“Development is not worthy of the name unless spread evenly like butter on a piece of bread.”
There has always been an effort to construct an identity towards a more balanced development as a nation, but our methods came at the expense of alienation of provinces and primacy and centricity of development and opportunities. I wrote this in my term paper for my Masters in Environmental Planning at the University of the Philippines in 1973. The land, air, and sea congestion that Metro Manila is experiencing is an effect of centricity and unbalanced development. The national government should realize that there is a need to have a shift in national policies when it comes to Comprehensive Land Use Planning and Comprehensive Development Planning, Zoning, Transportation, Housing and Infrastructure. Regions should be empowered to become self-reliant so that our country can move towards regional interdependence.
Ever since the passage of the Local Government Code of 1992, the country has dreamt of the empowerment of cities, regions, towns, provinces, islands and their decentralization. Yet 26 years after the passage of the code, development had never been more centralized.
To refresh our historical memory, before the passage of the local government code, there were great debates from the 1970’s to the early 1990’s on whether or not the Philippines should adopt federalism. In the end, only certain elements of federalism, such as the “on paper” empowerment of local government units (LGUs) were integrated in the code.
I believe there are two fronts in the arguments on federalism: the decisive decision making for sustainable and balanced local economic development towards regional interdependence, and the multiplicity and diverse culture in an archipelagic geography.
Crucial elements of regional interdependence
The current approval of budget comes from the top, even if planning comes from the bottom. While the intention is good, with regards to check and balances, the allocation of funds always favors the more influential regions. In the context of Urban and Regional planning, this is counterproductive.
It induces rapid inland migration because of the concentration of economic and business growth. In effect, there is also a concentration in spending for transportation infrastructure, quality education and quality of health. While there is a sense of progress in central cities and central regions, unintended consequences are felt by other provinces and regions. There are winners and there are losers in terms of budget allocation.
While local governments need to build schools, hospitals, and roads, the funding for these projects goes through the tedious process of annual national budgeting. And in worst cases, either the budget is not approved or it takes years and years until it suffers in analysis-paralysis.
1. Share of funding- The local government should be given the majority of its collected tax collection, instead of the bigger pie going to national government.
2. Regional approval- The proposals and approval of projects, infrastructure, and development should be done at the regional level. It is much quicker and decisive. The regional government is in better position to understand the issues that the region is confronting.
3. Regional planning- The Local Government Units are currently required to have a Comprehensive Land Use Plan and Comprehensive Development Plan, but they should be required to integrate and align their plans with the regional plan. One of the main problems confronting cities today is that it is not planned to take advantage of the region’s natural strength as a whole.
4. Region mobility plan- Transportation and mobility should be integrated regionally, and should not be decided at a local level. Even franchising all forms of public transport, and creation of traffic laws should be done by the regional office.
5. Recognizing comparative advantage- The cities and provinces of the region should not have their own agendas. As a whole, they should seek their strengths in specific industries. Not all cities can simply become purely urban areas, there are many types of city development such as agro-polis and aerotroplis. It is through comparative advantage that two different regions can benefit in the trade of goods. For example, one region may be strong in agriculture, while another has strengths in post-production and manufacturing.
Regional international gateways
In my article regarding the NAIA master plan, I shared: The airport is a gateway to a country; it is a front door. For any foreigner and returning Filipino expatriates, the airport is where they will first set foot in the country. It is a welcome mat of our hospitality, character, culture and identity. First, you must be a satisfied tourist before you become an investor in a foreign country.
I believe that every region should become an international gateway in itself. There is no need for Metro Manila to be the only gateway of the country. Every region should have a well-designed international airport and seaport, with mass transits connecting the cities. Every region presents a unique geography and a unique culture and identity as well, that is why the regional government should make use of this opportunity.
The congestion that we are experiencing in Metro Manila today is greatly contributed by the centricity of development. It’s time that our nation bravely move toward an era of regional development, interdependence, and autonomous, but self-reliant. We have many models to follow such as the German form of Federalism.
I hope this government will continue to aspire and act on visionary leadership, strong political will, good planning, good architecture and design, and good governance.