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Civil Engineering for a Sustainable Future

7 November 2013

Speech of Senator Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. delivered at the 39th National Convention of the Philippine Institute of Civil Engineers (PICE) at the SMX Convention Center, Davao City

Philippine Institute of Civil Engineers (PICE) Honorary President and Former President of the Republic Fidel V. Ramos, incumbent president Romeo S. Momo, past and present officers of PICE, members, civil engineering students from around the country, esteemed guests, friends, ladies and gentlemen, good morning!

First of all, let me greet and congratulate all the civil engineers here in this hall, both the full-fledged civil engineers as well as our future and aspiring civil engineers–the civil engineering students–on your double bill or double feature in this year’s National Convention: first, the celebration of the National Civil Engineering Month this month of November, as recently proclaimed by the President; and second, the prelude party of sorts to the 40th Anniversary of the founding of Philippine Institute of Civil Engineers this coming December 11. Congratulations to everyone!

Thank you for inviting me to your very special event. You know, as a non-engineer, I am as much humbled as am honored by your invitation to speak before you today. I feel that I can vicariously relate to Prince Charles of Wales when he had spoken before the Institution of Civil Engineers of England last year. Borrowing his words, I would like to thank and commend you all for, “taking such a courageous plunge and inviting such a formidably under-qualified non-engineer to address such a formidably knowledgeable audience.”

However, in spite of my lack of credentials in the field of civil engineering, allow me to still share my thoughts about this year’s theme “Civil Engineering for a Sustainable Future”, from the point of view of a legislator, policymaker, former local chief executive, and an economist.

This year’s theme alludes to the phrase “sustainable future”, which, I believe, is inspired by the principle of “sustainable development” formulated and advocated by the United Nations (UN) since 1987.

“Sustainable development” has been defined as, “the “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Crucial in the coining of the principle is the recognition that the environment and the development of nations are inseparable. According to the UN, economic development, social development, and environmental protection are the “interdependent and mutually reinforcing pillars of sustainable development.”

In 2000, as part of the United Nations, the Philippines has accepted and ratified the UN Millennium Development Goals or MDGs, which are eight (8) goals that UN members should aim and strive for in the course of their national development. Goal number 7 is to “ensure environmental sustainability”, which necessitates the integration of the principles of sustainable development in the formulation of national policies and programs of the member-nations. The milestone targets under this goal are significant reduction in loss of biodiversity and environmental resources by 2010, significant improvement of water sanitation by 2015, and significant improvement of the lives of slum-dwellers by 2020.

The importance of working towards attaining this particular Millennium Development Goal is all the more highlighted by the fact that we, as a single community of nations and a single human race, are currently experiencing the tangible worldwide threats and ill-effects of global warming and climate change.

The important role of civil engineering in achieving this Millennium Development Goal and its milestone targets cannot be overemphasized. The role and function of civil engineering in society pervade virtually all aspects of our daily lives. From the hospitals where we are born, to the homes where we are raised and where we reside, to the buildings where we work and where we unwind, to the roads, bridges, railways and waterways we traverse and utilize, and up to our very graves, we can see the intellectual imprint and the indelible imprimatur of the civil engineer.

Simply put, in the background of our great human civilizations, the civil engineer cuts a very imposing and indispensable figure. As the popular tag line of the civil engineering profession goes, civil engineering is “all about people”. After all, this was the reason why the concept of “civil” engineering was coined, precisely in order to distinguish it from “military” engineering.

The highlights of the role of civil engineering in society are the infrastructures, which are their brainchildren, their magnum opuses. These infrastructures, both public and private, without question, are critical to our national economic development. They are the sinews of our national progress and development.

According to the eminent Filipino economist, Gerardo Sicat, who was the first Director-General of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), without the appropriate infrastructure in the country, national development would be “choked”. He noted that foreign investors “consider the state of public infrastructure when they invest in a given country”. Moreover, he said that “with advance planning in infrastructure, we can ease the development process by facilitating the growth of production, trade and commerce.”

This brings us to the appropriate response that is expected from the government, which response is just as critical. On the one hand, the government should plan and bankroll public infrastructure development timely and adequately, in accordance with its national development plans and goals. On the other hand, it should guide, regulate and rationalize private infrastructure development and attune them to its national development plans.

My father, the late former President Ferdinand E. Marcos, keenly recognized the importance of public infrastructure in the progress of our country. During his term of office, he embarked on a massive public infrastructure development that in my opinion remains unparalleled to this day. Dr. Sicat confirms that most of infrastructure investments in the country in the past have been made during the administration of my father. These investments extend from road-building, airport construction, irrigation expansion and rural electrification.

But all these would not have been made possible without the brilliant Filipino civil engineers expertly manning the project sites and barracks of these infrastructures. At one time, your very own PICE past president and member of the council of advisers, former Secretary of Public Works David M. Consunji was at the helm of this Philippine infrastructure bull run.

However, we, as a nation and as an economy, has still a lot of catching up to do. According to Dr. Gilberto Llanto, President of the Philippine Institute of Development Studies (PIDS), “the World Bank noted that infrastructure development (in the Philippines) has not kept pace with the country’s high population growth and rapid urbanization ‘with serious consequences for the country’s competitiveness and in particular for its growth and poverty reduction targets, including the Millennium Development Goals’.” He added that, “the country has underinvested in infrastructure at around 2% of gross domestic product (GDP) on average in contrast to the 5% norm for other ASEAN countries.” He continued, “poor and inadequate infrastructure has also been a reason for the lack of attractiveness of the country as an investment destination. It has also become a significant growth constraint.”

The present administration should properly address this urgent concern by consistently investing a significant portion of the national budget on public infrastructure development. This coming fiscal year the proposed budget for public works is 12% of the national budget. We sincerely hope that this substantial budgetary allocation will continue for the remainder of the President’s term.

An important part of the planning and guidance of the government in public and private infrastructure development is the regulatory framework, including the building standards and specifications to be followed, which should likewise be in accordance with the national development goals.

As I said, we have committed ourselves to attain the Millennium Development Goal of ensuring environmental sustainability. Hence, our regulatory framework in infrastructure development should properly integrate means and methods calculated to attain such a goal.

With the worsening effects of dwindling scarce environmental resources, global warming and climate change, our government should start adopting laws, rules and policies that would both cause drastic changes for the better in our wasteful and profligate lifestyles and practices, and would promote adaptive techniques and mechanisms designed to lessen or mitigate the harmful and fatal effects to human society of mother nature’s wrath or course.

It is about time that we shun our “business-as-usual” mentality and our deep-rooted conventional wisdom, traditions and practices in planning, designing and building our infrastructure projects, which have only proved to be wasteful, imprudent, inefficient, and excessive.

One of the most common infrastructures are our buildings. Buildings are human-made structures that serve essential purposes for humankind: shelter, protection and convenience. Unfortunately, studies have shown that in spite of the recognized beneficial purposes, these human shelters also simultaneously pose significant threats to the environment and health. In particular, buildings directly or indirectly affect land use, energy use, water consumption, materials usage, waste production, outdoor and indoor air quality, among others. In fact, studies show that the building sector alone accounts for “30-40% of global energy usage and global greenhouse gas emissions”.

Thus, the building sector is indeed “one of the areas with the biggest potential gains for having smarter environmental and economic strategies and applications.” If left unchecked, our buildings could greatly contribute to the deterioration of our environment, far outweighing their intended benefits to humankind.

Hence, there is an urgent need to make our buildings sustainable.

It was in recognition of our commitment to the Millennium Development Goals, and in furtherance of my own personal advocacy, that I filed Senate Bill No. 410, or the “Philippine Green Building” bill.

As I am sure most of us know, “green building” is the practice of (1) increasing the efficiency with which buildings and their sites use energy, water, and materials, and (2) reducing building impacts on human health and the environment, through better site location, design, construction, operation, maintenance, and removal—the complete “building life cycle”.

While it may be true that the “green building” movement had originated from the energy crisis in the United States in the 1970s, green building now considers other environmental impacts as they relate to sustainability. Thus, green building requires an integrated design approach, recognizing the environmental, economic, and social aspects of building.

With this bill, it is my intention to seek to attune Philippines to the rising global standard in sustainable buildings and construction developments, by officially defining “green building” and by creating green building standards and rating system, and a national green building committee that shall administer the rating system. We also seek to incentivize builders and owners by way of tax breaks and other non-fiscal benefits in exchange for their compliance with the said green building standards.

With the increasing global public awareness about the effects of global warming and climate change, nations have begun to adopt comprehensive measures to counterbalance such ill-effects. The development of national green building laws and regulations is one such measure. Countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, and Asian nations such as Singapore, Japan, Hongkong, Thailand, and Vietnam have all developed their own green building regulations. Alongside the development of these laws, these countries have also implemented green building rating systems with which to gauge compliance by developers, contractors, and construction companies with the green building laws in force, such as the United States’ LEED; the UK’s BREEAM, Australia’s Green Star, Japan’s CASBEE, Singapore’s Green Mark, Hongkong’s BEAM Plus, Thailand’s TREES, and Vietnam’s LOTUS.

Unfortunately, even in the face of the tremendous global issue of climate change and global warming, we in the Philippines still have not officially adopted and enforced our own green building standards and rating system.

A world-renowned Filipino urban planner has suggested that we can pattern our green building rating standards after Singapore’s Green Mark rating system, which he said is a “tropicalized” version of United States’ LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system, which might work here in our country.

On an important note, as your very own Dr. Benito Pacheco, Vice Chancellor of the University of the Philippines and the Chair of the DPWH Board of Consultants, has so well suggested in a recent green building forum, the element of sustainability in “green building”, should be both “prescription-based”, but also “performance-based”. Meaning that, aside from being resource-efficient, our buildings should also prove themselves to be tough and resilient even in the face of the environmental onslaughts that visit our country.

To digress, the word “RESILIENCE” has been a recent topic of discussion in the Senate, because of our deliberations on proposals for legislation and policy changes on the subject of climate change adaptability. In trying to come up with a Filipino equivalent for the word, a host of words came up. Kulang daw ang salitang “MATATAG”. Parang sobra naman daw ang salitang “NABABANAT”. Minungkahi din ang mga salitang “MALA-KAWAYAN” at “LASTIKO”, in reference to the characteristics of bamboo and rubber, respectively. Considering the transcendental import of the word “resilient”, I really do not know if these suggestions would get the nod of everybody. As civil engineers learned in the field of building and construction, you are very much welcome to suggest to our legislators the more appropriate Filipino translation for “RESILIENCE”.

However, even before our Congress can enact a green building code and rating system for the Philippines, we can already take it upon ourselves to start rethinking and remodeling our traditional building methods and practices in ways that will make our infrastructure both environmentally sustainable and environmentally resilient. This is all the more true considering the twin problems of lack of adequate infrastructure and the threat of climate change. The need for rethinking our infrastructure methods and practices is confirmed by no less than the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in its 2010-2022 Philippine Strategy on Climate Change Adaptation.

Prince Charles of Wales, in his address to British civil engineers last year, said that it was high time that their notion of the practice of civil engineering underwent a paradigm shift.

He said that since 1828, civil engineering in England has been defined as “the art of directing the great sources of power in Nature for the use and convenience of Man.” However, Prince Charles said that civil engineering should no longer be focused on “directing the great sources of power in Nature”, but rather should focus on “understanding these powers properly so that we work according to their underlying patterns of behavior”, without losing the art form of the discipline in the process.

Our definition of civil engineering under Republic Act No. 544 may not be as poetic and artful as the English definition, but we can definitely relate to the experience and lessons of our English counterparts. After all, we all have universal needs and wants as a human race, we live in the same planet, and deal with the same forces of Mother Nature.

Having perused the Code of Ethics of Filipino civil engineers, I heaved a great sigh of relief, confident that our artful and skillful civil engineers have been and are continually sworn in the profession not to be merely crude builders, but rather to use their knowledge and skill for the enhancement of human welfare and the environment, and to hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public and shall strive to comply with the principles of sustainable development in the performance of their duties.

Indeed, we should all remember that civil engineers are supposed to be first and foremost “problem-solvers” and not mere “erectors”. After all, civil engineers being “problem-solvers” sounds better and more decent and dignified than the other one, anyway.

I look forward to be of further service to the civil engineering profession. I am aware of the two (2) pending bills seeking to amend Republic Act No. 544 or the Philippine Civil Engineering Law, which bills still await deliberations in the committee level. I am also aware about the continuing conflicts and confusion in the functional nuances between the civil engineering and the architecture profession. I am willing to work with you on these legislative concerns. My office in the Senate is always open to accommodate your requests and concerns regarding these matters.

Never mind the traditional jokes about civil engineers and architects. Sabi nila, ang arkitekto daw magdo-drawing lang nang magdo-drawing ng amahirap na design, tapos, ipapasa sa mga civil engineer para problemahin kung paano ito itatayo. But there is no reason to be in conflict with one another. Anyway, under Article 1723 of the New Civil Code, the civil engineer and the architect who drew up the plans and specifications will be both liable for damages if the building collapses due to defects within fifteen (15) years from completion. Misery loves company, so they say.

Joking aside, indeed, it needs no elaboration that civil engineers and architects are effective partners in attaining the Millennium Development Goal of ensuring environmental sustainability in our infrastructures.

Again, thank you all very much for having me here. It is such an honor to address you all. I congratulate each and everyone on the occasion of the national civil engineering month, as well as the national convention and the upcoming 40th founding anniversary of PICE!

Mabuhay ang mga Inhinyero Sibil ng Pilipinas! Mabuhay ang Philippine Institute of Civil Engineers (PICE)! Mabuhay ang mga mag-aaral ng Inhinyerong Sibil sa buong Pilipinas! Mabuhay tayong lahat!

Maraming salamat po!