First responder and land use in a federal PH Al Jazeera

First responder and land use in a federal PH Featured

THERE is not enough time left to get federalism out of the legislative maze. Despite the presence of several versions of the federalism proposal, the 18th Congress will not move in the direction of federalism. The Cabinet’s economic cluster is against it, with even the Bangko Sentral governor saying federalism is a risk that the country should not be taking at this time. On the legislative side, a senator is against it because he believes that expenses would double because there will be a doubling of agencies at the state/regional level. This again is not true since it depends on what model is adopted. There is after all the Puno draft, Pimentel draft, PDP- Laban version, around four versions in the House of Representatives and the People’s Draft. The key remains the transition so that the system won’t break.

Even the lifting of economic provisions is being held captive in a very dangerous time frame which can be torpedoed immediately once extension of terms is considered. Then there is the former House speaker who has started floating a people’s initiative to get things done.

There is no consensus on the many drafts as there is no agreement on the time frame, so many of the federalists are reconsolidating, most especially with the death of its champion, Nene Pimentel. He stood tall because he was a former mayor; he was from Mindanao and the father of the Local Government Code (LGC). He had seen how hard it was to get a local autonomy code passed and doubly hard to get the mandatory review and amendments enacted. Pimentel often said, “if we open the LGC to the process of review and amendment, we might end up centralizing what has been devolved.”

In a unitary government, the farther one is from the center, the less developed an area is. Consequently, in case of disasters, rescue and relief operations suffer because everything emanates from the center. Rehabilitation is delayed because of the gridlock at the national. Thus, the houses destroyed by Yolanda have not been fully completed; Marawi’s rehabilitation remains pending and very much delayed; and we see from the series of earthquakes how Mindanao is not central to the country, even while PPRD is from the area. It takes time for everything to move. Thus, when the politics of hate comes to the fray, Mindanao is scorched by the sharpest tongue which others would justify as mere sarcasm. It is as if Mindanao is of no value.

What is Mindanao to the Philippines? It is the food basket of the country, “producing 40 percent of the country’s food needs and the source of more than 30 percent of national food trade. Landlocked Mindanao is the second largest island in the country at 97,530 square kilometers and is the eighth most populous island in the world. One-third of its land area is devoted to agriculture. Mindanao is larger than 125 countries worldwide. The island is mountainous, and is home to Mount Apo, the highest mountain in the country. It is surrounded by four seas: the Sulu Sea to the west, the Philippine Sea to the east, the Celebes Sea to the south, and the Mindanao Sea to the north. Of all the islands of the country, Mindanao shows the greatest variety of physiographic development. “High, rugged, faulted mountains; almost isolated volcanic peaks; high rolling plateaus; and broad, level, swampy plains are found there.” It is said that Mindanao is a catchment area of rich oil deposits along the Sulu Sea.

The first responder concept will not take root if we remain under a unitary system. Everything is seen from the lens of the center, including mainstream media’s agenda- setting function. First responders cannot act fast because the budgets are with the central government. Pre-positioning becomes a logistical nightmare, especially in a scenario where aftershocks are not really any lesser in degree. First responders are often the primary line of defense for communities, responding to an evolving spectrum of natural and man-made threats.

First responder disciplines — law enforcement, fire services, emergency medical services and emergency management officials, as well as innovators and industry — need to develop capabilities that make first responders safer; improve communication tools, security and effectiveness; enhance data- and information-sharing during daily, emergency or joint operations; promote and sustain partnerships with responders and responder organizations across the nation at all levels; help investigate cybercrime and cases involving digital evidence and secure a national hotline for emergency call systems from cyberattacks.

With 21 dead and 28,224 structures damaged in Mindanao, per the weekend reports, and the recurring aftershocks across the island, we need a whole-of-nation approach and not a central government that takes time to reach the ground. The mobilization has to be massive to ensure lives are saved and temporary shelters are set up without delay. Imagine Mindanao is still under martial law yet the national government is more concerned about ingress and egress of people in evacuation centers. The towns of Makilala and Magsaysay had to declare states of calamity in order to use their calamity funds and we know that these budgets need to be augmented by national releases. Imagine if the country was under a federal system, things would move fast, with local governments as the hubs efficiently responding to the crisis.

The same is true with the land use code which has been pending in the 8th Congress and today is being held up by a single senator who has vast landholdings due to the family’s real estate interests. Without a national land use law, it is deemed easier to dictate things but without a comprehensive land use law, chaos rules at the local government level.

Land use planning refers to the “process by which land is allocated between competing and sometimes conflicting uses in order to secure the rational and orderly development of land in an environmentally sound manner to ensure the creation of sustainable human settlements.” The process of land use planning consists of “two twin functions of development/land use planning and development control. Of necessity, these two functions must be supported by relevant research and mapping which are also major components of the land use planning process.”

Local government units are mandated to submit to the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board their Comprehensive Land Use Plans (CLUP) pursuant to the following rules: Executive Order 72 providing for the preparation and implementation of the CLUPs of local government units pursuant to the Local Government Code of 1991 and other pertinent laws; Memorandum Circular 54, prescribing the guidelines of Sec. 20, Republic Act 7160, authorizing cities/municipalities to reclassify lands into non-agricultural uses; and Executive Order 124, establishing priorities and procedures in evaluating areas for land conversion in regional agricultural/industrial centers, tourism development areas and sites for socialized housing. In the case of the City of Manila, its CLUP was vintage 2006 and it stopped there because there is no national law on land use.

The absence of such a law has resulted in confusion due to inconsistent laws on land utilization; continued negative environmental effect on land; and unabated conflicts among different sectors due to competing land use, among others. When a critical law is held captive by a senator flexing economic power to control legislation, we lose our competitive edge. Imagine if we were under a federal system and states/regions are able to attract investors because of differing land use regimes.

Who said shifting to federal is easy? It can’t be done overnight but we need to imbibe the mindset that allows reforms to be pursued. Federalism will allow the growth of resilient states/regions. Bringing government and funds down to the state/regional levels will develop a cadre of local officials who can be empowered first responders, ensure area management and good governance. Transitioning to federalism should be pursued.000
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