Tag Archives: Philippine Greens

Greening the information sector

Social movements are beginning to respond to the specific issues involving the information economy. An illustrative set of responses can be seen in the programme of the Philippine Greens for a non-monopolistic information sector (Society, Ecology and Transformation by the Philippine Greens, 1997).

The Greens see the information sector as very important because of its special nature: information is a social good and it can be shared freely once it is created; and since information is a non-material good, the limits to material growth do not apply to information growth. The Greens consider their in harmony with this nature of information.

The following are the major elements of Philippine Greens’ programme for the information sector:

1. The right to know. It is the government’s duty to inform its citizens about matters that directly affect them, their families or their communities. Citizens have the right to access these information. The State may not use ‘national security’, ‘confidentiality of commercial transactions’, or ‘trade secret’ reasons to curtail this right.

2. The right to privacy. The government will refrain from probing the private life of its citizens. Citizens have the right to access information about themselves which have been collected by government agencies. The government may not centralize these separate databases by building a central database or by adopting a unified access key to the separate databases. Nobody will be forced against their will to reveal any information they do not want to make public.

3. No patenting of life forms. The following, whether or not modified by human intervention, may not be patented: life forms, biological and microbiological materials, biological and microbiological processes.

Life form patenting has become a major global issue, as biotechnology corporations move towards the direct manipulation and commercialization of human genetic material. Biotech firms are engaged in a frantic race to patent DNA sequences, microorganisms, plants, animal, human genetic matter and all other kinds of biological material, as well as in all kinds of genetic modification experiments to explore commercial possibilities. We much launch strong national and international movements to block these monopolistic moves and experiments, and to exclude life forms and other biological material from our patent systems.

4. The moral rights of intellectuals. Those who actually created an intellectual work or originated an idea have the right to be recognized that they did so. Nobody may claim authorship of works or ideas they did not originate. No one can be forced to release or modify a work or idea if he/she is not willing to do so. These and other moral rights of intellectuals will be respected and protected.

5. The freedom to share. The freedom to share and exchange information and knowledge will be recognized and protected. This freedom will take precedence over the information monopolies such as intellectual property rights (IPR) that the State grants to intellectuals.

A specific expression of the freedom to share is the “fair-use” policy. This policy reflects a historical struggle waged by librarians who see themselves as guardians of the world’s storehouse of knowledge, which they want to be freely accessible to the public. Librarians and educators have fought long battles and firmly held their ground on the issue of fair-use, which allows students and researchers access to copyrighted or patented materials without paying IPR rents. They have recently been losing ground due to the increasing political power of cyberlords.

6. Universal access. The government will facilitate universal access by its citizens to the world’s storehouse of knowledge. Every community will be enabled to have access to books, cassettes, videos, tapes, software, radio and TV programs, etc. The government will set up a wide range of training and educational facilities to enable community members to continually expand their know-how and knowledge.

7. Compulsory licensing. Universal access to information content is best implemented through compulsory licensing. Under this internationally-practiced mechanism, the government itself licenses others to copy patented or copyrighted material for sale to the public, but compels the licensees to pay the patent or copyright holder a government-set royalty fee. This mechanism is a transition step towards non-monopolistic payments for intellectual activity.

Many countries in the world have used and continue to use this mechanism for important products like pharmaceuticals and books. Compulsory licensing is an internationally-recognized mechanism specifically meant to benefit poorer countries who want to access technologies but cannot afford the price set by IPR holders, but even the U.S. and many European countries use it.

8. Public stations. Universal access to information infrastructure is best implemented through public access stations, charging at subsidized rates. These can include well-stocked public libraries; public telephone booths; community facilities for listening to or viewing training videos, documentaries, and the classics; public facilities for telegraph and electronic mail; educational radio and TV programs; and public access stations to computer networks.

Another approach in building public domain information tools is to support non-monopolistic mechanisms for rewarding intellectual creativity. Various concepts in software development and/or distribution have recently emerged, less monopolistic than IPRs. These include shareware, freeware, “copyleft” and the GNU General Public License (GPL). The latter is the most developed concept so far, and has managed to bridge the transition from monopoly to freedom in the information sector. In the personal computer arena, for example, the most significant challenger to the absolute monopoly of Microsoft Windows is the freely-available Linux/GNU operating system, which is covered by the GPL.

The first step in breaking up monopolies may be competition. But competition eventually leads to domination by the strong and those who can compete best, leading us back to monopolies. Isn’t it better to transcend competition and move further towards cooperation? This means a stronger public sector and sharing meager resources to be able to afford expensive but necessary facilities. In the information sector, this means building information infrastructures, tools and contents which are in the public domain.

9. The best lessons of our era. While all knowledge and culture should be preserved and stored for posterity, we need to distill the best lessons of our era, to be taught – not sold – to the next generations. This should be a conscious, socially-guided selection process, undertaken with the greatest sensitivity and wisdom. It is not something that can be left to a profit-oriented educational system, circulation-driven mass media, or consumption-pushing advertising.

[From Society, Ecology and Transformation by the Philippine Greens, 1997]

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“All of the animals in the forest are your family”

One mark of a great story is the way it is passed on from one story-teller to another. This is how good stories become even better.

I’d like to share a story told in the book Created Equal by author Ernie Bringas, who in turn read it from The Way of the Wolf by Martin Bell. If you like the story, pass it on.

The story is about “a brown, furry, lop-eared bunny named Barrington, who found himself sadly alone on Christmas Eve.” All the indented paragraphs that follow are Bringas’ words:

All of the other forest animals had gotten together in ther respective homes to celebrate Christmas. But as far as Barrington knew, he was the only bunny in the forest, and he had no family with which to party. He attempted to join a family of squirrels, but was turned away from their festivities because he bore no physical resemblance to them. He was again rejected by a family of beavers for the same reason. His eyes filling with tears, he sadly turned for home, resigned to spending Christmas Eve alone. Almost home, he heard the excited squeaking of field mice beneath the ground.

“It’s a party,” thought Barrington. And suddenly he blurted out through his tears, “Hello, field mice. This is Barrington Bunny. May I come to your party?”

But the wind was howling so loudly and Barrington was sobbing so much that no one heard him.

Suddenly, Barrington was aware that he was not alone. He looked up and strained his shiny eyes to see who was there.

To his surprise, he saw a great silver wolf. The wolf was large and strong and his eyes flashed fire. He was the most beautiful animal Barrington had every seen . . .

The wolf spoke. “Barrington,” he asked in a gentle voice, “why are you sitting in the snow?”

“Because it’s Christmas Eve,” said Barrington, “and I don’t have any family, and bunnies aren’t any good to anyone.”

The wolf assured Barrington that bunnies are very good indeed because they can hop, and they are very warm; these are unique gifts, and every gift given to anyone is given for a reason. The silver wolf told him that someday he would understand why being warm and furry is no small matter.

“But it’s Christmas,” moaned Barrington, “and I’m all alone. I don’t have any family at all.”

“Of course you do,” replied the great silver wolf. “All of the animals in the forest are your family.”

And then the wolf disappeared. He simply wasn’t there. Barrington had only blinked his eyes, and when he looked — the wolf was gone.

“All of the animals in the forest are my family,” thought Barrington.

The outcome of this story is that during the ice-cold winter night, Barrington Bunny rescued a lost, young field mouse by sheltering him with his furry body. This dangerous and selfless act carried a terrible price for Barrington.

Next morning, the field mice found their litle boy, asleep in the snow, warm and snug under the furry carcass of a dead bunny. Their relief and excitement was so great that they didn’t even think to question where the bunny had come from.

After the field mice had left, Barrington’s frozen body simply lay in the snow. There was no sound except that of the howling wind. And no one anywhere in the forest noticed the great silver wolf who came to stand beside that brown, lop-eared carcass.

But the wolf did come.

And he stood there.

Without moving or saying a word.

Until it was night.

And then he disappeared into the forest.

It is not difficult to recognize certain biblical themes in this moving story: caring for the neighbor, the giving of one’s life as the greatest expression of live, and the ever present spirit of God in the shadow of death. We all will interpret the story of Barrington Bunny according to our own sensitivities.

As for me, I was also moved by the great silver wolf when he said to Barrington, “All of the animals in the forest are your family.” Shortly thereafter, Barrington rethinks these words while shielding the tiny mouse from the deadly cold: “All of the animals in the forest are your family.”

The inclusiveness of the animal kingdom is what touches my spirit here. Unfortunately, we often tend to be separatists in that we speak of the human family and the “animal family” as if they were unrelated.

The case of human equality is offered in the spirit of Barrington Bunny, who with the help of the silver wolf, came to understand the underlying oneness with all creatures.

All of the animals in the forest are your family.

End of quote from Created Equal by Ernie Bringas.

This is how we in the Philippine Greens put it: we are part of the great community of species, with whom we share a common ecological home. This is the basis of an ecological worldview that is becoming even more important in an era of increasingly powerful technologies, unbridled corporations, and mostly apathetic citizenry.

Poverty amidst abundance

This piece, entitled “Challenging Media: Poverty Amidst Abundance“, appeared in the January 2008 issue of Media Development, a monthly publication of the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC). Check this site for a list of the articles in that issue. Since the site did not post the full articles themselves, I thought I will make my article available for download here.

The question I raised in this piece was a challenge to media. But, in fact, it should be a challenge to all of us: why should poverty persist amidst such abundance?

Is it because economists are generally blind to abundance? (Remember that the definition of economics has always been premised on scarcity.)

In a longer piece that will appear later this year as a chapter in a book on “access to knowledge”, I will be going more deeply into the phenomenon of abundance, which is a feature of most ecosystems as well as of the information economy.

Society, Ecology and Transformation: the program of action of the Philippine Greens

This booklet, which we fondly call the SET, was published in 1999. The complete title is Society, Ecology and Transformation: a program for transforming Philippine society based on the Green worldview. I am posting the full text here, for the benefit of those who want to know more about the Philippine Greens. Membership in our group is by individuals, and our members are spread out in various other organizations. We conduct regular fellowship meetings to share experiences, discuss current issues, and arrive at common positions.

To answer a common question: no, we are not (yet) a political party. We’ve spent a lot of time discussing this matter, and our decision stands — that the current electoral system in the Philippines is so corrupt that we’d rather spend our time and effort in cleaning it up first.

I was one of the convenors and also the first secretary-general of the Philippine Greens. Currently, my Green work is focused on sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, the information economy, and clean elections.

Here’s the foreword I wrote (as the booklet’s editor):

Worldwide, a body of literature is growing which articulates a worldview that emphasizes ecology, social justice and self-determination.

The main ideas of this Green worldview include the following:

– The community is the most important locus of human activity. This communitarian approach calls for community-levl politics, economics, technologies and other activities.

– We are also part of a bigger community of living beings, who have as much right as we do to our common ecological home. We therefore cannot appropriate all of nature just to meet high and often wasteful levels of consumption.

– Quality of life is more important than quantity of production or consumption.

– The spiritual aspects of reality are just as important. Beyond a certain level of material sufficiency, human happiness is often a matter of spiritual rather than material fulfillment.

– Non-violence should guide family and community relationships, our interaction with nature, and our program for social change.

– Too much political power and economic wealth corrupts. We should diffuse power and wealth and prevent their concentration.

– Diversity is better than monoculture. This is true not only in ecosystems but also in human societies.

The Philippine Greens believe that these ideas and the growing body of thought behind them are exactly what our society needs. This book reflects our initial effort to draft a comprehensive program for transforming Philippine society and ecology based on the Green worldview.

We call on you all to join us in turning this program into reality.

Obet Verzola