately threatening, from the point of view of developing countries, is services negotiations. Here,there has been a strong move on the part of the developed countries to replace the flexible request-offer approach with one that has a mandatory element. Let me explain briefly: the negotiating practice in the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) is that a government is free to request another to open up several service sectors but the requested government is also free to offer only those it is willing to open up or even not to make any offers at all. In the current negotiations, "complementary approaches" such as "benchmarking" and "numerical targets" have been
introduced to force developing countries to "improve the quality" of their offers, meaning they must agree to open up more services than they have so far put on the table in the current negotiations.

In the current draft ministerial text issued by the chairman of the Council on Trade in Services, while the more threatening approaches of "benchmarking" and "numerical targets" are not mentioned, at least explicitly, the text endorses a complementary approach whereby one government or a group of governments may make a specific request to another government or group of governments to open up one or several service sectors and the latter would have to "enter into plurilateral negotiations to considers such requests." As developing countries have rightly perceived, mandatory negotiations is the first step on the slippery slope to mandatory liberalization.

In NAMA, there has been wide divergence, and the Chairman's Progress Report on the negotiations issued Nov. 22, 2005, reflects this. Neither a formula for liberalizing non-agricultural tariffs nor the differential coefficients for developed and developing countries to plug into such a formula (that would take into account the underdeveloped status of the industrial and manufacturing sectors of the developing countries) has been agreed. One disturbing note in the text, however, is its implying that members have agreed on a "Swiss Formula" for cutting tariffs, that is one that would require higher proportional cuts from higher tariffs rather than a "Uruguay Round" formula that would mandate an average tariff cut but leave a member with the flexibility to spread that average cut discriminately across the tariff lines, with tariff cuts for sensitive products being less than for others. Since many developing countries maintain higher tariffs on many manufactured and other non-agricultural imports than developed countries, they would be the main losers whichever Swiss formula is adopted. And this is the reason why, contrary to the impression left by the text, many are resisting a Swiss or any Swiss-type formula.

As we have noted, in services and NAMA, it has been largely defensive warfare for developing countries, with few handles for an offensive strategy except perhaps for Mode 4 in Services, which has to do with the movement of "natural persons" that provide services, like highly skilled professionals. But even with Mode 4, the position of the developed country governments that they have hardly any "flexibility" for political reasons (read anti-immigrant sentiment) has severely limited the possible gains in this area.

EU and US Intransigence in Agriculture

In the agricultural negotiations, however, it has been a different story. Despite the advantage given to them by the terms of the July Framework, differences in offers of subsidy reduction among the developed countries and the ability of the developing countries to keep the focus on developed country subsidies and market protection have put the EU and the US on the defensive.

Intransigence in the developed countries' negotiating positions helped sink the Cancun ministerial in 2003. It has now become the main sticking point in the lead-up to Hong Kong. Though a bad boy it certainly is, the EU is not the only one, as the US tried very hard to get other governments to believe at the recent Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Busan,Korea. The US's much publicized offer to cut its overall subsidization of agriculture by 60 per cent was all smoke and mirrors. It was a cut from allowable levels of support, not from actual, current levels. It would not only have allowed the current level of government support to continue but provided space for it to rise!

Moreover, the US proposal would leave the system of subsidization virtually untouched, if not expanded. There were no concrete commitments to cut food aid, which is really a dumping mechanism; reduce export credits, which are really a form of export subsidy; or to significantly trim the "Green Box" subsidies. And, indeed, the US continues to press for the expansion of its "Blue Box" to accommodate the new round of subsidies for farming interests legislated by the Bush administration under the 2002 US Farm Bill. These two "boxes", which were institutionalized during the Uruguay Round, exempt-for specious reasons--various kinds of dumping-promoting subsidies from elimination or significant reduction.

Why are the US and the EU finding it so hard to make serious offers?

Because the Agreement on Agriculture (AOA) was never meant to promote fair trade in agriculture but to regulate the monopolistic competition between the US and the EU to dump their goods in third country markets while making cosmetic cuts in domestic support to legitimize the process. The main aim was to open up and regulate dumping in developing country agricultural markets, never to end developed country subsidies. So even if the US and EU were now to make "better" offers than those they have tabled, it is very unlikely that these would make any but the slightest dent on their systems of massive subsidization.

Kabuki?

So with no movement in agriculture, are we caught in a stalemate leading up to Hong Kong? I wish this were so. But what many fear, in fact, is that the EU-US competition on who can make a better offer is nothing but a finely choreographed kabuki play that will end with them coming up with a compromise formula at the last minute. The parallel some draw is with the agricultural negotiations in the last phase of the Uruguay Round when the US and EU went to the brink, from which they drew back at the last minute by coming up with the current Agreement on Agriculture, which they then tossed to other countries.

Take it or leave it, they said, but if you refuse it, you'll be responsible for scuttling the Round.

A similar scenario can unfold, warns economist C.P. Chandrasekhar: "It is precisely [the same] act that is being replayed. Expectations that the EU would move a little further from its second offer are high. However, this would ensure that its agricultural interests would be well looked after and still further demand that developing countries make major concessions in non- agricultural market access (NAMA) and services. If they resist the latter demand, the burden of wrecking the Round would be shifted at the last moment onto the shoulders of developing countries."

And the danger, he notes is that "in the scramble to get as much as they can without being forced to shoulder that responsibility, countries like India and Brazil would make large concessions that hurt not just their own producers but those in Africa and elsewhere." Indeed, many are worried that the Brazilians could sell the store with a commitment from the EU on an explicit schedule to phase out export subsidies and the Indians for a commitment from the US to marginally increase HB 1 work visas for India
high-tech specialists.

There is, in fact, now talk of stretching the deal-making process beyond Hong Kong to ensure that there will be an Agreement and a triumphant conclusion to the so-called Doha Round. As Celine Chevariat of Oxfam describes it, what influential actors are talking about is a "one-third of an agreement in HK and four month postponement for final conclusion of modalities" in another ministerial before the middle of 2006. In my view, the "one third" agreed in Hong Kong could well be a services agreement that endorses the "plurilateral" approach, with the two thirds, mainly agriculture and NAMA, concluded later in the second ministerial.

Indeed, even if the only outcome of Hong Kong or a "Hong Kong Plus" process is an agreement based on the current services draft, that would already be a big win for the trading powers and a big setback for the developing countries. Aileen Kwa of Focus on the Global South warns that the plurilateral approach legitimized by a services agreement could be easily turned into formal sectoral negotiations with a strong momentum for liberalization that could begin immediately after Hong Kong, much like the negotiations on Telecommunications and Financial Services were quickly formalized into sectoral negotiations after talks on a plurilateral basis in these sectors were endorsed in 1997.

In short, to sum up the state of play in the WTO, developing countries have everything to lose and nothing to gain with a new WTO deal, whether that deal is concluded in Hong Kong or a more protracted, extended "Hong Kong Plus" process.

The Bigger Problem

But the problem lies not only with the current negotiating process that has been imprisoned within the so-called July Framework. The problem is more fundamental: the WTO's structure, rules, and processes are systematically biased against the interests of developing countries. It has taken developing countries 10 years to learn them, but there are four reasons why the WTO, to borrow the title of the Focus on the Global South video you have just seen, is really bad for the global South: First, trade liberalization is the raison d'etre of the WTO and it is increasingly evident that greater economic liberalization has had exactly the opposite results to those predicted by free traders. After 20 years of structural adjustment and other radical pro-market policies in the developing countries, there are more poor people in the world today than in 1985. There is much more inequality both within and among countries. The areas of the world that adopted pro-market policies most wholeheartedly-Latin America and the Caribbean, sub-Saharan Africa, and Central and Eastern Europe-saw their numbers of poor people increase significantly. Indeed, massively in the case of the former poster boy of neoliberalism, Argentina, where 53 per cent tumbled below the poverty line, with 25 per cent defined "indigent", following the economic collapse of 2002.

A reduction in poverty was mainly registered in East Asia, where integration into the global market was managed by strong states like China and South Korea that, in most instances, applied an anti-free trade formula protectionism at home and mercantilism abroad. But even in this region, there were countertrends, as in Thailand and Indonesia, where International Monetary Fund (IMF)-supported capital account liberalization provoked massive Asian financial crisis that drove more than one million Thais and more than 21 million Indonesians below the poverty line in the space of a few weeks in the summer of 1997.

Second, the rhetoric of the WTO may be free trade, but its key agreements promote corporate monopoly. If negotiations in agriculture have ground to a halt, it is because, as we have detailed above, the AOA was never meant to liberalize global agricultural trade, but to allow the EU and US to manage their monopolistic competition to dump highly subsidized goods on third country markets while conceding cosmetic cuts in subsidies to gain legitimacy for the arrangement.

Like the AOA, there is nothing faintly connected to free trade in the WTO's centerpiece accord, the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPs), which is meant to give US and other high tech corporations monopoly over technological innovations through the imposition globally of draconian patent laws patterned after those of the United States. Indeed, so brazenly monopolistic in intent is TRIPs that the free-trade partisan Jagdish Bhagwati has questioned its inclusion in the WTO.

This is not to say that we prefer corporate free trade to monopolized trade (for free trade is also profoundly subversive of developing country interests), but to make the point that this fundamental contradiction between ideological principle and corporate interest that runs like a fissure through the WTO has been a central reason for its loss of legitimacy among developing countries.

Third, the WTO is anti-development. Stampeded into signing on the dotted line in 1994, it took some time for the developing countries to realize that the TRIPs agreement practically guaranteed that the traditional route to industrialization, industrialization-by-imitation, is a thing of the past; and that the Trade Related Investment Measures (TRIMs) Agreement, by outlawing development tools such as local content policy, made it well nigh impossible to use trade policy as an instrument of industrialization. For most developing countries, the "Doha Development Round" is a malicious misnomer since it marginalizes the negotiating areas of greatest concern to the developing countries: reconciling trade and development, implementation of trade liberalization commitments made during the Uruguay Round, and special and differential treatment for developing countries.

Fourth, global trade does not need the WTO. The indispensability of the WTO to the expansion of global trade is one of those lies that, as the Nazi propagandist Goebbels put it, takes on the status of truth when repeated often enough. A corollary to this is the claim that global trade would fall into anarchy were the WTO to cease to exist.

Let us set the record straight: global trade did not need the WTO to expand eighty six fold, from $124 billion in 1948 to $10,772 billion in 1997! That expansion took place took place under the old GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), complemented by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The flexible GATT-cum-UNCTAD framework permitted the development-oriented trade policies that enabled Latin American countries to industrialize from 1950 to 1970 as well the state-led protectionist/ mercantilist strategies that Newly Industrializing Countries (NICs) of East Asia used to rapidly transform their economies between 1965 and 1995. In other words, the GATT-cum-UNCTAD multilateral framework allowed developing countries a significant amount of "policy space"-a phenomenon reflected in Robert Pollin's finding that, excluding the special case of China from the equation, the overall growth rate of developing countries in the era of development (1961-80) was 5.5 per cent, compared to 2.6 per cent (1981-2000) in the neoliberal era.

So why, if it was functioning reasonably well, was the GATT-cum- UNCTAD framework superseded? The reason the WTO was established and its continuing raison d'etre has been to serve the interests of the transnational corporations (TNCs) that today dominate the global economy and are constantly seeking to open up markets. To be more specific, it was the US and its corporations that pushed the creation of the WTO. With its corporations becoming more dependent on the global economy by the 1970's, the US led the effort to replace GATT with an organization with a more formidable trade dispute-settlement mechanism to tear down protectionist policies; forged an agricultural trade agreement with the EU that would manage their dumping in developing country markets; pushed an agreement that would open up the services of developing countries to TNC exploitation; lobbied for a TRIMs agreement that would outlaw developing countries' use of trade policy to industrialize; and rammed through a TRIPs agreement that would consolidate the US advantage in cutting-edge, nowledge-intensive industries.

Pushed by their own globalizing corporations, the EU and Japan went along with the US agenda, while the developing countries were largely bystanders, preferring as they did the relatively development friendly framework of GATTS cum UNCTAD.

Yes, the WTO is indispensable.to TNCs. For developing countries, it has been--to borrow an image from Max Weber--an iron cage that has robbed them of development space. For them, the last ten years has been a harrowing experience of being constantly on the defensive as the WTO process inexorably subordinated development to corporate trade. To defend their interests, they were forced to establish blocs such as the G 20, G 33, and G 90, which contributed mightily to the derailment of the WTO ministerial in Cancun. If the current negotiations are stalemated, it is because the developing country blocs have successfully blocked the US's and EU's asymmetrical negotiating strategy of conceding cosmetic cuts on their massive agricultural subsidies while demanding damaging concessions from developing countries in terms of greater market access to their agricultural, non-agricultural, and service sectors.

Making a virtue out of necessity, partisans of the WTO have now seized on the emergence of these groupings to argue that that they enable countries to negotiate on more equitable terms under the WTO umbrella. The reality is that the deep anti-development bias of the WTO allows developing countries very limited space to defend their interests. Certainly, it is not a framework within which they can pursue a positive development agenda. Indeed, the one good thing to emerge from their experience of defensive trench warfare at the WTO is that the developing countries have begun to realize that they need to come together to create altogether different institutions of global trade govern ance from the WTO-institutions that subordinate trade to development.

The Sixth Ministerial of the WTO may well collapse in Hong Kong. This will, however, be a positive development. Contrary to the self- serving doomsday scenarios painted by its corporate supporters, there is life after the WTO. Its demise would create not anarchy but policy space for development.

Dracula and the Developing World: the Final Act?

Let me conclude by borrowing an image from one of my favorite authors, Bam Stoker. The WTO is like his immortal character Dracula. Every time you think you've killed him, he resurrects.

Following the collapse of the Third Ministerial in Seattle in 1999, the WTO came back to life with its successful ministerial in Doha, Qatar in November 1991. The Doha triumph, however, was followed by the unraveling of the Fifth Ministerial in Cancun in September 2003. Cancun was followed by the institutional coup of the WTO General Council in July 2004, which rammed through the draconian July Framework.

Thus the stakes in Hong Kong are high. Hong Kong may consolidate the WTO as the engine of global trade liberalization. Or it may prove to be stake that is driven through the heart of this profoundly anti-people organization and finishes it off. Permanently.

Do Corporations Rule? (Part 2)

E-mail debate:
(As part of the BBC's Who Runs Your World? series, the BBC News Website asked two experts to debate whether global corporations are the most powerful beasts in the jungle.)


"Corporate power is out of control and needs to be tamed"

Walden Bello is executive director of Focus on the Global South, a research, analysis, and advocacy institute based in Bangkok


"Governments, not firms, are the most powerful institutions"

Philippe Legrain is a journalist, former adviser to ex-WTO boss Mike Moore and author of 'Open World: The Truth About Globalisation'


DEAR PHILIPPE

The successful class action suits against Big Tobacco or the Vioxx settlement that you mention do not contradict the fact that corporations are the most powerful institutions of our time.

At the very least, governments are expected to protect the life and limb of citizens. Merck and the cigarette companies endangered public health and safety in brazenly criminal ways. The state would itself have lost legitimacy had it not acted.

But, in fact, rather than serve as a demonstration of corporate weakness, the two cases illustrate corporate power. Given the inescapable link between cancer, heart disease, and other ailments and cigarette smoking, cigarettes should have been a severely controlled hazardous substance by now. Instead, cigarette promotion continues unabated, bringing continued profits to King Tobacco.

And let's face it: the Vioxx settlement of $253 million is a slap on the wrist of an immensely profitable corporation, considering that a report by the US Food and Drug Administration concluded that the arthritic painkiller might have contributed to an estimated 27,785 heart attacks or deaths since it hit the market in 1999.

If these figures ultimately prove true, Merck's officers should be criminally prosecuted and jailed for wilful negligence, criminal misrepresentation, conspiracy, and multiple manslaughter.

Governments dare not enforce environmental and occupational safety laws nor press for decent wages and safeguard union rights. The fact of the matter is that the regulatory framework in the US that was constructed between 1930 and 1970 to provide some protection for workers, consumers, the environment, and small businesses has been drastically eroded by corporate pressure over the past two-and-a-half decades.

The Glass Steagall Act preventing commercial banks from engaging in the sale of securities was first subverted by the Federal Reserve Bank, which allowed commercial banks to set up investment houses, then repealed in 1999 amid great joy on Wall Street.

Owing to anti-competitive practices, a district court judge ordered Microsoft broken in two in 1999, but this was reversed by the Bush Department of Justice in 2002, which allowed Microsoft to walk away with not even a fine and with what amounted to just a warning that government would be looking over its shoulder.

With such reluctance to enforce anti-trust laws on the part of Washington, is it any wonder that collusive and monopolistic practices would proliferate over the past two decades, involving not only hustlers like Enron and WorldCom but scores of blue chip titans, such as Citigroup, Times Warner, and Merrill Lynch?

As for the rights of workers, two-and-a-half decades of union-busting by government, a spew of right-to-work laws, runaway shops, and uncontrolled outsourcing has reduced the size of organised labour in the US from 25% in the early seventies to at most 13% today.

Today's labour movement in Britain is a ghost of what it was before Margaret Thatcher's union-busting, pro-corporate regime name here. And today's labour movement in Britain is a ghost of what it was before Margaret Thatcher's union-busting, pro-corporate regime. Now if we talk about the erosion of corporate regulation in the North, in the developing world we are talking about no effective regulation at all.

Governments dare not enforce environmental and occupational safety laws nor press for decent wages and safeguard union rights for fear that foreign investors will simply pack up and leave for corporate nirvana: China.

You say that the biggest constraint on corporations is the market. Tell that to millions of Americans who have been made so desperate by sky-high prices for essential drugs set in classic oligopolistic fashion by Big Pharma that they have resorted to crossing the Canadian border to get the same products at a fraction of the price.

Tell that to motor vehicle buyers around the world whose choice has been whittled down to the same range of obsolete fossil-fuel contraptions churned out by about 14 conglomerates in 2004, down from about 30 significant independent producers two decades ago.

Governments dare not enforce environmental and occupational safety laws nor press for decent wages and safeguard union rights.

And while we're on the subject of climate change, was the signing of the Kyoto Protocol by the European Union a sign of corporate weakness, as you imply? Hardly.

As we all know, the targets for emission reduction are dangerously low given the scale of the problem. European corporations knew they could hit the targets with minimal impact on their profits, and this slight cost was more than offset by the gain in public relations.

Their contrasting responses to Kyoto show that European corporations are probably smarter than the Americans, but not that they are any less powerful.

Corporate power is out of control. It needs to be tamed. And that will have to be done, not by the market but by the combined action of governments and global civil society.


DEAR WALDEN

Governments, not companies, are the most powerful institutions of our time.

Even the biggest companies have to compete to attract capital and workers that are free to move elsewhere: they have to persuade potential shareholders and lenders to give them funding and convince people to come work for them and stay working for them.

Governments can impose taxes and regulations on people and companies. They also have to continue persuading customers to buy enough of what they produce at a high enough price to earn sufficient profits to pay shareholders and workers an acceptable return. If they fail to do so, they will go bust or get taken over.

Governments, on the other hand, can impose taxes and regulations on people and companies. General Motors, America's biggest carmaker, has to abide by local fuel-efficiency and product-safety standards wherever it wants to sell cars.

Exxon, America's biggest oil company, pays taxes even in tiny Luxembourg. If Exxon developed an oil field in Algeria, the Algerian government could tax it, or even nationalise it. Even tin pot states can arrest or conscript their citizens and fight wars.

All of Wall Street's combined financial clout could do nothing to avenge the destruction of the World Trade Centre; but the American government could. A handful of states can blow up the earth. And unfortunately, even states that fail to deliver the basics for their citizens - like food and security, let alone prosperity and freedom - rarely disappear.

The only "companies" that have powers remotely comparable to those of states are the drug cartels

The only "companies" that have powers remotely comparable to those of states are the drug cartels. Colombia's earn billions of dollars a year, control parts of the country, have private armies and operate outside the law.

You argue that tobacco and pharmaceutical companies are not tightly regulated. But this is nonsense. Tobacco companies must comply with ever-more stringent regulations such as ever-bigger health warnings and an advertising ban in Europe, while smokers are increasingly banned from lighting up in public places.

As for the Vioxx settlement, the $253m payout is doubtless only the first of many claims that Merck will face.

In fact, many would argue that governments regulate too much, not too little. Smokers complain about the punitively high price of cigarettes and the restrictions on where they can indulge their habit.

Patients awaiting new life-saving drugs grumble at the long and costly delays that onerous government safety tests impose; the overwhelming majority of Vioxx users who have benefited from the drug without harmful side-effects bemoan its withdrawal from use.

More broadly, many blame high unemployment in France and Germany on the red tape that ties up companies in knots. And the high price that Americans pay for medicines is in large part due to government-granted patents that give companies the exclusive right to sell the drugs they develop for 20 years.

Whether you think that governments regulate too much or too little, there is no doubt that they are capable of regulating companies - and thus that companies do not enjoy the unfettered power that you claim.

You conclude that: "Corporate power needs to be tamed. And that will have to be done, not by the market but by the combined action of governments and global civil society." If, by your own admission, governments can still tame companies, then companies are clearly not the most powerful beasts in the jungle.



(Walden Bello is professor of sociology at the University of the Philippines. He is the author of 15 books, including the recently published Dilemmas of Domination: the Unmaking of the American Empire (New York: Henry Holt, and Co., 2005). He was the recipient of the Right Livelihood Award (also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize) in 2003 for his work on globalisation.)

(Philippe Legrain writes about globalisation and European issues. He was previously special adviser to the then Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, Mike Moore. Before that, he was trade and economics correspondent for The Economist. .)

Do Corporations Rule? (Part 1)

(As part of the BBC's Who Runs Your World? series, the BBC News Website asked two experts to debate whether global corporations are the most powerful beasts in the jungle. You can also access the email debate at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/4201516.stm)


"Corporate power is out of control and needs to be tamed"

Walden Bello is executive director of Focus on the Global South, a research, analysis, and advocacy institute based in Bangkok



"Governments, not firms, are the most powerful institutions"

Philippe Legrain is a journalist, former adviser to ex-WTO boss Mike Moore and author of 'Open World: The Truth About Globalisation'


DEAR PHILIPPE

Do corporations rule the world? No doubt about that.

Who prevented the US from signing the Kyoto Accord despite massive evidence that global warming is a fact? The US corporate lobby, of course.

Whose interests are served by the World Trade Organization (WTO), the most powerful multilateral organisation ever created? Transnational corporations (TNCs).

Financial crises have become more and more frequent since the 1980s, prompting calls for an effective global financial architecture with strong capital controls to prevent the destabilizing herd like moves of speculative capital.

Any move in this direction, however, has been squelched by the corporate lobby: the tiniest speed-bumps to the destabilising, lightning-speed movements of finance capital are non-existent, even as prominent Wall Streeter Robert Rubin, a partisan of non-regulation, predicts that "future financial crises are almost surely inevitable and could be even more severe."

Indeed, all efforts to regulate the operations of TNCs have failed, the most notorious instance being the way the United Nations Center for Transnational Corporations (UNTC), a body set up to monitor and regulate corporate abuse, was dismantled under TNC pressure and converted instead into an office to
promote foreign investment.

The spectacular scandals involving Enron, Arthur Andersen, WorldCom, and many others could only take place in the atmosphere of feverish deregulation and extremely lax government controls that eroded the firewalls between management and board, auditor and audited, stock analyst and stock broker, commercial banking and investment banking. This is an administration that brazenly went to war partly to benefit its cronies in Big Oil

While some heads have rolled, this is a case of ritual punishment since many TNCs continue to be marked by the same corrupt, non-transparent practices, with reform stymied by a powerful corporate lobby to which both the Democratic and Republican parties are beholden.

With the Bush administration, corporate rule is at its peak. This is an administration that has aggressively sought to reverse 35 years of environmental legislation and open up protected areas to exploitation by Big Oil and Big Energy.

This is an administration that, owing to the opposition expressed by US banks, killed a modest move to create a Chapter 11-type mechanism to allow developing countries undergoing financial crisis to declare bankruptcy and reorganise their affairs.

This is an administration that brazenly went to war partly to benefit its cronies in Big Oil and unashamedly awarded other corporate cronies like Halliburton with massively profitable war contracts.

This is an administration that is undertaking the most radical experiment in privatisation in occupied Iraq - the creation of a free-market legal order that would render that country completely permeable to foreign investors.

Perhaps the arrogance and corruption of unfettered power is best exemplified by Big Pharma. It is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the draconian global patent law, the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPs). TRIPS legalises the TNC's monopoly over key advanced technologies and allows them to privatize knowledge developed in a cooperative fashion by human communities over the centuries

Big Pharma has spent the last decade trying to suppress attempts by developing country governments to loosen patent right.

Big Pharma has spent the last decade trying to suppress attempts by developing country governments to loosen patent rights and thus deliver affordable antiretroviral drugs to millions of HIV-AIDS afflicted patients.

Big Pharma is tremendously flush. It makes a 20 per cent return on investment, making it the most profitable industry in the US. And it can do this by making not only anti-retrovirals expensive on the market but other drugs too, including many of vital interest to sick people in developed countries like the United States. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that most patented medicines retail at 20 to 100 times their cost of manufacture!

But Big Pharma says, hey, we need monopoly profits to support research and development (R&D). Really? Big Pharma is no longer that interested in doing R&D in diseases that afflict many of the world's peoples. Even though tropical diseases were the main killers of the world's peoples, only 13 of 1233 new drugs that reached the market between 1975 and 1997 were approved specifically for tropical diseases. Poor people have little market power, which explains why so much of the resources of Big Pharma is currently devoted to producing and improving chemical toys like Viagra, for
which there is immense demand from the rich and the middle classes.


DEAR WALDEN

Big companies are rich and powerful - no doubt about that - but do they run the world? Certainly not.

The biggest constraint on corporate power comes from competition. A huge company like Vodafone is only successful because consumers choose to buy its products: if you don't like their service, you can switch to Orange or another mobile-phone company.

If Vodafone fails to keep its customers happy, it will eventually go bust or get bought up. That's what happened to Midland Bank, once the world's largest, and now owned by HSBC; or British Leyland, once the world's third-biggest carmaker, which eventually became the now-defunct Rover Group.

Of course, competition is not a cure-all. Some companies gain an unhealthy monopoly. Others are able to fix prices. Companies may exploit their workers or pollute too much, and so on. So governments often need to regulate companies - and they do.

Undeniably, corporate lobbying sometimes has an undue influence on government regulation: the TRIPS agreement that you have singled out for criticism is a good example. But despite all their flaws, it is simply not true that governments always, or mostly, do the bidding of big businesses.

Companies are just one of many powerful lobbies: farmers, trade unions and pressure groups also have a big say. They all compete to influence government decisions and secure support from voters for their positions.

Take Kyoto. Yes, corporate lobbying played a part in the US' refusal to sign it - but so did the widespread belief among American voters that it was against US interests. If companies rule supreme, how come European governments signed up to Kyoto?

The WTO is a good example of governments seeking to overcome corporate power

The WTO is a good example of governments seeking to overcome corporate power. Even though the benefits of free trade far outweigh the costs, governments often find it hard to lower trade barriers. Companies that fear foreign competitors tend to lobby governments harder than the disparate millions of consumers who benefit from cheaper imports.

The WTO helps to break this deadlock. Governments offer to open domestic markets in exchange for greater access to foreign ones. This galvanises exporters' support for liberalisation, which helps to overcome the opposition of import-competing industries. The economy as a whole benefits as a result.

There are plenty of examples of governments acting to curb, rather than advance, corporate interests. In 2001 the European Commission stopped the world's biggest company, General Electric, from buying Honeywell. It has also fined Microsoft for abusing its monopoly on computer operating systems.

Governments regulate companies' behaviour in all sorts of ways. Companies have to pay their employees a minimum wage, provide a healthy and safe work environment, and not discriminate against women or minorities.

Since the Labour Party came to power in 1997, the British Government has raised taxes on business and imposed many new regulations. They generally have to recognise unions and give some notice and compensation to workers they want to fire. They have to comply with environmental standards on everything from how much they can pollute to how much they must recycle.

Food and drugs have to be shown to be safe. Consumer-protection law sets out standards for advertising as well as customers' right to refunds. Product-liability laws make companies accountable for any harm their products may cause. A whole of host of industries, such as water, electricity, telecoms, banking and broadcasting, are even more tightly regulated.

Since the Labour Party came to power in 1997, the British Government has raised taxes on business and imposed many new regulations such as the minimum wage. If companies ran the world, surely they would have prevented this happening?

And where governments fear to tread, lawyers do not. In America, Big Tobacco has paid out over $150bn after successive class-action suits and a court has just ordered the giant pharmaceutical company Merck to pay $253m in compensation to a woman for the harm that its Vioxx drug did to her. So much for Big Pharma's "unfettered power".