dec. 28 — roots

The Philippines is in a “constant state of climate emergency,” activists say. Facing an average of 20 storms annually, Filipinos have assimilated super typhoons as part of their new normal, their increased frequency brought about by the human-induced climate crisis.

The thing is, I never bore the brunt of these effects firsthand. 

I grew up in a quiet village in San Pedro, Laguna, less than a kilometer from the boundary of Metro Manila. As small island communities struggled after storms to cope with losing loved ones or a roof over their heads, I lived in comfort, the downward slope of our street ensuring flood water rushed right past our home. When the pandemic hit, while extreme weather conditions prevented many Filipino students from making it to their online classes, they didn’t interfere with my transition to distance learning.

During the lockdown, I had the privilege of dedicating my free time to setting myself up for a profitable career in tech—building websites, interning at startups, and understanding online behavior as I pursued my degree in psychology. 

Among my first clients as a web designer was For the Future, which I connected with through a colleague at the startup I was working at. An NGO started by a group of young friends, they traveled around the archipelago to support and share the stories of indigenous peoples through art and photography. They garnered a huge following online by mobilizing youths through their donation drives, providing everything from solar lights to water filters for their partners affected by typhoons.

After teaming up with a friend to redesign their site and optimize their donation flow, I realized that organizations like For the Future were part of a broader ecosystem, which my partner called the Philippines’ distributed web of care. Many of these groups came together in response to disasters to amplify calls for aid, collaborate on rehabilitation projects, and exchange knowledge on sustainable and climate-adaptive practices. Soon, my friend and I were approached by more of these grassroots organizations for help in leveraging technology to drive on-the-ground change. 

I “fell into” my advocacy for planetary well-being with the convergence of multiple factors.

First, because I have no formal training in computer science, I learned by example about the role of technology through my clients. By working with nonprofits and NGOs, I became more attuned to design’s possibilities in uplifting the cultures and livelihoods of Filipinos—how including locals in the creative process allows them to be heard by the greater public, bringing online attention where it is needed most.

Through my work, I also became more conscious of the gravity of the climate crisis; one of our next clients was Lokal Lab, a grassroots organization working with and for the locals of Siargao, which was still recovering from the onslaught of 2021’s Typhoon “Odette”. More than idyllic destinations, I started seeing places like Siargao as homes, hubs of natural and intangible heritage that direly needed protection amidst the warming of global temperatures. The more I talked to my clients to learn about their work, the more I understood why they dedicated their waking hours to mitigating the effects of the climate crisis.

The second thread that brought me to this advocacy was a class I took at UP: Psych 108, or Sikolohiyang Pilipino. I learned about values indigenous to Filipino culture, such as kapwa, or the recognition of a shared inner self. This manifests in the spiritual beliefs of our pre-colonial ancestors, who had deep respect for anitu, or spirits and deities that lived all around them in trees, fields, and rivers. Thus, they held nature as sacred; to desecrate it meant inviting retribution from the spirits.

I then thought about technology today, and how often it is used to dominate nature rather than working in harmony with it.

I like to think of my creative practice as a return to our indigenous values—using tech to create regenerative futures, and shifting away from that which is extractive of our attention and natural resources. This is also reflected in the work of our clients, who tap into traditional, nature-based practices like permaculture and artisanal crafts to elevate local farming and tourism. 

As our tiny web studio continues to grow, I hope to engage with more NGOs and island communities to better understand how design can facilitate climate adaptation and cultivate disaster resilience.

Meeting my clients and their beneficiaries paved a path that allowed me to leave my Luzon-centric bubble, and to see the archipelago I want to spend my career protecting. To do so is to honor my identity as a Filipino and set the foundation for the flourishing of generations to come.

I draw inspiration from the words of author Randy Ribay:

“It strikes me that I cannot claim this country's serene coves and sun-soaked beaches without also claiming its poverty, its problems, its history. To say that any aspect is a part of me is to say that all of it is a part of me.”

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