It’s my third year as an environmental planner, and second year as a lecturer for board review sessions. I’d like to look back on the learning sessions from cities and municipalities in the country, because while I have shared what I learned from SURP and my work, my students have also shared so much valuable knowledge with me also, especially on planning realities and implementation.
I usually give lectures according to the three subjects in the board exam: (1) theories, history and, concepts; (2) planning process, and (3) select laws. I love history the most, because whenever I read and talk about it, I imagine the growth of many places. I also challenge the groups to come up with urban models for Southeast Asia, because popular ones are always from Europe and America.
It’s amazing to converse with local planners because of so many different takes on the process and issues of urban planning. Every locality has its own strengths and weaknesses when we talk about capacities, while there are also a variety of responses when we go into understanding development issues and a the larger framework of planning. Talking points range as wide as required forestry tables on the HLURB guidelines, to ethics, to planning continuity, to benchmarking around the world.
RA 10587, the Environmental Planning Act, was passed in 2013, and has this provision:
Section 34. Positions in Government with Environmental Planning Functions. – The Civil Service Commission (CSC) shall create positions and set qualification standards for environmental planners at various levels in government service, including government-owned and -controlled corporations and other entities. After the lapse of five (5) years from the effectivity of this Act, only registered and licensed environmental planners shall be appointed to the position of heads and assistant heads of groups, departments, divisions in government offices, agencies, bureaus or instrumentalities thereof, including government-owned and -controlled corporations, provinces, cities and municipalities, and such other positions which require the knowledge, skills and competence and qualifications of registered and licensed environmental planners. Appointments made thereafter in violation hereof shall be considered null and void.
2018, this year, marks the five year deadline. This is why many local planners have worked hard to review and take the board exam. There have been issues, though:
- There are cases of staff in the local planning offices who are at their late fifties, nearing retirement. Some have shared sentiments on not making the review a priority anymore because of their age, and only taking the exam as compliance to continue doing their duties. Also, bad eyesight has been a complaint every time I provide handouts and guide questions with regular-sized font.
- Many, if not most, local planning officers in municipalities barely have enough staff to do the planning work (which entails statistics analysis, to writing, to coordinating with all other LGU departments, and public information dissemination), and they sometimes even have other hats, like administration, DRR, and the like. This takes up much of their time, leaving barely enough hours to devote to studying.
- Some local planning officers have been in position for very long times, and some have appealed that the license be conferred on them instead of having to take the board exam, for no other reason than their being in office. This, I disagree with; there is a reason why the profession is being regulated. Let it me put it this way: Would you trust a non-licensed “architect” to design your house? Would you trust a non-licensed “engineer” to ensure the structural integrity of our roads and bridges? Would you trust a non-licensed “doctor” to prescribe you medicine? No. I wouldn’t, either. It’s the same with environmental planning. We have to have licensed environmental planners who truly understand issues of urbanisation and urban management to take care of our cities.
I have also had my own issues in teaching, the most prominent being having to teach those who only see environmental planning as a profitable endeavour. Some have bluntly asked me how much a CLUP costs, even before the lecture started.
I cannot emphasize enough how dismayed I am with this. Environmental planning takes a degree of understanding, way beyond the formulation of a CLUP and a CDP. It’s much more than pretty pictures and consultancies, much more than profiteering from government budgets. Money is not the goal for urban planning; it’s seeing to the sustainable management of our resources. As intergenerational equity goes, we do this for our children’s children, and not for ourselves.
Nonetheless, I have continued teaching, stressing this point more and more, especially to those who see EnP as just another additional license to their record. We need more planners in the Philippines, and we need more people to understand the complexity of our urban situation. We need more devoted people to do the dirty work of going into the nitty-gritty data of cities, and forward thinkers to provide solutions.
Teaching, and at the same time, learning, has always been a privilege.
Here’s to better urban planning and management in the country.