Local Citizens and Non-Citizens in the Middle of the COVID 19 Pandemic

Everything stood still during the Pandemic Lockdown. Schools, restaurants, businesses and public transportation, among others, stopped or operated in a limited capacity. Most of the people waited for the government to provide support in terms of financial assistance and food packages. The situation revealed two types of inhabitants (Beneficiaries) living in local governments (communities): the local non-citizens and the citizens.

First let us define what are citizens. Citizens are those who are living or resides in the community that are registered voters and/or included in the masterlist (whether as senior citizen, person with disability, solo parent, etc.) of the local government. Non-citizens are those living in the community who are not registered voters and does not directly deal with the local government. Usually these are the transient workers, company workers, stranded people, and those who by choice doesn’t want to engage or be part of the community.

During the pandemic (or any other disasters), the local government procures and prepares supplies for distribution and formulate programs to support its people. The local government uses the masterlist in identifying the number of food packages or the budget to prepare for the relief operation. However, during the pandemic, many inhabitants took to social media their cries of being excluded from the support. Sometimes, they air their complaints even before the actual distribution of support to the point of accusing local leaders of politicking, corruption, and discrimination.

On the government side, they cannot just allocate resources not based on actual data while on the side of the non-citizens, they are also part of the community contributing to its economy and development. Both sides have strong points. I do not want to decide which is the right argument. I only hope that this incident brought learnings on both sides. This way we can prevent this from happening again when disasters occur (and disasters will definitely occur whether we like or not).

If a person is a non-citizen by choice, he/she should be ready if he/she is not included in the masterlist of beneficiaries. However, being a non-citizen does not exempt him/her from government services such as peace and order, health, environmental programs, etc. Other non-citizens can easily be included in the local government masterlist if they just register in the local Commission on Election (COMELEC) Offices available in all local governments. This is a strong document that you are part of the community. However, take note that if a person fails to vote two consecutive times, he/she will be written off from the COMELEC masterlist. Another way is to get identification card from the local government Social Welfare and Development Office if you are a senior citizen, person with disability, solo parent, etc. There are many ways to become a citizen of the community which requires very minimal effort.

Local Government is tasked to promote the general welfare of its inhabitants (whether citizens or non-citizens). Thus, local governments formulate plans, programs, and activities in promoting what is best to the community. Masterlists are outdated the very time it is submitted and adopted. Everyday a person is being born (die) or transfer to and from the community which is not captured real-time in the masterlist. Local government should be adept in developing projections or actually capturing the number of its inhabitants on a regular basis. The Philippines has a lower level of local government below the city/municipal level. This is the Barangay (Village) local government unit. The duties of its barangay secretary are to keep an updated record of all inhabitants of the barangay containing the following items of information: name, address, place and date of birth, sex, civil status, citizenship, occupation, and such other items of information as may be prescribed by law or ordinance; and to submit a report on the actual number of barangay residents as often as may be required by the sangguniang barangay. Hence, it is the duty of the local government to have an updated record or masterlist. They should also promote the COMELEC registration of the inhabitants by making it accessible and convenient to the (qualified) people.

The Pandemic revealed this simple issue that created a big impact during the incident. I feel that it is both the duty of the inhabitants and the government to reach out to each other. The inhabitants to fulfill its moral duty of registering and voting and the local government to carry out its mandate, improve planning tools, and reach out/encourage its inhabitants to participate in local activities and governance.

I hope we learned from this experience and I hope that as a community, we are all prepared and focused on our next/future challenges.

Resilient Cities 2018, Bonn, Germany

Personal Reflection on Resilient Cities 2018 – 9th Global Forum on Urban Resilience & Adaptation held in Bonn, Germany, 26-28 April 2018

Personal Reflection on Resilient Cities 2018 – 9th Global Forum on Urban Resilience & Adaptation held in Bonn, Germany, 26-28 April 2018

Attending the Resilient Cities 2018 9th Global Forum was both an eye-opener and rewarding experience as I was able to gather so many useful information that I could bring back home.

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The first few hours of the first day of the forum was quite intimidating. I met people around the world who are really game-changers with regards to global climate change and disaster management advocacy. Global organizations are really trying to control the 1.5 – 2 degrees increase in global temperature. I realized that these people/agencies who are mostly from developed countries are dead serious in helping our global environment and that I am fortunate that they are here to lead since the effects of climate change is mostly directed in my country, the Philippines.

This is also the first time I’ve heard about the Talanoa Dialogue. It was a participative process involving global stakeholders on getting consensus on what is the current situation, what is our collective goal, and identify strategies on attaining the goal.

I was impressed on how Mayor Ashok Sridharan of Bonn is leading his city and other cities in advocating sustainable cities (SDG 11) and climate change actions. I was awed by the speech of Ms. Patricia Espinosa’s call for action. All of the speakers in the opening program were impressive. The general message that I got from the plenary is that: 1. We have to know the current situation and understand the do-nothing scenario, 2. We need to act now if we want to effect change, and 3. We need to work together.

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I started to feel I belong to this forum during theme session A. I connected with the presenters who are similar to me are doing their best to institute positive changes in their cities. I attended A2 Brokering new partnerships and stimulating private sector engagement for resilience. All the presenters were great with their presentations.

The topic Jersey City: 6 Key Resiliency Planning Documents piqued my utmost interest. As a city and urban planner, one of my responsibilities is to facilitate land use planning and supervise implementation of the zoning code. I have been to Jersey City and I admire their innovative zoning strategies. These are the things I only read in books and they are implementing it. I asked a question during the session on how the local council accepted the plan. The idea is to give up immediate economic benefits of the city for the long-term environment benefits.

I just had our city land use plan and zoning code approved. We mainstreamed climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction management mitigation in the 9-year plan. Our plan is quite far from the advance strategies in the New Jersey plan. Knowing these strategies can be implemented in other areas made me feel confident that when it is time for us to update our plan, we can institute similar strategies given our local context.

I attended B4 Achieving social cohesion through inclusive resilience-building in theme session B. The topics and presenters again were all great. Aside from my co-Filipino presenter Marie Angelique Go’s presentation Build back better Zamboanga, my interest zoomed in to the presentation of Gerardo Berthin and Simon Griffiths.

Gerardo Berthin’s presentation is Four ways to support local service delivery in expanding urban environments. He discussed the importance of (1) conducting policy dialogue (2) developing local capacity (3) engaging citizen engagement and (4) promoting accountability and transparency. As a city planner, I engage with these activities on a regular basis. One of my responsibilities is serving as the local development council secretariat. The local development council develops and approve long-term and annual plan of the city for approval of the local council. This seems like a review of my subjects in post graduate studies applied in the real world.

Simon Griffiths’ presentation is Urban resilience bridging humanitarian support and urban development in Somalia. He discussed about local social power dynamics and political situation. These are the realities we faced with daily in the local setting. As a change agent (city planner), I need to develop trust from stakeholders, acquire their collective interest, handle/moderate selfish interests, etc. Simon offered practical advise and situations in the Somalia context.

On the second day, I attended the special sub-plenary session (SP2) Driving transformative climate change adaptation in cities through nature-based solutions. The format of the activity is different and interesting. The first part was an interview with three organizations involved in national and local project implementation. The second part was presentations on why nature-based solutions are key to resilience. The third part was a panel discussion of experts in the field. The last part was the take of the three implementing agencies on the nature-based solutions in their practice.

The main reason I was invited to this forum was to present the city project Eco-Tourism People’s Park (stronger collaboration and resilience for all). I learned from this session that the project may also be considered as a nature-based solution. I need to learn more about the principles of this strategy. I approached Christos Fragakis of the European Commission’s Deputy Head Unit of its Sustainable Management of Natural Resources and told him about our project. He was gracious enough to offer his help and has promised to look into our project details.

I was also invited to be one of the panelists in the session (D5) Bringing the insurance industry and cities together. The facilitator was Butch Bacani, UN Environment’s Principles for Sustainable Insurance Initiative, a fellow Filipino. I told him I am not comfortable about the topic because insurance is not yet mainstreamed or prioritized in the Philippines. He told me that it’s not a problem because people should also hear that there are cities / areas in the world where insurance is not yet wholly accepted. During the discussion, I talked about the insurance acceptance in our city, the reason why it is still low, what the government is doing about it, and opportunities of the insurance industry to fill in the gaps in protecting people and their investments.

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The discussion revolved around the importance of getting data from insurance companies as inputs to evaluating actual effects (quantifying) of disasters and for planning and decision-making activities. The challenge is on how to get the data and how to convince insurance companies to provide the data.

On the third day, I attended the (G5) Preparing for internal climate migration: Introducing Groundswell findings session. Viviane Clement, Climate Change Specialist of the World Bank presented the study clearly. She talked about the findings of the World Bank’s newest flagship report Groundswell: Preparing for Internal Climate Migration and its implications for inclusive and climate-resilient city. She discussed the pattern of migration among cities, the reason of migration, the challenges of both sending and receiving cities. Ma. Veronica C. Hitosis, Deputy Executive Director for Policy, Programs, and Projects of the League of Cities of the Philippines also explained the pattern of migration and challenges faced by cities amidst disaster in the Philippines. In-migration differs and is context based. It is also important to raise the adaptive capacity and conduct disaster risk management mitigation on areas identified as high risks.

Most of the attendees in the session are urban planners. This was an opportunity for me to share our local issues in relation to in-migration. There are more similarities of the issues we faced even though we practice in different parts of the world.

I was asked to present at theme session (H1) cities in focus: active citizen engagement and participatory urban resilience planning. Here, I presented the city’s eco-tourism people’s park project. During this session, they talked about the importance of partnering with people, developing and using data on participation and approval, and the openness of government to really engage their constituents.

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My presentation began with a brief macro situation of the country leading to the local situation of my city. By using maps, I presented the issues of people living in vulnerable areas, informal settlements, poverty, and inadequate public parks in the city. I then described the project and its sustainable community facets. I discussed the project’s participative approach, how it addresses the identified issues, its challenges and exciting opportunities.

The closing plenary program has the theme measuring progress, enhancing action and anticipating future urban resilience challenges. It was again attended by the mayor of Bonn with his call to collaborative action. Robert Kehew, UN-Habitat, provided the summary of the 3-day forum with the overarching theme of involvement of stakeholders in our goal of attaining sustainable cities. The program’s last topic was presented by Michael Glotz-Richter, Senate Department for Environment, Construction & Transport of Bremen, Germany. Basically, his takeaway message is autonomous driving cars is not the answer to sustainable mobility. Monika Zimmerman, Deputy Secretary General, ICLEI facilitated well the opening and closing program.

The 3-day forum was overwhelming and challenging. Overwhelming because of information overload but instead of getting stressed I still want to attend every session to get something from it. Challenging because the theories l learned are being applied in different world context and makes me think of how l can apply them to my city.

Planning is both science and art. Theory and application. The forum provided most of the theory part. But the practical part is what is happening outside the venue– the daily and quality life of the city’s citizen. I was fortunate to book a hotel located 3-4km from the venue. The hotel booking comes with a complimentary ticket for train/bus ride within the city. Everyday I walk approximately 400m to the train, ride the train (3 stops) and walk again (400m) towards the venue.

Coming from a developing country, there are some things I appreciate that I think people in developing countries take for granted. First is the respect for pedestrian. Having an ample and exclusive space for pedestrian sidewalk clearly shows this respect. Even persons on a wheelchair is safe to use the sidewalk. This encourage people to walk safely and conveniently. Second is the presence of bike lanes. Together with walking, biking promotes non-motorize mode of transportation which is good for the body and for the environment. Third is the presence of ample open spaces (parks) with benches and trees. This promotes outdoor activities and socialization. Lastly is I didn’t have the chance to use my complimentary train/bus ticket because no one is checking it.

The story in my country is different. We prioritize street carriageway than the sidewalks. We do not have bike lanes; we have inadequate parks; and public transport fare is increasing. I know the situation between my country and Bonn, Germany is far different but that doesn’t mean we cannot study or benchmark good practices of the latter.

I am excited to work back in my city. I just had our bike lane consultancy awarded to a third party consultant (this will be the first time that we will study having a bike lane). I am excited to study about nature-based solution incorporated in our eco-tourism people’s park. I am optimistic that I can find a project that our city can partner with the City of Bonn. Perhaps enter into a sister city arrangement so that people in my city (elected leaders) will also understand and support the road to SDG 11. We have good policies in our country like mainstreaming climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction management in major plans. Aside from being compliant with our policies, I now have a deeper understanding and appreciation of the objective of our policies.

I am also inspired to finish my thesis in my Master of Urban and Regional Planning. My thesis is about complete streets concept application in the local context. I encountered the term complete streets when I was reviewing for the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) exam in 2017. Bonn, Germany’s street exemplified the complete street concept.

Thank you, ICLEI World Secretariat and the City of Bonn for sponsoring my trip. I gained friends and colleagues from around the world with the same mindset of trying to literally save our world. I met global heroes and I hope to be one of them.

Thank you again and I hope I’ll be invited to future activities and next year’s Resilient Cities 2019 10th Global Forum.