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Development snags at the LGU level

It’s good that the national government has keenly embarked on programs that would accelerate our country’s socioeconomic development. As contained in the Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022, among the government’s main goals are enhancing disaster risk reduction and management mechanisms and creating more resilient communities.

These goals have been translated by the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB) into guidelines to be followed by local government units (LGUs) in the formulation of their Comprehensive Land Use Plans (CLUPs) and related documents. These guidelines also implement the mandates of the Climate Change Act of 2009 and the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction Management Act of 2010, both of which provide for the mainstreaming of climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction into CLUPs as a response to the growing threats posed by global warming and other natural disasters.

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Identifying local hazard exposures and vulnerabilities and pertinent adaptive capacities can greatly reduce the yearly losses the country suffers from natural disasters, conservatively valued by the National Economic and Development Authority at P206 billion.

I have observed, however, that LGUs are having problems in formulating their CLUPs and accompanying documents such as the zoning ordinance, local development investment program and comprehensive development plan. A major snag is their inability to bring the climate and disaster risk assessment process into local plans, since many municipal planning and development coordinators (MPDCs) do not possess the necessary professional background.

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Indeed, the 261-odd pages of the HLURB disaster mainstreaming manual, with its minutiae of technical instructions, could prove daunting to many MPDCs even after attending workshops on the use of the manual. Even forcing them to pass the licensure examination for environmental planning as required by law does not help, considering their lack of in-depth academic preparation.

The more affluent LGUs resort to hiring the services of trained planners, or do it themselves if they have competent personnel. However, the feedback I get from my fieldwork is that, so far, only around one-third to one-half of the 1,634 LGUs in the country have either completed or are in the process of finishing their CLUPs. Compounding the problem is the lack of competent planners who can produce plans that will pass the scrutiny of approving bodies.

Thus, the poorer LGUs cannot really go into serious development undertakings as they lack the implementing instruments of the updated CLUP. Instead, they simply resort to using their annual investment program, which mainly deals with the usual yearly operations of the LGU and has no benefit from any in-depth study of the locality’s potentials and constraints. In the case of the town mayor, he merely resorts to a kind of governance that the planner Charles Lindbloom calls “disjointed incrementalism”—an approach characterized as simply “muddling through” or dealing with the problems as they come.

Amid its frenetic efforts to make the Philippines an upper-middle income country by 2022, how can the national government countenance the sluggish efforts of its poor communities? Doesn’t it go without saying that accelerated and inclusive national development is, to a great extent, the result of enhancing the development of the government’s constituent localities?

Thus, the challenge is for the government to lose no time in providing funding assistance to poor LGUs so they can update their old CLUPs and participate actively in the current development enterprise. Perhaps an executive order may be also issued urging LGUs to complete their CLUPs within a given time frame.

That the plan formulation process takes five to seven months stresses this urgent need for support. Also, the approving entities such as the Sangguniang Bayan and the Provincial Land Use Committee can ease the way for poor LGUs by refraining from needless nitpicking when they evaluate these localities’ CLUP.

The private sector must pitch in, too, in this planning endeavor. It’s never too late to adopt the Saemaul Undong (South Korea’s New Village Movement) mentality of both self-reliance and collaboration among community members.

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

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