Revisiting Land Proclamation: Concepts and Realities

Urbanization is unstoppable. Alongside with this development trend comes the challenge brought about by the “mushrooming” of informal settlements inside and around the city proper which on a relatively rapid rate transform city landscapes and provide another set of tremendous challenges. Too bad, the Philippines which hosts one of the mega cities in the planet with about 4.0 million households with poor housing conditions is not an exemption.
In response, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, since 2001, has been issuing land proclamations aimed to dispose idle government properties for the urban poor dwellers. The government has reported that around 200,000 urban poor households have benefited from this program so far. Intentionally, or otherwise, land proclamations also provide infrastructure and other community development services. In this context, it is but timely and imperative to evaluate the impacts of land proclamations on the socio-economic conditions and livelihood opportunities of the urban poor, among others.
The paper focuses on land proclamations as a means of securing tenure as the policy, institution and process that serve as the key driving force in urban development particularly on its role in the transformation of informal settlements into the mainstreamed society taking into account the national government being in the driver’s seat. By closely looking at two proclaimed areas and adopting sustainable livelihoods framework as an analytical tool, the findings highlight that land proclamations indeed produce positive impacts on the urban poor’s livelihoods and greatly improve their communities in many aspects including increased social inclusion and cohesiveness, improved access to better road networks, infrastructure and relevant facilities, improved access to social services (e.g. health, education) and increased access to credit and lending institutions.
Likewise, the paper emphasizes the importance of the role of the political leaders (national and local) to drive the whole process, counter oppositions and break the bureaucratic inertia. Without the same level of political support, however, achieving results and sustaining gains will not be realized in the immediate term. It has also been proven that provision of tenure security alone without the corresponding infrastructure and social services will not produce substantial impacts on their livelihoods but may drive them to migrate to other informal settlements. On the negative side, land proclamations, or probably any efforts to increase the level of tenure security of the urban poor, can trigger increases in informal land and housing markets which, if not abated, might result to the displacement of the “original” settlers and “capture” of market by the elites or other urban dwellers in the upper economic level.
Finally, the Philippines’ situation mirrors what is happening in other developing countries at different stages of urban development and at different phases of improving the lives of the urban poor and addressing the challenges of urban development. Land proclamations are just one of the many alternatives that governments may consider. Land proclamations are catalyst of change, cheap, fast and politically popular. However, we need not emphasized that better results can be achieved if more actors will cooperate and sustainability will be ensured.

Antonio_Land Proclamations.pdf1.63 MB