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Welcome Remarks: Gross National Happiness: A Paradigm Shift in Measuring Human Development?

October 25, 2016

Welcome Remarks of Senator Loren Legarda
Gross National Happiness: A Paradigm Shift in Measuring Human Development?
25 October 2016 | Manila Polo Club

The Philippines is a country blessed with so many scenic islands that captivate locals and foreigners alike. Even in the patches of green here in the city, one is compelled to literally stop and smell the roses.

But in the global race to become the biggest, the fastest, and the best, there is no room for leisurely strolls. In fact, one study revealed that people in the wealthiest and most economically productive cities tend to walk the fastest.[1] We are all about economic progress and global competitiveness – and we collectively rush on.

This is perhaps why there is little interest in my suggestion for the country to measure Gross National Happiness (GNH) along with the more common economic indicators like Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Prior to my appointment as Global Champion for Resilience by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), I was first its Regional Champion for Asia-Pacific since 2008. My first official advocacy mission was to the Kingdom of Bhutan in 2009 when I addressed the Bhutan National Sensitization Workshop on Disaster Risk Reduction. I quickly realized that their idea of GNH has a place in a high-speed world.

From then on, I have been urging the Philippine government to adopt the GNH concept of Bhutan.

The thought behind GNH is simple: incorporate the status of the environment, good governance, equitable and sustainable socio-economic growth and the promotion and preservation of culture when measuring the growth of countries. The quality of life is just as important as the growth rates that we have been working so hard to increase.

Is our present idea of growth, then, divorced from the idea of a healthy environment?

The air that we breathe—we have polluted it to alarming levels that we have exposed ourselves to respiratory diseases.

Our waters—our source of life—we did not only use it and used it up, we even dirtied it. We have been using the Manila Bay, Pasig River and other bodies of water as sewerage sites.

Moreover, we intend to extract our minerals in 30 to 50 years even if future generations of Filipinos will have nothing left; while our forests have dwindled from almost 16 million hectares to only 6.8 million hectares.[2]

Is our image of the future an urban jungle where grass cannot grow, where economic growth rate is directly proportional to the number of people who suffocate from industrial fumes? Certainly, this concern is not reflected in our traditional economic yardsticks.

We are also presented with the seeming disjoint between the preservation and promotion of culture and economic growth. Is the Filipino idea of economic growth divorced from its heritage?

The kind of growth fostered by instruments like the GDP and the GNP does not allow us to reflect on the fate of our indigenous communities; if anything, it becomes the cause of their exploitation.

How many times have we heard the pleas of indigenous groups who have become helpless in preserving their communities? They who are the true environmentalists who nurture our forests and natural resources, which they value and cherish as the sources of their food, shelter, clothing and herbal medicine, are driven away from their habitats—sometimes with their own naive consent—as miners and big plantation investors are taking over the land that they had lived in and nurtured for generations.

These circumstances should make it evident to us that we need economic yardsticks that do not place emphasis on the blind pursuit of economic growth.

Our heritage is a fundamental source of socio-economic empowerment, especially for cultural communities that have been struggling to preserve and relive their traditions despite the pressures of modernity.

But how do we preserve and sustain traditional arts, crafts and local industries deeply ingrained in the Filipino culture? How do we support our culture bearers so they do not give up their crafts and instead encourage them to pass on their skills to the next generation? How do we create harmonious connections between tradition and modernity?

Through the cultural agencies of government, we support indigenous communities through the Schools of Living Traditions, which teach the young generation the traditional arts, crafts, music and practices of the village.

We are collaborating with state universities and colleges (SUCs) to document indigenous knowledge and practices. The SUCs of Cordillera Region have already done this and have featured their indigenous practices on agriculture and environment protection. Our indigenous peoples are the epitome of the tradition, the skill and the creativity of the great Filipino mind, and recording this ingenuity will allow traditions to stay alive and flourish.

Our National Museum is showcasing various cultural traditions through galleries such as the Hibla ng Lahing Filipino textile gallery, Baybayin gallery of ancient scripts, Manlilikha ng Bayan Exhibition, and the Bangsamoro gallery, among many others.

In the Senate, I filed a Resolution urging the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) to develop new indicators that will reflect the happiness and well-being of Filipinos, adopting Bhutan’s concept.

We are very honored to have before us Dr. Saamdu Chetri, Executive Director of the GNH Centre in Bhutan, to discuss how they have successfully incorporated the GNH in their development policies and programs.

The world needs to revisit and rethink conventional frameworks and strategies for socioeconomic development.

We should examine our respective development approaches and ask these questions: How can we further develop our societies without compromising the welfare of generations to come? How can we advance our socioeconomic standards without putting our people at risk? How can we realize our shared goals on increasing the quality of life and achieving sustainable development with greater certainty of success? Our answers to these questions will redefine for us the meaning of development.

In order to effectively address today’s complex problems of environmental degradation, threats to indigenous culture, and climate change, toward achieving set goals for human development, we must give Gross National Happiness, this new perspective, its due chance.

Thank you.***

[1]Eric Jaffe: Why People in Cities Walk Fast http://www.citylab.com/work/2012/03/why-people-cities-walk-fast/1550/

[2] 2010 figures—latest available study by DENR announced during the hearing of the Senate Finance Committee on the proposed 2017 DENR budget, 20 September 2016