Three PHL cities, selected NGAs discuss urban planning, wastewater concerns, and financing in Urban Nexus dialogue

The second Urban Nexus National-Local Dialogue was organized by ICLEI Southeast Asia Secretariat (ICLEI SEAS) in partnership with GIZ in Mandaluyong City, Philippines, on November 6. The Dialogue is a strategy employed by the ‘Integrated Resource Management in Asian Cities: The Urban Nexus’ project in order to bridge the gap between the local, regional, and national levels of government, particularly in the areas of water including wastewater, energy, and land use as well as cascading finance to the local level.

The Urban Nexus is a three-year regional project commissioned by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and implemented by GIZ. The project focuses on the synergies between the ‘nexus’ sectors of water, energy, and food, with link to land use. ICLEI SEAS serves as implementation partner in the Philippines and Indonesia. Naga and Santa Rosa are the two pilot cities in the Philippines.

The Dialogue was attended by 26 participants, representing three local governments – the pilot cities and the city of Baguio, also intent on applying the Nexus framework in its wastewater programs – eight national government agencies, and the Bicol State College for Applied Sciences and Technology (BISCAST), a Nexus partner.

Commissioner Linda Malenab-Hornilla of the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board presented the outcomes of the 6th Asia-Pacific Urban Forum (APUF-6) held in Jakarta last month. She discussed how the Jakarta outcome document can influence the formulation of the Philippines’ urban development agenda. She highlighted the important role of local governments in achieving national development targets and emphasized that the gap between national and local governments should be addressed through continuous dialogues.

The approved “Call for Action” of APUF-6 also underscores the need for the Nexus approach to meet the current and future natural resource demands in cities, particularly for energy, water, and food, as well as housing and basic services, and calls for a shift from sectoral to integrated and ecosystem-based planning.

One relevant issue tackled during the Dialogue is the potential financing options at the national government for nexus projects. Two mechanisms were discussed, namely 1) the National Sewerage and Septage Management Program (NSSMP) of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and 2) the People’s Survival Fund (PSF) for which the Climate Change Office-Climate Change Commission (CCO-CCC) serves as secretariat.

The NSSMP aims to improve water quality and protect public health in urban areas of the country by 2020. It provides a 40% cost share by the national government made available for sewerage projects. To date, only 17 highly-urbanized cities (HUCs) outside Metro Manila are eligible to apply for the grant. Both Santa Rosa and Naga City are interested to access the grant but since neither are considered as HUCs, they remain ineligible. Per Mr. Eduardo Chua of the DPWH, the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Board, chaired by the President, has yet to make its final decision regarding the amendment which includes the expansion of NSSMP to cover non-HUCs.

On the other hand, the PSF, created through Republic Act 10174, was formally opened on October 28. The PSF aims to finance adaptation programs and projects and has an allocation of PhP1 billion programmed annually into the national budget. Ms. Erika Erro of CCO-CCC explained that the PSF is managed and administered by the PSF Board composed of nine members representing the national government, civil society, academe, and business sector. All local governments are eligible to apply in the PSF but priority is given to those which have high poverty incidence, exposed to climate risks, and located in key biodiversity areas.

At the meso-level, BISCAST President Dr. Richard Cordial shared how the college has benefited from the project and presented its current initiatives, highlighting its ‘Nexus-compliant’ housing project currently under construction. As the only academic partner of the Nexus project, BISCAST’s experience reiterated the huge potential of academic institutions especially in the areas of research and technology transfer. Dr. Manuel Mendoza of the Commission on Higher Education in Region V recognized the Nexus approach as a tool for creating integrated planning within the academe in the areas of instruction, research, and extension.

Other topics covered during the Dialogue include 1) role of NEDA on regional development planning; 2) piloting of the Integrated Watershed Management Program through the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) as a means to promote ridge-to-reef approach and inter-local cooperation in the Santa Rosa sub-watershed of the Laguna Lake; and 3) Department of Energy policies concerning waste-to-energy projects.

The event is a follow-up to the first National-Local Dialogue in October 2014 as well as city-specific dialogues organized for Santa Rosa and Naga held in May and August, respectively. The first Dialogue affirmed the importance of creating platforms for knowledge exchange between the local and national government. However, it was difficult to come up with concrete arrangements and specific solutions to issues identified. Hence, the city-specific dialogues were conducted to further discuss each city’s concerns in more detail.

City-level dialogues included the participation of provincial and regional organizations such as the LLDA and local governments within the sub-Water Quality Management Area of the Santa Rosa sub-watershed. The second National-Local Dialogue aimed to look at how agreements from previous activities have progressed, identify impediments, and further clarify emerging issues and concerns, particularly on finance.

The Urban Nexus project is anchored on the implementation of concrete pilot projects. Naga City intends to address its sanitation concerns, particularly on wastewater, and explores the idea of going into energy generation using the blackwater collected. Santa Rosa City is working on a low-cost housing project incorporating sanitation as well as urban agriculture with the end goal of creating a self-sufficient community within the city. Both cities are looking into the feasibility of applying the vacuum sewer system for its wastewater concerns, including the separation of grey- and blackwater streams.

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Mr. Vic Aquitania, ICLEI SEAS Regional Director, facilitates the panel discussion, “Unlocking the Nexus Potential of Philippine Cities” with (L-R) Mr. Willy Prilles, City Planning and Development Officer of Naga City; Ms. Colleene Lacsamana, City Environment and Parks Management Officer of Baguio City; and Ms. Erlinda Creencia, City Environment Officer of Santa Rosa City.