Placing the environment and sustainable lifestyles at the heart of city development

In Short

San Carlos City, located in the centre of the Philippines, is nationally and internationally recognised for its environmental and development work across a wide range of areas from fisheries and watershed management to eco-schools and solid waste management. Under the slogan “Vamos San Carlos! Where Green is Go” the city aims to develop into a ”A modern agro-industrial processing city, a model green city on good governance, a renewable energy hub for Asia, and a sustainable tourism destination with strong, diverse and viable economy, and an ecologically balanced and sustainable environment with functional, appropriate and accessible infrastructure where citizens are healthy and well educated, living in a harmonious and peaceful community, under a dynamic, competent, and reliable leadership in a safe, adaptive and resilient city” where quality of life is increased through balancing services, jobs, and housing, properly integrating green and open spaces, expanding businesses, and supporting education and local culture and traditions.

Introduction to the City

San Carlos is a city with a population of around 132,000, located in the province of Negros Occidental of the Visayas region in the centre of the Philippines, equidistant between the cities of Iloilo and Cebu. Remotely located on the east side of Negros Island, the city traditionally relied on its sugar plantations and processing to support the economy. However the industry became under increasing pressure during the last two decades of the last century, and the city realised that a different development path was needed. Realising that the city was blessed with both abundant space and natural resources, a sustainable development approach emphasising the environment was a path for growth and prosperity.

The city covers a large land area, with the main development in the city being in the flat coastal urban area with a population of around 40,000 people but with the majority of the residents living in the hilly upland area. There is also a small island near the city called Sipaway Island which has been the main focus of sustainable tourism efforts. Under the auspices of a city development board incorporating stakeholders across the city including the private sector and non-governmental organisations and other public groups as well as government officials, the city has implemented a wide variety of initiatives. These initiatives have received many awards both nationally and internationally.

A wide variety of initiatives have been launched by San Carlos in the last two decades, including but not limited to, solid waste and wastewater management, sanitation, forest and watershed protection, housing, environmental education, coastal resource management, sustainable tourism, renewable energy, highway development, and cemetery management. These initiatives cover a wide range of sustainable development and wellbeing aspects including health, shelter, livelihood, environment, education, and social connection.

Integrating Environmental Management and Sustainable Livelihoods

The city has undertaken a wide range of coastal resource management activities including mangrove protection, and the creation of a marine protection area as a part of its fish forever campaign. The marine protection area is a designated section of the sea near Sipaway Island. By both preventing fishing in the protected area and educating workers in the local fishing industry to prevent overfishing in other areas, the city has successfully created a marine protection area which both ensures the continued sustainable livelihood of the locals due not only to the fisheries protection, but also has increased the island’s attractiveness as a tourist destination due to the improved snorkelling opportunities. This programme, called Fish Forever, started in 2014 and is a collaboration between the city’s coastal resource management office, RARE Philippines, Fisheries and Aquatic Resource Management Council (FARM C), and People’s Organization (comprising fisher folks). Following capacity building, the management of the two marine protected areas have been transferred to the community with the city’s task being only to monitor the area. The city is looking to expand to other coastal areas within the city and establish additional protected areas.

Providing Shelter and Integrating the Urban Poor

The city has undertaken a variety of housing initiatives to address two separate problems, the proper integration of the urban poor into the city and the provision of housing for local government workers. Squatting and the creation of informal settlements by migrants from the rural districts lead to a variety of issues such as poor quality and dangerous structures as well as inadequate sanitation and lack of access to facilities. The city is helping alleviate this situation through a land settling programme called Homelot. Informal settlers are given land for 5 pesos/day which equates to the price of two cigarettes. After 5 years the land is theirs, but if it is sold, it must be sold back to the government. There is no assistance for construction of housing, but there is government assistance for moving their house.

The movement is literal; the previous house is dismantled, placed on a truck and then moved. In addition the plot of land is properly connected to utilities to prevent issues such as pollution or fire hazards caused by improper sanitation or electrical installation. The project has moved through four phases, starting in 1994 and having continued to the present day. To date approximately 2,870 households have benefited with the total area for the programme being 28.5 hectacres. To be eligible, the recipients must have no property under their name. In addition, there is also an urban housing project for city workers with workers offered housing at a discounted price. The city has a large gap between the rich and the poor, and a small middle class. Poverty remains a persistent problem with the poverty incidence in 2010 being 24.5% and the subsistence rate being 13.6%. One of the key components of poverty alleviation is security of tenure – by offering this security at a small price the city can help prevent issues created by informal settlements and encourage the urban poor to put down roots and become a part of the community.

Memorialising the Dead and Creating Green Spaces

Another project undertaken by the city to integrate wellbeing and the environment is Punongkahoy sa Bawat Pumanaw, or “memorial tree park project”.  Like many other local governments the city faces a lack of affordable burial sites.  San Carlos City solved this with a novel environmentally based solution by building a memorial park to serve as a permanent graveyard and aid reforestation. It initially purchased a 5,000 sq metre lot beside the old cemetery and equipped it with proper facilities. It then established a tree park 12 km away for around 1,500 trees.

Another project undertaken by the city to integrate wellbeing and the environment is Punongkahoy sa Bawat Pumanaw, or “memorial tree park project”. Like many other local governments the city faces a lack of affordable burial sites. San Carlos City solved this with a novel environmentally based solution by building a memorial park to serve as a permanent graveyard and aid reforestation. It initially purchased a 5,000 sq metre lot beside the old cemetery and equipped it with proper facilities. It then established a tree park 12 km away for around 1,500 trees.

Burial of the deceased in a niche is charged at 100 P for indigents and 1,000 P for non-indigents, and involves planting a tree in the Memorial Tree Park with seedlings provided by the city. After five years, the surviving family exhumes the bones and transfers them to the foot of their planted tree.

Another project undertaken by the city to integrate wellbeing and the environment is Punongkahoy sa Bawat Pumanaw, or “memorial tree park project”.  Like many other local governments the city faces a lack of affordable burial sites.  San Carlos City solved this with a novel environmentally based solution by building a memorial park to serve as a permanent graveyard and aid reforestation. It initially purchased a 5,000 sq metre lot beside the old cemetery and equipped it with proper facilities. It then established a tree park 12 km away for around 1,500 trees.

Burial of the deceased in a niche is charged at 100 P for indigents and 1,000 P for non-indigents, and involves planting a tree in the Memorial Tree Park with seedlings provided by the city. After five years, the surviving family exhumes the bones and transfers them to the foot of their planted tree.

The programme started in 1999, with 393 families being the first to benefit. Given the five-year cycle of interment and transfer the burial site has capacity for 3,000 more niches. Financially, the LGU realised a net income of 159,785 P from operations in 1999, which easily covered their total expenditure of 95,000 P in 1997 for upkeep of the previous cemetery. The programme has at the same time served as a means to reforest the denuded mountainsides of Negros Occidental[1].

Implementation

Key to implementation of the activities has been stakeholder involvement and political will. The establishment of an independent citywide multi-stakeholder development committee has ensured both stakeholder consultation and continuity regardless of changes from elections. In addition there is significant political will within San Carlos. One party is dominant within the city further ensuring policy continuity and the city has unambiguously and clearly framed itself as pushing for green or sustainable development. The city also creates comprehensive development plans with clear indicators and regular monitoring procedures. Once new rules and regulations are passed, they are enforced impartially. Enforcement is particularly key as although the Philippines has a sound comprehensive environmental and sustainable development framework, enforcement remains a significant challenge.

Funding is enabled through the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) which is the annual funding received from the national government. Of this 20% is earmarked by law to be allocated to a development fund. This funding is used solely for funding the city’s developmental projects vis-à-vis social, economic & environmental initiatives under the auspices of the City Development Council (CDC) wherein the City Planning & Development Coordinator’s Office (CPDCO) is the fund manager & secretariat with the Local Chief Executive (LCE) being the Chairman of the CDC.

The city has also been very pro-active in seeking out and forming relationships with potential collaborating organisations and ensuring buy-in from the local public. These organisations have varied considerably from local non-governmental organisations such as Global Environment and Nature Ecosystems Society (Phil.) Foundation, Inc. (GENESYS Foundation, Inc.) involved in sustainable waste management, to international organisations such GIZ and RARE. The city also engages in widespread information campaigns to ensure the public is involved in decision making, and once decisions are made that they are aware of the outcomes and are given time and assistance if new rules mean a change in practice.

Measurement and Impact

As stated above, the city develops targets and indicators as part of its planning. Summary data concerning the city can be found on the local government website and it supplies regular news updates. For those not online, information can also be easily obtained by visiting the city hall. Individual projects are also monitored and evaluated against targets to check progress.

Examples of this include the solid waste management programme which properly checks and records waste flows with approximately 70% of waste has been diverted, surpassing the 25% diversion mandate by the law. Other examples are monitoring of the fish population and catch levels and, with the introduction of a plastic regulation ordnance, monitoring the reduction in plastic bag usage.

In terms of measuring sustainability at the macro-level, San Carlos is a leading city in ASEAN. It is one of the few cities within ASEAN to have completed a greenhouse gas emission inventory which was done in collaboration with ICLEI and measured emissions within city boundaries. The inventory found that on this basis, the city is a carbon sink with emissions of just over 85,000 tonnes offset by just over 172,000 tonnes of carbon sink provided by the city forestry. In addition to this as a member of the ASEAN SDGs Frontrunner Cities (FC) Programme the city is developing indicators for the sustainable development goals and acting as a mentor to other cities to achieve the same.

Scalability

Although an exact replication of some of San Carlos’ activities may not be possible due to the differing contexts of individual cities, it appears possible to scale out activities. Moreover San Carlos is attempting to shift the mindset of the local people towards sustainability and embed a sustainability viewpoint within the public. This approach appears very much replicable – many of San Carlos’ activities do not require large scale funding.

San Carlos has already been used as a best practice example by the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources through its selection as an environmentally sustainable city both nationally and within the ASEAN region through its participation in the ASEAN Environmentally Sustainable Cities Model Cities Programme and also the ASEAN Sustainable Development Goals Frontrunner Cities Programme. Activities have been scaled to other cities. The design of the central materials recovery facility in the sanitary landfill has been replicated by at least six other local government units, there have been a variety of study tours by other local government units to understand the implementation of the plastic regulations, and the memorial tree and water levy programmes have been replicated in part by at least one other local government unit. The design of the city hall itself has also been replicated by Kabankalan City. In addition, San Carlos is managing to scale part of its solid waste management activities by accepting waste from nearby local governments.

Lessons Learned and Ways Forward

The main lesson from San Carlos is that clear, transparent, and inclusive leadership are important for developing and implementing sustainable lifestyles projects. This experience has given the city national and international prominence as a city for sustainable development and has demonstrated that much work can be accomplished with the resources local governments have at their disposal. Nevertheless the city stills faces challenges regarding persistent poverty and is actively working to assist and develop its poorer rural areas. One of the means that the city believes can be a source of income and employment for the city is an expansion of its tourism activities near the city centre and organic farming in the poorer hill regions. San Carlos continues to push hard on its sustainable development for the improvement of its citizenry.

References

Interview with San Carlos City staff, November 2018. 

Field trip by IGES staff, February 2015


[1] http://www.galingpook.org/Websites/GalingPook/images/GP_Magazine/Gawad_Galing_Pook_2000.pdf