Townships and local governance

>> Sunday, July 16, 2017


By Ike Señeres

It is a remarkably positive trend that new townships are being built all over the country, albeit without a solid legal framework to back it up. For example, there are now new townships such as Bonifacio Global City, Eastwood City, Eaton City and Nuvali. The last one indicates that a geographic area need not be called a city in order for it to qualify as a township. For lack of a better term, we could perhaps say that any new geographic area that has the characteristics of a planned development could actually be considered as a new township. In reality however, these new townships are not, and need not be politically independent from the jurisdictions of the towns and cities where these are located.
For so many years now, I have been arguing in my writings that all towns and cities should be considered as municipalities, and the difference between them are their charters and the legal basis for their creation. In theory, it could be said that townships could be founded or built within towns and cities, with or without separate charters to back these up. For all intents and purposes, these townships could be considered as subdivisions or large subdivisions if you please, and these could be governed within the existing legal frameworks that are governed by subdivision laws or zoning laws. In a broader sense, these townships are still covered by the Local Government Code (LGC).
As it is supposed to be, all subdivisions are supposed to turn over the responsibility for the delivery of public services to the towns and cities where they are located, if and when these subdivisions are deemed to be already “fully” developed, based on certain official standards. As it actually happens however, the private developers who are in effect the legal owners of these subdivisions are not inclined to turn over the delivery of public services, in effect arguing that their properties are not “fully” developed. It seems that the bottom line issue here is “control”, because if these subdivisions are already turned over to the local governments, they would effectively lose “control”.
For all intents and purposes, “control” is actually just a political term, because more often than not, the local governments are still obliged to deliver the public services to the residents of these properties, such as fire, police, ambulance, rescue, sanitation and garbage collection services. In other words, the owners of these properties are able to get the best of both worlds. They are able to retain “control”, but they are not obliged to deliver their own public services. On the other hand, it seems that the local governments are the ones that are at the losing end of this equation, because they have to spend for the delivery of the public services, even if they do not have “control”.
Having laid the predicate so to speak, I now would like to bring forward my argument that local governments should empower the new townships within their jurisdictions to operate as autonomous geographic areas, mandated to deliver their own public services, without having to give up “control” of their own local administration. On the positive side, what I really mean is that these townships should be able to conduct their own governance, without being a burden to the towns and cities where they are located. If these could happen, the other residents of these towns and cities would benefit from the greater availability of public services, because there would be more services that would be available to lesser people.
As it is now, many barangays near the towns and cities are already positioned to either host or to become new townships. As a matter of fact, that is the trend that I see in the future, for megacities to be formed out of the clusters of townships within it and around it. In such a scenario, the burden of providing public services for the broader megacities would not fall upon the center, because it will be distributed all over the townships that would all be functionally autonomous. To some extent, this approach is consistent with the principle of subsidiarity, which is a principle of managing tasks at the lowest possible units.
With cities getting bigger than ever, the question of manageability and sustainability would always come up. Common sense that development is easier than sustainability, because it would seem easier to build than to sustain what has been built. Looking forward, it would almost seem impossible to think about a sustainable future without information communications technology (ICT) that should be backed up by the internet of things (IOT). With that in mind, all kinds of long term planning should now include ICT and IOT. To that effect, I would be willing to help both local governments and townships in preparing roadmaps towards that direction.
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