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Commentary

Urgent advice for Ma’am Leni

12:08 AM July 19, 2016

IT’S GOOD that we now know who is in charge of managing the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), and that this is in the person of Vice President Leni Robredo.  Her job, based on news accounts, is to attend to housing concerns. But I would like to say that her mandate is to focus, not only on housing problems, but also on the more holistic dimension of urban development.  This is explicit in the name of the government body that she now heads, and this is stressed by the fact that the two most important agencies under its supervision are the National Housing Authority and the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB).

The HLURB, in particular, is tasked to provide town planning assistance and to promulgate standards and rules for land use planning, zoning and land development. Working in coordination with it, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, and the National Economic and Development Authority, as agencies closely involved in town planning, Robredo should also focus on evaluating the status of the comprehensive land use or town plans of local government units (LGUs)—i.e., how updated they are and, most importantly, how much of their proposed programs and projects have been implemented.

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I have observed that many fourth- to sixth-class municipalities have plans that date back to the 1970s, when President Ferdinand Marcos forced them to produce such plans. These plans have not been updated, either because of lack of funds or the unavailability of able planning personnel. But what dismays planners is to see well-off towns and cities fund costly plan-formulation projects, only to find out later that these completed plans are merely gathering dust in the office of the mayor.

It must be emphasized that shelter is just a component of the town plan—in fact, only a part of the social development plan. There are also other sectoral plans—such as those involving the economy, infrastructure, environment, public finance and administration, and land use—that have to be considered if meaningful change is to be effected at the grassroots.

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Using her high position, Robredo can provide substantial help to the Duterte administration in achieving its goals if she will also focus on the updating and implementation of town plans. Imagine, for instance, if she inspires and rallies the country’s 1,489 town mayors to increase, via the investment program of their plans, productivity levels in their localities, or increase the multiplier effects of investments plowed into these. It can propel our economic growth rate even beyond the 6.9-percent GDP growth registered in the first quarter of 2016!

As has been said, the devil is in the details. It is at the local level where the dynamics of socioeconomic development are played out. The nitty-gritty of development lies at the LGU level, as President Duterte himself must have realized when he was mayor of Davao City. And if Robredo further focuses development efforts on the poorer municipalities, this can help greatly in achieving the goal of inclusive growth for the country.

As there are only six years for the Duterte administration to show tangible results, Robredo should now work with a sense of urgency to enjoin mayors to update their plans (if old) and to implement these posthaste, considering that they only have a three-year term. An executive order from Malacañang to this effect would definitely further empower Robredo.

My suggestion for accelerated town-plan preparation is to employ the reduced planning approach developed by Avrom Bendavid-Val. This is a less expensive but fast plan-formulation process because it focuses only on the town’s essential potentials and problems and may use the rapid rural appraisal tool that gathers a lesser amount of data. To those who say that the approach’s situational analysis is not exhaustive, I’d like to point out that this is much better than the planning approach often practiced by most mayors today, which is characterized by the application of the nonrational version of Charles Lindblom’s disjointed incrementalism, or the “muddling through” planning approach. We see this in the governance style of most mayors, when they deal with problems on an ad hoc basis—i.e., as these arise over time—without adhering to any plan at all.

The problem with town-plan formulation here is that elaborate and costly plans are made, but are hardly implemented. And the steps in the approval of town plans could be discouraging to local planning personnel, as when, for example, the Provincial Land Use Committee demands unnecessary revisions in the plan before sending it to the Provincial Development Council for approval. Once, when I was in Korea, a local friend made the same observations on the Philippines. He said that in Korea, they tend not to make elaborate plans; what is more important to them, he said, is making a doable plan, quickly implementing it, and refining it along the way.

A common expression in Korea is “Palli-palli!” (Hurry, hurry!). Indeed, it says a lot about Koreans’ values compared to ours.

The Vice President should know the importance of result-oriented town planning and implementation. She witnessed firsthand how her husband, Jesse Robredo, transformed sleepy Naga City into the premier urban center in the Bicol region that it is today. Her mission, aside from shelter provision, should be how to replicate the development experiences of Naga and Davao nationwide. This could be a tall order, but the effort should earn for her the eternal gratitude of all Filipinos.

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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: Commentary, housing, Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, HUDCC, leni robredo, opinion, Robredo
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