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Commentary

Duterte’s space economics mindset

12:03 AM June 22, 2016

From President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s pronouncements and choices for the Cabinet, we can see paradigm shifts in the style of governance.

One of these major shifts has to do with his novel focus on space economics, which is both explicit and implicit in many of his plans and actions, namely: alternately holding office in the Davao and Manila economic centers; decongesting Metro Manila by relocating informal settlers to distant areas and banning the establishment of additional factories; allowing the people of Mindanao to profit more from the development of their resources, as in the case of disenfranchised Muslims and lumad; preventing unconscionable mining companies from ravaging Mindanao’s environment; and proposing a shift to federalism that will lessen the stifling influence of “Imperial Manila” on the whole economy.

And then there are his appointments: of Ernesto Pernia, one of the very few space economists in the country who advocates the development of secondary urban centers, as head of the National Economic and Development Authority; of Benjamin Diokno, who intends to shift more of government funds to depressed municipalities, as budget secretary; and of Rafael Mariano, who is expected to help develop the rural areas with effective implementation of the agrarian reform program, as agrarian reform secretary .

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All these indicate Duterte’s strong spatial or geographic orientation to development, which former presidents were not known to emphasize. This unique mindset particularly holds spatial bias for historically exploited Mindanao and the Visayas, for the lagging regions, provinces and towns, and for the rural areas. Of course, one of the major goals of his administration is the promotion of inclusive growth that would allow wealth to trickle down to the lower class. But even as he targets this social sector for poverty alleviation, he reinforces the attainment of the vision with spatial strategies that focus on identifying places where the poor are mostly located.

Past administrations have focused on Metro Manila’s development as perhaps a catalyst for national development, hoping willy-nilly that with time, development impulses will trickle down to the hinterlands of the Visayas and Mindanao. This has not occurred so far. The government tried to accelerate this spatial trickle-down process by developing ecozones in Calabarzon, but this is not really equitable spatial development as it only creates an expanding, monstrous Mega Manila. Soon, with the focus of development on the neighboring logistics hubs of Central Luzon and the opening of the North Rail line, the primacy of the metropolis will even be enhanced at the expense of other regions.

Based on the urban hierarchical setup of developed countries, the desirable distribution of cities should follow what urban and regional planners call Zipf’s rank-size rule—i.e., it should follow more or less gradually diminishing population size ratios of one, one-half, one-third, and so on, from the largest to the smallest city. For instance, Metro Cebu, the country’s second largest city with a current population of 2.8 million, should have a population of around 6.5 million, or one-half that of Metro Manila’s 13 million. For Metro Davao, its current population of 2.5 million should have been one-third that of Metro Manila, or 4.3 million. This prescribed demographic distribution and the dispersed locations of the other centers should lessen the undue dominance of Metro Manila.

The bias for Metro Manila and its environs is shown, for instance, in the 2015 regional allocation of the government’s expenditure program. The National Capital Region had P460 billion; Region IV-A (Calabarzon), P103 billion; Region III (Central Luzon), P105 billion; and Region VI (Western Visayas), P83 billion. The other allocations ranged from P32 billion for the Cordillera Administrative Region and P72 billion to Region V (Bicol).

This state of affairs constitutes a major rationale for shifting to federalism. So far, one financial aspect of the decentralization process started by the Local Government Code, where 40 percent of taxes collected goes back as the internal revenue allocations of local government units, is not enough. More taxes and other funds should go to the LGUs, and particularly the depressed ones, under an overhauled system of resource- and power-sharing.

I like Duterte’s plan of prohibiting the construction of more factories in Metro Manila as a way of decongesting the city and lessening air, water, noise and ground pollution in it. This is actually a reimplementation of Ferdinand Marcos’ Presidential Memo Circular of March 17, 1973, that bans the additional establishment of medium and heavy industries in Metro Manila within a radius of 50 kilometers from the Rizal Monument. Even if only this kind of restriction will be implemented, it will go a long way in enhancing environmental conditions and mitigating the diseconomies of scale that we are currently suffering in the metropolis.

For all the negative things and criticism hurled at Duterte, my take on these is that life is more often a zero-sum game: As he himself said, one cannot always have one’s cake and eat it, too. If we use the experiences of Singapore and the other tiger economies under strong leadership as models, then we should be prepared for certain trade-offs and to be roused from our comfort zones.

We should give Duterte a chance to demonstrate his innovative and deliberate style of effecting accelerated socioeconomic development with a strong complementary spatial dimension. Building upon the foundations laid down by President Aquino, Duterte’s approach could be our chance at achieving a truly equitable kind of development and the status of a newly industrializing country.

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Meliton B. Juanico is a retired professor of geography at the University of the Philippines Diliman. He is a licensed environmental planner and a professorial lecturer, and is active in consultancy work in urban and regional planning.

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TAGS: Cabinet, governance, Rodrigo Duterte
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