September 26, 2022

Last month, Republic Act 11932, or an Act Creating the Metropolitan Baguio, La Trinidad, Itogon, Sablan, Tuba, and Tublay Development Authority (MBLISTTDA) authored by Baguio Rep. Mark Go has lapsed into law.

Patterned after the Metro Manila Development Authority, the MBLISTTDA will serve as a government entity with corporate powers that will plan and implement basic area-wide services without diminishing the autonomy of local government units on local matters.

Under RA 11932, Baguio City and La Trinidad, Itogon, Sablan, Tuba, and Tublay, all in Benguet, will be assigned as a special development and administrative area.

The MBLISTTDA will be placed under the administrative supervision of the Office of the President.

The birth of the Urban BLIST Plan

As a backgrounder, let me share some information about the Urban BLIST Plan, which inspired the filing of House Bill 9215 which lapsed into law as RA 11932.

The BLIST authority was created supposedly to implement the Urban BLIST Plan that was prepared in 1993 and completed in 1994 by a joint group of European and Filipino consultants following the July 1990 earthquake that caused great damage to the City of Baguio.

Such catastrophic event exposed the need to rehabilitate Baguio City and to consider a long-term reconstruction by decongesting the city to solve its urban problems; thus, the inclusion of the five adjoining towns of Benguet before Tublay was included much later as expansion areas.

During earlier talks, some Baguio consultants wanted to call the structure as Metro BLIST or Metro Baguio but was rejected by the Benguet mayors because of the impression that their areas are just extensions of Baguio City.

Another option for the implementation of the BLIST plan was the creation of a consultative forum composed of representatives from the BLIST members.

The forum provides the general policy direction on BLIST issues that would affect the other areas wherein all the mayors can directly control projects, programs and planning activities. The proposal was mutually accepted by the chief executives that time, which led to the signing of a memorandum of agreement. Unfortunately, the forum has not been meeting regularly, but it was not dissolved.

In 1994, Executive Order 175 was issued creating the Northern Luzon Growth Quadrangle (NWLGQ) Commission that would be responsible for the general direction, coordination, and supervision of NWLGQ development efforts.

In the planning process of the Urban BLIST Plan, the four Benguet mayors have recommended projects that would be included in the plan aside from the projects identified by the planners and the mayor of Baguio.

In La Trinidad, the projects submitted were the Balili River park development, sewerage system, and western link road.

At the time, the BLIST mayors; the chairman of the NWLDQ, noted urban plan Arch. Jody Alabanza; and the mayors of Dagupan City, Mangaldan, and Calasiao, all in Pangasinan, even went to some countries in Europe to learn about their urban plans.

Many of the proposed major projects under the Urban BLIST Plan were implemented during the Ramos administration without an administrative authority.

Thoughts and observations about the MBLISTTDA

Going back to MBLISTTDA, I would like to share my thoughts and observations about the law.

The author of the law has failed to conduct proper consultations with different stakeholders in the BLISTT before finalizing and filing the bill in Congress.

Participation of people in development planning and decision making is mandated by the Local Government Code and the Philippine Constitution, and even the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act considering that La Trinidad has been declared an ancestral domain and therefore requires the free prior informed consent requirement.

Last July 29, La Trinidad conducted a public hearing where Rep. Go explained some provisions of the law, but this writer was not satisfied with the result of the public hearing because the time for more discussions was limited and several municipal and barangay officials were not even present.

However, Mayor Romeo Salda and Vice Mayor Roderick Awingan have informed this writer that a technical working group will be created to formulate the implementing rules and regulations.

Former senator Richard Gordon also conducted two public hearings in the Senate in Manila and one at Camp John Hay. In the Senate committee hearing, I introduced myself as an Igorot and raised a concern regarding ancestral lands and domains.

His reply was, “Where the Igorots are? They are there begging like the Aetas.” I opted not to respond to the comment of the senator.

METRO BLISTTDA — This month, Baguio Rep. Mark Go announced that Republic Act 11932 creating the Metropolitan Baguio, La Trinidad, Itogon, Sablan, Tuba, and Tublay Development Authority has lapsed into law. The law imbues the BLISTT inter-local cooperation with the capacity to implement high-impact BLISTT-wide projects and consolidate inter-local efforts to improve service delivery in the concerned city and towns.

Questionable provisions of RA 11932

Section 2 of the law states that “the MBLISTTDA shall administer a special development and administrative area embracing the BLISTT members and MBLISTTDA shall be under the administrative supervision of the Office of the President of the Philippines. It shall serve as the platform for the acceleration of the social, economic, and political developments in the area as a unified management unit by enabling component LGUs to respond to common development challenges though unified, effective and economically efficient programs and undertakings. It shall exercise regularity and supervisory authority over the delivery of area-wide services within the jurisdiction of the concerned city and municipalities without diminution of the LGUs concerning purely local matters. It shall also perform planning, monitoring, and coordinative functions.”

This provision violates the principle of local autonomy as provided for in the LGC. The President already has the supervisory function of the local government, so why should he be involved in the implementation of the BLISTT plan?

It also contradicts the policy of government on right-sizing or streamlining of the government bureaucracy. Actually, the BLISTT authority as means of implementing the BLISTT plan was rejected by the former Benguet mayors from the beginning.

Section 3 provides for the scope of MBLISTTDA services. These services include the following: Development planning and preparation of medium and long-term development plans; Urban renewal, land use planning, and housing and shelter; Transport and traffic management; Solid waste disposal and management; Flood control and sewerage management; Water resource management system; Health sanitation and pollution control; Public safety and order; and Tourism.

In the BLISTT plan, the above services are needed by the City of Baguio and that was the reason why after the 1990 earthquake, the consultants’ plan was not only to rehabilitate Baguio, but also to develop a long-term Urban BLIST Plan purposely to decongest the city’s urban problems, thus the inclusion of its adjacent Benguet towns to absorb its urban problem.

Tuba was identified as source of water and landfill and for educational institutions, but Tuba rejected all of them because of the concern on ancestral land and domains, including the problem social acceptability for a landfill.

There are also the different national government agencies that are mandated to provide technical and financial support while assistance to the LGUs also comes from the private sector through Public Private Partnership.

Likewise, Section 4 provides for the creation of the MBLISTTDA council composed of the BLISTT LGUs which shall serve as the governing board and policymaking body of MBLISTTDA. It shall be composed, in an ex officio capacity, of the governor of Benguet, the representatives of Baguio and Benguet, and BLISTTDA mayors as regular members; and different non-government organizations and two representatives from the private sector as non-voting members. The council shall be headed by a chairman who shall be elected from among the regular members who shall preside over the council meetings. There shall also be an administration who shall serve for a term of six years, to be appointed by the President who shall continue to hold office at the discretion of the appointing authority. The administration shall be vested with rank, rights, privileges, disqualifications and prohibitions of a Cabinet member. The administration shall act as the chief executive officer of the MBLISTTDA. The administration and members are entitled to allowances and per diems in accordance with existing policies, rules, and regulations on the matter.

Section 5 provides for the powers and functions of the MBLISTTDA as the following:

Formulate, coordinate, and regulate the implementation of all the plans/ programs; Undertake and manage its programs and projects subject to the approval of the council, of which MBLISTTDA shall create appropriate project management offices; Coordinate and monitor the implementation of all plans and projects; and collect fines and impose penalties for all kinds of traffic laws and rules and regulations in the BLISTT. 

Section 6 outlines the functions of the MBLISTTDA council, which are: Exercises the policymaking power of the MBLISTTDA; Approves plans, programs, and projects and issue rules and regulations; Sets policies and standards and promulgate rules and regulations governing the delivery of basic services; and endorse the annual and supplemental budgets of MBLISTTDA.

Section 7 provides for the administrative functions of MBLISSTDA to wit: Appoint subjects to civil laws, rules, and regulations, all subordinate offices and employees, who shall enjoy security of tenure and may be removed only for the cause in accordance with law; Authorized to engage the services of experts or consultants either on full-time or part-time basis as maybe required in the performance of the administrations duties and functions; Execute the policies and measures approved by the council; Exercise the power to discipline subordinate officials and employees under the provisions of law; Prepare the organizational structure and the staffing pattern, and fix the number of subordinate officials and employees of the MBLISTTDA in accordance with civil service laws and approval of the Department of Budget and Management; Prepare the annual budget of MBLISTTDA; Prepare the annual accomplishment report to be submitted to the council and to the President; and perform such other duties as may be assigned by the council of the president of the Philippines.

Section 8 provides for the functions of the senior managers while Section 9 provides for institutional linkages wherein the MBLISTTDA shall coordinate, consult, and work closely with public and private institutions, civil society organizations operating in the BLISTT area. It shall formulate a master plan to serve as framework for the development of the BLISTT area, which shall be submitted to the National Economic Development Authority.

Section 10 provides for sources of funds and the operating budget of the MBLISTTDA, of which the budget shall be included in the General Appropriations Act. The authority is empowered to levy fines and impose fees and charges for services rendered.

MUTUAL COOPERATION — Former and current mayors of Baguio City and the outlying towns of La Trinidad, Itogon, Sablan, Tuba, and Tublay have signified in many occasions their willingness to cooperate for the realization of the projects and programs that will spur socio-economic activities among concerned local government units. Meanwhile, there is a growing clamor from various sectors for the conduct of a referendum to determine the pulse of the public on Republic Act 11932, or an Act Creating the Metropolitan Baguio, La Trinidad, Itogon, Sablan, Tuba, and Tublay Development Authority. — Contributed photo

Thoughts on the questionable provisions of RA 11932

Under the LGC, there is a provision on inter-local government cooperation wherein LGUs can cluster to share resources and assist one another in terms of developments.

There is already an existing organization of the BLISTT mayors who meet and talk about developmental issues and concerns. They have identified common problems, such as the site for a common landfill and traffic problems.

But unfortunately, some problems have not been resolved because the other municipalities have already their own development plans and programs as mandated by law.

In La Trinidad for example, it has already implemented many programs and projects because we have competent officials and employees to effectively implement our own development plans and programs. 

I also observed the President is doing micro-management, which should not be case. I also observed that the MBLISTTDA is duplicating the functions of the executive and legislative bodies. It is more powerful than the LGU, as it appears to be an LGU.

On the financial aspect, MBLISTTDA is costly. Although it identified its sources of funds and find its injudicious use of funds. These funds could be used by the BLISTT members to augment their funds for their development projects or for additional hiring of needed personnel, or for hiring of teachers and other economic and social infrastructure projects in the rural areas of the BLISTT. The funds should be given to the BLISTT members for them to manage if the purpose of the law is for development of the members. 

On the other hand, the creation of the MMDA is justified because the areas for development is composed of 17 urban and highly-urbanized cities that have common urban problems and their situation is different from the BLISTT situation in which population is not that large.

Each LGU that compose the BLISTT has different issues and concerns, which is more on rural development, not urban development.

Recommendations

A plebiscite must be conducted on the creation of MBLISTTDA since it has become already a law.

There must also be funds provided for capacity building for the technical personnel for them to be able to implement plans and programs of their respective LGUs.

Representatives from the private sector must also be included in the technical working group in the formulation of the implementing rules and regulations of RA 11932 while the officials who supported the MBLISTTDA should also scrutinize any plan and program that might prejudice the interest of their people.

It is also our hope that concerned officials of Benguet and Baguio should ensure that no LGU must be left behind in the formulation of plans and programs.

In sum, the LGUs can develop as one, adopting the principle of inter-local development cooperation even without the MBLISTTDA.