Tolentino asks new DPWH leadership to address devolution loopholes

Senator Francis N. Tolentino has asked the new leadership of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to address the reported loopholes and formulate clear boundaries before devolving some of its functions to the local government units (LGUs).

Tolentino, chairman of the Senate Committee on Local Government, made the manifestation during yesterday’s (October 19) briefing of the DPWH for its proposed 2022 P686.18 billion budget before the Senate Committee on Finance.

He told newly-appointed Public Works acting Secretary Roger Mercado to set-up a logical definition over which government infra projects would be devolved to respective localities in compliance with the Mandanas Ruling of the Supreme Court (SC).

According to Tolentino, the new DPWH leadership under Mercado should be wary over some terminologies pertaining to the interpretation of Executive Order No. 138 series of 2021, particularly the phrase “inter-jurisdictional externalities”—which was not included in the main objective of the 2018 decision of the high tribunal on the so-called “devolution of powers.’’

The DPWH is one of the primary departments tasked to submit a ‘devolution transition plan’ under E.O. 138, as several national government agencies are set to devolve some of their functions and responsibilities to the various localities in the country—in compliance with the said SC ruling.

The interpretation of E.O. 138 which stated that public services “with significant inter-jurisdictional externalities or benefit and cost spillovers are best assigned to higher levels of government,” definitely contradicts with the true essence of the Mandanas ruling and would only put the DPWH “in a blind spot,” according to Tolentino.

Tolentino reminded Mercado and other officials present during the budget deliberation that under Section 2.7 of Memorandum Circular No. 2 of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) on the devolution of powers, the DPWH as well as other agencies devolving functions “should refrain from including from their proposals funding for devolved local projects for LGUs belonging to the first to fourth-class income classifications.”

He said the circular also limits subsidies to be given to LGUs belonging to fifth- and sixth-income classes.

“If you stretch the definition of inter-jurisdictional externalities, the basic common sense interpretation would be there are no clustered fifth-class and sixth-class municipalities in a certain province... they are not all clustered together. Would you now implement this?” said Tolentino.

The lawmaker suggested that the DPWH should create a devolution transition committee to iron out the loopholes and to draw out a clear division of tasks as the agency navigates towards devolving its functions.