TWENTY-NINE years ago, the Philippines took a bold step in finally understanding how a nation composed of more than seven thousand islands must work together for national development but at the same time ensure the welfare of their cities, provinces and municipalities. The Local Government Code of 1991 was our closest path towards a more decentralized national government and stronger local governments. Through the passing of time, however, we see more gray areas in the law and how dirty politics still come into play between national and local governments.
I used to think that any local government leader would make a good national leader because of his or her localist perspective. Today, however, I am forced to challenge my own theory. I have lodged my trust on the federalist view of this administration only to realize that its ways right now are already in the borders of rightism or that which is heavily characterized with authority, hierarchy, and tradition and sadly centralization. It saddens me to see how our current government are constantly tagging most of its critics as leftists. Sadly, there are legitimate and valid concerns that need to be addressed regardless of ideology.
The response to Covid-19 today is one example of a top-heavy approach. The Department of Health (DOH) from their own demeanor and admissions is visibly lacking in expertise, systems and resources to manage the outbreak. The chronology of events shows this becoming more evident as netizens saw how our government responded as compared to other governments. Again, this is not to cast aspersions on any agency or any leader but to say that there are solutions that are more innovative – and I will start with just one concept first – collaboration and close coordination with local governments.
Section 16 of the Local Government Code is dubbed as our “general welfare clause”, stating that “every local government unit shall exercise the powers expressly granted, those necessarily implied there from, as well as powers necessary, appropriate, or incidental for its efficient and effective governance, and those which are essential to the promotion of the general welfare. Within their respective territorial jurisdictions, local government units shall ensure and support, among other things, the preservation and enrichment of culture, promote health and safety, enhance the right of the people to a balanced ecology, encourage and support the development of appropriate and self-reliant scientific and technological capabilities, improve public morals, enhance economic prosperity and social justice, promote full employment among their residents, maintain peace and order, and preserve the comfort and convenience of their inhabitants.”
This maybe a very long sentence but it only speaks of one thing, and that is, the power of local government to act for its own constituents’ welfare. This clause is a license for every local government to protect its citizens, even from the abuses of national government.
I have joined some discussions lately about the future leaders of this country where I shared my thinking that the best leader materials now are found in the local level. Mayors who are exhibiting grit, systems thinking, innovation and inclusion in their ways. Combining the human and political touch with new technologies and new ways of doing things. It is exciting to regularly see how mayors, mostly new faces of different cities who are captured on social media, display governance and leadership in seeking solutions to national and international problems like Covid-19.
It would be amazing to see intelligent local governance in action even beyond Covid-19, even for the looming proposed corporate income tax and incentives reform act (CITIRA). The national government cannot just impose their whims on investment packages and policies that will affect the provinces. Sadly, the proposed law, despite its relatively good incentives, will effectively repeal the major powers of about fourteen investment promotions agencies (IPAs) including the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) and the Board of Investments (BOI) to lump it all one body mostly headed by the Department of Finance (DOF). This is a centralized and bureaucratic move that may hurt the provinces.
Now is the best time to see local chief executives standing up against wrong national directions. The first round is Covid-19. It will be an opportunity to discover great local leaders. Afterall, that is the only way to test a leader - how he or she responds in the face of adversity.