Integration, local empowerment will address PHL geographical barriers to human development

Jul 29, 2013

Geography is a deep determinant of human development; it affects access to services and the availability of choices and opportunities. Thus, policy priority must be given to the delivery of basic and social services that is integrated and locally anchored, most crucially at the provincial level, says the 2012/2103 Philippine Human Development Report (PHDR) launched today with the theme on Geography and Human Development’.

The report pointed out that the combined failure of national vision and denial of local responsibility, amidst the country’s geographical challenges, leads to the dissipation of resources that is the “divide-by-N” syndrome.

Pork barrel

It notes that the pork barrel system has institutionalized the ‘divide-by-N syndrome’ and has brought about overlapping investments, many small projects with little or no development significance dotting towns and cities, such as waiting sheds, entrance arches and multipurpose pavements. The results, according to the PHDR, are duplicative infrastructure and programs in disregard of scale, synergy and the conscious integration of larger markets.

Secretary for Socioeconomic Planning and NEDA Director General Arsenio Balisacan said that this 7th PHDR comes at a time when the government is updating the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2011-2016 with an eye toward paying greater attention to the spatial and sectoral dimensions of growth in the pursuit of more inclusive outcomes. Sec. Balisacan, a former Human Development Network (HDN) president, added that the updating will also examine institutional arrangements between administrative layers of government to better align local and national development plans. This is critical if short-and medium-term gains are to take root and carry the country forward into the longer term, he stressed.

Dr. Emmanuel de Dios, HDN president, says that the report is addressed to political leaders at all levels and especially to the people to whom the former are responsible and must be held to account. By issuing this volume, the HDN, Dr. de Dios says, hopes both leaders and people will recognize the challenge geography poses to human development, so that they will change the institutions that stand in the way of an effective response.

UNDP Country Director Toshihiro Tanaka says the PHDR brings to our attention the development variations brought about by geographic influence. The PHDR, according to Mr. Tanaka, is a useful reference in development planning, and will especially assist local governments in reviewing policies and interventions to maximize their efficiency in accordance to geographical uniqueness. For one, understanding geography and its impacts on human development pathways, could unveil solutions to the issue of rising inequality and disparity of urban and rural areas, Mr. Tanaka said.

Geographical challenges

The PHDR states that the Philippines’ tropical, diverse, fragmented, and hazard-prone geography poses huge challenges to human development. Distance, landform and climate are significant obstacles to people’s access to health, education and their ability to obtain a sustainable and productive living, the report adds.

To show the impact of geography on human development in the Philippines, the PHDR pointed out that without controlling for other factors, geography (climate, elevation, slope, whether sea or landlocked) ‘explains’ about 24.7 percent of variation in life expectancy, 36.6 percent of variation in mean years of schooling and 31.6 percent of variation of per capita income across provinces – altogether about 34.3 percent of variation in provincial Human Development Index (HDI). Geography also explains about 47.2 percent of variation in the incidence of provincial incidence of poverty.

Human development, as defined by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), is a process of enlarging people's choices. For people to lead better lives, they must be able to enjoy a healthy and long-lasting existence measured by life expectancy at birth; have access to knowledge in its different expressions measured by basic enrollment ratios and literacy rate; have the material resources for a decent standard of living measured by income; and freely participate in community life and collective affairs.   The Aquino administration supports human development as demonstrated by a cabinet cluster on human development and poverty reduction.

Equity in opportunities

To achieve human development, geographical differences should not translate into differences in human opportunities, argues the report. The PHDR says that:

            This implies, first and foremost, that the fundamental means needed to build human capabilities must be made available irrespective of location. Access to basic education and to primary health, in particular, should be “spatially blind.”

            Second, recognizing that economic growth and wealth-creation are not uniformly spread but inevitably create basins of attraction, e.g., cities and mass markets, affording access to incomes and livelihood opportunities must entail “spatially connective” or market-integrating infrastructure that facilitates the bidirectional movement of goods and people.

Even as the report recognizes the geographic unevenness entailed by growth—and therefore the inevitability of leading and lagging areas—it points to the possibility of reconciling this with equal human opportunities: Uneven, unbalanced growth is not incompatible with inclusive human development.”

The report highlights that spatial dimensions of current public policy are ‘unfortunately wanting and unresponsive’ causing significant costs to human development. These are in the forms of lost adult productivity and healthy days, missed school attendance, substandard agricultural yields, food insecurity, forfeited agglomeration economies, and lost growth. It leads, in short, to foregone achievements in human capabilities, market expansion, and living standards at local levels.

Centralization bias

The bias for centralization in many government programs leads to a one-size-fits-all approach that fails to account for local conditions affecting the population. This unresponsive framework, according to the report, is reinforced by a “silo”-complex in many national agencies themselves, which splits responsibilities among non-overlapping (and therefore non-cooperating) bureaucracies organized along the same technocratic lines of categories rather than people.

The report cites examples of divide-by-N syndrome:

  • Airports – 87 across the country, many of which are within a 2-hour ride away from each other resulting in an annual allocation of maintenance funds so spread out as to be ridiculously small.
  • Seaports – 140 public seaports, many which can accommodate ro-ro ships but 40 of these lack any traffic. Another 72 modular ports more were contacted for purchase in 2009 (costing P218.6 M a set) before the new administration rescinded the contract after finding that proposed sites for these ports either did not need or could not use them.
  • SAFDZs - The failed implementation of Strategic Agriculture and Fisheries Development Zones or SAFDZs under the AFMA because, among others, the total delineated SAFDZ approached 10.64 million ha. rendering the approach useless.
  • RAICs, APECO and other freeports – Attempts to disperse industry and generate economic mass across regions have generally not prospered. A national government attempt in the 1980s to establish regional agro-industrial centers (RAIC) in every administrative region of the country. However, only sites that coincided with existing industrial areas, such as in Calabarzon and Mactan, thrived; the rest failed to materialize. The saga of the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Authority (APECO) is another failed attempt. 
  • The pork barrel has resulted in the fragmentation of many projects across space and time, e.g., bridges that lead nowhere, dirt interrupted occasionally by concrete paving; half-roofed schoolhouses, etc.

Empowerment of provinces

The Report advocates giving provinces the greatest leeway to define their own priorities and providing them the resources to achieve them.

  • Not all of today’s provinces represent optimal divisions from the viewpoint of geography and ecosystems, especially since political considerations have motivated province-creation over the last couple of decades.
  • But provinces are currently still the most practicable level of political authority that can give full weight to the specificity and diversity of local conditions, even as it is capable of adopting a viewpoint comprehensive enough to adopt programs that exploit potential economies of scale and scope.
  • It is provinces and provincial leadership that can potentially respond to the differing needs of leading and lagging areas, e.g., between urban areas and peripheries—as well as provide the connections needed to foster healthy symbiotic relations between them.

Paradoxically however, the report says, current laws and planning and budgeting practices constrain provincial governments from performing this integrative function. To demonstrate:

  • Rather than expand the role of planning among provinces, current laws instead reduce their jurisdictions by ripping out the most developed urban areas (i.e. highly urbanized cities);
  • Province’s tax bases and tax powers are circumscribed;
  • Provincial spending responsibilities are overextended yet sorely underfunded; and
  • Parochial political pressure is accommodated for even greater subdivision of jurisdictions.

The Report argues that no serious geographical obstacles to human development can never be adequately addressed without giving full rein to province-level planning and fiscal responsibility—with the democratic accountability that entails.

To this end, future legislation is clearly needed to change the current city-centric emphasis of devolution and redefine the powers of local governments accordingly. The PHDR noted it has come out at an opportune time when there is increasing interest in revisiting the Local Government Code (1991) after more than two decades of implementation. Even without legislation, however, a good deal can already be accomplished by expanding the role of provinces and province-level concerns in the design of programs and the choice of projects by national-level planning, fiscal, and line agencies, concludes the report.

The Philippines is ranked 114th out of 187 countries in the 2013 global Human Development Report, placing it in the medium-HD level. In the last 10 years, it has been overtaken by Malaysia, China and Thailand, indicating a slow pace of progress for the country.


More Information
ABOUT THIS REPORT: The 2012/13 PHDR is the 7th in a series of national human development reports (NHDRs) that have advocated the use of concepts and indicators of human development as a counterpoint to traditional measures like per capita income in development policy-making and practice. The first Philippine HDR came out in 1994 with the theme, "Human Development and People's Participation in Governance". Since this maiden issue, the human development framework has been applied to specific themes such as Gender (1997); Education (2000); Employment (2002); Peace and Human Security (2005); and Institutions and Politics (2009). This has gained for the PHDR a reputation of factually based, insightful and well-written analyses not just in the Philippines but also in the community of nations.

The Human Development Network (HDN) Foundation, Inc. is a nonstock, nonprofit organization whose mission is to propagate and mainstream the concept of sustainable human development through research and advocacy. It is the main partner of the UNDP in the conduct of dialogue and discussions among relevant groups and individuals pertaining to the major findings and conclusions of the yearly global human development reports in the Philippine context. The HDN, through the auspices of the UNDP, facilitates the preparation of the national version of the Human Development Report (HDR). For more info on the HDN:

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is the UN’s global development network, advocating for change and connecting countries to knowledge, experience and resources to help people build a better life. We are on the ground in 166 countries, working with them on their solutions to global and national development challenges. As they develop local capacity, they draw on the people of UNDP and our wide range of partners.    The annual global Human Development Report (HDR) commissioned by UNDP, focuses the global debate on key development issues, providing new measurement tools, innovative analysis and often-controversial policy proposals. The global Report’s analytical framework and inclusive approach carry over into regional and national HDRs. For more info on UNDP: http://www.undp.org

 The National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) is the policy-making and coordinating agency on statistical matters in the Philippines created under Executive Order No. 121 of January 30, 1987). Its objective is to develop an orderly Philippine Statistical System (PSS) that is capable of providing timely, accurate, relevant, and useful data for the government and the public for planning and decision-making. It also promotes the independence, objectivity, integrity, relevance and responsiveness of the PSS. In 2012, the HDN revived its collaboration with the NSCB on estimating the Human Development Index (HDI). This is to realize the institutions’ shared goal of mainstreaming the HDI by coming up with only one HDI estimate every three years and institutionalizing the HDI methodology for succeeding PHDRs. For more info on NSCB: