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Who can buy or sell the sky?

Kim’s Dream Orlan Ravanera
“Ownership” of the rich means the “dispossession” of the poor

An 1848 speech attributed to Chief Seattle of the Suquamish tribe poetically expressed: “How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them? Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist of in the dark woods, every clearing and every humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people.”

Chief Seattle is now proven absolutely right when he and the natives of America, whom he then led some four centuries ago, questioned the economic system that was uprooting them from their native land and their culture as well. Indeed, the “ownership” of the rich white men in the US then was based on the “dispossession” of the Indigenous Peoples. It is also true based on the experience of the Indigenous Peoples in Mindanao. For a while they resisted but “might was right,” so it came to pass that by virtue of conquest, it was another culture that prevailed over the land. That gave way to the imposition of the colonizers’ economic system that provided titles to everything that could be owned or sold.

Today, that kind of economic system has gone berserk in pursuing the growth-at-all cost strategy even sacrificing mother nature to the altar of greed and profit. All because individual ownership gives one the absolute right of exploitation, even if devoid of any sense of morality as long as there is profit. This is Res Ipsa Loquitor (the thing speaks for itself) considering the global state of the environment.

Highly attached to Mother Earth, the Indigenous Peoples then of the North American Continent were puzzled why everything was the subject of commerce especially the land and all the natural wonders found in it. How can you own something that will outlast you. You can not own the land, the land will own you. Perhaps, even the sky will be sold if only such can be owned by the colonizers, so they thought.

In the Philippines, our Indigenous Peoples are also of the belief that land can be owned only when one is using it or working to make it productive otherwise it is owned communally. In fact, they believe that there are things which by their very nature should not be owned or be the subject of commerce because these are means to life and are therefore universal in nature. A good example is air. Just imagine one entrepreneur who is able to develop a technology that can capture all the air available, then, start selling it. Only those with money will survive, isn’t it?

This is also true to water and to electricity, without which we are all doomed. It was unimaginable in the past to sell our water as it is beyond comprehension now to sell air. But in a land where there is the propensity to subject everything to business, who knows?

Indeed, “our world is not for sale.” “Our water is not for sale.” “Our seeds and biodiversity are not for sale.” This should be our response to privatization under the insane ideology known as corporate globalization.” To quote the world-renowned environmentalist and a friend, Dr. Vandanna Shiva, “Corporate globalization is based on new enclosures of the commons, enclosures which implies exclusions and are based on violence, Instead of a culture of abundance, profit-driven globalization creates cultures of exclusion, dispossession and scarcity. In fact, globalization transformation of all beings and resources into commodities robs diverse species and people of their rightful share of ecological, cultural, economic, and political space. The ownership” of the rich is based on the “dispossession” of the poor – it is the common, public resources of the poor which are privatized, and the poor who are disowned economically, politically and culturally.”

If, at all, we have to own these essentials, i.e., land, forest, water, etc. it must follow the moral tenet that the users should be the owners. Our lumads had “owned” the forest for hundreds, if not, thousands of years, and have used them sustainably with high reverence to nature. But the 17 million hectares of dipterocarp forests which were the homes then of billions of flora and fauna are now gone, gone to loggers everyone who used their massive rakings to become powerful politicians. Then the neo-colonizers came, the TNCs in cohort with powers- that-be, illegally grabbing the lands of the Indigenous Peoples and transforming our choicest of lands into massive plantations, using toxic chemicals heavily that as if we are dumping to our watersheds some 2,000 dump trucks of poisons every day as seven out of eight chemicals are already banned in other countries. Are you still wondering why so many of newly-born babies are deformed or why many are now dying of cancer? Yes, our agricultural lands, when not owned by the communities, are subjected to tremendous amount of poisonous chemicals which have destroyed their natural fertility.

This is also true to electricity. The so-called electric cooperatives must reckon with the fact that the member-consumers are really the owners because of their monthly payment of two items: 1) amortization of loans and 2) reinvestment. These items when computed will reach tens of thousands of pesos per member-consumer, yet no patronage credits were issued to them.

It has become imperative for all of us to rectify social wrongs which are being inflicted upon the people. Following the principle of transparency and accountability, the people have the right to know. Why have we lost our ecological integrity which is now causing horrible environmental disasters? Who were those who have amassed so much from selling the bounty of the forests?

All told, we have to question the dominant development paradigm that subject everything, including those which are means to life, to the commerce of men or women and even to greed, moderate or otherwise, Just like the Indian Chief Seattle, we have to start asking questions, poetically or otherwise. So much social injustice looming that has put our humanity is disarray. For the cooperatives, it has become imperative to act on our mandate which is concretely and categorically stated in Chapter 15, Article 12 of the 1987 Constitution: “To promote the viability and growth of cooperatives as instruments of social justice, equity and economic development.”



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