Metro BLISTT and why it’s not taking off as it must

In a previous article, I mentioned that I presented a paper on Metropolitization and Metro BLISTT as subject requirement for my Philippine Urban Administration class. My paper is part of the broader Urban Competitiveness subject, the theory and concept presented by my reporting partner, an IT specialist with the city’s Legislative Council. We haven’t done an exhaustive comparative research of the country’s metropolitan arrangments and the Metro BLISTT but what we’ve gathered are interesting facts from which a more detailed research could take off. Plus, I learned, thanks to my reporting partner, that the study conducted for the metropolitization of BLISTT, filed at the City Hall planning office, is a five-volume document. I mean, I’m from the city but are locals aware of this?

Metro BLISTT is the proposed metropolitan arrangement for Baguio City and areas of Benguet congruent to the city namely, La Trinidad, Itogon, Sablan, Tuba, and Tublay (Tublay was added in recent years). The proposal was floated after the earthquake in 1990 when City Hall was planning for the City’s reconstruction. A study was conducted and developed into the Metro BLIST Structural Plan. In later years Metro BLIST concept was further developed to become part of region-wide development which is documented in the CAR Physical Framework Plan of 2004-2034. In the CAR PFP, regional growth nodes are proposed to address, among others, the monocentric settlement pattern which is causing the inequitable distribution of regional wealth. From economic data, Baguio City alone, particularly the PEZA industries in Loakan, contributes 60% (of this 99% comes from Texas Instruments’ electronics production alone) to the region’s GDP in manufacturing yet this accounts for only 4% of the region’s GVA share in national GDP for the sector. This means that the region is underperforming relative to its potential in size and endowments. Also, Baguio City, a highly-urbanized city, is incomparable to the rest of the region’s urban areas these being highly-specialized services such as offered in medicine, education, trading, and communications. And these are expanding. But, the City could only accommodate a population of 35,000 in order that quality life for each person is assured. Yet, the population in 2007 has reached 300,000+, which as our class discussed it City Hall seems powerless over.

The CAR Development Council chaired by NEDA-CAR categorizes the growth nodes into, primary growth corridors these being, Metro BLISTT and the Eastern Cordillera Growth Corridor comprised of Rizal (Tabuk), Paracelis (Mt. Province), and Alfonso Lista (Ifugao) where because of its vast agricultural resource the region’s agro-industrialization is envisioned; secondary growth corridors namely, Apayao (Kabugao, Flora, Pudtol), Metro Bangued, Ifugao (Lamut and Lagawe), and Bontoc (Bontoc, Sagada, Tadian, Bauko, Besao); and, tertiary growth corridors namely, Abatan (Buguias, Benguet), Licuan (Abra), Potia (Ifugao), Pudtol (Apayao) and Lubuagan (Kalinga). Metro BLISTT will serve the region in regional administrative governance, regional shopping, trading and banking center, providing specialized or professional services, higher education and R&D, and hosting specialized industries. The region’s growth nodes are further linked to adjacent growth blocs such as the North Western Luzon Growth Quadrangle (NWLGQ) and North Luzon Agribusiness Quadrangle (Regions I, II, Tarlac, and Zambales), and outside the country particularly the Southern China (Taipei-Suchuan-Hong Kong) growth triangle. To be fair to the former President, ‘Super Regions’ and their interlinkage through congruent growth corridors was Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s flagship program toward the country’s industrialization. Unfortunately this suffered from lack of local uptake and execution.

With this rosy spatial growth plan for the region, Metro BLISTT should have been on its way yesterday but why is this not the case? Comparative study among other metropolitan arrangements in the country such as that of Metro Manila, Metro Naga, Metro Cebu, Metro Iloilo, Metro Cagayan de Oro, and Metro Davao show that Metro BLISTT faces unique challenges, which are: (1) cultural acceptability and perceptions of metropolitization, (2) structural arrangement, and (3) the parallel push for regional autonomy.

Cultural acceptability
The BLISTT areas as well as the region are fundamentally of indigenous stock of various tribal origins that are fiercely territorial. Baguio City, originally populated by less than 500 in the 1900s by Ibalois of the Carino clan mostly, has grown to become the melting pot of the region’s various tribes as well as migrants from the lowlands. The other towns, the LISTT group, have largely retained their indigenous culture and homogeneity, which is where the challenge toward metropolitization takes off. There is great resistance within the more homogenous LISTT group in “giving up” portions of their territories for common use (in fact, the perception is it’s just for “Baguio City’s use”) and because it is perceived that Baguio City stands to benefit the most from the arrangement it should give the highest contribution to the central fund but City Hall said no it won’t. These perceptions stem from the long-standing issue in Baguio City regarding its mounting garbage and solid waste that the LISTT group fears, if Metro BLISTT is put in operation, the City would unceremoniously dump on their lands. And who are the Baguio people, largely non-IP, to dump on IPs’ lands?

Structural arrangement
Within the Metro BLISTT, the structural arrangement is a consultative forum comprised of the BLISTT LGUs. But with the creation of the NWLGQ Commission the forum is placed under the Quad East (essentially the BLISTT Area) Task Force chaired by the Mountain Province Governor and co-chaired by the Mayor of Baguio City.

The arrangment is problematic in two ways. First, the NWLGQ Commission since its creation has difficulty moving toward its objectives hence affecting the Quad East (BLISTT Area) Task Force, and according to our professor the Commission is about to be disbanded by the President. Second, the context and challenges facing the North Quad (Region I) are quite different from that of the BLISTT or even CAR hence the concern over the uniform pattern of development for the Quad.

According to my classmates who are with the LGUs, the last time the BLISTT Consultative Forum met was during the mayorship of Edna Tabanda, which was six to eight years ago. Then, the former Baguio City Mayor was against the metropolitan arrangement which effectively slowed or stopped the proposal altogether.

Push for regional autonomy
In recent years, the move toward regional autonomy was taken up again which effectively pushed the Metro BLISTT proposal into the background. The first time, the autonomous proposal was unanimously voted against by Baguio City residents purportedly because of fears and misconceptions about the arrangment. This time, again, with the lack of local awareness hence ownership, it is in danger of the same fate.

In sum, Metro BLISTT suffers from a shortage of vision ownership. Given this, I proposed the use of the Urban Competitiveness Framework as the alternative roadmap, away from the current problem-based and problem-focused strategy. If the BLISTT LGUs would shift from a problem-based perspective (e.g. starting with the problem of solid waste to spark discussions) into a forward-looking outlook (e.g. asking “what do we have that would consolidate our economic standing and would place us on the national and eventually world map?” as take-off point for discussions) of local economic growth and development, Metro BLISTT could become a reality. A simple change in perspective may prove the first important step.

Next article I’ll write about how urban competitiveness could be utilized as the framework to consolidate the Metro BLISTT vision.

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