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FEATURE STORY October 21, 2019

The Philippines Learning Center for Environment and Social Sustainability: Infrastructure Development that Protects People and the Environment



  • The Philippines’ “Build, Build, Build” program will invest $180 billion in ambitious infrastructure projects by 2022
  • Environmental and social (E&S) safeguards and standards help countries build much-needed infrastructure in a way that minimizes harm to people and the environment
  • Countries often lack technical and institutional E&S assessment and management capacity. The World Bank-Australia Safeguards Partnership (WBASP) funds and provides technical assistance to build this capacity in the East Asia and Pacific (EAP) region. At the heart of this is establishing E&S Learning Centers like PHILCESS

East Asia Pacific will need invest about US$1.1 trillion per year in infrastructure by 2030 if the region is to maintain it economic growth, eradicate poverty, and respond to climate change. This includes the Philippines’ US$180 billion “Build, Build, Build” program involving 75 key projects: airports, railways, bus systems, roads and bridges, seaports, energy facilities, and water and flood-control projects.

Concepción Álvarez-Alcántara realized that in her role as Assistant Building Official for Cagayan de Oro City (CDO) in the Philippines she needed to know more about environmental and social sustainability. She became one of the first people to participate in training at the Philippine Learning Center for Environment and Social Sustainability (PHILCESS), launched with support from the WBASP trust fund.

“I have applied the knowledge I learned from PHILCESS training programs in many ways,” said Ms. Álvarez-Alcántara. This included developing an Owner’s Manual of Construction incorporating what she learned from the PHILCESS training on Environmental and Social Management of Construction, especially what she learned about waste management at construction sites, as well as an Annual Building Inspection Manual, which details owner expectations for maintaining their buildings.

A Learning Center with Big Social Return

Launched in 2014 at the University of the Philippines (UP), the PHILCESS has trained over 1,400 participants like Ms. Álvarez-Alcántara in various aspects of E&S assessment and management.

“The [PHILCESS] training on Involuntary Resettlement provided me with understanding of resettlement issues,” said Ms. Álvarez-Alcántara. “The city government now promotes a ‘no demolition without resettlement’ policy and demands budget for resettlement from the concerned national agency. We also conduct stakeholder engagement before demolition."

In 2018, PHILCESS formally became part of the University of the Philippines (UP), receiving an annual budget and office space to cover its operating expenses. This is a significant milestone, putting PHILCESS well on a path to financial sustainability. The tuition-based model of PHILCESS, where participants pay for attending its course offerings, is also a main contributor to its sustainability.

“With little money invested, the Learning Center has a big development impact. Building here in the Philippines, at times, requires the resettlement of persons affected by the projects and disruption of their way of life. PHILCESS runs focused courses which train relevant government and privates sector professionals to understand these issues and restore people’s lives. This is a big social gain, and the Learning Center is at the heart of it,” said Gerardo F. Parco, Senior Environmental Engineer at the World Bank and WBASP lead in the Philippines.


A site visit and training in the Mt. Apo Geothermal Project with representatives of Indigenous Peoples impacted by the project.

Partnering for Country E&S Capacity Development

The World Bank Australia Safeguards Partnership (WBASP) between the World Bank and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) funds and provides technical assistance to improve E&S Assessment and Management systems in EAP.

In addition to the Philippines, the WBASP is helping establish learning centers in Indonesia, Myanmar, the Pacific Island Countries (PICs) and Vietnam in collaboration with academic institutions and WBASP development partners, including the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), among others. Over 2,000 participants region-wide have already attended courses as such, the learning centers are a key initiative for strengthening long-term technical capability in the region.  

Along with the learning centers, the WBASP supports Country Safeguard Framework Assessments (CSFA) and other analytical work, which findings are expected to serve as basis for discussion with stakeholders to determine institutional strengthening activities, provide information for targeting trainees for the learning centers and inform the preparation of future projects or engagement with the countries.  In addition, the WBASP provides a unique platform for development partners to share and leverage their knowledge, experience and investments in capacity development on E&S assessment and management. This cooperation is facilitated through the Development Partners Community of Practice, donor and partner workshops, and joint work programs. “The WBASP helps address country E&S Safeguards capacity directly in a region where it is badly needed, bringing safeguards best practices from many countries to many sectors,” said Peter Leonard, Director for the WBASP and World Bank Environment and Social Standards Adviser.

The assistance from WBASP was the initial push that started the development of this learning center and others across the region. The WBASP continues to play a critical role in responding to the increasing need for infrastructure in East Asia and the Pacific, while ensuring that E&S standards are strengthened. In collaboration with development partners, the program will continue to ensure that PHILCESS and the other ongoing activities offer technical and institutional excellence to project management units, government officials at district and provincial levels, consultants, and other stakeholders on good international practices for achieving E&S sustainability of infrastructure.