THE VIEW FROM RIZAL
Several aspirants for national elective positions visited Antipolo City and Rizal Province these past few weeks. We had taken the opportunity to suggest to them that they include the continuing empowerment of local government units in their campaign agenda.
That was a way of telling them that many of our countrymen are no longer enamored with the idea of a super central government. Their aspiration is to finally see the end of the system where local governments feel like paupers begging for crumbs from a benevolent central administration. The better system is to keep empowering local governments – to enable them to better take care of the local communities under their jurisdiction.
To be fair, the country’s efforts at local government empowerment has gone a long way.
The 1987 Constitution and the 1991 Local Government Code have broadened the capabilities of local governments to generate revenues that are needed to fund the infrastructure and social services requirement of the communities they serve. It will be recalled that the Constitution gave local governments the “power to create its own sources of revenues and to levy taxes, fees and charges”.
Two other recent developments boosted that capability.
In 2018, the Supreme Court Ruled “with finality” on a petition filed earlier by local government leaders led by Batangas Governor Hermilando “Dodo” Mandanas and the then-Bataan Congressman Enrique “Tet” Garcia, Jr. who challenged the way that national government agencies computed what they called the “just share” of local governments in the country’s internal revenues.
According to the High Court, LGUs should receive a bigger share from national taxes and not just from internal revenue tax collections. The Court also ruled that the provision in the Local Government Code limiting the share of local governments to 40 percent of the country’s internal revenue taxes collected was “unconstitutional”.
The ruling is set to be implemented starting next year.
Another positive move in the direction of local government empowerment was made by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte himself.
In June this year, President Duterte issued Executive Order (EO) 138 where he directed national government agencies to hasten the transfer of the implementation of basic services and facilities to local governments.
Based on this order, President Duterte gave national government agencies a deadline for the said transfer. He ordered that this should be done by 2024.
In the EO, President Duterte captured the essence of the aspiration for greater local autonomy. He said that the move would allow the national government to “assume more strategic and steering functions to address persistent development issues”.
He restated the national government’s “commitment to decentralization”, adding that the move would “develop the capability of LGUs to deliver basic social services and critical facilities to their constituents”.
EO 138 solidifies one of President Duterte’s most important legacies – local government empowerment.
In so doing, he also set the standards of local governance higher.
With greater power and more resources, local government leaders will now have to prove that they have the managerial capabilities needed to use them to improve the lives of their constituents.
Local governments have to realize the truth to the saying that “with greater power comes greater responsibilities”.
Their ability to create and communicate viable “visions” for their local communities will now be put to test. After all, huge resources are useless unless there is a purpose for which they will be utilized.
Their planning and execution abilities will also be put to test here. Already, there are worries that the Mandanas-Garcia ruling could slow down the economy, that local governments could be too slow in putting the huge financial resources in their hands to good use. There are also worries over issues of transparency and efficiency with which these resources are used.
Local government leaders should look at these as a challenge.
It is time they wear their “executive” hats and see themselves as “corporate leaders” whose performance are scrutinized by strict “boards of directors” and “shareholders”.
In their case, their “board” and “shareholders” are their constituents and the institutions tasked to monitor their performance.
We are confident that they will rise to the occasion.
*For feedback, please email it to [email protected] or send it to Block 6 Lot 10 Sta. Barbara 1 cor. Bradley St., Mission Hills Subd., Brgy. San Roque, Antipolo City, Rizal.