One of the major activities of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Strengthening Urban Resilience for Growth with Equity (SURGE) Project is the Conference on Sustainable Land Governance that was held on February 8-9, 2017 at the Diamond Hotel Manila, Philippines. Through the Cities Development Initiative (CDI), USAID partners with the local institutions to bolster the role of secondary and tertiary cities as engines of inclusive, environmentally sustainable, and resilient growth. Land is a key asset that can drive economic development, food security, women’s empowerment, natural resource management, and sustainable urbanization.
The conference gathered 60 international and local speakers, moderators and more than 300 participants from the national and local governments, international experts, development partners and from various stakeholders from the academe, the private sector, non-government organizations and students. The United States Ambassador to the Philippines, the US Agency for International Aid (USAID) Mission Director, the Secretary of the Department of Finance, the Program Director of the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) other officials from USAID, and other key government officials were also present.
The event promoted the sharing of good practices and new sustainable approaches to urban land administration. It facilitated multidisciplinary discussions on practical solutions to challenges in land governance in the Philippines among key partners. It was co-sponsored by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) and the World Bank.
Other conference partners were: Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), the National Competitiveness Council of the Philippines (NCCP); the Bureau of Local Government Finance (BLGF), the Land Registration Authority (LRA); the Geodetic Engineers of the Philippines (GEP) and the League of Cities of the Philippines.
The SURGE Project employed the services of a sub-contractor, the Asia Society for Social Improvement and Sustainable Transformation (ASSIST) as the event organizer.
The discussions during the conference focused on 12 interactive streams of topics: (1) land administration and management and the challenges of urbanization; (2) land sector reforms in the Philippines; (3) alternative land dispute resolutions; (4) urban land constrictions; (5) asset management for local government units; (6) policy frameworks for land administration and management; (7) experiences in implementing land sector reforms; (8) technology solutions in land administration; (9) improving access to land records/information; (10) gender and social inclusion in property rights; (11) resilience land management; and (12) managing commercial pressures on land markets.
Launch of the Sustainable Urban Land Coalition and Call to Action
The launch of the Sustainable Urban Land Coalition with representatives of various agencies, institutions and organizations was considered as the highlight of the conference. The coalition called for the adoption of a sustainable land governance to address the country’s land sector development concerns.
Signed on February 9, 2017, the conference produced a Call To Action urging “responsible institutions take the lead in improving, streamlining, and making accessible national and local government land programs and services to fast track the development and adoption of policy and institutional reforms”, such as:
- streamline and rationalize the mandates of land related agencies;
- prioritize and direct the implementation of a massive national titling program involving all land related agencies;
- provide equal opportunities to women and men to acquire properties;
- issue a policy to link and harmonize land records and systems for a comprehensive, gender sensitive and cost efficient land-related database;
- strictly enforce compliance of local government units on property valuation regulations;
- issue a policy for the adoption of new technologies for surveying, mapping, adjudication and titling;
- address a responsive national land use policy;
- pass amendments to land laws to remove antiquated restrictions to land ownership;
- expedite resolution of land-related cases (e.g., conflicting land claims/titles, etc.); and
- support and advocate for the reforms in land administration and management.
In his speech, Jonas George Soriano, Deputy Executive Director for the Performance and Projects Management Office of the Cabinet Secretary of the Philippine Government lauded the newly-formed coalition and assured that the administration of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte supports the Call to Action. In fact, he announced at the conference that President Duterte will sign into law the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) and the National Security Policy which will be the basis of all plans and reforms in the government.
Undersecretary for Regional Development of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Adoracion Navarro, on the other hand, said NEDA has reactivated the national land use committee which is responsible for tackling land governance issues in the country. Navarro encouraged the newly-formed coalition to aggressively work with the government to address land issues in the Philippines.
Based on the observations and result of the post-conference survey, the conference raised awareness on improving sustainable land governance both at the national and local levels. The knowledge-sharing, networking and partnerships during the conference were valuable in advancing urban land administration and reform in the Philippines.
For instance, conference participants realized the importance of asset management as a new systematic approach to increase the effective use of real property, owned or operated by a local government. Asset management involves a comprehensive inventory of all assets and an evaluation of each property to determine the best use for a local government. By addressing other property management issues, this multidisciplinary approach to managing assets results in improving local finances, service delivery and facilitates local economic development. SURGE Project Chief of Party Maris Mikelsons stressed that the project will assist CDI cities in implementing asset management with the League of Cities as the main partner and driver of institutionalizing it in the Philippines. An important task for this is the preparation of an Asset Management Manual for distribution to all local governments.