Back from Brazil
The KLM flight from Amsterdam arrived on schedule before noon, and Girlie kindly fetched me at the NAIA airport. After helping Ayen sort the Havaianas I managed to buy just before leaving Sao Paolo, I took a shower and stretched out for my longed-for nap.
Just before 5 pm, Girlie woke me up: “We are invited for dinner by the Santos family,” she said. “Are you up to it?”
Our initial connection to the Santos family was through Jino, who was Ayen’s classmate at the Community of Learners; they have maintained their high school friendship, even if they are enrolled in different schools. In an unexpected twist of fate, Jino’s father is a former general who was in active service when I was a political detainee in the 1980s.
Like his commanding officer, Col. Galileo Kintanar, Mon Santos used to spend time talking with us prisoners at Camp Bago Bantay, trying to figure us out; in the process, we developed mutual respect. We even had an informal, half-serious arrangement that after my release, should I feel that I was being tailed by military operatives, I should call him so he could tell them to leave me alone: “If you ever need to be arrested again, let me do the honors!”
We lost touch for more than a decade, and met again through our children. From time to time, we have pursued our previous conversations about the peace process, and what possibilities are there for addressing the problems of the rural poor communities outside the framework of insurgency and counter-insurgency.
More recently, our mutual interest is in renewable energy and biofuels. He is one of the undersecretaries of the Department of Energy, and is executive director of the Biofuels Board.
Our dinner conversation focused on renewable energy and biofuels. There is a 3-day summit on energy, starting tomorrow and he has invited me to be on the panel discussion about social mobilization for renewable energy.
That explains why the first text I received after landing at NAIA was from NEA, asking if I was attending the energy summit. Later Fr. Paking Silva called to check if I was going, so we could catch up on our plans to assist the electric cooperatives in navigating a safe course through the turbulent waters of EPIRA.
In earlier conversations, Mon asked me for advice and help on how to promote a more community-based approach to producing biofuels. “The dominant model tends to be the large-scale plantation,” he explained, ” and I am afraid that if that is what we use for biofuels production, we will reproduce the problems associated with the plantation model, including social inequality.
There are no quick and easy answers. The processing plants of ethanol or jathropa oil will need thousands of hectares of raw materials. The family-sized farms are devoted mainly to food crops. Even if there is a projected demand for biofuels, the up front investment is substantial, and the farmers may find the gestation period too long.
Still, it is good that a government official wants to find a way for smaller communities to participate, instead of taking the traditional and easy way of dealing with large investors and their plantation model. I guess his background in counterinsurgency has also made him sensitive to the potential problems of this model.
In fact, one of the items activist-friends asked me to look into when I was in Brazil was precisely biofuels. After all Brazil is way ahead of most countries in producing ethanol and blending it with fossil fuels.
The full agenda of the GCE World Assembly did not give me time to look deeper into biofuels in Brazil. But the few Brazilians I managed to interview also observed that the great inequality in land ownership in Brazil have persisted and have even been reinforced by biofuels production.
Those of us who are campaigning for the extension (and if possible, improvement) of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program are wary of the moves by sugar plantation owners to invoke the legitimate need to produce ethanol and reduce pollution as an excuse to exempt their landholdings from agrarian reform.
I look forward to tomorrow’s discussions at the energy summit.Explore posts in the same categories: Agrarian reform, Power and energy