Developing Development: A More Secure Land Tenure for the Philippines

by | Apr 26, 2019 | Student blogs | 0 comments

This blog has been written by Rachel Sinclair, a  second year undergraduate student participating in the Disasters and Development unit module, in the BSc International Disaster Management and Humanitarian Response programme. The blog discusses land tenure in the Philippines.

When the disaster-prone Philippines gained independence from America in 1946, it looked to many citizens as though the externally-financed economy might finally end, resulting in a better quality of life. In actuality, this didn’t happen and years of conservative financial policies and criteria imposed by the International Monetary Fund restricted the Filipino state from intervening in development making it impossible for the state to carry out land reforms and re-distributions. On the other hand, political elite thrived with their ownership of land.

a graph of Philippines Human Development Index shows development as regional

Figure 1. Philippines Human Development Index shows development as regional. Author: Zuanzuanfuwa. Available at:

For many years and in many countries, development was like this. The widely used traditional approaches to development also encouraged the production of material goods and a West-is-best ideology. The end of the Cold War brought a shift in opinion from the donor countries who began to demand more inclusive development strategies that (logically) allows local stakeholders to influence and control the development that affects themselves.

Their demand alongside the ideas of scholars such as Freire – who argued locals should be co-creators of knowledge and Chambers, who argued for “putting the last first”- allowed for a new approach to development – called Participatory Development. The involvement of local populations in development decision-making has dramatically increased, so much that United Nations Development program ensures a “rights-based” perspective is adapted.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) was conceived in 1960s to ensure cooperative development in Asian countries. In 1999, they took the initiative to establish a development project in the economically failing Philippines where years of regional, (not widespread) capitalist development meant the number of urban households below the poverty line remained at 1.25 million in 1997. Philippines’ geographic location means natural hazards such as earthquakes, typhoons and volcanoes are frequent occurrences and the agricultural tradition heightens the risks to livelihood posed by the hazards as many are not properly equipped.

Secure land tenure can encourage investment to prevent destruction such as this

Figure 2. Secure land tenure can encourage investment to prevent destruction such as this. Photographer: courtesy photo. Available at:

Evidently, Philippines needed the basic security of land tenure, which can be explained as the legal or customary relationship among people with respect to land. ADB’s Development of Poor Urban Communities Project (DPUCP) aimed to provide land titles and tenure for squatters and squatter communities through rehabilitation into improved housing, local government facilities and social services.

DPUCP had four steps which each democratically prioritised the locals and their ideas. In the first step of the project, the communities were split into groups to discuss the projects’ four components: livelihood, land security, infrastructure and social services. These components were discussed with relevance to how they have affected the individuals’ in everyday life and in relation to disasters. Opinions and suggestions gathered at this step were extremely useful for the development project in mitigating disaster risk as it allows the facilitator to gain valuable knowledge that can only be attained from living there. For example, flash floods may be frequent and therefore look like a significant risk to an outsider, but they could be a risk that the community can already manage and thus not need any inclusion in the development project. This rejects the idea that ‘experts’ always have the best ideas, instead allowing local knowledge to be accessed.

Projects such as DPUCP no mean that only a very small proportion of Filipino families own less than 10 sq. m

Figure 3. Projects such as DPUCP no mean that only a very small proportion of Filipino families own less than 10 sq. m. Author: Perkykooky. Available at:

DPUCP allowed for the mitigation of disaster risk as the solutions were tailored to the specific community since the poorest and most marginalised were involved in all stages. This approach (also referred to as a bottom-up approach) meant the project was based around actual needs of the community rather than externally decided ones. One aspect of DPUCP that the participants identified was the provision of improved land tenure security for the communities. Land tenure can directly mitigate against disasters as research shows that when land tenure is secured, the likelihood of people investing in their land increases dramatically. With the incentive to prepare land for a disaster, suitable infrastructure that has the ability to enhance resilience is more likely to be put in place and houses and land can be adapted. Without legal status for land, illegal settlers in the Philippines suffered from deficient infrastructure which increased their vulnerability to natural disasters that occurred. In addition to this, a lack of land tenure often correlates with a lack of insurance therefore creating problems when rebuilding after disasters and negatively affecting non-structural mechanisms. With formal land records, tenure and insurance, constructors are more willing to reconstruct. Although this does not mitigate the risks of a disaster, it does enhance the community’s vulnerability.

Research has proven that, in the long-term, Participatory Development is less expensive and more sustainable than previous forms. The expense could potentially be a reason for its sustainability as the stakeholders and local communities can carry the development on without the need for financial assistance. Sustainability could also originate from the community’s trust with development facilitators. DPUCP not only visited urban poor communities but also worked with representatives from the national and local governments, People’s Organisations and Non-Government Organisations. Positive relations on a range of societal levels ensures the project support from more people and time and increases the likelihood for future work. This is important for mitigating disaster risk as natural hazards will continue once the developers have left so it is important that the development also continues.

Whilst the above seems to portray the idea that Participatory Development as mitigating disasters, one critique is that local knowledge will underline and reflect the agendas of the researchers/ donors. Within DPUCP, we can see that the preconceived agenda lay around housing which was fed into the resulting program. Readers could the potentially assume that inclusion of locals in the project had little or no effect on the project outcomes and therefore disaster mitigation is unaffected because they were forced to think up problems relating to housing that may not have been a problem. However, this is not true as the project was compromised of four components and each step was made sure to be a democratic decision ensuring the project to benefit the local communities.

DPUCP has illustrated that Participatory Development mitigates disasters as stakeholders are valuable to designing the project.

Reference List:

Asian Development Bank, Development of Poor Urban Communities Project, 1999 <>

Chambers, R., ‘Rural Development: Putting the Last First’, in Rural Development: Putting the Last First, 1983 <>

Donway, R, ‘World Disasters Report 1996’, Orbis, 2002 <>

Cooke, Bill, and Kothari, U., Participation: The New Tyranny, London: Zed Books. Cornwall, A, 2001 <>

Eversole, R, ‘Managing the Pitfalls of Participatory Development: Some Insight from Australia’, World Development, 2003 <>

Feéyes, T., ‘Land Tenure and Rural Development’, Development Southern Africa, 1987 <>

Freire, P, ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968)’, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1968 <>.

Jennings, R, ‘Participatory Development as New Paradigm: The Transition of Development Professionalism’, Community Based Reintegration and Rehabilitation in Post-Conflict Settings Conference, 1 (2000), 20–25 <>

Le De, L., Gaillard, J.C., and  Friesen, W., ‘Academics Doing Participatory Disaster Research: How Participatory Is It?’, Environmental Hazards, 2015 <>

Mitchell, D, ‘Land Tenure and Disaster Risk Management’, Land Tenure Journal, 1 (2010), 121–41 <>

Morales, H.R., J. Putzel, F. Lara, Quitoriano, E., and Miclat-Teves, A., Power in the Village: Agrarian Reform, Rural Politics, Institutional Change and Globalisation (Quezon City: University of Philippines Press, 2002) <>

Reid, B, ‘Poverty Alleviation and Participatory Development in the Philippines’, Journal of Contemporary Asia, 35 (2005), 29–52 <>

Robinson-Pant, Anna, ‘Whose Voice? Participatory Research and Policy Change’, International Journal of Educational Development, 2002 <>

UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), Human Development Report 2016: Human Development for Everyone, United Nations Development Programme, 2016 < 978-92-1-060036-1>










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