Many of us grew up fantasizing about Batman as a superhero. Unlike Superman, he did not come from planet Krypton and devoid of super human powers. But he is able to do incredulous work because of dedication to his mission and leadership qualities. I have started to call some Mayors as Batman. Despite resource constraints, and inadequate assistance from central government, they have done incredibly well. They have devised contact tracing, conducted targeted testing, put up infrastructure for isolation and treatment. On their own, they have implemented programs to help the poor. They created supply chains that guarantee communities with access to food and basic services.
They have been great pillars in delivering basic education. Not only did they appropriate funds to help schools develop learning materials. On their own, they devised ingenious ways to give teachers, parents and learners, a systematic access to learning. In remote areas, community radios are put up. In cities, classroom instruction is simulated on-line. They have used technology to live stream lessons or upload them in medium that parents can afford.
The usual suspects are Mayor Rex Gatchalian, Mayor Vico Sotto, Mayor Toby Tiangco, Mayor Carlo Medina, Mayor Raul Banias, Mayor Oca Moreno, Mayor Jerry Trenas. But there are hundreds of others who are equally outstanding. We have Mayors from Luzon such as those from Bacnotan, San Gabriel, Agoo, Diffun, Reina Mercedes, Balanga, Dinalupihan, Mataas na Kahoy, Padre Garcia. Those from Visayas include Ivisan, Dao, Cabatuan, Battad, Miagao, Alimodian, Barotac Viejo, Oton, Malay, San Jose. The Mindanao Mayors are from Gensan, Del Carmen, Taraka, Bongao, Siayan, Simunul, Balindong, Piagapo, and Lamitan. There are hundreds of others and it would take me more than a page to name them.
It is so unfortunate that their work is not known and carries less exposure than the incompetence of central government. I was saddened to hear businessmen expressing their frustration over the alleged failure of local governments to help solve the learning crisis. Clearly, news and stories about our Batmen need to be more prominent and widespread.
The lack of appreciation of the work of local governments can partly explain the hesitation and the fear from the implementation of the Mandanas ruling. Governor Dodo Mandanas started the advocacy that the IRA or the share of local governments from national taxes should include collection from the Bureau of Customs. He brought the matter all the way to the Supreme Court which ruled in his favor. The impression that lingers is that the LGUs will experience a windfall. They would be awash with cash that will be wasted due to inefficiencies.
The additional revenues of LGUs will help them deliver the services that were devolved in 1991, some thirty years ago. These include primary health care, social welfare, tourism, capacity building in agriculture, construction of school buildings, tourism, and early child care. The transfer of these responsibilities however did not come with adequate revenues. The increase in their IRA from 20% to 40% only covered the costs of personnel services. LGUs were left to finance capital expenditures, and the costs of delivering these services, (MOOE). There was hardly an increase in their revenue raising powers. They are of martial law vintage.
What would be ideal is to effect a true transfer of devolved services. Let the LGUs perform and be accountable for their delivery. What we have is retention of their budgets with the national government agencies. The resources are then transferred sporadically, in piece meal, and in fragmented ways during emergencies. This is how the “ayuda” scheme Is being implemented. Clearly, this is the opposite of a systemic and efficient way of spending public funds!
And then, there are unclear guidelines, some are unreasonable, and impractical. They literally tie the hands of LGUs and prevent them from adopting locally-driven solutions. The fear of suspension is like a sword of Damocles hanging over their heads.
True, there are Robins and even Jokers among the LGUs. They cannot be trusted and should remain under the supervision of central government. Perhaps, their desire to obtain greater autonomy and freedom would be a strong incentive to perform better especially with social anger from their constituents.
We used to describe good from bad performers by rows. Those seated In Row 1 are our Batmen and provide the benchmarks for good performance. Those In Row 4 should be watched and, be provided with remediation.