Murceilagos bay, Zamboanga, Philippines (c) Erwin Mascarinas, NTFP EP Philippins IUCN NL

Milestone for sustainable land use planning in the Mindanao region in the Philippines

In December 2020, government officials signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work on the implementation and enforcement of the land use plan resulting from a multi-year Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) process. A milestone towards inclusive and sustainable land use planning in the Mindanao region in the Philippines.

Header photo: Murceilagos bay, Zamboanga, Philippines © Erwin Mascarinas, NTFP EP Philippines / IUCN NL

On December 10th 2020, the mayors of six municipalities and one city, together with the Governor of Zamboanga, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work on the implementation and enforcement of the land use plan resulting from a multistakeholder SEA process which has been undertaken over the last years.

Integrating environmental considerations

Cas Besselink, Senior Expert Environmental Justice at IUCN NL, explains: ‘The Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is a tool that focuses on facilitating a multi-stakeholder dialogue, balancing the interests of different parties. It aims to integrate environmental considerations into policies, plans and programmes and evaluate their inter-linkages with economic and social considerations. Public participation, transparency and good quality information are key principles, making SEA a tool to enhance good governance.’

The tool was introduced to the Philippines by the Netherlands  Commission on Environmental Assessment (NCEA) in collaboration with IUCN NL, in the framework of our programme Shared Resources, Joint Solutions. The SEA piloting commenced in the 1st Congressional District of Zamboanga del Norte in 2017 and was carried out by PARTS, one of IUCN NL’s local partner organisations in the Philippines. The Netherlands Embassy in the Philippines supported the whole process.

Land use management of primal concern

‘With rapid urbanisation in cities and town centres, increasing population, looming threats for food and health security, diminishing natural resources and intense climate change, land use management is of primal concern to all stakeholders in the Philippines nowadays,’ Besselink says.

Local governments are being pushed to formulate or enhance their land use planning to guide sustainable investments in various sectors. Besselink: ‘In the 1st District of Zamboanga del Norte in Mindanao, they decided to embed a SEA in that planning process. A new and challenging approach, not in the least because of the political and cultural sensitivity of the area where the SEA was carried out.’

Building trust

‘Since the SEA process was new to the Philippines, we put great emphasis on building trust, formulating shared objectives and creating joint ownership of the SEA results,’ Besselink says.

After an initial one-week training on SEA, a formal partnership was established between the government and PARTS, to act as a local, neutral process manager. ‘This helped to establish and mobilise support with both state and non-state stakeholders, including the academia,’ Besselink explains.

Participatory planning

‘The participatory planning approach that was brought along by the SEA also enabled indigenous peoples and civil society organisations to have their voice heard,’ Besselink stresses. ‘Previously, they would not have been given attention. Now, their concerns related to environmental sustainability, ancestral domains, livelihoods, and food security, were not only given attention, but incorporated into the comprehensive land use plan.’

Primary consideration on the environment

‘The SEA has helped the local governments in Zamboanga to jointly redefine priorities,’ Besselink says. ‘It provided an opportunity to develop more context-driven and evidence-based land use solutions putting primary consideration on the environment.’

Also important in the process was the provision of a venue for stakeholders to participate in this planning process and a good mechanism for dialogue and to influence decision-making. This mechanism was used to address land use issues, including conflicts in territorial boundaries and cross-boundary concerns affecting water, food, biodiversity and climate.

Cross boundary cooperation

The SEA process has built alliances among local governments for cross boundary cooperation on the further implementation of the plans. Besselink: ‘The Memorandum of Understanding is a crucial step to carry forward the results on the adopted comprehensive land use plan for Zamboanga del Norte with the support of the local authorities and the continuing support from the Netherlands embassy in the Philippines.’

More information

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Cas Besselink
Senior Expert Environmental Justice & Human Resources Manager