Cover Image
close this bookPromoting Sustainable Human Development in Cities of the South: A Southeast Asian Perspective (UNRISD, 2000, 56 p.)
close this folderIV. Focus on Southeast Asia
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe Philippines
View the documentThailand
View the documentIndonesia

The Philippines

The Philippines is being urbanized rapidly - an estimated 60 per cent of the country's population lived in urban areas in the late 1990s.3 There are around 65 urban places classified as cities, with the greater Manila area (Metro Manila) containing almost a third of the total urban population in the early 1990s. However, the cities are not the major attraction for rural population and it is in fact the emergence of new urban areas out of erstwhile rural settlements (a rapid growth of towns exceeding 50,000 population) that is the most significant component of urbanization in the Philippines at the present time.

3 Unless otherwise noted, information in this section is derived from Samol (1998) and of the author's own experience.

As administrative centres, and generally possessing more dynamic economies, the urban areas have inevitably attracted a population seeking a way out of a declining rural economy. A significant proportion of urban development is informal in nature. In the early 1990s, almost 50 per cent of the country's population lived below the official poverty line and even in urban areas over 40 per cent were living in poverty (UNCHS, 1996).

This clearly means that much of the population has little or no resources to contribute towards any general improvement in urban conditions. Although the Philippines was not hit as badly as other countries in the region by the currency collapse of July 1997, the backwash of the regional depression, nevertheless, also affected it - with a general retrenchment of living standards and a significant return of the urban poor to the countryside.

The efficiency with which the urban areas are working and the quality of life for most of the population are clearly sub - optimal. Attempts to redress this situation inevitably become the main focus of attention with regard to the efforts of local authorities (referred to in the Philippines as "Local Government Units" - LGUs) and communities alike. Here is a list of what are generally deemed to be the most serious environmental problems faced by the inhabitants of towns and cities in the Philippines (DENR, 1997).

Municipal water supply systems serve only a portion of the population with the poor having to buy water from private vendors at inflated prices; virtually all water supplies are contaminated. Totally inadequate wastewater management leads almost everywhere to the gross pollution of urban waterways, groundwater and coastal areas. Only 40 per cent of urban solid waste is collected - the rest being informally burned (adding to local air pollution) or dumped. Flooding (due to both inadequate drainage and inadequate flood protection measures) is perennial particularly in areas occupied by the poor. Urban air pollution is chronic - most significantly from "jeepneys", which form the main means of transport for the poor.4 It is no coincidence then that in many urban areas respiratory ailments top the list of health problems.

4 Newly purchased, these ubiquitous public transport vehicles possess second-hand diesel engines imported from Japan where, beyond a certain number of running hours, their pollution standards are no longer legally accepted.

For the poor, however, a high priority issue is insecurity of tenure as a consequence of both confused land right laws and squatting. But above this is clearly the preoccupation with the exigencies of poverty: where the next meal is going to come from. In the context of these urgent preoccupations, it is difficult to generate any broader initiative towards participatory urban planning and management among a substantial proportion of the urban population.

Looking now in general at the issue of "sustainable human development", it must be emphasized that at the level of national policies and programmes the Philippines has displayed considerable concern (Meyrick, 1999). On the one hand, as discussed further below, policies, especially in the new framework of democratization, focus considerable attention on poverty alleviation. One of the most important initiatives of the central government is the Social Reform Agenda, formally adopted in 1996 by Executive Order. Within this, LGUs are directed to lead the implementation and monitoring of their local Social Reform Agenda in co-ordination with the basic sector organizations.

Concerning "sustainable development", it is notable that, even before UNCED, much attention was being paid to the subject. Already in 1989 the conceptual framework for the Philippines Strategy for Sustainable Development was approved and the principles of the strategy were formally integrated into the 1993 - 1998 Medium Term Philippine Development Plan. Following UNCED, the Philippines Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) was established. It was chaired by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), operated in close partnership with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and included a wide range of civil society stakeholder interests. Overseen by the PCSD and following wide consultation, a national Agenda 21 was published in 1997, followed by a government memorandum directing LGUs to incorporate the principles of the Philippines Agenda 21 into their Social Reform Agenda.

However, at the level of the Local Government Unit and local community, urgency of immediate exigencies, described above, has crowded out any strategic thinking about what might constitute sustainable, as opposed to unsustainable, solutions to local problems. The national and regional offices of the DENR have supported certain campaigns in co-operation with national NGOs - for instance regarding the rehabilitation of urban rivers and moving from a solid waste disposal regime to one of "zero waste" (reduction, reuse, recycling). However, the impact of national agencies has receded considerably in recent years with the implementation of the Local Government Code (LGC).

Following the collapse of the Marcos regime in 1986, a major concern was to disperse power from the centre to the localities and to provide political space for voices from within civil society. In the first instance this was enshrined in the new constitution, adopted in 1987, which stipulates a greatly augmented role for Local Government Units, and in which an important role is envisaged for NGOs and POs (people's organizations).

With regard to empowering LGUs, this was legislated for via the Local Government Code, enacted in 1992 and implemented from 1994. Of this law, running to almost 100 pages, it has been said that it is "...one of the most comprehensive and progressive decentralization policies in the developing world" (Samol, 1998:12). On the one hand, provincial governors, urban mayors and barangay captains (barangays are neighbourhood units) are elected and act in conjunction with elected councils at each level. Various other advisory councils also came into existence, the most important of which were the Local Development Councils (LDCs) and Barangay Development Councils (BDCs), which are intended to formulate local development plans with the participation of key local stakeholder groups. The LGC stipulates that at least a quarter of the total membership of these councils should comprise NGO and PO representatives.

The responsibilities of LGUs are greatly augmented and there has been a major reallocation of government personnel aimed at facilitating the carrying out of new functions. The budget allocated to LGUs has risen from 20 to 40 per cent of government revenues. In addition to providing LGUs with the remit and resources to organize local development - and with an emphasis on addressing the needs of the poor - further legislation has been passed (the Urban Development and Housing Act, 1992). This was followed by the repeal of the anti - squatting laws (1997), which directs LGUs to address more coherently one of the main problems of the poor - namely, access to land and security of tenure.

It would seem that, in terms of deciding on those components of development that are within the scope of local government, the basic structures are already in place with which, in principle, local forces can determine their own future. Thus within the limits of local decision making, they seem to be in a position to determine their own route to sustainable human development.

In part this presumes that local government will work actively in co-operation with the various organizations and interests of civil society. In fact, among the three countries surveyed here, the Philippines has the most active NGO community with a notable proportion of the urban population engaged in NGO and PO activity (Webster and Saeed, 1992). National and local urban development NGOs have been instrumental in facilitating some exemplary local projects and national campaigns particularly in the area of environmental improvements. On the other hand, most poor communities have formed POs, often with the support of NGOs and particularly of church organizations. In some urban areas these have come together to form alliances to provide a united front vis - vis government and the key local decision makers, who in practice are those who own or control the use of land.

However, across LGUs as a whole, recent experience is far from answering the call of the new constitution or the LGC for more participatory governance. Clearly the most important local institutions that would allow civil society interests to become involved in the determination of development priorities and the allocation of the municipal budget are LDCs and BDCs. Indications are that by 1998 relatively few LDCs had actually been formed and there were very few BDCs indeed. Even where these exist, the stipulation that at least 25 per cent of the membership should comprise NGOs and POs is not being honoured. An additional problem in some cases where it is being honoured is that NGOs and POs are having conflicts with one another in deciding who should be their representatives on the councils.

In general, there remain deep - seated suspicions between local authority personnel and NGOs/POs. In part this would seem to be a legacy of the past where NGOs were opposition organizations; they now find it difficult to make the transition to organizations prepared to co-operate with the authorities. For their part, local authorities find it difficult to see NGOs as constructive partners. Perhaps the main problem, however, lies in the continued functioning of patronage systems in many localities, where traditional powerful individuals and families still dominate the political scene - tantamount to authoritarianism continuing within localities. In these cases there is little chance of any interest either in power sharing or in more open government.

So local priorities and the allocation of the local budget are generally still determined internally. In practice, this has meant that additional budgets have gone predominantly to improvements in general municipal infrastructure (the first priority being roads) with a clear potential for kickbacks, which are of relatively little benefit to the poor. Implementation of the Land Development and Housing Act, which requires LGUs to inventory land ownership and find appropriate sites for low income settlements, has been only very reluctantly carried out and then under pressure from NGOs. The poor are still greatly reliant upon their own means and have yet to find avenues to put the necessary pressure on LGUs to use their newly acquired powers and resources to address their needs more directly.

Meanwhile, the concern at national level to work towards sustainable development has not percolated through to the local level where, as already noted, LGUs pursue conventional urban development priorities and projects and NGOs and POs attempt to swing municipal priorities in favour of the poor. There seem to be many reasons for this, including the fact that neither national government agencies concerned with local development, nor the local authority associations (leagues) were involved in the development of the national Agenda 21 and so feel no sense of ownership (Meyrick, 1999).

Nor is any assistance given by the PCSD and DENR to LGUs concerning how they should interpret and implement the Agenda. There is nothing by way of a national campaign around Agenda 21. Seen from the level of the LGUs, implementation of the LGC is enough by way of augmented responsibilities and no substantive link has been made between the LGC and Agenda 21 (or, indeed, the Social Reform Agenda - albeit more emphasis is being placed upon this for self - evident reasons).

The concept of Local Agenda 21 and similar approaches to participatory local planning and management that incorporate into the local planning process participation and partnership, transparency and accountability, equity and justice, a respect for the Earth's ecological limits and a concern for future generations has so far reached only a handful of LGUs. On the one hand, there seem to be problems with translating excellent policies at the national level into actions on the ground. On the other hand, there are clear difficulties at the local level to see much beyond immediate crises and contingencies, to envisage emerging problems of the future and to plan to avoid or ameliorate these.

While NEDA's regional plans do generally consider the use of natural resources and the environment within their areas of jurisdiction, often working in close collaboration with their colleagues in the regional DENR, the major problem lies in the lack of machinery to be able to control what happens on the ground. This would require a more proactive approach to local/regional economic development (rather than the present desire to encourage almost any inward investment for the jobs that it brings and then to apply lax environmental controls for fear that it will move elsewhere). It would also require LGUs, together with urban communities, to work much more closely with the regional NEDA and DENR offices to better understand the implications of sustainable development and to collaborate on the details of implementing relevant programmes and projects.