Around four years ago, a friend would ask me questions as we go our way back home to Quezon City from our five-day immersion stay with a fisher-folk community in Calatagan, Batangas. As we struggled through urban traffic, my friend and I would keenly observe the peri-urban, built-up areas of Laguna, Cavite, and Batangas — three of the provinces constituting Calabarzon, which in the 1990s was imagined, and made to be an urban development beltway — and the arguably (hyper-)urban zones of the National Capital Region (NCR). Then he would ask, among other questions: Who lives in the gated (horizontal) communities and vertical developments that pepper the areas?
Such question, it must be noted, was raised by my friend in a combination of genuine curiosity and concealed frustration over how such developments have excluded, and also have endangered, the lives and livelihoods of some people, like those of our foster families in the immersion site. I remember answering as cautiously as possible, as I was relying more on personal knowledge and experience, and some anecdotal evidence.
Who lives in such developments? I remember telling my friend: Obviously, those who can afford it — the upper middle/upper class in general, perhaps including overseas Filipino (OFs), and/or overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). However, I also remember adding that residing in such properties is a different matter. Chances are a number of them were being rented out by the owners, for additional income. Several, especially those located in metropolitan Manila’s fringe, might be investments for future retirement. Some might be under the care of a hired caretaker, and only used occasionally, like during vacations, or special events.
These musings about urbanization and economic development I remembered as I traveled to Batangas last weekend to attend a friend’s wedding. Things seemed to get better; several developments — both vertical/condominium, and horizontal/gated communities — have been added, with parks, and markets going along with them. If it was any indication, vehicular traffic en route to Tagaytay coming from the Sta. Rosa exit of the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) was close to bumper-to-bumper state. I kept on consulting the Waze app for alternative routes, as I was afraid of not making it in time for the ceremonies.
Indeed, urbanization has been a dynamic that has hugely, and quite rapidly, affected the Philippines. Recent estimates have shown that close to half of the Philippine population is now living in urban areas, and is expected to breach the 50% mark by year 2050. Such rapid urbanization, which is characteristic of urbanization dynamics in much of the developing world, is brought about not only by demographic means (i.e., the ‘natural’ increase in population of towns and/or cities), but also by conversion of land.
Urbanization, it must be noted, has been theorized to have a positive effect on economic development. Most recent data available from the Philippines attest to such positive relationship. Government data from 2010 point out that NCR, with 100% level of urbanization in 2010, contributed 35.8% of national GDP. Region IV-A, or Calabarzon, posted a second-best 19.1% share of national GDP in 2010, given its urbanization level of 53.01%. The Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council’s (HUDCC’s) Habitat III: The Philippine National Report (2016) said further that stable economic growth rates experienced by the Philippines from 2012-2016 “was driven mainly by the urban sector,” with NCR contributing “one third of the total output,” and “the industry and services sectors contributing almost 90% to the country’s total GDP.”
However, this very same dynamics of urbanization has also contributed to the inequalities arguably evident in the Philippines’ urban areas, and their fringes. A 2014 Asian Development Bank (ADB) report mentioned that “cities in the Philippines are confronting urban problems such as congestion, overcrowding, poor quality of life, and rapidly growing poor urban communities.” HUDCC’s report elaborated further on several challenges hounding Philippine urban economic development, namely: mobilization of resources at the local level; concentration of unemployment in the most urbanized regions (NCR, Regions III, and IV); presence of “informal settlers who live in poverty, deprived of adequate income and decent living conditions”; and facilitation of a socially just, pro-poor financing for housing.
The HUDCC report elaborated on several strategies to address the issues and challenges presented. The Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board’s (HLURB’s) National Urban Development and Housing Framework (NUDHF) 2017-2022 reflects on as much. What indeed might be of primary importance, however, is the inclusion of the lens of “inclusive urbanization,” which, as the World Bank (2017) said, “requires an integrated multi-dimensional approach that addresses three key dimensions of inclusion — economic, spatial, and social.” Spatial inclusion constitutes “improved access to land, housing, infrastructure and basic services,” while economic inclusion “relates to addressing poverty and providing economic opportunities such as jobs, sources of livelihood, and access to finance.” Social inclusion, on the other hand, “relates to fundamental principles of equal rights and participation of the marginalized in the development process.” The realization of inclusive urbanization would necessitate institutional transformation among the public, and private sectors.
The foster families that adopted me and my friend would want to be included in the economic development urbanization supposedly brings. They would also want to improve their living spaces vis-à-vis urbanization, and to have their voices rendered effective. The same could be said for the others excluded by rapid urbanization. Inclusive urbanization is needed now, more than ever.
Gino Antonio P. Trinidad is currently a Doctor of Public Administration student of the UP National College of Public Administration and Governance (UP NCPAG). He is a member of the faculty of Ateneo’s Political Science Department. He obtained both his MA Global Politics and AB Political Science degrees from Ateneo de Manila University.