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Why BLISTT?
by Cesar D. Liporada

What is BLISTT? How did it start? What has it achieved? What is its status? What are the key success factors for its implementation? This article consists of four parts: the background, the 1994 BLIST, the 2009 and 2012 BLISTT, and lessons and recommendations. While this article draws primarily from official documents from the Regional Development Council-CAR, it also presents the perspective of the non-government sector.

Background

BLISTT stands for the first letters of adjoining local government units in Benguet. They are Baguio, La Trinidad, Itogon, Sablan, Tuba, and Tublay. The BLISTT Urban Planning Project was initially an effort of RDC-CAR to promote the joint development of the areas. It consisted of three phases: The 1994 BLIST Master Plan (minus Tublay), the 2009 BLISTT reconstructed plan, and the 2012 BLISTT initiative.

The BLIST was formally presented 23 years ago. It came at the heels of the devastating 7.7 magnitude earthquake that hit the country in July 16, 1990, when 500 people died in Baguio City alone. This was confounded by the Gulf War in August that same year, when the price of oil skyrocketed and was rationed. The magnitude of the devastations was beyond any one institution. But government, non-government organizations, and individuals gave their share in relief, rehabilitation, and reconstruction efforts. This was the time of Arch. Joseph Alabanza as regional director of RDC-CAR, where the Regional Disaster Coordinating Council was anchored at the Baguio Botanical Garden.

The BLIST was first presented in August 1990 while relief and rehabilitation work are ongoing. It was followed by a month-long (October) Baguio-Benguet NGO Planning Congress at Teachers’ Camp, with some 300 participants from various sectors. It was a joint initiative of the Baguio Jaycees and the Baguio Correspondents and Broadcasters Club, with members of the Association of Private Voluntary Organizations in Baguio and Benguet Inc. The participants developed a vision and plan for a better Baguio and Benguet (than before the earthquake) along the following focal points:

1. That the devastation by the earthquake brought the chance to “change what we did not like,”

2. That the need to rebuild should be planned with “sustainable development” in mind,

3. That such sustainable development could be achieved only with “people empowerment” as the exercise of so many NGOs was in itself already a statement of the government’s inadequacy,

4. That such collaboration should aim at a unity which can be achieved only through respect and support for one another’s independent thrusts, and

5. That all these could be achieved by keeping in mind the needs, both present and future, of our children.

The BLIST received a 1992 grant from the European Union (EU) for the completion of the technical aspect of the plan as part of EU’s Earthquake Rehab Programme (ERP). The BLIST Urban Plan was finalized in 1994 as a five volume document, which dwelled on hazards, planning studies, socio-economic aspects, technical studies, and implementation and finance.

The 1994 BLIST

The BLIST Urban Plan was two-fold. First, it was meant to reconstruct the city and outlying areas from the devastation of the earthquake. Among the considerations were: 1. The restoration of Baguio’s character as a “wooded mountain retreat;” 2. Provision of earthquake resistant buildings and emergency alternative routes; 3. Address decongestion and housing shortage; and 4. Improvement of accessibility.

Second, as an urban plan, BLIST aimed to manage the city, to avoid, or alleviate common urban problems such as inner city decay, overcrowding, traffic, and other forms of congestion. Its main considerations were to ease in circulation, economic growth, protection of the environment, and enhancement of the cultural milieu/character of the city.

The plan was supposedly market-driven, with maximum government intervention. It provided for a framework for the physical development of the BLIST areas. That is, it provided broad guidelines and policies for a planned development. Baguio City is the major growth center with four other growth nodes namely, La Trinidad, Tuba, Irisan, and Loakan. La Trinidad was to be the agro-industrial center and vegetable trading center. Irisan, Tuba and Loakan were to be the site of a conglomeration of residential houses with low-scale commercial facilities. They were also possible site of satellite campuses/colleges and other information and  technology-related economic activities. Itogon was to be a tourism and industrial site.

All these were also geared towards the Philippines 2000, which was then national government’s major thrust to achieve a newly industrializing status.

Aside from reconstruction efforts, such as the Baguio City center streetscaping and the Baguio Cathedral retaining wall, the accomplishments for BLIST are the following:

1. Infrastructures such as the Western Link Road (Pico-Lamtang Road) and the BLIST Circumferential Road, which connects Baguio, La Trinidad, and Tuba (in progress);

2. Water drainage studies such as the BLIST Water Resources Study, the Water Distribution and Leakage Study, and the Flood Mitigation and Drainage Work Study; 

3. Study for the Establishment of Land Delivery Unit for Low Cost Housing, included an initial list of possible areas for socialized housing development; and

4. The BLIST University Town Development Project Feasibility Study.

Except for the roads, most of the studies remained as studies. Likewise, most of the planned roads and other deliverables were not even started. Why? Among the issues cited by the National Economic Development Authority-CAR:

1. The 1994 BLIST plan was prepared with little consultation and, thus, not owned by the component local government units. It thus lacked the LGUs’ support. In the words of then (and now) La Trinidad Mayor Tabanda, “BLIST was for a Metro-Baguio. I have to think for my constituencies.”

2. The 1994 BLIST plan lacked a strong governing structure and implementation mechanism. A BLIST consultative forum was mandated, composed of the mayors concerned, the Benguet governor, and relevant regional line agencies. The agreements are to be implemented by the LGUs concerned. But it did not include a full-time secretariat. The secretariat rested with the NEDA, which was primarily a planning and coordinating body and not an implementing agency. There was no identified champion for the BLIST.

3. Lack of financial resources. Resource generation was not laid out. The LGUs were expected to raise the funds for projects in their areas.

It may be added that the 1991 Local Government Code tasked each LGU to come out with its own Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP). The basis for the CLUP is supposedly the physical framework plan for the Cordillera and Benguet. The physical framework plan is a 30-year (two generations) plan for the development of the land and people, considering the needs for an expected population growth. It is supposed to guide the towns and city for the latter to come out with their policies and guidelines on how to develop their respective areas. From the CLUP, the three to six years local development plan (LDP) is crafted, which defines the planned development. It is the basis for the Local Development Investment Program and the Annual Investment Plan (AIP). The AIP is the basis for the annual  budget, which in turn, is the basis for the releases from the Department of Budget and Management.

Unfortunately, the CLUPs of the BLIST areas are not synchronized and harmonized. The local development plan of each LGU is prepared independently of the other LGUs. This weakness in the planning process does not present a whole picture of how the city, its neighbors, and the province will be developed. The outcome is obvious: A seemingly un-programmed development for the BLIST.

The 2009 and 2012 BLISTT

Unfortunately, across time, the vision and mission for the BLIST and the NGO Planning Congress was obscured. Nonetheless, in 2009, the BLIST was revisited, with the following major reasons:

1. The uncontrolled urban expansion of Baguio and La Trinidad towards adjoining towns due to rapid population growth, which serves as possible adverse impact to ISTT’s resources if left without appropriate intervention. Baguio alone will hit the one million mark by 2025.

2. The World Bank’s recommended urban development strategy on “inclusive development” which is to deliberately spur socio-economic development from the urban core to its environs and other outlying areas close to the city center.

3. The Regional Physical Framework Plan’s (2004-2034) development strategy for the BLIST to be developed as center for regional administration, regional shopping, trading and banking, professional services, higher education, rest and recreation, and specialized industries.

The RDC-CAR resuscitated the BLISTT (with Tublay), with the following objectives:

1. Formulate a BLISTT Strategic Development Framework,

2. Serve as a discussion venue for inter-local cooperation,

3. Serve as mechanism for resource mobilization for the development of the area.

A memorandum of understanding was signed among the LGUs concerned (except Sablan). The BLISTT mayors’ forum membership was firmed-up. The composition now included the BLISTT LGUs, NEDA-CAR, the Benguet governor, the Baguio congressman, and the Baguio Centennial Commission.

The BLISTT technical working group was reconstituted, with the NEDA-CAR assigned as TWG head and technical secretariat. The members agreed to come out with a 30-year strategic framework plan and on participatory cost-sharing to defray funding requirements for the formulation of the BLISTT master plan. The expected major activities for 2010 were the formulation of the 30-Year BLISTT Strategic Development Framework and its initial execution.

However, it also faltered. Why? According to the NEDA-CAR,

1. The LGUs became pre-occupied with rescue and relief operations from the devastations of typhoons Pepeng (2009) and Juan (2010) and the 2010 elections.

2. The secretariat became pre-occupied with the 2010-2016 successor plan.

3. Delays in the release and transfer of agreed LGU counterpart to NEDA as fund manager.

It may be added that in 2010 to 2011, the RDC-CAR focused its efforts in the drafting of the third Organic Act, which was filed in Congress and the Senate.

The BLISTT revitalization program was instituted again in 2012. The BLISTT have contiguous territories and share a common forest, water resource, and a host of other opportunities.

Environmental concerns were raised, such as the trash slide in Irisan, which affected residents along Asin Road and Tuba; the rehabilitation of the Balili River, which require the joint effort of Baguio and La Trinidad; and the traffic congestion between Baguio and La Trinidad. 

The expansion of the Baguio City Economic Zone was also a concern that needed consultation with the BLISTT LGUs. 

In July 2012, the BLISTT mayors signed a memorandum of agreement for the BLISTT (the Itogon mayor signed in September 2012).

In September 2012, a BLISTT CLUP harmonizing workshop was held to identify the distinctive developmental roles, comparative advantages, and areas of conflict among the BLISTT LGUs.

In October of that year, a BLISTT visioning workshop was held, with the aim of serving as the framework for the overall development planning for BLISTT.

Among the needs identified were to:

1. Address the unbalanced development in BLISTT with the continuing growth/congestion of Baguio and La Trinidad central business districts while the rest are under-developed in terms of infrastructure facilities and with limited sources of local revenues.

2. Capitalize on the comparative advantage of the BLISTT to enhance its local economy. Among the areas are eco-tourism, tertiary education center, regional center, cut-flower industry, manufacturing, food processing, and water-based power development.

3. Have inter-local synchronized planning, development and disaster management efforts.

4. Define the desired development path of BLISTT, and seek fund assistance.

Among the major considerations for a sustainable urban development were:

1. Restoration of natural systems, such as watercourses, urban agriculture, and natural land cover.

2. Efficient land use, resource use, less pollution and waste management.

3. Good housing and living environment, with a healthy social ecology.

4. A sustainable economics.

5. Community participation and involvement.

6. Preservation of local culture and wisdom.

During a meeting on Aug. 5, the mayors (incumbents and newly elected) agreed to review the MOA; constitute a BLISTT Governing Board, with the mayors to select the chair from among themselves;  and create the BLISTT development council, to include representatives of the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples, the Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Tourism, Local Government Development Foundation or LOGODEV (a resource and funding agency) and NEDA;  and that the working secretariat are the respective local development councils. The work program was deferred. The current BLISTT program and its consultations shall be funded from the Special Autonomy Fund. 

Lessons and recommendations

Governance perspective. The planned market-driven strategy did not take off. Despite the Local Government Code’s mandate for governance, that is, the tripartite partnership of the government (LGU and regional line agencies), the business community and the NGOs, the BLISTT became primarily a government initiative. Because the business community was not involved, no finances were forthcoming. Because the NGOs were not involved, no grassroots support was invited. People were uninformed.

Metro-Cebu, Metro-Davao and San Carlos City in Negros Occidental are business sector driven (the latter supported by Baguio boy Daniel Urquico as consultant). So with the South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, and General Santos City (SOCSKSARGEN), which made GenSan among the country’s top cities.

The people who took part in the NGO Planning Congress are now 23 years older. But their aspirations found their way into the various plans of the city, towns, province, and the RDC. They found their way into the Baguio Regreening Movement, which earned for the city the “cleanest and greenest chartered city” title. The collective consciousness, not only government, was responsible for a rehabilitated Baguio-Benguet. Let government focus on guidelines. Let the business sector take the lead. Let the NGOs or peoples organizations have a strong hand in empowerment.

Development Authority. Although a strategic framework plan for BLISTT may be crafted, the mayors and other LGU officials only have three-year terms. It is unavoidable that the concerted efforts will be derailed every third year. Moreover, as a chartered city, Baguio reports directly to the Office of the President and not through Benguet. It may therefore follow a CLUP, which is not congruent with the physical framework plan for the province. 

The Metro Manila Development Authority is a product of a republic act. Although it is beset with numerous concerns, such as floods, garbage, and traffic congestion, it nevertheless continues to perform despite changes in LGU leadership. The idea for a BLISTT Development Authority may be crafted along such lines. The representatives of Baguio City and Benguet could jointly author a bill to institutionalize the concept if necessary.
Other news
:: Random thoughts on BLISTT
:: The BLISTT: As some others see it
:: Beyond Boundaries: Realizing the potentials of a public-private partnership in BLISTT
:: Do we need a big brother in BLISTT?
:: Andebok, a foundational site in Baguio’s political history
:: The need for a legislative response to the BLISTT framework
:: BSU’s role in the development of BLISTT
:: BLISTT: Transforming distrust to mutual cooperation
:: Local resources, global directions in the service of the CICM Mission
:: Making BLISTT work

Department of Social Welfare and Development
SiTEL
University of Baguio

Baguio Central University
Baguio City Council
Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company
Mayor Mauricio G. Domogan
MMS Development Traning Center Corporation
National Grid Corporation of the Philippines
Philex Mining Corporation
Pines City Colleges
Sangguniang Panlalawigan – Province of Benguet
Skycable
Sutherland Global Services
The Office of Civil Defense – Cordillera
TI (Philippines), Inc.
University of the Cordilleras
University of the Philippines – Baguio

Ahead Tutorial and Review
Assumption Medical Diagnostic Center, Inc.
Baguio City Police Office
Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center
Baguio Heart and Lung Diagnostic Center, Inc.
Baguio Memorial Chapels, Inc.
Baguio Water District
Benguet State University
BSBT College, Inc.
Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources
Bureau of Internal Revenue – CAR
Bureau of Jail Management and Penology – CAR
Citylight Hotel
Commission on Higher Education – CAR
Congressman Maximo B. Dalog
Congressman Ronald M. Cosalan
Crown Legacy Hotel
Department of Agrarian Reform – CAR
Department of Agriculture – CAR
Department of Education – CAR
Department of Environment and Natural Resources – CAR
Department of Interior and Local Government
Department of Science and Technology
Department of Tourism
Department of Trade and Industry
Easter College
Fabulo Beauty and Image Salon
Far East Pacific Commerical
Filipino–Japanese Foundation of Northern Luzon, Inc.
Fortune (Hong Kong) Seafood Restaurant
Fox International Immigration and Visa Provider
GMS Technology
Governor Leonard G. Mayaen
Governor Nestor B. Fongwan
Hotel Elizabeth
Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board – Northern Luzon Region
Kalapaw Restaurant
La Funeraria Paz, Inc.
Le Conservatoire De Danse De Ballet
Mother Earth Deli Basket
Municipality of La Trinidad
Overseas Workers Welfare Administration – CAR
Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company
Regional Development Council – CAR and National Economic and Development Authority – CAR
Technical Education and Skills Development Authority – CAR
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