Background. A number of studies have shown how enhanced social capital can improve environmental outcomes through decreased transaction costs, increased knowledge and information flow, and improved monitoring and enforcement.

Objectives. Social capital plays an important role in reducing adversarial perceptions of initial site assessments of toxic hotspots. It also mobilizes stakeholders to work together to come up with a holistic and comprehensive site assessment. This paper explains the role of social capital in the conduct of the Blacksmith Institute's Global Inventory Project site assessment protocol in the Philippines.

Methods. The study describes and analyzes the role of social capital in the conduct of the initial site assessment based on the actual experiences and observations of the authors and a review of discourse that took place during regular meetings of the Blacksmith Institute's local investigative team.

Results. As of June 2011, 105 polluted sites have been identified in the Philippines. Information on the location and background of these sites came from a variety of sources, including government, environmental NGOs, academic institutions, community groups and industry associations. Seventy percent of used lead-acid battery recycling sites assessed were referred by the industry. More than 40% of artisanal and gold-mining sites were referred by regional government and local contacts.

Conclusions. Social capital has played an important role in the conduct of the Blacksmith Institute's initial site assessment protocol. Relationships and networks within the group and among different organizations build and expand the social capital of the team and facilitate the site assessment process by making it easier to coordinate with local authorities and gain better access to research, data and key persons. It also encourages local stakeholders to take ownership of assessment findings, sometimes leading to the mobilization of various community sectors in reviewing and planning interventions to address specific health and pollution issues.

Introduction

One of the many pressing issues faced by developing countries and their governments is toxic pollution from active and legacy industries, which affects millions of people around the world. Currently, an estimated 40 percent of worldwide deaths are due to environmental degradation.1 

Developing countries are particularly vulnerable to the effects of toxic pollution on human health due to insufficient technical and financial resources as well as a lack of regulation and enforcement; remediation is often considered secondary to more pressing government priorities such as education and primary health care.2 This lack of resources means it is crucial that clean-up efforts be focused and effective.

There is a growing interest in the impact social capital, often thought of as the network of relationships between groups and/or individuals and the benefits of mutual cooperation,3–5 can have on the work of environmental institutions. A number of studies have shown how enhanced social capital improves environmental outcomes through decreased transaction costs, increased knowledge and information flow, and improved monitoring and enforcement.6–9 

However, social capital can also have negative impacts on development and institutions.10 For instance, an organization could exclude members of the community that do not belong to its specific group, making cooperation more difficult. Thus, understanding the balance between various forms of social capital in each context is crucial in the development and success of any community program or project.

Background

The Global Inventory Project and the Initial Site Assessment (ISA)

Aside from high-profile cases where the existence of casualties are already well-documented, it is rare that developing countries have inventories of polluted sites to help classify risks to public health and prioritize sites for clean-up. Therefore, the Blacksmith Institute, a New York-based environmental not-for-profit, launched the Global Inventory Project (GIP) in 2009 to actively search for and assess toxic hotspots in developing countries.

An effort to assess the majority of polluted places around the world with a clear human health impact, the GIP is a partnership between Blacksmith Institute and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), with backing from the European Commission, Green Cross Switzerland and the Asian Development Bank.11 As of June 2011, over 2,100 sites have been identified with 1,350 field assessments conducted in 47 countries.12 

In order to add a location to a country's inventory, an investigating team conducts an initial site assessment (ISA), which is a simple and rapid risk-assessment protocol. The ISA identifies three primary factors: pollutant, pathway, and population. Trained investigators visit polluted sites and review key historical and technical information that is gathered from various sectors such as NGOs, technical agencies, industries, and government. Samples of soil, water or biota are taken if credible test results are unavailable and are sent to an accredited laboratory for analysis. There are about 100 data points that must be gathered for each site. The information is then uploaded to a secured website where each location is rated based on the Blacksmith Institute Index scale of 1 to 10 (The higher the index number, the higher the risk to health of the local community).

Abbreviations

Abbreviations
Abbreviations

There are currently 14 investigators in the Philippines, mainly faculty members and researchers from the University of the Philippines Los Baños. The team developed a list of potential local GIP sites based on available secondary data and referrals by partner organizations. The list was submitted to the national and regional offices of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for validation; these offices were also invited to add sites to the list. Governmental partners provided technical officers who accompanied investigators during initial site assessment visits. These officers were sources of secondary data and put investigators in contact with interview subjects regarding targeted sites. Blacksmith Institute also coordinated with other academic institutions, NGOs and industry associations potentially possessing information on a site or industry of concern.

In the Philippines, Blacksmith Institute organizes regular meetings with the investigative team to evaluate the areas to be visited and report on past site assessments. Workshops and mid-term assessments are conducted in order to evaluate and share with regulatory agencies and other partners the result of the GIP implementation. Technical discussions on key topics such as commonly seen sources of pollution (i.e. small scale gold mining and used lead-acid battery recycling), remediation technologies and health assessment protocols are also conducted in order to further guide the investigators in the ISA. Technical advisers and officers from Blacksmith Institute and outside health professionals serve as resource people.

There are several challenges faced by such investigators. First, site identification is often difficult, particularly in areas linked to shuttered industries where community members are unaware of the identity of responsible parties and the nature and extent of the pollution. Identification is also difficult in the case of the informal sector, which mostly operates inside homes or within closed yards. Second, access to technical data, particularly from regulatory agencies and industries, can be limited. Third, stakeholders may perceive NGOs such as Blacksmith Institute as adversaries, making cooperation less likely. Fourth, fear of being closed down after discovery leads to less-than-full disclosure by informal sectors. Finally, a lack of common venues where health and environment experts can come together and share knowledge inhibits flow of information.

Objectives

Social capital plays an important role in reducing adversarial perceptions of the ISA process. It also mobilizes stakeholders to work together to come up with a holistic and comprehensive site assessment. Thus, this paper undertakes to understand and explain the role of social capital in the conduct of the ISA under the Global Inventory Project (GIP) in the Philippines.

It specifically discusses the GIP implementation processes, particularly that of the initial site assessment and describes the role of social capital in facilitating the conduct of the initial site assessment.

Methods

This study describes and analyzes the role of social capital in the conduct of the initial site assessment in the Philippines, based on the actual experiences and observations of the authors and a review of discourse that took place during regular meetings of the investigative team formed by Blacksmith Institute.

For this study, social capital will refer to “the norms and networks that enable people to act collectively”.13 It facilitates “social coordination and cooperation for mutual benefits”.5 Due to the complexity of health and pollution issues, various organizations and networks need to work together to assess the problem and provide multi-pronged solutions. Thus, understanding the role of social capital in a project implementation should also be evaluated.

The study utilizes the synergistic view of social capital, a perspective that focuses on community networks and state-civil society relations that takes place when different sectors establish common forums through which they can identify and pursue common goals. It is in the opinion of the authors that natural resources management studies have overemphasized the bonding aspect of social capital, which deals narrowly with local relations without looking into the more multifaceted aspects of social capital.14 

According to Devine and Roberts (2003), social capital should be viewed as being composed of both structural and cognitive components.15 Structural components facilitate “mutually beneficial collective action through established roles and social networks supplemented by rules, procedures and precedents”,16 while cognitive components, which includes shared norms, values, attitudes and beliefs, “predisposes people towards mutually beneficial collective action”.17, 18 

Structural relations are classified into three types: bonding, bridging and linking.

Bonding social capital refers to the networks and relationships within an organization or group.19 The indicators of bonding social capital in this study are: a) the investigative team's experience of having previously worked together; b) the institutional values and work ethics shared by the team; and c) shared regional origins and the presence of relatives and acquaintances at assessment sites.

Bridging social capital, on the other hand, focuses on networks among different organizations or “the horizontal connections among similarly oriented but different groups”19 which tend to bring together people across diverse social divisions.20 The indicators used to mark bridging capital for this study include: a) the existence of venues where interaction with other organizations is possible; b) team members' affiliations with outside organizations; and c) partnership made by Blacksmith Institute with other groups on projects beyond the scope of the Global Inventory Project.

Linking social capital refers to vertical connections in formal hierarchy made between groups and institutions.21,22 Partnership with central and regional offices of regulatory agencies and other organizations served as the main indicator of this type of social capital.

Social capital's structural and cognitive components are inter-related and build on the connections between and within organizations. Specifically as it pertains to the site assessment process, social capital facilitates coordination with stakeholders, access to information about each site and industry concerned, and develops the sense of ownership of the results of the ISA among community stakeholders. Figure 1 shows the conceptual framework used in this study.

Figure 1

Conceptual Framework on the Role of Social Capital in the Conduct of the ISA

Figure 1

Conceptual Framework on the Role of Social Capital in the Conduct of the ISA

As of June 2011, there were 105 sites identified in the Philippines. Of these, 84 sites have been assessed, and 62 ISA reports approved. Nearly three million people are estimated to be at risk from pollution at these sites and this number is expected to rise as new sites continue to be investigated. Pollutants found include mercury, lead, cadmium, and cyanide, among many others as listed in Table 1.

Table 1

Primary Pollutant in the Philippines by Population at Risk

Source: Fuller, et al. 2011

Primary Pollutant in the Philippines by Population at Risk
Primary Pollutant in the Philippines by Population at Risk

Key sources identified are artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM), informal used lead-acid battery recycling facilities (ULABs), and rivers and bodies of water affected by industrial and mining activities. Figure 2 shows the GIP sites assessed in the Philippines by key pollutants.

Figure 2

GIP Sites in the Philippines by Key Pollutants (as of June 2011); Source: Amparo, JS et al., 2011 

Figure 2

GIP Sites in the Philippines by Key Pollutants (as of June 2011); Source: Amparo, JS et al., 2011 

The Role of Social Capital in the Conduct of the ISA

Structural Social Capital: Bonding

In 2008, Blacksmith Institute partnered with the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) to tap the institution's expertise for the “Clean the Marilao-Meycauayan-Obando River System” endeavor. Experts in the fields of chemical engineering, chemistry, microbiology, forestry, environmental science, human ecology, development management, community development and sociology were asked to help develop and implement a variety of projects, including baseline studies (e.g., mass balance for tannery and gold smelting operations), mapping surveys to determine the extent of heavy metal pollution in public places, and household questionnaires regarding perception of heavy metal pollution, heavy metal bio-accumulation in fishes and fish consumption patterns. This inter-disciplinary team, composed of university faculty members and researchers, helped Blacksmith Institute implement the project's multi-modal strategy. The same team members were then asked by Blacksmith Institute to serve as investigators for the Global Inventory Project. Working with the same team on more than one occasion, as seen in Table 2, facilitates more productive exchanges regarding GIP sites because members are already familiar with each other's technical specialization and Blacksmith Institute's organizational mission and work expectations.

Table 2

GIP Investigators' Involvement in Projects

*Clean the Meycauayan-Marilao-Obando River System Project.

GIP Investigators' Involvement in Projects
GIP Investigators' Involvement in Projects

Most of the senior investigators are also members of the UPLB Bioremediation Research Team, which was formed to enhance bioremediation research for the clean up of polluted sites in the country. Some of their research include phytoremediation of legacy mine sites in Marinduque, an island province in the heart of the Philippines, and the use of bacteria in tannery wastewater treatment.

This technical knowledge and real-world experience is useful in identifying and assessing GIP sites and the recommendation of specific interventions. The team also has access to earlier research and information useful for the preparation and conduct of the ISA. The formation of multidisciplinary teams is encouraged by the university in order to tap into and maximize the different expertise within the institution to address complex issues that requires multi-modal approaches. Thus, most university faculty and researchers are accustomed to working with experts from different fields.

As defined earlier, “bonding social capital refers to connections to people with some shared demographic characteristics such as family, relatives and kinship”.14 In GIP sites such as those in the ASGM mining sector, having relatives or colleagues in the area can help gain access to sites and information on specific outfits. Most of the mining sites are located in far-flung areas and not even regulatory agencies are aware of all existing locations. Under the mining policy of the Philippine government, artisanal and small-scale mining permits are issued by local authorities. Thus, they are often knowledgeable of specific locations of sites that are not on any regulator's lists. Also, miners are none too keen to share specific information—about the use of mercury, for example—if they do not know or trust the investigators for fear of being arrested or shut down. Therefore, it is one of the strategies of the GIP team to assign investigators who are either from the area, have personal contacts in the area, or are knowledgeable of the local dialect. Ability to converse in the local tongue provides access to information not readily shared with other outsiders. In Table 3, it is seen that more than 40% of the sites (9 out of 21 sites) were referred by local government officials and area contacts or colleagues.

Table 3

Organizations/Agencies Referring Sites to the Global Inventory Project

Organizations/Agencies Referring Sites to the Global Inventory Project
Organizations/Agencies Referring Sites to the Global Inventory Project

Structural Social Capital: Bridging

Bridging social capital is also important in the ISA process and occurs through partnerships among various stakeholders. This partnership provides the venue for collaboration among different agencies and facilitates the ISA process. The Philippine government also encourages public-private partnership in its programs, which provides occasion for different sectors to work together. The partnership between the environment department and Blacksmith Institute also facilitates ownership of the inventory that the government can use to prioritize its own remediation efforts.

One of the priority programs of the Philippine government is to address pollution of the country's bodies of waters. From 2001 to 2005, it has monitored more than 100 bodies of water, in which 27% of the surface water pollution were from industrial sources.23 Most (72%, or 16 out of 22) of the contaminated rivers and bodies of water assessed under the GIP were nominated by the government, both national and regional regulatory agencies (Table 3 ).

Blacksmith Institute's strategy of working with both the government and non-government sectors helps bridge connections between different groups. Strong evidence for this comes from the fact that industry associations, which could be viewed as being adversarial to the GIP, have assisted by recommending sites and providing initial information and contacts to help in the ISA. For instance, while regional regulatory agencies are able to refer investigators to registered ULAB recycling facilities, it is a challenge to locate informal used lead-acid battery recyclers. These cottage operations are usually located in backyards or other closed compounds. The industry association has been instrumental in locating these sites, nominating the majority (70%, Table 3 ) of the ULAB recycling sites assessed. Thus, the project was able to assess both formal and informal facilities that might pose significant health risks from lead pollution.

Some members of the investigative team are also part of professional organizations to which researchers and faculty members from other universities are affiliated. This gives them access to outside research and information that might otherwise be difficult to obtain. For example, a consortium of universities working with the government's Department of Science and Technology shared published data and research on a river polluted by industrial run-off. Because a GIP team member networked with the consortium, the information was able to be used for the Pasig River's ISA.

As mentioned earlier, providing a venue and policy environment where various stakeholders can work together builds social capital. According to Evans (1995 Evans (1997), social capital is also based on complementarity and embeddedness.24,25 Complementarity refers to “mutually supportive relations between public and private sectors and is exemplified by framework of rules and laws which protect rights to association.”25,26 In the Philippines, decentralization and devolution has encouraged societal actors such as NGOs, community-based organizations and industry to participate in both environmental and developmental planning and programs. Another form of multi-sector partnership is manifested in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources' requirement to form a multi-partite monitoring team. This is a “multi-sectoral team (MMT) covered for the primary purpose of monitoring compliance by the proponent with the Environmental Compliance Certificate, the Environmental Management Plan and applicable laws, rules and regulation”.26 In some assessments of coal ash dumpsites and toxic waste storage facilities, the mandated MMT includes the environmental agency, local government representatives, and members of NGOs and industry, and all are party to Blacksmith Institute's ISA visits and meetings.

Structural Social Capital: Linking

Blacksmith Institute has a history of working with the central and local government in the Philippines. Since 2005, Blacksmith Institute has been working with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, local government units, and the Department of Science and Technology, among others, in the formation of a stakeholder group to help create the Meycauayan-Marilao-Obando River System Water Quality Management Board under the nation's Clean Water Act. This earlier partnership served as the foundation on which the current GIP project was built. The institute has also forged formal partnerships with national regulatory agencies, which assist in the ISA process by providing secondary data, assigning technical officers to guide investigators, and helping make connections with local officials and community members. As shown in Table 4, government regulatory agencies have provided technical assistance during the actual conduct of the initial site assessments of 80% of the GIP sites in the Philippines (50 out of 62 GIP sites). Local government also assisted the Blacksmith Institute team during its ISA in 48 out of 62 sites. During actual ISAs, the team coordinates with regulatory agencies and local governments because this helps create a sense of ownership in the project and assessment results. There have been several occasions when local government representatives invited Blacksmith Institute to present the ISA results to the local council to give guidance in planning for interventions such as health assessments, regular site monitoring, and development of early warning systems.

Table 4

Agencies/Organizations that have Participated in Assessments

Agencies/Organizations that have Participated in Assessments
Agencies/Organizations that have Participated in Assessments

Blacksmith Institute has also been expanding its links to organizations outside of the government by participating and supporting various national forums such as the First National Bioremediation Conference (October 2010) and the Technical Working Group on Science and Technology Water Environment Road-mapping project. This has expanded the organization's network and increase access to data on potential GIP sites.

Cognitive Social Capital

Social capital also has a cognitive component, which is based on trust and respect.15 Credibility is a crucial ingredient in trust, which is an argument for partnering with higher education institutions like the University of the Philippines Los Baños. Aside from a perception of academics as being unbiased, major universities usually have scientific and technical knowledge and experience that facilitates partnerships with various sectors of society, including industry. Most of the senior investigators on the Blacksmith Institute team are experts in their fields and have worked on a number of research and remediation projects.

Frequent interaction with local officials and public organizations helps manage community expectations and allow investigators to explain that the GIP serves a complementary role to the government and community's mission of protecting human health from pollution. In the case of an ASGM site in a province north of Manila, the Philippine military provided the Blacksmith Institute's team with security and technical assistance. Initially, the military was primarily concerned with the physical safety of miners since the area is used as a shooting range. However, they realized through the site assessment process that the military needed to go beyond security risks and look at health risks posed by the unregulated practices of the miners in the area.

Transparency among partners strengthens trust between different sectors. Blacksmith Institute makes it a point to share pertinent information about the initial site assessment results with appropriate government agencies to help in prioritizing and planning for specific intervention in the area. This also facilitates the ownership of assessment results by local agencies and partners. In several instances, Blacksmith Institute was invited to community forums on ASGM issues to share initial results and help community stakeholders to develop strategies to address the health and pollution problem.

Conclusion

Social capital has played an important role in the conduct of the Blacksmith Institute's initial site assessment protocol, which is a first-take evaluation of the health risks of a polluted site to the neighboring community. Social capital is multi-dimensional as it has a structural as well as a cognitive component. Relationships and networks within the group and among different organizations build and expand the social capital of the team. It also facilitates the site assessment process by making it easier to coordinate with local authorities and gain better access to research, data and key persons. Social capital also encourages local stakeholders to take ownership of assessment findings, sometimes leading to the mobilization of various community sectors in reviewing and planning interventions to address specific health and pollution issues.

Environmental problems are not solely physical and technical but must be seen as political and social phenomena as well. Thus, social capital as a concept can be used to understand and shed light on the networks and relationships that facilitate project implementation in response to specific environmental concerns. This study shows that a network built on existing and available social capital continues to expand and build. It snowballs, adding more contacts, partners and alliances to help one achieve project goals. It also increases the respect and trust between and among the various actors as their collaborative engagements prove to be successful and beneficial to each member.

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Author notes

Financial Disclosure. None reported