Policy, politics and planning



WHAT is an environmental planner? There is a common notion that environmental planners are mainly concerned with the preservation of the environment and natural resources. In reality, the profession is also integral to urban, town and regional planning.

The profession of environmental planner is the official recognition given by the Professional Regulation Commission to urban, town and regional planners in the Philippines. It is duly recognized as such because planning requires an entire ecological understanding, from economics, social behavior, transportation, political institutions, to the natural environment to be able to plan complete and sustainable places for people.

Imagine if a city is planned purely for industrial use or absolute consumption with little regard to the environment and quality of life. It will not be a city for people.

Urban, town and regional planning is often defined as the art and science of place-making and human settlements. For me, planning is balance. It is a balance among social equity, the natural environment, economic development, culture and identity, and spirituality. Urban, town, and regional planning is focused on the holistic development of the person in relation to his surroundings. It also takes into account the idea that we only borrow the environment from future generations.

Environmental planners collaborate with different professions that constitute the special needs and aspects of the community, town, city, province, or region in the plan. Environmental planners put together a sustainable human settlement, which takes into account crucial sectoral areas such as food production, potability of water, infrastructure, health, education, police and protection, economic growth, among many other sectors, and is then translated into land use and zoning ordinance, and physical and spatial urban design.

It is also important to note that environmental planners do not plan cities alone. They are initiators and collaborators. Currently, there are around 1,500 active environmental planners in the Philippines. A good question to ask is: if the environmental planners are the ones professionally tasked to plan the country’s 1,490 municipalities and 42,028 barangays, and there is a low planner-to-municipality ratio, who then is planning our municipalities and cities?

25thPIEP national convention
Hundreds of environmental planners and urban stakeholders convened last November 8 to 10 at the Dusit Thani Hotel for the 25th National Convention of the Philippine Institute of Environmental Planners (PIEP).With the conference theme “Politics, Policy and Planning,” the topics covered pressing issues in urban policy and practice as well as planning from both national and local governance perspectives. It also explored development opportunities and innovations from urban stakeholders.

A former chair of the Senate committee on housing, land use, and urban planning, former senator Joey Lina gave an overview of the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992, or “Lina Law”. This law, enacted 24 years ago, stresses each citizen’s basic right to housing and serves as a guidepost for establishing socialized housing. Senator JV Ejercito, who now chairs the committee, highlighted during the convention the trend towards medium-rise socialized housing within cities.

Capacity-building for local governments on urban and town planning was also tackled during the convention. This includes educating and training local government officials on concepts, principles, and practice of environmental planning, among others. Other speakers included John Avila of USAID, Raymond Rufino of Urban Land Institute, Mayor Jason Gonzales of Lambunao, Alex Brillantes, EnP. Dinky von Eisendel, Commissioner Linda Hornilla of the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board, Undersecretary Annie Lontoc of the Department of Transportation, Dr. Nicole Curato, Avelino Tolentino III of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, Col. CelestinoDesamito, Jr. (Most Outstanding Environmental Planner of 2016), and Vincent Lazatin of the Transparency and Accountability Network.

Metro Manila: Lessons learned, global practices, and revolutionary ideas

I also shared lessons learned, global best practices, and revolutionary ideas that will help bring Metro Manila well into the 21st century. As one of the fastest growing cities in the world, Metro Manila can be an urban laboratory for “how not to do” planning.

Housing in the cities of Makati and Quezon has become too expensive for its laborers, pushing them to live as far as Laguna, Rizal, and Bulacan. During peak hours in the morning and the evening, EDSA and C-5 are at a standstill because of unbearable traffic congestion and over-capacity in traffic density. A 10-kilometer ride becomes a two- to three-hour journey. Commuters are robbed of six hours of family time a day because of unbearable systemic traffic congestion. The quality of education and health care in Imperial Manila are mostly not of comparable standards to other regions, with a few exceptions.

One of the fastest ways to develop new growth centers is by establishing more special economic zones and tourism zones in nearby cities of Metro Manila. This will greatly encourage more investments outside Metro Manila, as lesser taxes will be charged.

There is also a need to redesign the streets and urban transport corridors of Metro Manila to accommodate more masstransit and public transport, as most citizens use these. Also, there are several best practices elsewhere in the world showing that making the streets walkable and bikeable does not only promote health, but actually lessens traffic congestion and increases land values.

Ultimately, good plans and designs need good policies and good governance to turn them into reality in our communities and cities. Experts, leaders and stakeholders should be able to work together towards giving every Filipino an opportunity to live in inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable communities.


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  1. Want to see environmental planning in reverse, go to the Q.C. Balara forest reserve and watch nature being destroyed, by Ayala’s mall building spree, squatter encroachment and expansion of the exclusive subdivision of Loyola Grand Villas at the Q.C.- Marikina boundary.

    All this building boom subtracts from the last remaining forest in Q.C., in an area that is undergoing rapid urban development on of all places on an active earthquake fault line, how did gov’t approve this? Why does it neglect to stop this? There must be so much corruption involved here.

    Gina Lopez where are you when the Q.C. Balara forest needs you, DENR protect it now before it is too late.

    • So alarming…the way the government has left developers to run amuck and destroy the environment. They’re everywhere in the name of progress?…more like greed. Disgusting. So many buildings have been built on the fault line all the way to the South.

      The spawn of corruption and greed. And since greed knows no bounds, until someone has the political will and muscle to stop these unconscionable activities, they will continue until we reap the horrible consequences. The powers that be do not take dangers to the environment seriously. Frustrating…

  2. I can imagine the frustrations of many on how good ideas never get implemented in Manila. Projects in developed economies like the US, Australia, Canada and most EU countries, with long gestations of 20, 30 and even 50 years are planned, funded and implemented regardless of what party sits in government. I guess the frequent political changes and sometimes myopic thinking of some politicians contribute to the environmental mess the country is in. Maybe, the Philippines needs to restructure or revise a political system that should allow long term projects or plans to move without any political interference or bureaucratic change.