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University of the Philippines School of Urban and Regional Planning

2008 Centennial Public Lecture Series


Ernesto M. Serote2

Two years ago, our School participated in a project called “Asi alink” which
was a collaboration of two European and two Asian universities. The project
aimed to produce a curriculum entitled “U rban Land Management and Poverty
Alleviation.” Our School was assigned to prepare the module on “Exp eriences
in Urban Land Management and Poverty Alleviation.” My colleagues, Dr.
Bravo and former Dean Endriga, and I had the opportunity to review the
literature on various urban development processes and patterns both in the
industrialized West and in Third World countries.

What came out from our review tended to negate the intent of the course,
namely, to demonstrate how urban land management (and by implication,
urban planning, broadly defined) can be an instrument for, or an approach to,
poverty alleviation. Using the spatio-temporal perspective in our review, we
found that in the process of urban development the poor are invariably the
victims: they are either spatially excluded or socially marginalized. Some of
our findings are highlighted below.

Western Urban Development and the Poor

• In the city of antiquity, there was a 3-tier social structure with the priests at
the top, the artisans and bureaucrats in the middle, and the outcastes at
the bottom. Only the top two lived in the city. There were no urban poor
then. The poor lived outside the city.

• During the mercantilist phase of capitalism, society consisted of 3 layers

with merchants on top, middlemen at the middle and the laboring classes
at the bottom. The laboring classes lived outside the city center but within
walking distance from it.

• In the early stages of industrialization, factories gave rise to towns.

Common lands were enclosed to make plantations or ranches to feed raw
materials to factories. Farmers lost their lands and moved to mill towns to

Public lecture delivered as part of the UP Centennial Lecture Series at the School of Urban
and Regional Planning, U.P. Diliman, August 8, 2008.
Professor and Director of Training, School of Urban and Regional Planning, University of the
Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City
work in factories or as stevedores in the docks. In the resulting social
structure the poor workers occupied the bottom rung. The higher classes
having fled to the suburbs, the poor huddled together in crowded slums
near the factories resulting in appalling housing conditions.

• In the later stage of industrialization the overcrowded working class

accommodations were demolished to make room for industrial and
commercial development and dock and railway expansion. The displaced
working classes were later rehoused in high-rise tenements at the outskirts
of the city. The tenements, though adequate were by their design and
scale of construction quite alienating and dehumanizing.

• In the post-industrial stage, the dominant urban form is the metropolitan

urban region. The economic base shifts from manufacturing to the service
sector led by a new intellectual technology and information processing.
This leaves industrial workers jobless and unable to compete for the new
jobs. The inner cities are also revitalized and inner city housing is replaced
with high-rent apartments only the affluent can afford. Thus, the poor are
kept in the high density housing blocks in accelerating disrepair.

Philippine Urban Development and the Poor

We also noted that the poor are not better off than their foreign counterparts in
their experience with urbanization and urban development. Consider the
following bits of information.

• Spanish land policy has led to the dispossession of native inhabitants. Pre-
colonial natives had free access to common land. Upon colonial contact
the Spanish king took these common lands awarded large tracts as land
grants to favored Spaniards. The natives were dispossessed of their land
and became landless vagabonds. During the later part of Spanish regime,
the Spaniards acquired more lands for export crop cultivation in landed
estates. More landless peasants and laborers became farm workers. The
social structure became more complex but the poor always occupied the
bottom. The Spaniards also built towns or pueblos where the center was
reserved for the rich and powerful while the poor peasants stayed in the
rural hinterlands.

• Under the Americans wealth was further concentrated courtesy of the

American brand of land reform that put back the landed estates in the
hands of the elite inquilinos. The majority remained landless and poor. The
Americans also introduced the real estate business that sparked free-for-
all urban development. Speculative builders created suburban enclaves for
the rich while the poor were left in the inner city.

• Post-independence post-war Philippines saw the growth of metropolitan

areas brought about by rural-to-urban migration and suburbanization.
Informal settlements now proliferate from the urban core to the fringe
areas. The poor are everywhere.

Planning and the Poor

What I saw in this review made me feel uncomfortable. The basis of my

unease is the thought that I belong to a discipline (or profession) that is
intimately involved in urban development. And if, as we have seen earlier,
urban development has brought about displacement, dispossession and
marginalization of the poor am I not in fact contributing to their aggravation?

Neither affirming nor denying this potentially embarrassing predicament, I

immersed myself deeper into urban critical studies. I sought the company of
urbanists who scrutinize the urban: its processes, patterns, politics and
outcomes through the lens of social justice. These critics use the concept of
social justice to analyze the process and outcome of urban development. The
main purpose of such a critique is to explain the basis of inequalities that exist
today in the way urban space is occupied and utilized.

Urban Critics on Urban Development and Planning

Susan Fainstein has classified urban critics representing three perspectives:

political economy, post-structuralist (also post-modernist), and urban populist.

Political economy – this perspective is taken by Marxist geographers David

Harvey and Manuel Castells, among other advocates. They attribute injustice
(inequality) to economic exploitation by the property market. The property
market is constantly engaged in capital accumulation by exploiting a section
of the population in order to gain a surplus to invest in further accumulation.
The resulting built form itself represents a spatial arrangement that enhances
the profitability of capital at the expense of urban residents. Harvey argues
that in a capitalist economic system, extreme inequality is inescapable and
that the built environment must both contribute to, and embody the capitalist
dynamic of accumulation regardless of the programs of even well-meaning
policy makers. From the eyes of the political economy critics planners,
whether in government or in the private sector, are collaborators with the
property developers in the latter’ s accumulation process. They allow the use
of their technologies, tools and expertise in creating spatial forms that
exacerbate inequality and exploitation and contribute to the dispossession
and displacement of low-income groups.

Post-structuralist (post-modern) – represented by Jane Jacobs, Richard

Sennett, Iris Marion Young, among others, views the contemporary city as the
product of the elite and the powerful imposing their values on other groups.
Domination and subordination are achieved through mechanisms of city

planning that segregate land uses through zoning and isolate the elite from
other social groups through “g ated communities” also referred to as bourgeois
utopias. Post-modernists’ agenda is the empowerment of the least powerful
by eradicating subordination (and domination) and creating a society that
allows the free expression of group difference. Iris Marion Young summarizes
the post-modernists’ position in terms of “a n ideal of city life in which social
relations affirm group difference.” They envision a city where different groups
dwell alongside with other groups interacting in city spaces. Likewise, they
envision a city politics that is democratic and not dominated by one point of
view and that recognizes and provides voice for different groups without
assimilating them into one homogeneous community. Their motto: “D ifference
without exclusion.”

Urban populist – represented among others by Herbert Gans, Harry Boyte

and Peter Saunders, likewise castigate the elitism of planners who disregard
the traditional affiliations and desires of ordinary people. Urban populists
demand that planners respect popular taste and promote a brand of
“e galitarian democracy,” one that does not take the majority rule as inviolable
but responds to the needs of minorities as well.

If the image of planning and planners is all that dark as painted by the
foregoing critics, should we planners and policy makers feel guilty and
embarrassed? Or do we get riled listening to those uncomplimentary words
and feel the urge to rise to the defense of our discipline (profession)?
Personally I think we ought to search our souls and sincerely say mea culpa
and promise to behave better from now on.

Social Justice and Planning

Toward making you and me “b etter” planners and not the villains that the
critics make us out to be, I suggest that we stop regarding planning as a mere
technique that is neutral and value free. Planning is a normative discipline, not
content with merely describing what is but always seeking to determine what
ought. We ought to apply our knowledge and expertise toward attaining a
vision, an ideal. I don’ t know what that ideal should be. But I would be content
if we all strive to help establish a just society.

To this end we can make social justice the guiding principle, the foundation of
our planning praxis.

Social justice principles. The philosopher John Rawls in his book A Theory of
Justice, formulated principles to guide the assignment of rights and duties in
the basic institutions of society and to define the proper distribution of the
benefits and burdens of social cooperation. Rawls laid down two principles:

1. There shall be equality in the assignment of basic rights and duties.

2. Social and economic inequalities, e.g. wealth and authority, are just
only if they result in compensating benefits for everyone, and in
particular for the least advantaged members of society.

The simple practical meaning of social justice is equal distribution among

individuals. But since individuals are unequal to start with, allocating equally to
everyone is not just. There is nothing more unequal than the equal treatment
of unequals. The operational problem therefore is two-fold: Determining what,
other than basic rights and duties, should be allocated equally to everyone,
and finding the basis for allocating unequally among unequals that is just. In
short, how to achieve a “j ust distribution justly arrived at.”

How are we to appropriate these principles in planning?

Let the geographer David Harvey lead the way. Harvey digested Rawls’ book
and came out two years later with his book Social Justice and the City. In a
chapter entitled “So cial Justice and Spatial Systems,” Harvey explored the
possibility of applying the principles not only to individuals and social groups
but also to the planning and management of spatial systems such as cities
and regions.

Paraphrasing Rawls, Harvey defines the principles of social justice as

applicable to the “d ivision of benefits and the allocation of burdens arising out
of the process of undertaking joint labor; and to the social and institutional
arrangements associated with production and distribution.” So what is there to
divide and among whom to distribute it? Harvey suggests income or wealth
which he defines generally as “co mmand over society’ s scarce resources.”
Who have claims over these resources could include individuals, groups,
organizations, territories.

And what are the bases of such claims on the social product? Harvey
identifies eight:

1. Inherent equality – all individuals have equal claims irrespective of their

station or contribution.

2. Valuation of services in terms of supply and demand – who command

scarce and needed resources have a greater claim than do others,
provided the differences are on account of natural scarcity and not
artificially created.

3. Need – individuals have rights to equal levels of benefit according to


4. Inherent rights – individuals have claims according to the property and

other rights which have been passed on to them from preceding

5. Merit – claims may be based on the degree of difficulty to be overcome
in contributing to production, e.g. those who undertake dangerous or
unpleasant tasks (garbage collectors), or those who spent long periods
of training (medical surgeons) have greater claims than do others.

6. Contribution to the common good – individuals whose activities benefit

most people have a higher claim than those whose activities benefit
only a few.

7. Actual productive contribution – individuals who produce more output,

measured in some appropriate way, have a greater claim than those
who produce lesser output.

8. Efforts and sacrifices – individuals who make a greater effort or incur a

greater sacrifice to their innate capacity should be rewarded more than
those who make little effort and incur few sacrifices.

Any or a combination of the above bases applies to distribution among

individuals or groups. When applied to territories, however, Harvey suggests
using only three: need, contribution to the common good, and merit. Harvey
further suggests methodologies for determining these distributional criteria
when applied in the planning of cities and regions.

1. Need, whether basic or non-basic can be determined in terms of:

a. Market demand – provided other conditions prevailing in society

are themselves socially just, e.g. no lack of purchasing power of
no inhibitors on access to facilities.

b. Latent demand – may be assessed through an investigation of

relative deprivation as it exists among people and places.

c. Potential demand – derived from analysis of various

demographic characteristics of the population; e.g. age-sex,
immigration, skill levels, income levels.

d. Expert opinions, including those of insights from long-term

residents of the area, can yield an indication of need.

2. Contribution to the common good – can be assessed in terms of

spread effects and externalities.

3. Merit – people who live in hazardous areas, provided it is not their

choice to do so but are forced by circumstances, deserve
compensation. Society at large should underwrite the higher costs of
insurance in areas of high risk.

Harvey summarizes the principle of social justice when applied to territories

1. The distribution of income should be such that

a. the needs of the population within each territory are met;

b. resources are so allocated as to maximize interregional

multiplier effects; and

c. extra resources are allocated to overcome special difficulties

stemming from the physical and social environment.

2. The mechanisms (institutional, organizations, political and economic)

should ensure that the prospects of the least advantaged territory are
as great as they possibly can be.

Other Perspectives on Social Justice

There are other interpretations of the causes of injustices that exist in the
contemporary city. One is provided by the post-modernist and another by
political ecologists.

Cultural Politics of Difference. The post-modernists who advocate a cultural

politics of difference, redefine social justice away from the purely redistributive
mode to what Iris Marion Young calls the five forces of oppression, namely:

1. Exploitation of labor in the workplace and in the home.

2. Marginalization. “Ma rginals” are people who are excluded from the
mainstream of society by reason of race, ethnic origin, gender, age,
and other attributes.

3. Powerlessness – the inability to air one’ s grievances and to be listened

to with respect, due to decline of trade unionism, political parties, and
of traditional institutions.

4. Cultural imperialism. Some social groups find or feel themselves

defined from the outside, placed in a network of dominant meanings
they experience as coming from groups they do not identify with.

5. Violence which comes in two levels. Level one is violence against

persons and property. The second level is violence of organized crime.
Level one violence provokes a response characterized by a search for
defensible space and the creation of exclusionary living environments.
Violence level two sparks more violent repression and social control
from the state.

Environmental Justice. This is a subset of social justice concerned with the
distribution or maldistribution of environmental consequences, the inequality
in exposure to environmental hazards and risks among certain sectors of the
population. Political ecologists like Andy Merrifield and Raymond Bryant are
concerned with analyzing the spatial and temporal impact of natural resource
exploitation like mining, logging, fishing, or cash crop production on vulnerable
groups like indigenous people, subsistence farmers and fisherfolk. In the
urban setting, political ecologists turn to issues of industrial pollution and other
effects of industrialization and urbanization on disadvantaged groups.

There is already a growing literature on these latter two perspectives and they
deserve a longer review than we can accommodate in this paper. Certainly
they deserve more focused attention in some future forums.

Social Justice and the Philippine Situation

Assessed against the foregoing formulations how does our country and its
territorial subdivisions – regions, cities, towns, barangays – measure up?
Consider the following:

1. On basic needs – we have not quite decided what basic needs to

provide every individual citizen. First, we had the 11 basic needs of the
Marcos years, followed by the minimum basic needs with 33 indicators
of the post EDSA I era, and now the 13 indicators of the NAPC. If we
really try to identify very basic needs, ones that a person cannot do
without on a daily basis, there are actually only two: adequate food and
clean and safe drinking water.

• Regarding adequate food for everyone, latest surveys found 16.3%

of Filipinos, translating to 2.9 million families or 14.5 million
individuals experienced involuntary hunger during the first quarter of

• Regarding the provision of safe clean drinking water, as many as

20% or 18 million individuals are without access and have very
inadequate sanitary facilities.

2. On maximizing inter-regional multipliers, we do not seem to hear much

about growth corridors, growth triangles, quadrangles or whatever
polygons these days. We only hear of special economic zones but the
sounds are not flattering. Of course, there are the super-regions but I
prefer not to say anything about them pending more thorough

3. On giving preferential treatment to the disadvantaged, Article XIII of the

Constitution identifies the following target groups and interventions:

a. Full protection to labor, organized and unorganized, local and
overseas, full employment and equal employment opportunities
for all.

b. Agrarian reform to promote the rights of landless persons to own

the land they till and to provide support to agriculture.

c. Protect the rights of subsistence fisherfolk to the preferential use

of communal marine and fishery resources.

d. Provide affordable and decent housing and basic services to

homeless citizens in urban centers and resettlement areas.

e. Give priority to the health needs of the underprivileged sick,

elderly, disabled, women and children and endeavor to provide
free medical care to paupers.

f. Protect working women by providing safe and healthful working

environment, taking into consideration their maternal functions.

Each of the foregoing constitutional mandates is now covered by appropriate

legislation. The performance in implementation needs to be monitored every
now and then. One such performance review was done by the NGO network
PhilDHRRA. Using the Philippine Asset Reform Report Card, the monitoring
team headed by Dr. Cielito Habito, reviewed the implementation of four asset
reform programs: ancestral domain, fisheries, agrarian reform and socialized
housing, covered respectively by RA 8371, RA 8550, RA 6657, and RA 7279.

The review found that the beneficiaries of the programs saw their lives having
improved despite many weaknesses of the government agencies that
implement those programs. The policy response to the challenges of giving
preferential treatment to the disadvantaged is already in place. What is
needed is effective implementation.

Social Justice and Philippine Planning Issues

Let us now examine selected issues under the lenses of social justice and
explore how planners and policy makers may respond accordingly. Let us
group the issues according to the particular focus of each of the three
perspectives on social justice presented above, namely, the redistributive
mode, the people empowerment agenda, and the environmental justice

Redistributive Mode. Under the redistributive mode, I shall focus on the

provision of what I consider the two basic needs of food and water and a third,
shelter, which is not as basic as the first two but is an essential one

1. Food. Adequate food is what everyone needs to survive and
therefore no one should be without it. The planning and policy
problem is how to make it available at the time it is needed and how
to make it accessible to everyone. It is a problem involving
production and distribution.

The question of equitable distribution deploys a range of modes

from strictly policy-driven market mechanisms to government-
subsidized allocation. I shall leave this matter and look more closely
on the production side where I feel urban and regional planers can
more meaningfully engage.

Making food available in adequate amount at all times is known as

food security. Food security is met through a combination of local
production and importation. I shall leave the matter of importation to
the experts. But I firmly believe that it is infinitely better to maintain
and keep improving the level of our self-sufficiency in all types of
food commodities than to rely on the importation as the basis of our
food security.

It is one this score where urban and regional planners can make
substantial contribution. In the preparation of the comprehensive
land use plan which is a mandate of all local governments, planners
can assist in designing a well-conceived urban form. An urban form
is the combination of the built and unbuilt environment. A well-
conceived urban form is one that properly locates the built form and
effectively protects the unbuilt one. One of the areas that should be
kept unbuilt are the good agricultural roads. Planners can do well to
regard the urban form as not just a matter of drawing shapes and
forms. They should realize that behind the schematics is a life-and-
death issue, our national food security.

2. Water. The fact that 80% of our population enjoy safe, clean
water is not a basis of cold comfort because the remaining
unreached 20% are mostly the poor. The poor are unreached
because they are unreachable. These are the rural dwellers in very
scattered settlements. The poor are unreached also because they
cannot afford the cost of piped connection. In reality however, the
urban poor are paying more for the water delivered by enterprising
private providers.

Existing systems of delivering water are now classified into level I,

level II, and level III. Level II and level III are deemed safe because
they allow the possibility of chemical treatment before distribution. It
is level I that remains problematic especially when it is resorted to in
very dense settlements.

Level I systems rely mainly on ground water extraction and surface

water collection. Planners can help ensure the safety of such
sources by adopting water-sensitive urban designs that tend to
minimize the total amount of impervious surface and maximize
rainwater infiltration and aquifer recharge. Designing compact urban
forms can result in easier service provision if water is to be supplied
from elsewhere. Zoning can also help to protect the watershed of
spring sources from activities that tend to pollute or contaminate the
spring water. The tried and tested measure of maintaining
vegetative cover in watershed should be continuously and
vigorously pursued.

3. Shelter. I shall not deal with this very complex issue at length
here. Let me say that the poor who are suffering from inadequate
shelter are doubly aggrieved by the fact that they are also most
vulnerable to environmental and human-caused hazards. This is
mainly because the relatively risk-free areas have already been
reserved by the affluent sectors of society. Nothing short of a
radical land reform can address this problem but I will leave that to
the politicians. For their part, planners should acquire all the know-
how to be able to design disaster risk-sensitive settlements. More
important, they should not allow themselves to be used by property
developers who violate known standards and their technical
knowledge and professional judgments.

People Empowerment Agenda. Under this perspective which is an avowed

anti-oppression advocacy, I shall deal with what to me is the most
marginalized sector of our population, the indigenous people. They are not
only isolated physically from the mainstream of society. They are marginalized
also, and probably to a much more serious degree, by the attitude of people
who belong to the mainstream. They are either patronizing if not outright
hostile towards the indigenous people. How to change this attitude is probably
beyond the domain of urban and regional planning. But I see some opening
where planners can be meaningfully engaged.

Under the Indigenous People’ s Right Act, indigenous people who are
awarded titles to their ancestral domains are required to prepare the Ancestral
Domain Sustainable Development and Protection Plan (ADSDPP) as one of
the instruments by which they can enjoy and protect their rights to the domain.
The land also requires that the ADSDPP be integrated into the
comprehensive plans of the host local governments concerned. Now the
mechanisms and mechanics of effecting such integration are not yet well
studied. The field is therefore open for pilot studies to develop a framework of
integration that is both culture-sensitive and empowering to the indigenous

Environmental Justice. This perspective looks into the environmental

consequences of social development programs as well as the social impact of
natural resource exploration. The first concern is addressed by the

environmental impact assessment system. It is a known fact that many, if not
most, project proponents constantly seek out ways to get around the
seemingly complicated and costly process of securing an environmental
compliance certificate as a cross-cutting measure. Planners who are involved
in development projects should not allow themselves to be used to justify
making short cuts and compromise the common good. On the social
consequences of environmental projects, social justice requires that we do not
load much of the burden on the poor. For example, we need to review our
propensity to locate waste-handling facilities in areas where the poor
predominate, or the practice of aligning new road constructions to traverse
poor communities. Running your road through a low-income neighborhood
may be the least cost alternative but the affected families are least able to
absorb the cost of dislocation.

In the area of natural resource exploitation, the impact of projects on upland

settlements of logging and mining should be given sufficient weight in project
evaluations. Finally, the issue of whether or not to allow commercial fishing in
near-shore fishing grounds should be evaluated on the basis of its impact on
small fisherfolk.

There are certainly many more issues, but this forum cannot take up most of
them. Let other venues pick them up.


Thus we have seen that if we take the principle of social justice as the
foundation of our planning praxis the opportunities for meaningful
engagement are limitless. Choose the interpretation of social justice that suits
your taste. If you are inclined toward the redistributive mode of dispensing
social justice there is much room for new and creative ways to meet basic
needs and to alleviate the plight of the underprivileged, the marginalized, and
those vulnerable to natural and human-made disasters. If you choose to
engage the roots of oppression of whatever kind or stripe, I wish you good
luck. And if you want to take up the cause of environmental justice you will not
run out of issues to fight and you will find yourself in a growing company of
like minds. All this requires that we need to look at planning less of a
profession than as a vocation. If we apply our knowledge and expertise to
advance the ideal of a just society, then we need not feel guilty or
embarrassed being a planner.


Book and Book Portions

Bryant, R. & Bailey, S. (1997). Third World political ecology. London: Routledge.

Harvey, D. (1973). Social justice and the city (Part II). Baltimore, MD.: Johns
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Harvey, D. (1996). Social justice, postmodernism, and the city. In Fainstein, S. &
Campbell, S. (Eds.), Readings in urban theory (chapter16). Cambridge,
Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, Inc.

Merrifield, A. & Swyngedouw , E. (Eds.). (1997). The urbanization of injustice

(chapters 1-4). New York: New York University Press.

Portney, K. E. (2003). Taking sustainable cities seriously (chapter 6). Cambridge,

Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Rawls, J. (1995). Justice as fairness. In Stein, J.M. (ed.), Classic readings in urban
planning (pp.63-73). New York: Mc-Graw Hill, Inc.

Smith, D. (2002). Social justice and the South African City. In Eada, J. & Mele, C.
(Eds.) Understanding the city (chapter 4). Oxford, U.K.: Blackwell Publishers.

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Asialink Project. (1995). Package III: Experiences in Urban Land Management and
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Planning, UP Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines.

Bonabente, C. L. & Avendaño, C. O. (22, July 2008). 14.5M experienced hunger,

says SWS. Philippine Daily Inquirer. pp. A1, A6.

Pagsanghan, J. (13, July 2008). Evaluating RP's asset reform. Philippine Daily
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