Sustainable peerage

LAST week, the University of the Philippines (UP) hosted the 8th Asia-Pacific RCE Conference. Before the day I learned I was going to be part of the technical working group for the conference, I didn't know what RCE was. I asked the assistant who handed the memo what RCE was, and she could only manage a smile for an answer. Poor me, I got a smaller world.

RCE stands for Regional Center of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development. No, it's not a building or an office, as the group would quickly claim, but a network of individuals, mostly in the education sector, working for sustainable development. The RCE Cebu finds a home in UP Cebu, the university itself integrates concepts on sustainable development in its curriculum, said Professor Rhodora Bucoy in a press conference.

UP Cebu Dean Liza Corro, in her speech, announces to the plenary the university's efforts on sustainable development.

“Where are we as far as sustainable development education is concerned? As a graduate and research university, and as an institution of higher learning, we continuously rethink our education system and programs to better support our society. As a research university, we try to look for solutions to our contemporary, global, environmental, societal and economic problems. We produce graduates for knowledge-based industries and provide support to the entrepreneurial spirit in the micro- and medium industries,” she said.

This year's conference highlights UP Cebu's Light and Detection Ranging (Lidar) project. Lidar is a remote sensing technology using light to survey the terrains of communities, allowing identification of disaster risk-prone areas.

Through a Lidar-generated map, it will be easy to identify which areas in a community easily get inundated even by slight rain. Imagine the benefits of early warning. UP Cebu is tasked to survey the terrestrial surface of Eastern Visayas.

Former San Francisco Camotes mayor Alfredo Arquillano is RCE Cebu's president, and why not? Immediately post-Yolanda, one of the more inspiring tales to be told was how an island town managed to brave the super-typhoon at zero-casualty.

Camotes was one silver lining in the tragedy-riddled airwaves in 2013. Arquillano was at the helm, driving the communities in Camotes to safety and resilience.

I will write about how Arquillano did it in a separate article, but the former mayor's “purok system” was at the heart of it. He had been around sharing to international peers in sustainable development work his concept, which gained worldwide attention in 2011 when it received the United Nations Sasakawa Award for Disaster Risk Reduction.

In Arquillano's “purok system,” the community is divided into small geographical units, about 50 to a hundred households. These collectives implement a range of programs, from solid waste management to disaster risk reduction. “If you put people first,” said Arquillano, “you can never go wrong.”

On the second day of the RCE conference, the delegates, coming from Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Australia, etc. were toured around Cebu City. One of the stopovers was Cebu Holdings Inc.'s Tugkaran Project, home of the Cebu Business Park Green Space and Composting Facility, which uses the Takakura method of composting.

Parallel sessions were held during the conference where the exchanges were divided into themes of youth, biodiversity, schools, disaster management, etc. Mario Tabucanon, of the United Nations University—Institute for Advanced Studies on Sustainability Japan, said the big leap in recent years has something to do with emphasizing the role of education in sustainable development.

That these development workers have come together to exchange notes on some of their best practices is already an achievement in itself.

As Marcus Raskin said in his introduction to Noam Chomsky's works: “Perhaps a humane world civilization might come into being in which universality does not assign a preferred place to any particular group, but in which all are joined in solidarity and mutual dignity with all others.” For the fulla article in the Sunstar click here.