Why development and change in El Nido can be a good thing

I find it curious whenever tourists staying in El Nido Town say “Ang saya naman ng buhay dito. Sana ganito nalang lagi. Sana hindi magbago”. (“Life is so good here. I hope it’ll always be like this. I hope it doesn’t change.”) Pardon my cynicism but tourists have a romanticized view of what it means to live in a small town like El Nido. While El Nido’s slower and idyllic lifestyle makes it conducive to tourists who stay for three, five, or maybe even 15 days, that same idyllic lifestyle remains a barrier to vital services for daily living, like 24-hour electricity, a sewage system, and a hospital.

El Nido is classified as a first-class municipality because of its tax collection, but it’s a first-class municipality where electricity only runs from 2pm to 6am the next day. This means that the elementary and high school students attending public schools sit in classrooms with no electric fans. The windows are opened to let the sunshine in. Municipal hall has its own generator so they can have electricity during business hours. The rationale for the limited electricity? There aren’t enough paying customers for the electric company to justify running their generators full-time. Not enough customers means they lose money.

The road going out of El Nido and on to Taytay barely qualifies for the name. The “road” is just hard-packed earth with potholes, gravel, and dust the whole way to Taytay. During the rainy season, the bus you’re riding in is likely to get stuck in the mud. The road only gets better from Taytay onward to Puerto Princesa, Palawan’s capital. The reason for not spending the millions necessary for a good road? Again, not enough people using it.

El Nido is a first-class municipality with no hospital. The nearest hospital is in Taytay, two hours away by land. The best hospital in Palawan is in Puerto Princesa. If you want to give birth in a good hospital, you have to make the 5-6 hour land trip to Puerto Princesa. The Rural Health Unit as one doctor and a health center for over 30,000 residents.

El Nido has no centralized sewage system. Each household gets its water either from a deep-well or from a nearby stream or river. Sewage is either stored in underground septic tanks or discharged directly into the soil. Fifteen percent of the municipality’s total population lives in the poblacion (AKA El Nido Town), which leads me to wonder just how much fecal coliform is in the seawater directly fronting the poblacion.

The point of all this is that development and change are not inherently evil. I repeat, NOT EVIL. Development is not a bad thing. Development only becomes evil when it’s uncontrolled and the ones doing the developing don’t give a shit about the environment and the local community. Case in point: the dredging and pier extension in El Nido Town to accommodate the huge RoRo (roll on, roll off) barges. The barges would supposedly bring in more tourists but according to scientists from the University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute, the dredging and pier extension will change the water circulation and sand deposition pattern in the embayment. You’d lose the sand on one side of the beach and still have to re-dredge the barge lane every 10 years.

But development has its upsides too. The influx of tourism resulted in increased income for the municipality. Not changing El Nido at all means limiting the opportunities of the people who live here. It’s in the delicate balance of development and preservation where success ultimately lies. I hope to be able to see it in the years to come.

Why women in science end up single

This blog post is a response to this article on successful women scientists. Among those interviewed is Dr. Luli Cruz from the University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute (MSI represent!). Part of her interview:

Lourdes Cruz says that motherhood is one of the main reasons for the lack of female academicians in the country and elsewhere. Many women in the Philippines get first degrees — for example, 60 per cent of chemistry graduates are women — but few stay on to pursue careers in science.

“Women have greater opportunities here than in most Asian countries, but only 30 per cent of awardees [recipients of prestigious awards] are women,” says Cruz. “Sometimes you have to choose between career and family.” Cruz says this is one of the reasons she chose to remain single.

I’m estimating that the female senior faculty members of MSI are about 50/50 on the single versus married front. What I really want to know is out of the ones who are married, how many got married before getting their PhD versus those who married after getting the PhD. Why is this relevant?

Getting a PhD takes 6-7 years (maybe even longer) on top of the bachelor’s (and possibly a master’s) degree. You’d have to be very talented and determined to finish before you’re 30 years old. As Philippine society considers an unmarried 30-year-old female to be borderline “old maid”, with her chances of getting married decreasing exponentially with every year past 30, the “window of opportunity” for females to meet someone, start a relationship, and get married is between the ages of 21 and 29. For the women of Philippine science, this coincides with grad school – the years of your life where you’re too busy to do anything else.

Based on the people I know, female scientists who marry or otherwise have significant others either 1) met the guy during undergrad and they kept the relationship alive and healthy throughout grad school, or 2) met and dated a co-grad student (may or may not be in the same program). I’m not saying it’s impossible for a girl in grad school to nurture a relationship with someone who’s not in grad school. It’s just that people in the same boat as you tend to be more understanding when you say you can’t go out tonight because you have to finish looking at 2,000 more photographs from your transect. I give mad props to the people who stick with their grad students (whether male or female) through these tension-filled years. Remember: this is only the beginning! There’s also the tension to be had during grant-writing, manuscript-writing, and waiting for that tenure appointment 😛

I’m very happy to note that the “30-year-old finish line” is loosening its grip somewhat. Not that there’s anything wrong with wanting to get married and have your first baby before 30, but there shouldn’t be anything wrong with wanting to delay marriage for a few years in favor of a career either.

To the potential graduate students out there

Every semester, the Marine Science Institute asks one of the students who graduated the semester before (preferably a PhD but usually a Masters) to give a speech during the orientation for the new graduate students. The speech is usually inspirational, full of “I had an awesome time and you will too!” anecdotes and “Grad school is hard but you’ll pull through if you do A, B, and C!” tips. Seeing as I won’t be graduating anytime soon and that I highly doubt they’d ever get me to give the speech once I did graduate, I’d like to take this opportunity to share something I’ve been composing in my head for the past month.

The non-academic, non-scientific things I learned in graduate school:

1. Don’t go into grad school for the wrong reasons. The wrong reasons include (but are not limited to):

  • You’re bored with your job.
  • You hate your job.
  • You don’t know what to do with your life.

Speaking as a science major, the only reason to go into grad school is if you want to do research for the rest of your life. The purpose of grad school is to teach you how to do independent research. If research will not be your life’s work, then there’s no reason  for you to spend years of your life  (2-4 years for a Master’s degree, 4- 8 years for a PhD) of your life learning how to do it. If you’re bored with or hate your job, then either get a new one or set up challenges for yourself within the framework of the job you have now. If you don’t know what to do with your life, then get a mentor who can guide you. Going into grad school without a clear goal in mind will just make you even more miserable.

2. Once you’ve made up your mind to go to grad school, do your research (pun intended).

There are lots of different graduate courses in lots of different schools. Do the work and find the course that will satisfy you both intellectually and emotionally and will help you get to where you want to be in life.

3. Once you’re in grad school, surround yourself with people who will support you.

This isn’t anything earth-shattering but it needed to be said. Grad school can and will be hellish at times. You’ll doubt yourself, your capabilities, and your purpose. You’ll feel lost. Dismayed. Inept even. It’s necessary to have someone believe in you during the times you don’t believe in yourself.

4. Don’t be afraid to take a break.

The world nor your life will end if you graduate a little behind schedule (unless you’re on a time-sensitive scholarship with lots of strings…). Take a break. Re-assess. Your physical and emotional well-being are worth the extra semester or two.

The Boats of El Nido

El Nido is the land of outrigger boats. How else are you supposed to get around the different islands? Owning your own outrigger boat is a sign of prosperity, as they aren’t exactly cheap. Mr. Ellis Lim, the richest man in town, made his fortune in boat rentals. After all, as long as you take care of the engine and the boat doesn’t capsize, an outrigger boat can last for more than 20 years. I’ve also found boats to be the ultimate topic of conversation. At a loss of what to say? Ask a proud boat owner about their “baby” and they’ll happily spend 20 minutes talking about their baby’s recent paint job, oil change, engine overhaul, and the myriad other details that go into outrigger boat maintenance.


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