By now, the unwarranted aggression of the Russian Federation into Ukraine is entering its second week. To date, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that at least 1.5 million people were forcibly displaced in Ukraine. Across the country, women, children, and the elderly in fear of the Russian invasion and bombardment moved west towards Lviv to cross the border into Poland, Slovakia, Moldova, and Hungary while men aged 18-60 were not allowed to leave due to marshal law for a general mobilization to defend the country. Meanwhile, Ukranian citizens abroad, and other foreigners heed the call of President Volodymyr OleksandrovychZelenskyy to join the resistance against the invasion. At this time, hundreds of civilians including some women and children have died since the so called “special operation” to “de-nazify” the country. Encountering stiff resistance from the Ukranian Armed Forces in the North, and East; the northern push of Russian forces in Crimea (annexed by Russia in 2014) has seen relative success in taking Kherson, and controlling Europe’s largest nuclear power station in Zaporizhzhia, nearly causing damage to reactors in the process that could have caused a possible nuclear emergency not seen since Chernobyl in 1986.
The humanitarian crisis in Ukraine has added more stress to the global humanitarian system that has to contend with the ongoing refugee crisis from active conflicts around the world which includes countries in North Africa, or in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Sudan, the Rohingya, and Myanmar’s military Junta, also Syria where Russia provided military support to the Assad regime, essentially preserving the latter’s hold on authoritative powers after the related Arab spring protests turned into a brutal urban civil-sectarian war that is still ongoing.
Russian forces have changed strategies since the start of the conflict as observed by military observers and planners. Previously aiming for a quick victory through a mad dash towards the capital of Ukraine (Kiev) using motorized, and airborne infantry, these earlier advances were systematically repelled by Ukranian defenders aided by better training, equipment, and new weaponry from NATO countries like the Bayraktar TB2 drone platform from Turkey, and the Javelin (Anti-Tank), NLAW (Anti-Tank), & Stinger (Anti-Air) missiles. The aggressors have now turned into what could be seen as an indiscriminate campaign of aerial bombing and heavy artillery into civilian infrastructures and non-military objectives. One of these besieged cities is Mariupol, an industrial port city in the south – east coast by the Sea of Azov. The same strategy of bombing cities into rubble in Syria like Aleppo are starting not only in Mariupol but in other main population centers in Ukraine. To possibly document and identify damaged buildings remotely, free and open source data from the European Space Agency’s Copernicus constellation of satellites is available like Sentinel-1 which uses SAR, an active sensor that sends microwaves down to Earth. The advantages of using SAR in this analysis is it is not an optical sensor that depends on ultraviolet light where during this time of the year the cloud cover in the area of interest would limit any change detection analysis.
Although, the process was developed for earthquake building damage, the workflow was adapted to investigate if its possible to detect building damage caused by artillery and aerial munitions. The results of the analysis are not ground validated, hence official reports should still be referenced. The spatial analysis could be used to aid in ground truthing. Also the results of this type of analysis may aid in damage assessment, recovery and reconstruction planning. See the results of the spatial analysis below and hoping for a peaceful resolution to this crisis.
I’ll try to develop similar analysis in other parts of Ukraine time permitting. But I encourage those familiar with OSINT and in utilizing SAR data to initiate similar analysis as well.
On November 8, coinciding with World Town Planning day, & World Urbanism day; is the first environmental planning day in the Philippines. At the core of celebrating this day are Environmental Planners, numbering at least 6,000 registered professionals all over the archipelago, and in overseas chapters. We hopefully all share a common mission to ensure resilient and sustainable communities that are in harmony and designed with nature. Many do not know we exist, nor think our jobs matter. Some know us by what we do as urban planners, town master planners, transportation planners, or urban designers. There are as many sub-specializations in the profession as there are styles of Pancit in the Philippines.
I prefer Environmental Planner. An environmental planner for me is a facilitator of change, for the planner considers the limitations of nature with the needs of developing the built environment while providing information to make empowered decisions by the community. Also, the planner is a scientist, artist, and activist that mixes technical knowledge of planning methodologies, with the art of negotiation, and with a passionate advocacy for change. There is no other job that I know of that has the opportunity to affect so many lives, except maybe for the Office of the President. Yet, it is a frustrating, albeit fulfilling job. It is frustrating as it involves balancing and striking down the conflicting agendas of different social, economic, and ideological agendas of individuals, corporations, civil society, and trapos. But it has its moments as a force for good, especially when the planner does the work right by influencing decisions to a well informed outcome that benefits the many, while respecting ]nature’s elements. Maybe next time we should elect an Environmental Planner as Mayor or President of the Republic. The planner as president would be technically proficient, academically qualified, morally just, an experienced facilitator, well traveled, and a down to earth leader who knows what it takes to work in the field. You only need to look up to American President Thomas Kirkman for reference.
I consider myself a neophyte walking down this path. I remember my uncle this All Soul’s Day when he asked when I was starting back in 2013 if I was certain that this is the way that I should be in my career. And that I should be sure, for it will be a difficult one. He was right. It still is a hard road ahead. As the Mandalorian said, “This is the way”.
I have dreamy idealism for the profession that is past its middle age. For 50 years, since 1969; the Philippine Institute of Environmental Planners (PIEP) has been home to veteran planners, and a nurturing space for newbies. Instead of adding words to my thesis, here I am contemplating the past 6 years as a professional member of the PIEP while safely entombed in a home office besieged by the noise of downtown life, and the bellowing of hungry cats. While looking back at the promises of master plans, all I see were that, promises unfulfilled by the most brilliant, and creative minds by our planning pioneers. Many have died not seeing the execution of these plans into completion. The reasons are many as to why we have not seen the best cities and towns we deserve. Exceptions to these are isolated greenfield or brownfield planned unit developments (PUDs) the likes of which were textbook private sector mixed-use projects such as the Makati Central Business District, Ortigas Center in Pasig, and Taguig’s Bonifacio Global City. But these are merely oases of moneyed locals, and expats. They are but the golden goose of local executives for their political ambition. And the land of plenty for the struggling working class. The planner as activist must continue to insist that it is our right to live in dignified spaces humanely built for our needs. Not just for those who insist they pay more taxes, but for all citizens born and about to be born in this country. Nobody should be left behind in our mission because the next 3 decades will be critical. The UN Habitat projects that more than sixty percent of humanity will continue to migrate, live, and work in cities by 2050. Therefore, the plans we make today should account for the stress to our finite space, and resources. Adding complexity to the scenario is adapting to climate change.
Hence, the present dysfunction of our cities are the accumulation of failures by leadership that did not value the human scale of tomorrow. We envy the efficiency of Singapore’s public transport, we dream of the Netherlands’s bike network, we aspire for Thailand’s tourism success, we admire the purity of New Zealand’s natural wonders, we long for Germany’s renewable energy grid, and we hope for Vietnam’s courage against the odds. And when it comes to protecting the environment, there is much to do in our patrimony. More so when political fanaticism becomes dangerous to our habitat by cognitive dissonance of a few which clouds common sense and decency over artificial sandy beaches. Are we humble enough to admit our collective failures? Are we capable of making the hard choices in prioritizing the environment and the people over profit? Are we ready to work for a just, and equitable society? If all the answers to the above is yes, there is still hope for us yet.
According to the IUCN World Database of Protected Areas (WDPA), there are 516 protected areas in varying levels of legal protection status in the Philippines. 15% of the Philippines total land area are terrestrial protected areas, while only 1% covers marine protected areas. Meanwhile, old-growth forest cover has gone down to less than 25% of the total forest land area from 70% when it was officially documented in the early 1900s. Even with the passing of the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas Act that increased the number of National Parks in the country to more than 90, the resources required for its effective management is found competing against rising budgets for other critical departments in the bureaucracy, especially when facing a pandemic, and the seasonal threat of destructive typhoons. This is evident wherein only 17 protected areas have undergone management effectiveness evaluations since the IUCN began cataloging the WDPA. We cannot manage what we cannot measure, and we cannot measure what we don’t know, and we cannot know, if we do not have the means to monitor and evaluate programs. We need to do more than to be complacent with conserving statistics on what is merely scraps for our biodiversity. Mere compliance to law is negligence when society deserves environmental justice.
Articles have been written about the correlation between emerging zoonotic viruses, and biodiversity loss. The continued destruction of the environment for agriculture, sprawling subdivisions, and industry exposes us for future pandemics, and natural hazards. How many more people have to die, and how many more would have to live with the long term effects of Sars-Cov-2 before we collectively admit that the way things are, is an act of slow on-set suicide for the next generation. The pandemic and the effects of climate change all go back to how we have mistreated our planet, and each other.
Recently, Metro Manila was spared by Typhoon Rolly’s destructive path. It was recorded as the strongest typhoon for 2020 that made landfall. Some observers have compared its aftermath to Yolanda’s wake on Tacloban. Other provinces were not so lucky, especially towns in Catanduanes, Quezon, Albay, and many more. As of this writing, we are slowly getting information on the ground about the number of casualties and the amount of damages to livelihood and property in these areas. The effects of extreme weather events diminishes the capacity of our cities to respond from these disasters while currently wrestling control of the spread of Sars-Cov-2. Resources are exhausted to the last manpower, and Peso.
The livability of cities in the future would depend on our policies, and decisions today. The means to develop resilient and sustainable communities that are in harmony and designed with nature is not rocket science. We have the tools, the knowledge, and the people dedicated to working for this future. What we need is a clear vision, and the relentless pursuit to see through its end.
So why are we again celebrating a non-holiday event this Sunday on November 8? I don’t know, it’s always somebody’s birthday on a Sunday. I think birthdays are a ritual of renewal. I hope this rebirth will begin a new phase in my life as a planner. Happy First Environmental Planning Day I suppose. Cheers!
I traveled to Mindoro island to make a
map, and I got more than gps tracks and points when I came down from
the mountains. This was the story about my journey through the
forests of the Mts. Iglit-Baco National Park, to the Magcawang Ranger
Station, the Tamaraw Conservation Program amidst social, and
environmental challenges, and the Tamaraw Rangers who dedicate their
lives to protect them.
Names of field personnel in this
article were changed to protect their identity as they are under
constant threat by the same people that endager our fragile
environment. An international report has flagged the alarming number
of dead environmental activists, conservation rangers, and indigenous
rights advocates making the Philippines one of the deadliest places
for those working to protect our land, sea, and air from
unsustainable exploitation of its resources. Recently, an unarmed
park ranger on patrol in the mountains of Palawan, considered the
last frontier for biodiversity conservation; was brutally hacked to
death by illegal loggers after their chainsaws were confiscated.
Map 1: 3 day excursion
map from Ranger Station I to III at the Mts. Iglit-Baco National
Park, Calintaan, Occidental Mindoro, Philippines.
“Look! Down beside the fallen brown
tree. Do you see him?”, Tamaraw Ranger (TR) Team Leader quickly
pointed out the presence of a lone Tamaraw bull grazing the valley
they call Tamaraw Plaza. Sensing he was spotted. The Tamaraw stopped
what he was doing and looked up at us on the ridge. I didn’t even see
him not until TR Team Leader softly called my attention. TR Team
Leader pointed at him 75 meters down on our right while climbing up
the steep observation hill. Overlooking the plaza at this distance
the bovine was no bigger than a thumb. TR Team Leader has eyes
already attuned to the movement of the animal that he could spot
their presence from the movement of grass, identify their sex,
approximate their age, and even sometimes pinpoint individual animals
with peculiar personalities.
“How do you know it was a he?” I
curiously asked the veteran Tamaraw Ranger. “You could tell by the
movement of their tail. A female Tamaraw continuously waves it tail
to keep flies off, while a male one, keeps its tail tucked down, like
protecting his rear and other precious jewels.” Laughing off with a
quick burst of happiness, I shut my mouth and remained quiet as I saw
the shilouette of the Tamaraw’s V shaped horns. I could see the black
of his eyes. I wonder what goes through his Tamaraw mind. Questions
rummaged through unfiltered ideas, like what does he see? Does he
know he was in the presence of humans? What would he do if we were
hunters and not observers and protectors of his domain? What was he
thinking at that moment when he paused? Was it about food? The desire
for procreation? Or was he simply living in the present moment? The
fresh air must have cleared my polluted city brain to have
entertained these thoughts.
Image 1: Overlooking
Tamaraw Plaza near Magcawang Ranger Station III.
The valley was the perfect location for
Tamaraws to thrive, and evade humans with their herd. It was well
vegetated with thick grass sometimes twice as high as their own with
several spots for wallowing through charchoal grey mud. They get
their water fresh near a flowing stream. The treeline was rich with
variety where rangers have said the Tamaraw uses as cover from
hunters. The valley was enclosed by saddles and ridges that makes the
landscape below look like the bottom of a celadon bowl. This land
feature forms part of a protected habitat considered sacred by the
indgenous Tau-buid Mangyan. Outsiders are not allowed to tread on the
valley unless accompanied by or given free, and prior informed
consent by the Tau-buid Mangyan.
I started packing, unpacking, and
repacking my bag, and gear for a three day excursion to Mindoro
expecting rains, floods, and a light hike through grasslands. The
briefer recommended to pack essentials, and bring tents as an option
only because accommodations would be under bunk rooms with the
Tamaraw Rangers. Food will be prepared and shared with the rangers
too with what can be carried on the backs of porters. After double
checking my list of things to bring, I had to leave behind my mini
UAV camera since I wasn’t able to get the clearance to fly from the
local army detachment (there is still an active communist insurgency
in the island), and consent from the indigineous community. Even
without additional drone equipment, my pack weighed 20 kg which
included a tent, extra food, and 5 liters of water. Confident in my
ability to carry this burden would break me barely halfway through
the trail later.
Logistics coordination was coursed
through an outfitter that advocates sustainable explorations by
supporting conservation programs. My travel and mapping project was
almost cancelled due to the intermittent monsoon, and the approaching
tropical storm moving north-north-west from the Pacific. The
confirmation to proceed arrived a few days before my bus departure. I
booked in advanced an economy provincial bus route from Pasay City,
Metro Manila to San Jose, Occidental Mindoro. The itinerary from
Metro Manila to San Jose would take at least 9 hours which includes a
3-4 hour roll on-roll off ferry ride from the port of Batangas City
to the Abra De Ilog port. Pro tip: book bus tickets in advance using
an online/mobile platform to secure seats ahead of time, this allows
you to cut ahead of the long lines at the terminals. My destination
was the Mts. Iglit-Baco National Park together with the Tamaraw
Conservation Program of the Department of Environment and Natural
Resources. Important to remember, permits are required to enter the
park and must be applied at least two weeks in advance at the
Protected Area Management Unit/Office at San Jose, Occidental
Mindoro. Walk-ins are highly discouraged since the safety of
visitors, and the protection of the environment are of great concern
by the Tamaraw rangers.
Image 2: The trails
were as bad or worse than this for the next 20 km.
Mts. Iglit-Baco National Park in
Calintaan, Occidental Mindoro; Philippines was declared an ASEAN
Heritage Park back in 2003 to complement international effort to
preserving the park’s biodiversity. Native to the land of Mindoro,
the dwarf buffalo was the only endemic Philippine bovine and second
largest land animal next to the Carabao. We may not have the giants
or superstars of the animal kingdom popular to international wildlife
conservationist, but the Tamaraw deserves attention too. While its
closest cousin, the Carabao or water buffalo was a common sight in
the farming villages of the Philippines, and in South East Asia, the
number of Tamaraw left in the wild dwindled from the time it was
documented in the early 1900s at 10,000 to as few as 400 based from
the latest summer survey this year. Although the 1,000 ha Tamaraw
habitat was situated within 100,000 ha of expanded nationally
integrated protected areas, the Tamaraw has been categorized by the
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as critically
endangered facing extremely high risk of extinction due to animal
disease, persistent hunting as a food source for local inhabitants,
and in the destruction of their natural habitat cleared for upland
subsistence farming, settlement, and timber. Protecting both the
animal and its environment was entrusted to a team of 20-25 people
from the Tamaraw Conservation Program, aptly called Tamaraw Rangers.
Fun fact: The first mountaineering
group to succesfully summit Mt. Iglit, one of the primary mountains
of the Mts. Iglit-Baco National Park; was from the Far Eastern
University whose sports team mascot was the eponymously named FEU
Tamaraw. The adult Tamaraw or Mindoro Dwarf Buffalo (Bubalus
Mindorensis) was about 1 m in height from hoof to shoulder, and
nearly 3 m long from nose to tail. Although considered a dwarf
quadropod land animal, there was nothing small about a creature with
pointy V shaped horns weighing between 180-300 kilograms.
Image 3: The tree
where TR Swift and his supervisor climbed up is near where this
image was captured.
“Run! Run! What are you doing just
standing there?! Run! Fool!” Tamaraw Ranger Swift said,
expressively shouting as he recalls an encounter with an aggressive
Tamaraw on his rookie year as a ranger. The incident happened on the
grassy hills leading up to the Magcawang Ranger Station less than a
kilometer from Ranger Station II which serves as a halfway camp for
rangers, and visitors. The cogon grass that covers this landscape can
grow to as high as 2 m or more. TR Senior cautioned, “Look out for
fressh Tamaraw poop along the trail, and watch out for flattened
grass, those are signs that a Tamaraw might be near.” Sometimes
close encounters in the thick grass could spook a territorial male or
the protective female which leads to unprovoked aggression. This was
what happened to TR Swift while guiding his supervisor to a hike up
to the observation point located at the Magcawang Ranger Station.
When a Tamaraw was about to charge, he
turns his head 90 degrees to the side with the two tips of his horns
pointing at the intended target. Based on the combined knowledge and
experience of the rangers, they recommend doing the following when an
aggressive Tamaraw was about to introduce two holes to your body.
Drop down into a fetal position
protecting your head and neck with your hands, and arms. You risk
getting trampled on, but this was better than having been skewered
by the animal you are protecting.
Drop everything and run on either
side of the charging line. You will never know how fast you can run
until a 300 kg animal whose entire body can easily knock you out or
worse. This option requires you are in good cardiovascular health.
Most of the time, Tamaraw’s would
rather avoid any direct contact or confrontation with humans, their
only natural predator. Yet, surprised by the aggressive posture of a
Tamaraw over a small grass clearing, front hoof tapping up and down
with a challenging exhale of hot air, and its pointy head was aiming
for TR Swift and his supervisor; they had no choice but to run. Their
only source of refuge was a lone tree in the middle this grassy hill.
TR Swift ran so fast that he unintentionally left behind his
supervisor who was still wandering, and unaware of the imminent
threat. There up a leafy tree branch he shouted expletives to his
boss, to stop standing, and to start running toward him and climb the
tree. “I will never join you again” TR Swift’s boss remarked
jokingly and anxiously as he was catching his breath after running,
and climbing a tree on what would have been an uninteresting day in
the field. The duo were forced to stay in the tree almost half an
hour until they were sure that the Tamaraw was no longer in the area.
They never made it to the Magcawang Ranger Station that day. They
went back down to the previous station exhausted, and a story that
would make TR Swift infamous for being the fastest runner, tree
climber, and at shouting at his boss as a rookie & get away with
There are two trails from where people
follow from Ranger Station II, and there are two kinds of people who
follow each one. The summit chasers, the mountain climbers who reach
the peaks of Mts. Iglit turn left, while those who have conservation
purposes or would like to observe the Tamaraw turn right. I followed
The time was 0700 h. The bus finally
arrived at its final destination, San Jose central terminal. My body
was fighting between being awake, and being asleep at the same time.
I should have allowed one whole day to rest and recuperate before
making the trek on the same day I arrived. Barely rested, I found a
tri-cycle to take me to the main office of the Tamaraw Conservation
Program to meet the rangers, and the coordinator for this visit. The
Tamaraw Conservation Program (TCP) was founded in 1979 by Executive
Order No. 544 to address the need for conserving the remaining wild
Tamaraw population. The TCP also attempted to artificially repopulate
the Tamaraw through its on-site breeding facility which they called
the Tamaraw Gene Pool. It was unsuccesful. Out of the 20 wild
Tamaraws captured for the breeding program. Only 1 remains alive
today. Kali, “Kalikasan Bagong Sibol”, loosely translated into
english as “new hope for the environment” was born in captivity
in 1999. With the failure of the breeding program, the Gene Pool
facility will be converted to the Mindoro Biodiversity Conservation,
Research, and Education Center in the near future.
One more hour and thirty minutes to
reach the jump-off point to the Iglit-Baco National Park. “The
rains have not stopped, the river was high and furious, it would be
difficult.” Ma-yor said frankly. The advice came from Ma-yor, the
nickname given to the local chief from one of the ethnic group of
Mangyans that was waiting for us at the jump off point, also known as
Ranger Station I. It would be difficult he said, difficult not
impassable. True to his foreboding words, I consider this as one of
the most challenging treks I’ve done. After a quick lunch, and a
short history lesson about the TCP, the rangers acquired the services
of a couple of Mangyans to be porters. Their strength and edurance to
carry heavy loads nearly twice their size over difficult terrain
amazes. In the beginning, I didn’t ask for someone to assist with my
pack. I was expecting a gradual elevation gain over grassland.