Maglana: Spaced out (1 of 2 parts)

Mags Z. Maglana

YOUR friendly online dictionary Merriam-Webster defines the phrase space out as “to become inattentive, distracted or mentally remote”.

As every student or participant who has sat through a grueling class or training knows, to space out is to be physically present but to be mentally elsewhere.

I wonder if a case of mass spacing out happened in the Davao City Council during its regular session on January 19, 2016.

I mean, how else can we ordinary citizens account for the decision of 21 councilors to pass on second reading Resolution No. 02645-16 and the corresponding ordinance that approved amendments to the Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP) 2013-2022 of Davao City?

The measure in particular did away with the 10% green space requirement in the CLUP in favor of “open space, set back areas of home lots or sidewalk strips based on PD 957 or BP 220 design standards, green spaces to be planted with trees and ornamental plants and/or to be developed for water pond purposes”.

The councilors must have been inattentive that day and on the 26th when they approved it on third and final reading. Otherwise, how could they have missed realizing that the amendment would strike at the very heart of the objectives and nature of the city’s strategic physical framework plan that they had already approved?

Among the general land use policies cited in the approved Clup was the enforcement of “development that enhances the public environment by providing sufficient open space for greenery”. Moreover, the Clup had barely been operational for a little over a year. What was the urgency that a 10-year plan had to be amended so soon after it was passed?

The CLUP received the nod of the Council and HLURB in 2014 after a long process of preparation, consultations and deliberations, and based on its objectives of pursuing a Davao City that was “all encompassing and vibrant, sustainable, accessible, attractive and lively, and climate-change resilient”. The 10% green space requirement is integral to those objectives.

Councilor Leah Librado-Yap, who was on leave during the voting, was of the opinion that the 10% provision had not been given the proper time to be implemented. The implementing rules and regulations to guide its execution had not even been written.

Incorporating green spaces, which are areas planted to grasses, trees, shrubs, or other vegetation, with open spaces that according to BP 220 include areas allocated for circulation like streets, community facilities such as multi-purpose centers and schools, parks and playgrounds, easements and courts is merely complying with old legislation and not consistent with the CLUP’s stated objective of creating a sustainable city through policies that “promote development that minimizes adverse effects on the environment” and “set in environmental performance in assessment of all new and existing buildings”.

Even when viewed from the perspective of another Clup objective of building an all encompassing and vibrant city, policies that “simplify opportunities for good quality city living including affordable housing choices” were supposed to be balanced by the enforcement of “safe and vital environments that enliven the city”.

Had they been more attentive, the councilors would have realized that Section 5 of Rule III of BP 220 emphasizes that the minimum design standards set therein are just that, minimum, but that variations are also possible “as may be based on some specific regional, cultural and economic setting”.

Further, Section 6. A. 4 also of Rule III of BP 220 made conformity with the zoning ordinance or land use plan of the city/municipality as one of the criteria to determine suitability of site. In explaining their votes, at least five councilors cited the 30% open space allocation set by PD 957 and BP 220 as their basis, despite the allowance for variations beyond the minimum and conformity with local development plans and zoning policies provisions of BP 220.

Perhaps inattentiveness explains their problematic reasoning.

The councilors must have been distracted. Why would they act on a legislative measure that impacted on the physical and strategic plan of the city without due process? Only the Subdivision and Housing Developers Association (SHDA)-Southern Mindanao Chapter, and the Organization of the Socialized and Economic Housing Developers of the Philippines (OHSDP)-Davao City Chapter were represented in the Committee Report on Item 1433, even though records showed that a Joint Committee Hearing was conducted in August 2015.

The civil society organizations that had been very involved in the preparation of the updated CLUP and the Zoning Ordinance were not properly consulted and only learned of the amendment when the council was already well into the process. It also appears that the Local Zoning Board on Adjustment and Appeals (LZBAA), created by EO 29 s. 2015 and mandated to recommend to the Sanggunian complaints and opposition related to land use and zoning, had not even been engaged by those who lobbied for the amendment.

The councilors must have been mentally remote. As legislators of a city that takes pride in being among the Top 20 Most Livable City in Asia in 1998 and 1999, that goes by the tagline “Life is here”, and includes climate-change resilience among its land use plan objectives, why would they settle for the standards set in a law set at least three decades ago when new information indicate otherwise?

Being the progressive legislators that they are, why would they only use the standards of PD 957 issued in 1976 or BP 220, promulgated in 1982, as references when we live in a more complex environment? As mentioned by Mylai Santos of Ateneo de Davao University, “token planting of trees and flowers alongside basketball courts may be enough for beautification but not for climate change protection.”

The World Health Organization minimum standard for open space is 9 square meters per person, with the ideal being 10-15 sqm/person. Per the analysis of environmental groups, the Comprehensive Development Plan for 1996-2021 set an open space ratio of only 0.5 sq. meter/person, which apparently had not been met.

But then that’s just me. Perhaps our councilors know more than the minds of ordinary citizens can comprehend.

(To be continued tomorrow)