31 JANUARY 2007
For 2006, the Local Government Leadership Awards (LGLA) has named George Arnaiz, three-term governor of Negros Oriental; Alfonso Casurra, two-term Surigao City mayor; and Jupiter Dominguez, two-term mayor of Sabangan as most outstanding governor, city mayor, and municipal mayor, respectively. The three lead 12 other governors, city and municipal mayors who have been cited for their achievements as local chief executives the past year.
Indeed, for all the bad news one hears most of the time about local politicos, Governor Arnaiz and Mayors Casurra and Dominguez are only recent additions to the growing number of local leaders bred in the decentralized era ushered by the enactment of the Local Government Code. Today no longer is excellent local leadership wanting in paragons, unlike in the past, when one was sure not to run out of fingers counting the likes of a Jesse Robredo, who transformed backward Naga City into one of the most vibrant and dynamic cities in the country today. Or a Bayani Fernando, whose strong, if not authoritarian, leadership style made Marikina a symbol of cutting-edge local governance and entrepreneurial dynamism.
UP-NCPAG Dean Alex Brillantes Jr. says the abundance of empowered leaders transforming the face of local governance can only be credited to the Code, which he considers as the "most radical and far-reaching policy that addressed the decades-old problem of an overcentralized politico-administrative system" whose most significant political and administrative decisions emanated from "imperial Manila."
For sure, though, even "successful" local governments have yet to reach the point where they are already able to contribute to national development. That can be traced in part to flaws in the Code, as well as in its implementation, among them the lack of fund sources to meet all the budgetary requirements of the functions, programs, and projects devolved to local governments. But Naga City Mayor Robredo also points out, "(Like) the Parable of the Talents, (the principles of decentralization) will only be meaningful if used fully, and not consigned to the dustbin like the wicked slave did, merely (burying) the Lord's gold under the ground."
THERE IS, of course, no argument that the Local Government Code gave many "talents" to local governments for them to either nurture or squander. To breathe life to specific Constitutional provisions, including a declared State policy, that guarantee autonomy to local governments, the Code primarily mandated the transfer of the responsibility for the delivery of basic services, including appropriate personnel, assets, equipment, programs, and projects, to local governments. Devolved basic services include health, social services, environment (partially), agriculture, public works, education, tourism, telecommunications services, and housing projects.
The Code also devolved to local governments the responsibility for the enforcement of certain regulatory powers — reclassification of agricultural lands, enforcement of environmental laws, inspection of food products and quarantine, enforcement of national building code, operation of tricycles, processing and approval of subdivision plans, and establishment of cockpits and holding of cockfights.
The Code increased the financial resources available to local governments by broadening their taxing powers, providing them with a specific share from the national wealth exploited in their area, increasing their share from the national taxes — mainly internal revenue allotments or IRA — from a previous low of 11 percent to as much as 40 percent. The Code also laid the foundation for the development and evolution of more entrepreneurial local governments by allowing them to enter into build-operate-transfer (BOT) schemes with the private sector, float bonds, and obtain loans from local private institutions.
Lastly, the Code provided the legal and institutional infrastructure for the expanded participation of civil society in local governance. It allocated specific seats to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and people's organizations (POs) in local special bodies like the local development council, the local health board, and the local school board.
Brillantes says that the Code was not the first of its kind in the country. He adds, however, that the previous attempts to decentralize power and authority did not go beyond rhetoric and lip service.
"Did you know that Marcos had his own Local Government Code in Batas Pambansa Bilang 337?" he asks. "We've had several laws and policies that recognized the importance of the subnational frontline local governments. Even (former Senator Raul) Manglapus had the Barrio Charter Act (Republic Act No. 2370). But in terms of implementation, in terms of actually transferring powers and resources to local government units (LGUs), it was only in 1991 that these actually materialized."
Among the Code's features, Brillantes points to the institutionalization of people empowerment and the impetus for local governments to be more entrepreneurial as important innovations in local governance.
"It's almost an oxymoron, paradoxical even," he says of the revolutionary way that the Code was able to bring people empowerment to the local level. "It's only in the Philippines where you have local government structures like the local development council that have allocated one-fourth of their membership to NGOs." This, he adds, has opened doors, more than windows, to the active participation of civil society in governance.
On entrepreneurship, Brillantes says local governments can now go into previously untapped modes of raising revenues at the local level, pointing to BOT projects that have built markets like in the case of Mandaluyong and Dingras in Ilocos Norte, or bond flotation that was able to finance housing programs in Victorias, Negros Occidental.
"These were previously unheard of," he says. "Before, you only have mendicant — for lack of a better term — LGUs always going to Manila waiting for the release of their resources from the national government."
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