‘Cabinet members playing ‘Big Brother’ to LGUs may hamper local autonomy’ --- Drilon

Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon on Friday questioned the designation of Cabinet members as so-called “Big Brother” of local government units (LGUs) as part of the government’s COVID-19 action plans, saying the Constitution vests the President with the power of supervision, not control, over local governments.

Senator Franklin Drilon (Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)

“Is the ‘Big Brother is watching us’ the new normal?” Drilon said in a statement.

“We cannot take away some powers or freedom in the name of war against COVID-19. The LGUs should be allowed to perform its functions with full autonomy,” the minority leader stressed.

Drilon noted that the term “Big Brother”—coined by author George Orwell in his 1949 fiction novel “1984”—refers to the supreme authority in a totalitarian society.

The senator said Cabinet members acting as “Big Brother” to select LGUs must be reminded of the constitutional principles of local and fiscal autonomy.

“What we want to prevent here is overstepping of authority. There is a thin line that separates supervision and control. It is always a subject of overreach by the national government,” the former justice secretary emphasized.

Citing the Pimentel v. Aguirre case, Drilon said the Supreme Court explained that “(s)uch power enables (the President) to see to it that LGUs and their officials execute their tasks in accordance with law.”

The high court also stated that while the President may issue advisories and seek cooperation of the LGUs to solve economic difficulties, local governments cannot be prevented from performing their tasks and using available resources to achieve their targets.

Drilon stressed that supervision—as defined in administrative law—means overseeing or the power or authority of an officer to see that subordinate officers perform their duties.

However, control means the power of an officer to alter or modify or nullify or set aside what a subordinate officer had done in the performance of his duties and to substitute the judgment of the former for that of the latter, the senator explained.

Under the Constitution, Drilon said the President has been invested with the power of control of all the Executive departments, bureaus, or offices, but not of all local governments over which he has been granted only the power of general supervision as may be provided by law, as cited by the SC in its decision in Mondaño v. Silvosa.

He also said that in accordance with SC rulings, Cabinet secretaries, as agent of the President, do not have the same control of LGUs as that exercised by them over bureaus and offices under their jurisdiction as provided for in the Revised Administrative Code.

“What they (LGUs) need is the full and timely support from the government so they can respond to the (COVID-19) pandemic,” the minority leader stressed.

“Some LGUs, such as Pasig and Marikina, showed they can do that and I do not think they need a ‘Big Brother’ from the government to show them the best way to respond to the crisis. It might only slow the decision-making process,” he reiterated.