Dumaguete’s commons: A gift and a birthright
In the early ’60s, my ship berthed at Dumaguete City, which was to be my home away from home for over four years or so. The city was charming and disarming, priding itself to be a “city of gentle people,” and Silliman University, for all its faults and flaws, took me into its warm embrace, guiding me through the uncertainties of college, deepening my love for classical and Broadway music, and setting, in my mind, the gold standard for a coastal boulevard: unfettered view, a breeze’s caress, still water — the go-to place for a young adult pondering life’s whys and wherefores.
In a world upended by conflict, climate change, and coronavirus, few verities remain and, for myself as a Silliman alumna, one verity is this: that “the white sands and the coral kiss the dark blue southern seas …” The Silliman hymn, corny and changed in parts, nevertheless captured all that Dumaguete meant to me: small town, (relatively) unspoiled, keeping (mostly) at bay the muck and mayhem of the urban jungle.
For over five decades that vision, and reality, has held fast. But now, the city council voting 6-5 would trade the small town-bursting-at-its-seams for a grand multimillion-peso 174-hectare gleaming morass of buildings occupying 85 percent of the city’s coastal area, purportedly to benefit the people—but at what cost?
No more the free earth, sea, and air, no more the bracing wind to heal one’s soul, no more the famed and fabled boulevard. The mayor and his cohorts—Filipino and Chinese conglomerates of dubious practice—would inflict a tragedy of the commons so unprecedented in scale, generations of Silliman alumni and gentle city folk will reel from the pain of its innards being gutted on the altar of “development.”
Now what, exactly, are the “commons”? Simply put, they are the resources accessible to all in a community, including natural resources of land, water, and air. According to Wikipedia, “Commons can be also defined as a social practice of governing a resource not by state or market but by a community of users that self-governs the resource through institutions that it creates.” Wikipedia also cites successful cases of commons, including the Mongolian grasslands, lobster fishing in Maine, Nepal’s forests, and the irrigation systems of New Mexico.
The commons are a birthright, but they are also a gift: freely given, freely taken.
Dr. Angel Alcala has made the case for threatened marine protected areas, legal advocates are poised to file cases of lawful violations, I speak as a Silliman graduate who has freely savored Dumaguete’s commons—land, water, wind—for nearly five years for which no price tag will suffice. Dumaguete’s commons are a living legacy, a living reality that no one can or should dare despoil. It is like ripping one’s heart apart, the zombification of caring, thinking people to rubber-stamp something that will enrich a few, benefit the well-heeled among the middle class, and marginalize the many.
And so I join the call to stop this nightmare in its tracks, for indeed, day will turn into night if the grand reclamation project will come to pass. For far too long the commons of land, water, and air—the birthright of all—have been the pickings of a few, dynasts, hegemons, and all. How can we remain whole as a community, as a country, without a heart and soul? Boulevards, not buildings, are that heart and soul.
* * *
Jurgette Honculada is a 1968 journalism graduate, summa cum laude, of Silliman University.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.