Many are worried that our concepts of resilience, city planning and urban regeneration are very male oriented and city futures worldviews patriarchal. So what would Philippine cities look like if they were designed by women? Will we have massive towers and bridges or will we have more sites or spaces and priorities that are child friendly, safe for mother and babies and gender sensitive? At a macro level, what would our streets, communities, priorities and neighborhood look like in a women imagined alternative city futures? What might be their preferences? What myth and narratives of resilience, planning and design could surface when the future of our cities are re-imagined and reconstructed by women? What elements of current planning should change? What are the influencers and drivers of a women driven city futures?

The Philippine Center for Foresight Education and Innovation Research (PhilForesight) of Northwestern University in collaboration with the World Futures Studies Federation and the UNSECO Participation Programme, Step Beyond Australia and the Center for Engaged Foresight held a two-day workshop entitled Transforming Philippine Cities: An Integrative Foresight Course for Women City Leaders, hosted by University of the Philippines (UNP) in Vigan City, Ilocos Norte, last June 26-27. 41 participants, mostly women, from local and national government agencies (LGUs, NEDA) as well as CSOs (Civil Service Organizations) and from the Academe attended the course. The futures course is one of the key events of the University of Northern Philippines 50th founding anniversary celebration.

The workshop on integrating strategic foresight and foresight thinking into women city leaders was co-facilitated by Dr. Mei Mei Song of Tamkang University in Taiwan, Janelle Marr, director of Step Beyond based in Australia, Cesar Villanueva of World Futures Studies Federation (WFSF), Shermon Cruz, Director of PhilForesight and Ariana Lutterman of the University of North Carolina.


Photo credit to Ms. Alyanna Andre. 2015.

Facilitators gave lectures and action learning workshops on various futures and strategic foresight tools to explore alternative and preferred Philippine city futures. This futures thinking and strategic foresight capacity building exercise was organized to introduce the emerging field of foresight and futures studies, generate new questions and concepts informed by women perspectives for city futures, public policy, strategic planning and governance. It is one of the five World Futures Studies Federation, a UNESCO and UN consultative partner, locally supported learning labs for the Global South. Futures studies and foresight courses were also held in Mexico, Haiti, Malaysia and Democratic Republic of Congo.

One of the participants exclaimed that “This is my first time to hear about futures studies and I have developed a deeper appreciation of the field and that it is good to know that there is also a different approach to city planning.” Various sectors expounded their commitment to integrate futures thinking into their respective fields, cities and organizations while also looking forward for further partnerships to advance futures literacy and foresight integration in city governance.

vigan city futures photo4vigan city futures photo1

Seeding, Seeing and Growing Alternative Gender Driven City Futures

This is what you get when you have 90% percent women participants in a city futures course. You get to have a lot of provocative ideas and fearless future imaginings, seeds and wildcards like: a compassionate food festival (current food fest promotes consumerism and current practice is really unsustainable – wiser to have a values, health, zero and pollution waste, future-generations, water and child friendly food fest and events); zero child labor futures (cities should continue investing on child education – introduce appreciative intelligence and creativities); challenge patriarchal culture, values and patterns (question worldviews that sees women as sexual objects); mainstream the views and voices of the voiceless – elders, the indigenous and the unborn; inclusion, rights and fair treatment should inform Filipino labor futures; increase people’s access to organic products; design a more nurturing and nourishing cities in more green and open spaces – TREES or FOREST as play areas; vibrant neighborhoods (garden neighborhoods as the heart of cities), car-less, civil society oriented, refined, soft and sensitive, more inclusive and more caring sustainable cities as well as telekinetic enabled robotic techs enhancing local creativities and farmers generating renewable wealth (food and water) and more!

vigan city futures photo2-1vigan city futures photo3Brief report written by Michael Barreiro and Shermon Cruz. Photo credits to Angel Hernando.

Reinventing democracy: any alternative?

(This is an excerpt of the paper that I presented at the 50th Philippine Political Science International Congress Xavier University-Ateneo De Cagayan last April 12-14, 2012).

Observers from the 1970s noted a bleak future for democracy and democratic governments. The pessimism about the future of democracy in those years were strong and the governability of democracy was questioned. The vulnerability of democratic government according to Samuel Huntington comes not primarily from external threats but rather from the internal dynamics of democracy in highly educated, mobilized and participant society. One consequence of a highly democratized and pluralized society according to Huntington was “democratic distemper” or the flooding of opportunities for special interests to bend government authority for special purposes. Huntington argued that democratic distemper or the lessening of governmental authority creates problems of financial solvency and affects the ability of government to deal effectively with these problems. He concluded that democracy is more of a threat to itself in the United States than it is in Europe or Japan where there still existence of traditional and aristocratic values. Huntington writes “democracy is only one way of constituting authority and it is not necessarily universally applicable. In many situations, the claims of expertise, seniority, experience and special talents may override the claims of democracy as a way of constituting authority.” John Adams perhaps had this in mind when he argued that “democracy never last long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

Today, democracy and the governability of democratic systems confront an unparalleled diversity of challenges in the 21st century. The Economist and Freedomhouse Democracy Index reported that 2011 was an exceptionally turbulent year for democracy. Political pundits confirmed this when they say that democracy is breaking down and may, perhaps, if not nurtured and protected expire in the next 100 years. The two reports concluded that there has been a continuing global backsliding in democracy and that the corrosion was toughened by the 2008 global financial crisis. The democratic recession to borrow the words of Larry Diamond implies a discontinuity in the decade-long global trend in democratization. Now, do these trends imply the death of traditional and conventional concepts democracy and democratic institutions? Or will these trends ignite its re-invention or transformation such that democracy is re-interpreted, become a culture-bound system with a lot of versions, multiplied and diversified. My guess is the death or corrosion of conventional democracy paradigms will lead to its re-invention or transformation. Of course, beyond democracy or after democracy scenarios are also possible. Jim Dator writes “everything that exists now at one time did not exist. Everything that exists now will not exist forever.” Hence, democracy was at one time did not exist and may or perhaps will not exist forever.

Using emerging issues analysis as a method, I was able to explore some alternative discourses that may disrupt the official future and the official definition of democracy. These ideas are largely ignored until they become mainstream and challenge current models of thinking. These weak signals and off the radar views are ridiculous, stupid, obscene and are statistically insignificant. Emerging issues are those with a low probability of occurring, but which, if they emerge will have a dramatic impact on society according to Jim Dator. The Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring are examples of an emerging issue undetected until it becomes problematic.

An emerging issue is the concept of compartmentalized democracy that suggests the creation of a fourth and even a fifth branch of government – the audit or the public exchequer department and the civil service department. Proponents argue that the three branches of government that was devised in the age of the enlightenment is now obsolete, outdated given its failure or inability to address bribery, corruption and nepotism in the three branches of government. A lot of researches found a direct link between high level corruption, democracy and democratic institutions especially in Third world countries like ours (the Philippines). The Economist Democracy Index Report of 2011 categorized Philippine democracy as a flawed type of democracy and was ranked at number 75 (comparable to South African countries). Corruption they argue threatens the stability and governability of democracy institutions and the conventional three branches of government is literally weak against the threats of corruption, bribery, etc. Uninhibited visionaries and social movements (like the PROUT movement) suggest the institution of a fourth branch and/or fifth branch of government. Taiwan has five branches of government with the Civil Service and Audit Department as the fourth and fifth branch of government co-equal and separate with the three branches of governments.

Another emerging idea is the concept of democratic minorities. The minorities of the tribe – a version, an idea pushed by the more advanced and wired emerging democratic countries like Finland, Denmark, Norway and other emergent systems, open system government advocates. Alternative versions of the democracy of the minorities are those proposed by ultra-progressives like Greens, the PROUT movement. The integration of processes and transformations like the minority via the majority test, the emergence of the qualified electorate, party-less democracy, selecto-electo democracy concepts may create abnormal changes to the official definition and democratic processes like majoritarianism, one-person one vote concept, political parties and elections. The concept of majoritiarianism they argue is an old, obsolete, a relic of the industrial era, of eighteenth century ways of decision-making, organizing and socialization. Majoritarianism, in a nutshell, a social invention of the past is no longer a useful design in the twenty first century they argued. It’s homogenizing effect and impact that tramples social and political diversity in the age of knowledge or information society is contested.

As far is Joichie Ito is concerned traditional forms of representative democracy cannot keep up with the scale, complexity and speed of issues today. The PROUT movement thinks that as long as the 51% are wallowing in destitution and poverty and them kept through intimidation, patronage and manipulated by self-serving dacoits, democracy is nothing but a system of demonocracy or foolocracy – a government of the fools, by the fools and for the fools. The emergence of a qualified electorate was seen as an alternative to address the flaws and contradictions of age as a basis of electoral franchise. Voting is not a natural right but a privilege right accorded by a constitution they argue. The ultra-progressives (neither left nor right but on the move and always moving forward) thinks that an economic democracy that guarantees basic necessities (food, clothing, shelter, education, medicine) of the fifty-one percent is essential to the success of democracies and democratic governments. Lee Kuan Yew, (Singapore is known today as a hybrid type of democracy and ranks lower than the Philippines in the Economist democracy index) thinks that “collective democracy” or non-representational democracy is more appropriate for developing nations. China is also aware of this and aspires for a soft landing to democracy as they move towards democratization. Today, Chinese scholars are experimenting with a concept they called the Chinese socialist minzhuahua or “socialist democracy with a Chinese characteristics.” Moreover, these views also critiqued, exposed the weaknesses of political parties and political party systems. The PROUT movement advocates like the President Manuel L. Quezon for party-less democracies and selecto-electional systems.

The concept of public representation is also challenged by worldviews promoting the values of the information society (not the industrial society). Emerging concepts include emergent democracies (cyberspace, pixels, digital, IT) and environmental democracies. It appears that these views challenged traditional notions of power and representations and aspired for smaller, more sustainable, less-corrupt, non-institutional and non-representational types of democracy. The web blog will be equivalent to a vote or representation and thus would not need interventions and election of representations by publics. These discourses or concepts may find its expression in the more advanced democracies like Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, New Zealand and Australia.

There are more emerging issue out there like Islamic democracy alternative in the pluralist-parliamentary democracies and the Indian democracy alternative that aspires for a more diversified and intensified, localized, culture-bound democracy and governmental systems.

The Philippines must aspire for a democracy (beyond the political and formal governments) that promotes collectivism and community values and one that advances economic democracy for long-term gains. Without a doubt, democracy as we know it now – one that put premium to individualism, majoritarianism and conventional institutionalisms are challenged at the local, global and cyber levels. The official or default meaning and expressions of democracy may have to leave and give way to newer forms and more appropriate types of democracies.