4 APRIL 2007
But the undaunted Montejo gathered his people into a project-management team tasked to build municipal personnel capacities in things like fiscal management, service delivery, local development planning, and economic enterprise management. Their unified objective was to put in place the necessary elements that would transform Malalag into an agri-industrial center. At the same time, Montejo networked with foreign funding agencies to access alternative sources for their needs. The municipal teams eventually embarked on a series of training programs to build various capacities not only of municipal personnel, but also of partner civil-society groups and barangay officials. In addition, the training enabled stakeholders to become effective partners in governing the barangay. The mayor's teams then came up with a new land-use plan, a local development plan that included an area industry plan, and a new tax system, among other things.
Just a year after the new projects were implemented, local revenues increased by 98 percent, while the local citizenry enjoyed more effective basic services delivery. More importantly, the municipality of Malalag grew more politically mature and empowered. Their local government crafted a clear development plan, generated resources to realize that plan, had a citizenry capable of partnering with the local government, and was serviced by a competent bureaucracy.
For us Filipinos who have been straddled with centuries of ineffective governance, stories like that of Montejo and Malalag seem miraculous. In a way they are, but they are not singular. Still, the everyday decadence of Malacañang and national-level politics allow little room for political optimism. The view from the top presents a dismal picture of narcissistic political styles, obsessed with personal and family ascendance, and bankrupt of social idealism. And even as the picture from below is illuminated by a number of commendable local-governance cases, the political shadows of traditional politics continue to call the shots. Pun intended: There are still many provinces controlled with an iron fist by warlords, and municipalities ruled by families that benefit from the locality's stagnation and bondage to poverty.
And one can wonder which question makes more sense: why there are so many localities that were able to realize their potential under the Local Government Code of 1991, or why there are so few that did.
THE CODE, after all, has allowed great changes taken in small steps to happen in Philippine governance. This is the reason why people who have worked with local governments see hope in realizing democratic, responsive, and effective governance in our country, despite the destructive politicking and corruption on the national level. Stories of effective local chief executives are growing in number year after year. There are dozens of replicable cases documented in Kaban Galing by Simon Gregorio, and other remarkable cases studied by various nongovernmental organizations throughout the Philippines. All these successes were made possible with the granting of local autonomy.
Understood simply, local autonomy means that local governments were given the power, responsibility, and resources to govern themselves and provide basic services to their constituents. The Code gives local governments a guaranteed share of the national internal revenue and allows the local government units corporate powers so that they can enter into contracts with other entities.
This means that local government units no longer have to be dependent on national or provincial politicians to administer and develop their province. Now they have their own money, they can raise more resources on their own, and they have the right to make their own plans without interference — only supervision — from the higher government units.
Idealistic local officials slowly began to realize that they could actually function as professional administrators. Skilled local leaders could exercise the positive powers of their office without lackeying up to national officials, and without constantly jockeying for resources that would only be bestowed to the favored.
And so some local officials tested the waters in fund-raising (e.g. floating bonds and securing loans), in development planning, in land-use planning, and basic-services delivery (e.g. build-operate-transfer schemes). Many were at a loss at first, but they eventually realized that if they had the skills for administration and the daring to imagine possibilities, and if they had the ability to draw their citizenry in active participation in governance, then they could work small miracles — little revolutions in governance.
Every year we award those localities and their leaders for their daring and imagination to realize the possibilities written into the local government code. Their deeds are changing the governance landscape.
Gregorio's Kaban Galing collection identifies these seeds of political hope in our country: an innovative watershed co-management scheme with local communities by the provincial government of Nueva Ecija; bureaucratic streamlining through a management information system in the province of Bulacan; a permanent barangay fishing port in San Carlos City through the initiative and mobilization of the local community and the support of the local government; and the establishment by the local chief executive of a Grameen-type bank to alleviate poverty and create livelihood opportunities in Sampaloc, Quezon.
But they are not the defining presence in Philippine governance, and that is largely because our political landscape tends to preserve a kind of balance that keeps things in place.
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