Participatory planning for the Subanons’ mountain settlement

In the aftermath of the Irisan open garbage dumpsite in Baguio City, Mayor Domogan made it known that City Hall is committed to renewing its effort to resolve the City’s garbage and solid waste management problem, and to take this forward one of the things needed to be done was for the Mayor to go to the US to visit and learn from a best practice on waste disposal there. Toward this, local citizens were divided in their opinions though I supposed at the back of their minds everyone did some mental math to compare the cost of traveling to the US and not, since either way taxpayers are going to shoulder the costs. In the end, I guess the Mayor himself also did some mental math and decided against the travel. (I guess when Local Chief Executives – politicians – make good decisions, citizens, at least those who are thinking critically, take mental note of these and give them brownie points, more effectively than what “epal” advertisements can do.)

The relevance of this introduction to this article is that local chief executives and public administrators don’t have to look or go far for best practices. The country, for all the shortcomings of the State, has lots of best practices supported and piloted by local governments and local and international organizations and consortia. It’s just that these are not consolidated and many are not documented and widely disseminated or marketed (to whom these are disseminated also matters as you’d want the information to fall on fertile ground at least 80% of the time). Also, host communities lack the confidence to uphold that the practice is a best practice, not just a good one. This is because locals lack the research skills to document the process or practice relative to industry benchmarks.

The case of settlement planning by a mining firm, TVIRD, for the displaced Subanons is one local best practice in settlement planning that isn’t widely known, unless you go on an extensive search for it. In settlement planning, the mainstream knowledge is that this is the work of real estate developers or that it is the sole responsibility of government housing agencies (specifically for socialized housing). But, the Subanon case shows that settlement planning, although initiated by an external agent, can be the outcome of a process participated in by the settlers – indigenous people – themselves; that, through this process, sustainable planning in the context of indigenous communities, that is, environment and development conflicts are resolved, is possible.

The lesson here is that in the search for “best solutions” we need to stretch the boundaries of our current thinking, perspectives, and systems. And often we find that in doing so the process is always participatory.

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