Questioning the sustainability of polymer banknotes

Highlights of the manifestations of Senator Pia S. Cayetano
Inquiry on the use of polymer instead of abaca fiber for Philippine banknotes

Part 1

I would just like to go on a few issues on sustainability. I chair the Committee on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Innovation, and Futures Thinking. So, my interventions are precisely to ask the agencies if we are really looking at the entire picture of sustainability and the SDGs that we have, and if we are using the resources we have to balance those different interests.

So I note, listening carefully to the presentation, that it is the view of BSP, basing it on studies conducted by similar agencies in other countries, that the shift to polymer notes is a sustainable move, right? That is the overall theme that I received.

I’d just like to go into that a little bit. You mentioned that the shift to polymer is more sustainable because of the use of less water, the carbon footprint is smaller, and that you can then recycle it into chairs, tables, etc.

But my question is, polymers are not biodegradable, right? As opposed to abaca and cotton, which are the main ingredients for the current paper that we use. Offhand, polymer is not biodegradable. There are ways that you can recycle it, but it is not biodegradable.

So in that sense, it is not truly sustainable. There are different ways we define ‘sustainability.’ Of course, reusing is one way, in a better direction than not. But it is not biodegradable, as opposed to abaca and cotton, is that correct?

I was listening very intently because it boils down to these kinds of issues. There are a lot of things we can produce out of plastic,[but] one of the biggest issues is collection. So I am shifting just to have a general discussion on this.

For example, the use of PET bottles, other products that can supposedly be broken down and reused – the difficulty is in the collection. So in the case of bills, that problem will be eliminated because when [BSP] retires old bills, people will then surrender it to you. So in terms of collection, that’s not that big of a problem. And then you can proceed to repurpose it in the examples you gave. Is that correct?

That does simplify it compared to other plastic products that are in the market, and then we claim that we can reuse it. But collection is one issue that we have. I hope the Committee has invited environmentalists to discuss this.

I’ll emphasize that [polymer] is still not biodegradable. When we look at the sustainability picture, we always have to take different factors into concern. It may in fact use less water, may have a smaller carbon footprint, but it will not biodegrade. It will still be there and it is a product we created and will stay there forever, as opposed to abaca and cotton.

The other SDG that I would like to point out is SDG 8, which is Decent Work [and Economic Growth]. So I think you know where I am going here. Decent work requires that we support our industries and one of those is the abaca industry. So when we look again at the whole sustainability of this program, we also look at how it affects work.

So there is an impact on the abaca farmers. I noted how you expressed that there are other ways to help the farmers, that only a small percent [is involved]. I listen and am conscious of that. But the fact remains that there is an effect.

And maybe if I look at another SDG to present a complete picture is that abaca farmers and the products they make form an integral part of our history, and in a way, our culture. We have always been known to be abaca exporters. Interestingly, yung manila folder came from that history, I was pleasantly surprised to be educated on that. So abaca production is a big part of who we are. There have been decisions made in the past in other countries, wherein they preserve the use of a certain product despite [the availability of new] technology to move towards a different way of production, because the original way of producing symbolizes who we are as a people. So that’s another reason that should always be taken into consideration.

I am not trying to minimize the advantages that you have presented for polymer. I am simply trying to present the complete picture coming from the SDG committee, which I chair.

So decent work and economic growth is a part of it and it affects who we are as a people because abaca production has been with us for a long time.

I think I will mention SDG 11 because sustainable communities are part of who the abaca farmers belong to. We want them to continue to be a sustainable community. And when we take away a part of what they rely on for work, then that affects their sustainability as a farming community. And it may actually not be totally sustainable because you are shifting to a product, as I said, that is not biodegradable.

And then, I wanted to point out that SDG 3 on Good Health. As you mentioned, you got the green light from DOH. Is that correct? I note that and I appreciate the work you did there because I like the fact that you looked at the different aspects. So if that is in fact a positive thing, then we have to recognize that and I commend you for looking at that. But yun nga lang, yung sa communities natin and digging further into the definition of sustainability, I think that’s something you might want to also look at.

So those are basically the main points that I wanted to raise because it is very possible that these points may affect your decision.

Let me just talk about historical and cultural preservation. By law, we actually protect buildings or other structures that are 50 years of age or older. We give it the benefit of the doubt that they have cultural significance. I see the Deputy Governor nodding his head so you are familiar with that. It’s not set in stone, [the structure] has to be assessed by the experts. Pero parang ganun din. And I appreciate the presentation by my good friend, Tony Lambino, on the use of the Philippine Eagle and how other countries use designs that are ‘personal’ to them. So ganun din, the use of abaca as a fabric is also ‘personal’ to us. It is your job in the Central Bank. Thank you also for a very thorough presentation on the mandate that you have on this.

On the part of legislature, we also look into this in aid of legislation. So that is just my role. I am trying to find a balance here. I have often been in situations where I need to propose legislation that balances the interests of different groups and sometimes they are conflicting. There may be reasons that point to one decision versus another, but I am always happy to hear all the reasons that may help me make a better decision. So that’s really the reason we are sharing this with the BSP.

I think that is all for now. I’ll just finally read into the record and mention Sustainable Cities and Communities earlier. I just want to read that because I think that may be a pivotal factor in any decision we make in changing the use of abaca in our money:

Culture has a crucial role to play in SDG 11, in making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, reliant, and sustainable. Specifically, target 11.4 calls for strengthening efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage.

So I’ll build that into the argument also that there is a special role in the use of abaca for us. By the way, that is a quote from UNESCO. So yun lang, Mr Chairman, I will continue to monitor and learn from this. Thank you for calling this hearing, thank you rin sa BSP.

Part 2

As I mentioned when I asked questions earlier, I will be listening intently to all the presentations. And now that I have heard all, may I already place my request that BSP responds in writing to all those concerns? Because there were a lot of concerns raised that basically support the questions that I asked. I’d like point-by-point [responses] because when I dissected the issue on sustainability, narinig ko yung ibang side, there may not be complete truth to the conclusion by BSP that it [use of polymer] is in fact sustainable.

And when you speak of the health aspect, tama nga naman po ang pinoint out. There are studies that show…that you can’t really get COVID from touching surfaces. Of course, you should be mindful and always use sanitary practices. But by simply touching something, hindi ka magkaka-COVID that way. So if that is the main reason for the shift, because it’s safer, then we have to really study this.

And let me end by saying that I recognize the authority of BSP. Wala naman akong question doon. They are a very professional organization. They went through the process. Pero tayo naman po as senators, we also have our oversight power in aid of legislation, and that’s why we are having these inquiries. Yun lang naman, I just like a really thorough response to that, and I am hoping that I can hear from BSP that they are willing to really look at these issues again before we make that final decision, Mr. Chairman. That’s all. #

Towards a sustainable future

Speech of Senator Pia S. Cayetano
Chairperson, Senate Committee on Sustainable Development Goals, Innovation, and Futures Thinking

World Summit of the Committees of the Future
Helsinki, Finland

Thank you very much. Good morning to you. It is late afternoon in the Philippines now. I am very excited to be present virtually, although I would have preferred to have the opportunity to be there, except that the invitation comes at a time when the Philippines is in the middle of our budget debates. And it posed great difficulties for me to manage the budget committees that I chair here in the Philippines, so I have to be content to be present virtually.

My name is Pia Cayetano, I am a senator from the Philippines. And I am extremely pleased to join colleagues from all over the world in discussions on what parliaments are doing for futures thinking.

I had the opportunity to listen to the speakers before me and have already learned a great deal in just the last hour or two. So let me share about our work.

In my country, I personally pushed for the creation of the Senate Committee on SDGs, Innovation, and Futures Thinking in the previous Congress. So this started in 2019. I chaired that first Committee from 2019-2022 and I currently chair it in this Congress.

This was the very first time that the Senate of the Philippines had such a committee, which opened the discussions on the role of futures thinking and what it can do for legislation and policy-making

This actually was inspired from the practice in Finland on the Futures Committee, which I believe started way back in 1990.

So what we do in the Committee is..precisely to track where we are with our SDGs, prepare for various futures, and shift our mindset to futures thinking as a major policy reform.

What I do as the Chairman of this Committee is make interventions on almost any piece of legislation in the Senate, including the national budget, to prepare for various futures and shift to a futures-oriented mindset, through the use of strategic foresight and futures thinking tools.

So, I’d like to give now examples of our work.

Before the pandemic and during the pandemic, the committee held a series of hearings and invited futurists from all over the world to discuss the different futures of the Philippines beyond the pandemic, primarily on education, work and health.

On the national budget, I happen to be the Senior Vice Chair for the Committee on Finance and I handle the national budget for education and health sectors. I have been working on future-proofing these budgets and using strategic foresights.

In the course of my work on the budget, we have provided funding for Futures Offices in: Department of Education; Department of Health, and Department of Science and Technology. A Sub-Committee on SDGs under the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) was also created.

We provided funding for research on the futures of food systems and food security, in 4 State Universities and Colleges (SUCs). I felt that this was extremely important because it is these universities that will be providing us with the necessary research. We also provided funding for the futures of food production, and this was given to the DOST.

We also pushed to grant the Development Academy of the Philippines additional funds to support lifelong learning and capacity building in strategic foresight for government officials and employees. Again, this is very important because in our work in Congress, we need to also ensure that these policy directions that include futures thinking are happening on the ground.

So on hearings in aid of legislation, we filed a Senate Resolution in 2020 to investigate how COVID-19 affected various sectors and their action plans to adapt, innovate and prepare for all possibilities and outcomes post-pandemic.

We had our Senate hearing, and we actually invited Dr. Tuomo Kuosa and Saku-Juhani Koskinen, and we had the Futures Platform from Helsinki, Finland. They discussed their Foresight Radar, which charts how various trends and phenomena will be impacted by certain events. Among the tools were the futures triangle, which helped the Committee in its work in advancing futures thinking in policy-making.

On the futures of health, in our hearings, we ended up with conclusions that you would think are quite simple and common, but sometimes we go through this exercise just to emphasize what should already be obvious.

And these were for the delivery of health services, the focus would be on: primary health care; patient-centered care; increased use of technology (which includes artificial intelligence, use of simulations in medical schools); engagement with different communities; and prioritizing holistic health, wellness and prevention.

I’d like to go to another topic, on the futures of cities and transportation. Actually, before we even had the Committee on Futures Thinking, I had already filed over 10 years ago a bill on sustainable transportation, which emphasized more mass transportation and included mobile transportation.

So in the last Congress, which was 3 years ago, 2019-2022, I authored and sponsored the Safe Pathways Network Bill, and we actually passed this in the Senate but it did not pass in the House of Representatives. So in this Congress that started this year, I refiled the bill and upon further study, called it a name that was more easily understandable by the public, and it is now called the Walkable and Bikeable Communities Bill. This has also passed in the Senate.

This is very exciting for us because for those of you who have been to many Asian countries, not all, but Asian countries including mine, we have a very high population, there is still a heavy dependence on cars. Of course there are public transportation [systems], but these are not enough. So when you look into the future of transportation, you can clearly see the need for investments in public transportation, and also the recognition that with sustainable city models, many will travel very short distances, and therefore, the use of safe pathways networks and interconnected networks of streets and slow streets, people can be more mobile on their feet, on bikes, to allow them to travel very short distances.

Also filed by this representation are bills that support sustainable cities in the future, such as the Sustainable Cities and Communities Act. This is something that I hope to work on more in this Congress.

I’d like now to go to the futures of education. During the pandemic, one of the major outputs of our Committee was the Futures of Education Committee Report. I am happy to share this with anyone who is interested, as I am happy to also get samples of the bills that the colleagues who presented before me have mentioned in your presentations.

So our Futures of Education reported on how we can balance the use of technology in the delivery of education, but how we also need to strike that balance and not be reliant just on technology, because face-to-face interaction and the use of interpersonal skills must also be developed. I remember attending a conference, where the emphasis was on science and technology, and one of the speakers recognized that, and if I am not mistaken, the World Economic Forum, stated that it doesn’t mean that all jobs in the future will be on science and technology. We would also need students, young people, young adults, to reinvent themselves in the areas of creativity and communication.

So let me now go on into future challenges and opportunities. Personally, I have an interest in the futures of water. The growing global population has increased the demand for fresh drinking water. No less than UNESCO states that 80% of the world is exposed to water insecurity, with an impending water crisis to emerge in 2070. With water being vital to all forms of life, how do we meet the water requirements needed to support living organisms and their ecosystem? We will recall, in history, societies were built near water sources, rivers, oceans, and in a way, we go full circle because without this access to clean water, it will create problems for us.

I also like us to look into the future of food. According to the World Bank’s Food Commodity Price Index, food prices around the world have increased by 80%, compared to two years ago. So COVID-19 has exposed the vulnerability of our supply chain, this continues to be a problem for many countries.

So I already mentioned my interest in the future of cities. There are models in different parts of the world that we can use for our particular needs. And of course, I already mentioned the futures of health. These are all important, the future of education, and how we need to transform our education to meet the needs of the work demands.

So in conclusion, there is much to be done. I am extremely happy to be in the midst of like-minded parliamentarians and policymakers, with the view of using futures thinking tools and strategic foresight to really plot what we want for the future generation of our countries and of the world because we all live together. It is my goal that the future children, the young children, have a better home. We are guided by the principle of intergenerational fairness, where we put ourselves 20, 30, 50 years ahead and see if we are prepared for that future. Thank you very much. #

Attending virtually the World Summit of the Committees of the Future in Finland, Senator Pia Cayetano shared how the Senate panel which she chairs is integrating strategic foresight in government policies and legislation in the Philippines.

Pia files resolution to declare ‘SDGs decade of action’

Let’s make the 2020s a Decade of Action for Sustainability!

To affirm the country’s commitment to the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Senator Pia S. Cayetano has filed a resolution declaring the year 2020 as the start of the “SDGs Decade of Action.”

The senator filed Senate Resolution No. 308 on Wednesday (January 29), with the goal of ushering in a decade of collective, ambitious action to deliver the country’s sustainable targets by the year 2030.

“Five years since we adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we remain fully committed to integrate the SDGs into our national development plans and policies,” said Cayetano, who chairs the newly created Senate Committee on SDGs, Innovation, and Futures Thinking.

The panel is primarily tasked to monitor and guide government efforts towards attaining the 17 interconnected Global Goals through strategic thinking, multi-disciplinary, and multi-sectoral approach.

“While progress has been achieved in some areas through the efforts of both the government and the private sector, the country still has a long way to go in achieving the SDGs by 2030, given the current issues arising in health, education, agriculture, environment, equality, peace and justice, among others,” Cayetano’s resolution read.

It added that this signals the need to “accelerate sustainable, ambitious and multi-sectoral solutions” towards achieving all the 17 goals by 2030.

“This resolution declaring the 2020s our Decade of Action, along with the collective efforts we have been making and are yet to make towards sustainability, honors the global compact we made five years ago,” Cayetano stressed.

“Our ultimate goal is to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all, where nobody is left behind,” she added. #

Our ultimate goal is to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.


Pia welcomes new panel on Sustainable Dev’t Goals

Senator Pia S. Cayetano welcomed the formation of a new standing committee that would oversee the country’s progress in achieving its commitments to the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the year 2030. 

The Senate on Tuesday (September 3) adopted Philippine Senate Resolution (PSR) 122 creating the Committee on SDGs, Innovations, and Futures Thinking, while merging two other panels in line with the objective of streamlining the number of standing committees of the Senate.

The resolution was sponsored by Senate Majority Floor Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri and adopted unanimously by the senators.

Cayetano said the formation of the new panel would help ensure that the Institution shall be “cognizant and conscious” of the 17 SDGs agreed upon by member-countries of the UN, including the Philippines. The SDGs seek to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. 

“It would be the responsibility of the Committee to at least make sure that the body knows that there are such goals that need to be achieved by way of prioritizing,” the senator stressed.

“I believe that the biggest contribution of the [SDGs] Committee would be on [tackling] overlapping goals… Many times, a committee is left within the confines of a bill pending before it… That’s why the SDGs Committee is secondarily referred to ensure that we take a bigger picture,” she added. 

Furthermore, Cayetano pointed out that the new committee would oblige the Senate to allot the needed time and resources in addressing issues that can generally affect the next generation of Filipinos. Thus, the term “Futures Thinking.” 

“That is something that we tend to neglect precisely because by human nature and survival, we tend to focus on the problems on hand. The objective here is to be planning for the future, to think out of the box,” she noted. 

Aside from creating the new committee, PSR 122 merged several standing committees of the Senate, namely: the Committee on Agriculture and Food with the Committee on Agrarian Reform; the Committee on National Defense and Security with the Committee on Peace, Unification, and Reconciliation; and the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources with the Committee on Climate Change.

The reorganization reduced the number of standing committees of the Senate from 41 to 39, which Zubiri said had been the chamber’s average number of committees in the last four Congresses. #

Senator Pia Cayetano, Senate Majority Floor Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, and Senate Minority Floor Leader Franklin Drilon (foreground) discuss the rationale for the creation of the Senate Committee on Sustainable Development Goals, Innovations, and Futures Thinking during Tuesday’s session. (Sept.3)