Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Three Folding Image of Society

The State, Private Sector, and the Civil Society are three stakeholders in planning and their roles interplay with one another. To understand the dynamics between the three, let us look first at their purposes.

The State is responsible for providing social welfare. Social welfare is usually defined as the basic needs of the people such as food, shelter, clothing, education, health, etc. The State should also promote peace and order. Ideally, only the State should have coercive influence. The rise of insurgency and banditry undoubtedly creates fear in the hearts of the people. Whether the threat is real or imagined, if people do not feel safe, the State has failed in its duty.

The State must also ensure democratic governance, that democratic ideals are upheld. A democratic society is a society where people are free-- free to speak out, free to vote, free to organize themselves, and free to live a happy and comfortable life. Using military power to uphold these freedoms is a sign of weak governance.

The State must also secure justice and equity for everybody. In an ideal world, justice is supposed to be blind. In reality however, not everyone has equal access to legal services in our country. Those who are rich and powerful have the resources to thwart the justice system. This is why the State must lean towards those who are marginalized, to help the disadvantaged have the same legal options afforded by the more privileged. It was Pres. Manuel L. Quezon who first said "Those who have less in life should have more in law." and it became a recurring theme for all the other presidencies most especially during Pres. Ramon Magsaysay's term. Which is not to say that justice must turn a blind eye on those who violate the law, but rather that its eyes must remain closed amidst all the glitter of gold. The State must provide a level playing field for everyone regardless of social and economic status.

The private sector produces and distributes goods and services for a profit. The driving force behind any business enterprise is monetary gain. Everything else is secondary. There is nothing wrong with getting profit from your investment. After all, that is what free enterprise and capitalism are all about. The issue being raised especially against Big Business is how much profit is permitted. With so many people suffering from poverty and there is a very wide disparity in income distribution, it is ethical to get so much wealth?

I am in a quandary over this, as I understand that business is a profit-oriented undertaking. There are so many risks involved. For me, it seems only fair that those who take chances should be rewarded, provided that profit is not gained at the expense of other people. The businesses must also ensure that their profit goes back to the State in some other way. The money should circulate INSIDE the country and not siphoned out. In that case, the rich only gets richer, and the poor is being sucked dry.

Take for example the case of big shopping malls like Henry Sy's SM. We all lionize (to use Prof. Serote's term) Henry Sy because of his "contribution" to our country's economy. Contribute how? Having the third biggest mall in the world does not necessarily translate to prosperity. Filipinos spend the hard-earned money of their OFW relatives on buying stuff that are made outside the country. We are contributing to the economy of that country, not ours. Most of the money that we pay to SM and deposit in its bank (Banco de Oro- EPCI) is invested by Mr. Sy in China, not in the Philippines (Prof. Serote read in a PAL in-flight magazine that the taipans have a contest among themselves on who invests the heaviest in China). We are enriching China, while draining our own pockets and only so little goes back.

And what of the dollar remittances of OFWs? These are being used to pay off our international debts.

Determining allowable profit margin also depends on the nature of business. If the business involves public services like water supply and electricity generation and distribution, or basic needs like food and education, a ceiling must be set. On one hand, the private sector has means for a more efficient delivery of these services. However, it can be heartless. It has to get something in return. The services that you get is commensurate to your ability to pay. Certain restrictions must be set in place such that businesses do not cheat the people out of the services that they are entitled to anyway. But then again, we go back to the question of whether or not the performance of public services is handed over to the private sector, or is it solely a public/ State exercise.

Another role of the private sector that overlaps with the State is employment generation. This should be done in tandem with the government, as providing jobs is not a purely economic concern. Having a good job, and not just any other job, affects the psyche of a person. It brings dignity and a sense of achievement, something that is more in line with personal well-being, a part of the thrust of social welfare-- the responsibility of the State.

It is this overlapping of the roles of both private sector and State in promoting social welfare that gave birth to a new trend in business today-- corporate social responsibility, or the concept of giving back to the people. However, the private sector only gives a small percentage of what if earns. For example, the Philippine Business for Social Progress is an NGO sustained financially by big corporations (belonging to the Top 500 companies). While it may seem to be a noble undertaking, the contribution of these companies is only 1% of their net profits. Imagine a pie cut into 100 pieces. Take one piece. It didn't affect much of the appearance of the pie. You barely notice a piece missing. One percent is loose change compared to what those companies are keeping in their pockets. It seems that corporate social responsibility is just a PR tool, a marketing strategy used by business to sell itself, which again, is a self-serving act.

The third player in the field of urban planning is the civil society. It is concerned with individual development, upholding the coherence of moral values, and promoting public interest. The latter, once again, is the responsibility of the State under the Constitution.

So what is the Civil Society? And perhaps more importantly, WHO is the Civil Society?

* taken from slides and discussions of the lecture of Prof. Serote.

Introduction to Land Control Mechanisms and the Dynamics of Politics

In order to understand what a zoning ordinance is, we must look at the different land control mechanisms.

I've written a paper on Planned Unit Development for my Plan 201 class last semester. I have inserted a portion from that paper below:

"Land uses in a parcel of land are regulated by a land control system. It is hinged on the principle that gives the State the authority to monitor and impose restrictions upon private rights of its citizens. Police power is exercised by the State to promote order and safety, health, morals, and general welfare of the public. It is “reasonable control over persons and property”[1].

Mechanisms used for control over land developments are the Master Plan, Zoning Ordinances, and Subdivision Regulations. The Master Plan is a policy framework of the physical development of the subject area. It depicts physical characteristics and socio-economic profile, and gives recommendations to address the needs of that community. The Master Plan is a useful tool used by administrators and policy makers in deciding how an area is to be developed, affording them a broad picture of the present situations as well as projections in a given span of time.

The Master Plan serves as a guide from which two other control mechanisms are based—the zoning ordinance and the subdivision regulations. Zoning ordinances govern land use and placement of buildings. Different parts of the community are segregated and land use is prescribed to the resulting sub-areas. The type of land use of a given property is determined by its location and relative to the land use of the adjacent properties.

Zoning ordinances are imposed to ensure the compatibility of land uses within an area. Incongruities may result to negative effects such as depreciation of market value, traffic congestion, and hazardous living conditions. Setting up bars and restaurants that serve alcoholic drinks near academic institutions, locating cemeteries beside sources of drinking water, and residences within a volcano’s danger zone are some examples of incompatible land uses that zoning ordinances aim to prevent.

Subdivision regulations, on the other hand, controls “the way in which land is divided and subsequently made ready for building development.”[2] The provisions set are promulgated by a regulatory board, such the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board in the Philippines. These set minimum design standards, procedures for application, and requirements for the registration of different residential developments."

[1] Online Britannica Concise Encyclopedia

[2] page 24, Planned Unit Development by Robert W. Burchell


We will be discussing more about zoning ordinances in our class in our next meetings, and as our lessons progress I will also be sharing them with you.

For now, we will be defining a Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP) as a set of policies describing a local government unit's (LGU) strategies of how physical development in their jurisdiction will take place. But a CLUP is just a plan and as all plans go, they are just guidelines. A CLUP has no real teeth unless a Zoning Ordinance is enacted. A Zoning Ordinance is a legal instrument that ensures the enforceability of the CLUP.

A CLUP is composed of technical, political, and social guidelines. The technical component is always the foundation upon which all CLUPs are built. Why? The political component is self-serving and the social component might serve only a specific group. Math and science, on the other hand, are unbiased and do not lean to a particular sector.

The way land is utilized is an arbitrary choice, depends on who makes the decisions, and on what end the stakeholders aim to accomplish. The best land use isn't always the highest land use. The converse is true.

What is the difference between highest use of a land and its best use. For example, the planning board determines that a certain land is more suitable for residential development. However, the mayor insists that he/ she intends to use the land for commercial development. More buildings and more businesses, more taxes for the town. Best use is what is more politically and socially viable, while highest use is geared towards maximizing land for more profitable ends.

More on the dynamics of political and economic entities in land use planning coming in the next meetings.

Money Back Guarantee

Prof. Cabanilla used to work for the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC). His job was to check if the loan is used for the purposes stipulated. In short, he makes sure that money is being spent. Now, that's a great job.

Prof. says that a project usually encounters three problems during its life cycle-- getting the source of funding, project development, and inefficiency in implementation and monitoring.
There are plenty of good projects that have been junked because of those challenges.

He cited a project that he handled back when he was still with JBIC. There was a plan to provide every town with telephones. It would be a costly undertaking, as the necessary infrastructure would have to be set up first. That was ten years ago. By the time the funding was released, the proliferation of mobile phone technology and the relative simplicity of the infrastructure network it required, have made the project irrelevant and outdated. Prof. actually had to go return the money to JBIC.

Imagine going through all that trouble to borrow money, only to give it back. With interest, of course.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Context of and Rationale for Urban and Regional Planning

Prof. Serote is a legend in planning circles (at least in UP). He doesn't just teach, he wrote The Book. I consider myself lucky to be able to sit in the same room with him.

Plan 210 is about the Planning Process and its various models in historical and global extents. Since SURP has a more nationalistic approach to planning, the course's thrust it to highlight the issues and constraints as well as the challenges associated with various planning processes in the Philippine setting.*

Today, we talked about the three players whose dynamics shape the context and rational for urban and regional planning (URP)-- the State, the Market, and the Civil Society. To understand the unfolding of these entities, we have to look at it in a historical perspective.

There are two types of governments-- the labor or liberal and the conservative government.
Planning strategies are influenced by the existing policies being adapted by whichever government holds position.

During the 1950s-1960s, the concept of a welfare state was established. The government takes a lead role in the promotion of the well-being of its constituents, and uses its power to promote business worldwide. It is based on the principles of equality of opportunity, equitable distribution of wealth, and public responsibility for those unable to avail themselves of the minimal provisions for a good life (encyclopaedia britannica). The infrastructure of planning was born during this period. Because social and economic development is its responsibility, the State took a unilateral approach to planning.

The 1970s-1980s saw the weakening of the State and the emergence of non-government entities. The conservatives took over (Thatcher in UK and Reagan in the US). The private sector gained more influence and the government became more capital-friendly. There was a dismantling of the welfare state as the capital government rose into power, and the role of the State was reduced. Previously unfamiliar terms like privatization and deregulation became common.

The conservative government greatly favored by Big Business, and it appeared as though the State was serving only the interests of the capitalists. Because of this collusion between the State and Big Business (or corporations), the need for another player to put forward a different agenda was realized. Civil Society was born.

In the Philippines, Civil Society has long existed in the form of various non-government organizations (NGOs). However, there were periods of extreme neglect and blatant disrespect for the public interest. The people have had enough of the oppressive Marcos regime. Erap and the Big Business connived to enrich themselves. GMA had legitimacy issues. The NGOs started a wave of dissent that swept across the country. People Power I, II, and III took place. The informal Civil Society became the Organized Civil Society.

I will be writing about the Three Folding Images of Society next.

* from Prof. Serote's syllabus

Realty Bites

Prof. Cabanilla talks really s-l-o-w. I don't know if this is intentional since we have a Korean classmate, or he's really that way. I'm hoping that i will be able to learn a lot from this class (land use planning), because like he said, Plan 203 is one of the most crucial subjects in SURP.

What did I learn in class today? Prof. just discussed our syllabus, and he also told us a lot of stories about his previous jobs. He has a fairly impressive track record, serving both Presidents Aquino and Ramos. He was appointed as one of the commissioners of the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor (pcup), headed the planning department of MMDA, and also became its zoning administrator. The latter was the time when he almost lost all his hair. Prof. claims he was never charged in court for any wrongdoing while he was za. Does that mean he was accused, but nothing really held up in court so the charges were dropped?

He said he never got rich because of his job (unlike many others). The za is in charge of approving all land use and zoning permits applications. It is his responsibility to make sure that the zoning ordinance is complied with and strictly enforced. For this reason, he is a very powerful man. He can be a developer's worst nightmare, as he can break or make a certain development. He can end it even before it begins. Developers would prefer that the za is their best friend, of course. And this is where the magic begins. It would take a lot of willpower and moral integrity to be able to resist all the temptations. For that, hat's off to Prof. Cabanilla.

What's a zoning ordinance, anyway? More to come!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Tragedy of the Commons

Once there was a tract of land covered with greens suitable for pastures. A shepherd saw this and he brought his sheep to the land. Another shepherd discovered the land, and brought his sheep there too. Soon, more and more shepherds came. Their sheep fed on the grass, but as the number of sheep increased, the land became arid. The grass could only grow so much and the land can only hold so much sheep.

The tragedy of the commons is that nobody wants to pay for something that everybody uses. The thinking that it's free and we're all entitled to it anyway, is destructive. Dr. Diaz said that a lot of good projects have been scrapped or are suffering because of this mentality.

One example of such project is the newly rehabilitated North Luzon Expressway (NLEX). Some people refuse to use the NLEX because of the sky-high toll fees. They would rather pay nothing at the old MacArthur Highway. Traffic is heavier there and the road quality can't come close to NLEX's, but it's free and that's what matters. It's all about the money, really.

I can understand their sentiments, especially if you pass by the NLEX on a daily basis. The costs would be monumental. However, if you consider the long term benefits compared to the short-term effects, the NLEX is the clear winner. Think of how much you will save on tires (bad roads easily wear our tires), car maintenance (shock absorbers and suspensions systems cost a fortune), and on gas (being stuck in traffic consumes a large amount of fuel). Most importantly, think of how much time you'd save. Time is gold. More than the financial aspects, the gift of time is what you can give to your families and loved ones. Can you really quantify that in terms of money?

That's what project planning is all about-- weighing the cost versus the benefits. These costs and benefits do not necessarily translate to monetary terms. There are social costs and there are social benefits. They are not always tangible. The important thing is to
make sure that the benefits ALWAYS exceed the costs.

How do you choose which projects to implement and which ones to put back to the drawing table. When it comes to projects that involve a large number of people, for example building markets, toads, and bridges to populated areas, the justification for such is easy. But what about those projects that are not backed up by numbers? How would you justify them?

Take the case of the pedestrian overpass connecting the Asian Institute of Tourism (AIT) to the UP Diliman main campus. One of my classmates, a landscape architecture graduate, works for the MMDA's planning department. He says that particular footbridge is somewhat controversial inside the MMDA. The points of contention: 1) An overpass already exists near the Iglesia ni Cristo (or "Central" area); 2) The amount of pedestrian traffic (potential users of the overpass) does not warrant its construction, and; 3) The cost for building the overpass should be shouldered by UP and not MMDA, because it will serve mainly its students.

So why was it built anyway? It was a REQUEST from UP, granted by MMDA as a FAVOR. While I do not and will not argue the fact that it probably is in the best interest of the students (after all, Commonwealth Avenue is one of the most dangerous stretches of road in the country), there's still something questionable to it. It does not serve as a good example of sound project implementation and represents everything that is wrong in the system. Is it all palakasan, that whoever has the ears of the approving agency gets the nod? And then there's the fundamental flaw-- with only a handful of students actually using the overpass, can we really say that the benefits significantly outweigh the costs?

The purpose of planning is to come up with a RATIONAL (meaning systematic, well-thought, supported by hard facts) determination of how to INITIATE, SUSTAIN, and TERMINATE a project. This implies that every project has a life expectancy, but why do plan for a PROJECT CYCLE . If it's a cycle, then it never ends right? The idea is that once a project is terminated, the CONCEPTS derived from that project live on and bring life to a NEW project. While technically, it may not be the same project, the essence is resurrected into another project. Thus, a project life cycle is just building on what is done before.

Time is a critical dimension in project planning. The early stages of planning are particularly crucial as the potential for savings is biggest here. As the implementation goes on, there are lesser chances for cutting costs. If you're building a house, changing the design after 7 DAYS is a far cry from changing the design after 7 MONTHS of construction.

Of course, one has to take into account the effects of inflation and depreciation in project planning. I have a classmate who has been with the planning department of DPWH for over twenty years now. He says that one of the more problematic areas in DPWH is the huge gap between the time that a project is conceived and the project is actually approved. By the time that the project gets the funding and is ready to be implemented, the actual cost has already increased due to interest rates, inflation, peso devaluation, among others. While they look for an additional source of funds, the expenses keep piling up.

Proper project scheduling, considering problems that may arise, and making allowances for unforeseen events are necessary.
Planners must have the incredible gift of foresight. While no one can really predict the future, anticipating it is the key to the success of any endeavor.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Shoulda Woulda Coulda

I was excited to start the new semester right. I even bought a new notebook and signpen for the first time in a very long time. I can't begin to imagine how I survived last sem without pen and paper. I always borrow from my classmates. My usual line is "Ay, nahulog yung ballpen ko. Pahiram naman o." (I dropped my pen on the way here. Can I borrow yours?). My classmates have so gotten used to my spiel that there cam a time when they offer pen and paper to me even without me asking for it. Darn. I should be ashamed of myself!

Plan 214 is Planning Techniques, and my teacher is Ma'am Chaves. A good friend of mine in college recommended that I take her class and so I did. I thought it was going to be more of a theoretical and research-oriented class, that we would be writing papers, etc. That's just my kind of thing. But I found out it's quantitative and just like Plan 299 (Research Methods in Planning). Worse, Ma'am Chaves is a Statistics graduate so we would be crunching numbers and have formulas for dessert. Eek! I am SO bad in math. It doesn't help that I learned absolutely NOTHING in Plan 299. I have no choice but to go over regression analysis and test of hypothesis and other scary math stuff.

It was nice to see familiar faces inside the room. Three of my former classmates in Plan 201 (take one, 2nd sem AY 2005-2006 under Ma'am Jimenez) are my classmates in Plan 214. They actually recognized me and asked why I suddenly dropped off the face of the planet. I felt a pang of regret. If only I studied like I should, then we will still be "blockmates". They told me they have been classmates ever since, they're always groupmates, and I can see that indeed they share a common bond. They will be able to finish their Diploma this sem, and I would have joined them if only I was a better student.

Oh, should have. Would have. Could have. I had a different set of priorities back then. I can't say that I entirely regret my choices, but if I could do it over again, I would have not given up SURP. Thinking about it now, my reason was SO lame and it doesn't make sense at all. I didn't use my head. I used my heart. To have the gift of foresight.. Well, I can't do anything about it now. There's no use crying over spilled milk. I should learn from my mistakes and do my best not to commit the same mistakes again. I can't change yesterday, but I have the power to change tomorrow.

One should NEVER EVER base his/ her decisions on someone else. Your choices should not depend on anybody else but you. People come, and people go. In the end, the only person you're accountable to is yourself. The only person you can really ever have is yourself.