Legal Pluralism, Corruption, and Red Tape as Obstacles to Philippine Disaster Response


It has been observed that the dominant response and action on disaster management in Southeast Asia had been on post-disaster activities and particularly on emergency response” (Bildan 2003; Jegillos 2003). And of the ten countries in the world most imperiled by climate change (in terms of the number of people likely to be affected), four are in Southeast Asia: Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines (Elliot, 2012, p.40). The Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone Southeast Asian countries. Around 70 percent of its disasters are due to hydro-meteorological phenomena such as typhoon and flooding.


Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) that hit the Philippines in 2009 revealed differential vulnerabilities of the population. The most vulnerable regions and communities in the country are those that are highly exposed to the changes expected in the climate and have limited adaptive capacity. The Philippines has limited economic resources, low levels of technology, poor information and skills, poor infrastructure, unstable or weak institutions, and inequitable empowerment and access to resources have little capacity to adapt and are highly vulnerable (IPCC, 2001) (Penalba, Elazegui, Pulhin & Cruz, 2012, p.310). Disaster victims in the Philippines are usually the urban poor who are totally dependent on social services. These people are usually less able to respond effectively to disasters (Cutter, Boruff, and Shirley 2003; Morrow 1999; See & Porio, 2015). Thus, the socially and economically marginalized are usually mostly ignored during disaster recovery (Morrow 1999; Tobin and Ollenberger 1993).


Aside from being vulnerable to climate change and disasters, the Philippines is also known for legal pluralism and bureaucratic burdens in real estate business. Establishing a post-disaster housing and relocation for disaster victims such the flood victims of Typhoon Ketsana requires compliance with the multiple legal and bureaucratic requirements. The rigid regulatory requirements attending housing and land development contribute significantly to higher costs and increased inaccessibility of low-cost housing. Due to the different permits, clearances, licenses and procedures that must be obtained from various agencies other than that of housing, completion of these requirements often takes two-and-a-half to three years (Valte, 2002).


Red tape and corruption often dominate the low-cost housing system that assists homeless disaster victims in the country. To circumvent the tedious process of securing permits and registrations, real estate developers and contractors often provide bribe money to some unscrupulous government bureaucrats to speed up real estate transactions. This “hidden cost” of corruption is ultimately passed on to end-users in the form of high-priced and/or sub-standard housing products” (Valte, 2002). To government-accredited contractors and developers, post-disaster housing, just like any other low-cost housing in the government, is a huge business enterprise. The extra costs they incurred in securing the necessary permits, licenses and other bureaucratic requirements due to corruption are passed on to the government financing institutions which are obliged under a joint venture agreement to purchase their housing units. Ultimately, the homeless typhoon victims who will eventually become recipients of the developer’s weak houses in government’s disaster-prone relocation sites.


Finally, access to the poor disaster victims to housing projects usually requires political patronage or sponsorship of politicians. The rigid formal regulation that needs multiple requirements for housing applications implies more suffering for disaster victims. It requires sponsorship from politicians and government officials from different government agencies who can facilitate the approval of their housing applications. The informal regulation based on cultural norms further increases the difficulty of the poor disaster victims own houses in relocation areas. In this case, the popular informal normative systems–based on dominate Filipino values–known in the Philippine politics such as palakasan (patronage), utang-na-loob (debt-of-gratitude), pakikisama (camaraderie), and Padrino (sponsorship) systems dominate the normative system to overcome red tape and rigidity in housing regulation resulting in some forms of corruption. This dominance of informal norms can eventually lead to negative unintended effects which sideline the government’s rule-based PDR goals as articulated in the country’s primary disaster management legislation–the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction Management Act of 2010 (PDRRMA).

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