Urban Planning in Local Government Units (LGUs)

Most of us when we envision the world of Urban Planning think of places like Singapore, Washington DC, Netherlands, and the likes. It is a good start but urban planning is not limited to grand urban designs. It is not limited to big urban planning firms. Actually, it is more felt and relevant at the local government unit (LGU) level.

What is an LGU? Why is it important? Why is it relevant? Does urban planning reach LGUs? How does it affect you as a constituent of your LGU?

LGUs are territorial and political subdivisions of the State that enjoys genuine and meaningful local autonomy which enables them to attain their fullest development as self-reliant communities and make them more effective partners in the attainment of national goals. – RA 7160 Declaration of Policy (Sec 22 a)

I believe I need to elaborate the definition of an LGU. First is a country is composed of LGUs. These LGUs have defined territories (land areas). Second is they are political subdivisions in a way that people in the LGUs vote for their governors, mayors, barangay captains and their councils. Third is it is the state’s policy is to provide LGUs genuine and meaningful local autonomy. It means that the state (national government) allows its LGUs to decide and formulate policies which are important and relevant to them. The objective is for the LGUs to achieve its desired development, self-reliance and decide what is good or beneficial (general welfare) to them. Fourth and last is to make LGUs effective partners of the state (national government) in the attainment of national goals. Take note that the word used was “partner” and not “subordinate”.

LGUs are lower government units that are not part or below the national government level. LGUs are composed of autonomous regions, provinces, cities, municipalities, and barangays. As of 2017, there are 81 provinces, 145 cities, 1,489 municipalities and 42,046 (year 2020) barangays which totals to 43,761 LGUs in the Philippines.

Now, let us look at some concepts related to LGUs. I learned these things when I studied Public Management. I’ll upload a slide presentation copy so you can review it later.

What are LGUs slides:

The most important concept when we talk about LGUs is decentralization. From the word itself we can easily say that it means moving away from the center. And you are right! So what is the center that we are talking about? It is the National Government. These are the Offices / Departments of our President and National Congress. The things being decentralized are the power, authority and responsibility to govern the people.

Decentralization generally refers to the systematic and rational dispersal of power, authority and responsibility from the center to the periphery, from top to lower levels, or from national to local governments (Raul de Guzman).

There are two main and obvious reasons for decentralization. First is it hastens decision-making processes by decongesting central (national) government and reducing red tape. Imagine if a simple change of street name, identification of garbage collection route, putting up of pedestrian lanes, designation of smoking areas, etc. are being sent to Congress or to the President for decision. It is not practical. Second is it increases citizen participation and empowers them by leading to a more open and democratic government. It is easier to talk to our mayors, council members, or LGU employees and demand for improvement of services or promote or rally against a policy than bringing them up to the national level. It gives people more power to participate, influence and be heard by the government at the LGU level.

There are three (3) major types of Decentralization in the Philippines. These are devolution, deconcentration and debureaucratization.

When we talk about decentralization of LGUs, we are talking about devolution. Devolution is the transfer of powers and authorities from the national government to lower level political or local government units. The LGU has an elected executive and local legislative body that passes laws or ordinances; has specific taxing powers; has jurisdiction over a certain defined geographical area; and is political in nature. In devolution there is an actual transfer of power and autonomy from the central government to its components.

In deconcentration, there is no transfer of power and autonomy but only transfer of functions. It is the transfer of functions to lower level administrative units designated by the central office. These are Regional or provincial offices of the departments of the national government like the Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of Trade and Industry, National Economic and Development Authority, etc. In deconcentration, the authority still rests in the central offices and the decentralization is mostly administrative in nature.

The last type decentralization is debureaucratization. It is the transfer of power and functions of the government to non-government institutions. The power is in the civil society organizations, non-government organizations, professional organizations, cooperatives, people’s organization and private sectors. We can appreciate debureaucratization in the following instances: awarding of service / management / lease Contracts; public-private partnerships; joint venture agreements; concessionaires, privatization / divestiture, etc.

“With great power comes great responsibility”— Peter Parker / Spiderman

The responsibilities of the LGUs are clearly presented in the Local Government Code of 1991 (Republic Act 7160). The Local Government Code of 1991 is known as the Bible guide of LGUs. The law provided the legal and institutional infrastructure for the participation of civil society in local governance, increased the financial resources available to LGUs and laid foundation for the development and evolution of more entrepreneurial-oriented local governments. (Brillantes, 1998)

Numerous aspects of basic services that earlier were the responsibility of the national government were devolved to LGUs as well as the enforcement of certain regulatory powers.

RA 7160 link: https://www.lawphil.net/statutes/repacts/ra1991/ra_7160_1991.html
There are two inherent characteristics (nature) of LGUs. These are political and corporate characteristics.

An LGU is a political subdivision of the national government. It is an instrument of the State to help carry out functions of the government. It is a Public or Government Agency. LGU has a public character (not private). Being a public agency its concern is to promote the general welfare of its constituents, deliver devolved function and collect taxes to fund the delivery of its services.
LGU as a corporate entity or corporation represents the inhabitants of its territory to administer its own private affairs / private character. It means that an LGU has a right of succession in its corporate (LGU) name, to hold and convey properties, borrow money, to sue and be sued, and to enter into contracts, etc.

Let’s go back to urban planning. Now that we know the powers, responsibilities and impact of LGUs in our everyday life, do you think it is important to have planners in each of the LGUs?

Urban planning is strong at the province, city and municipality levels (total of 1,715 LGUs).

LGUs are required to appoint a Local Planning and Development Coordinator (Planning Director) that is responsible for planning formulation and activities in their locality. These planning directors are required to be a licensed urban/environmental planners via Civil Service Commission Memorandum 1700294 entitled Amendment to the QS of the Local Planning and Development Coordinator Positions in the LGUs enacted on February 2, 2017. Imagine 1,715 Urban Planners leading their LGUs!

CSC Memorandum 1700294 Link: http://www.csc.gov.ph/phocadownload/MC2017/MC%20No.%2010,%20s.2017.pdf

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” – Aristotle

Having Urban Planners practicing urban planning knowledge and skills at the LGU level will surely positively influence the development of the country as a whole. Let us all get involved and participate in our municipalities and cities planning activities and determination of local policies.

Other related topics:

How to become an Urban (Environmental) Planner? – Qualifying for the Exam

What Does an Urban Planner Do?

What is Urban (Environmental) Planning?