Devolution of Local Government in the Philippines

5 May 2017

In the later part of the 20th Century there has been a dramatic shift in the manner governments around the world managed their states. Instead of having a centralized form of government, most nation nation-state now somehow adopts the idea of shifting some of the national or central powers to the local government units. This shifting of powers is called Decentralization.

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Decentralization is the transfer of planning, decision making, or administrative authority from the central government to its field organizations, local governments, and nongovernmental organizations as efined by Rondinellei and Cheema. According to de Guzman and Padilla, decentralization is the dispersal of authority and responsibility and the allocation of powers and functions from the center or top level of government to regional bodies or special purpose authorities, or from the national to the sub national levels of government.

Decentralization is a strategy used by the government towards democratizing the political system and accelerating the attainment of sustainable development”[l] for the reason that it will promote or allow fuller participation of the citizens in overnment affairs and will give the local governments and the communities a more active role in the economic, social and political development [2].

Government further assumes that through decentralization “development would be more responsive to the needs of the people and would create opportunities in the regions, promote employment and economic activities and as well strengthen people’s participation in the affairs of the government”[3]. Different forms of decentralization can be distinguished primarily in terms of the extent of authority transferred and the amount of autonomy. Decentralization may ake the form of devolution and deconcentration.

Deconcentration involves the “redistribution of administrative responsibilities only within the central government”[4]. It is not a transfer of power from the central government but merely to “delegate such powers and responsibilities to the hierarchical levels, primarily to facilitate the administration of national programs and services, and this approach is otherwise referred to as administrative decentralization”[5]. Administrative decentralization can take effect without the necessity of legislation but with the issuance of an executive or administrative order.

Although the local units now have responsibilities bestowed to them, they are still supervised and controlled the central government; therefore all transactions cannot be done unless approved by the central government. They are not to decide on their own. Deconcentration is the assignment of functions to ad hoc bodies and special development. This could be done in different ways: 1) the shifting of the workload from a central government ministry or agency headquarters to its own field staff located in offices outside the national capital. ) The transfer of some decision- aking discretion to field staffs but with guidelines set by the central ministry. 3) Local administration, in which all subordinate levels of government within a country are agents of central authority, usually the executive branch[6]. Another form of decentralization is delegation or the transfer of some functions to semi-autonomous organization not directly under the control of the central government. Often these organizations have semi-independent authority to perform their responsibilities and may not even be located within the regular government structure[7].

This form is more definitely extensive than administrative econcentration. Examples are public corporation, regional planning and development authorities, multi purpose and single purpose functional authorities and special project implementation units. Devolution, on the other hand, “seeks to create or strengthen independent levels or units of government through giving them certain functions or create units of government that are outside its control[8].

It is also called as “political decentralization and involves the transfer of power, responsibility and resources for the performance of certain functions from the national to the local governments”[9]. Its fundamental characteristics are: a. Local government units (LGU’s) are autonomous, independent and clearly perceived as a separate level of government over which central authorities exercise little or no direct control. b.

LGlJ’s have clear and legally recognized geographical boundaries within which they exercise authority and perform public functions. c. LGlJ’s have corporate status and have the power to secure resources to perform the function. Lastly, d. Devolution implies the needs to develop local governments as institutions. This is an arrangement in which there is reciprocal relationship between central and local governments. The LGU’s has the bility to interact reciprocally with other units in the system of government of which it is part.

Lastly, Nongovernmental Organizations (NGO) and Community Organizations is used to “decongest the government by mobilizing the NGOs and COs for planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of government programs which will make government actions more responsive to the needs and demands of those who truly deserve government assistance and may minimize graft and corruption while injecting cause-orientedness in the bureaucracy'[10] There are mixed motives and causes of the shift to decentralization worldwide, primarily politically driven.

Some commonly sited reasons are democratization increases efficiency and economic growth, improves supply and delivery of local services, vested interests of national politicians, preservation of national political systems in the face of growing local demands and general failure of centrist In the case of the Philippines, of the four given forms of decentralization, devolution is the prevalent form of decentralization used by the government. Decentralization and democratization tend to reinforce each other; decentralization is a factor in increasing democratization while successful decentralization can only take place with democratic process.

To a certain extent, that is what the devolution and the local autonomy is all about: unleashing the creative powers and resources at the local level towards the general objective of developing of self-reliance and lessen dependence upon the central government which after all has been one reason for the state of underdevelopment of local government unit in the Philippines. Indeed, local governments in the Philippines are undergoing a fundamental structural and ideological transformation as a result of the devolution in 1991.

This transformation will be better appreciated within the context of decentralization, democratization and ocal empowerment. THE EVOLUTION OF PHILIPPINE LOCAL GOVERNMENTS AND CENTRAL- LOCAL RELATIONS: FROM PRECOLONIAL BARANGAY TO THE 1991 LOCAL GOVERNMENT CODE Although it is commonly assumed that the decentralization process in the Philippines is a complete break from the overly centralized past, evidences show that “the so- called landmark LGC of 1991 is not an abrupt break from the past but a result ofa long struggle for decentralization and local autonomy. 11]” According to Hutchcroft, scholars viewed the Philippine public administration as “over centralized because hey tend to concentrate far more attention to formal structures of authority than on informal networks of power”[12]. But looking back in time, “before the arrival of Arab traders, scholars and the Spaniards in the sixteenth century, everything was local. ” “The ancestors of the Filipinos established an indigenous and autonomous political institution known as the barangay, which was composed of some thirty to one hundred households.

Some of these small-scale political units were clustered together, but most of them ‘had not attained a level of political organization above and beyond the kinship When the Spanish colonizers came, they introduced “a centralized system with the Spanish governor-general as the supreme authority in all matters”[14] with the “subnational officials acting as his agents”[15]. The barangay (renamed as barrio) remained as basic administrative units but other ties of local government were added: “the pueblos (municipalities), cabildos (cities), and provincias (provinces). [16] Local discretion in the governance of local affairs was allowed only towards the end of the Spanish regime. “The Maura Law of 1893 sought reforms in the local government system by granting greater local autonomy to towns and provinces in Luzon and Visayas and by allowing local citizens to select some of their officials. “[17] reforms did not make much impact at all. According to Tapales, the Spanish period had impacts, however, on the development of local governments in the Philippines. “First, indigenous activities were supplanted by putting in place an alien system of local government.

Second, a high degree of centralization in the capital of Manila in Luzon came to characterize national-local relations for another century after the Spanish colonization. Third, the divide-and-rule policy of Spanish colonizers, their oncentration of all political activities in Manila and the ensuing neglect of the other regions outside Manila, and the curtailment of many elements of internal trade strengthened regionalism and the other regions’ contempt for the center, which remain strong until today.

Fourth, at the end of Spanish rule, there were still areas in the Philippines that considered themselves not part of the emerging nation at all which was because the Spaniards were unsuccessful in consolidating all the islands under their control. And finally, the Spanish period left local elite that would continue to play important roles in the decades ahead. The datu in the Philippines were incorporated into the Spanish colonial regime.

They were dependent upon Spanish patronage and support but they also exercised considerable powers in the local areas. “[18] In 1898, against the backdrop of the Philippine Revolution against Spain, the first but short lived Philippine Republic under the Malolos Constitution was established. Officials were elected on a popular basis and “decentralization” and “administrative autonomy” were among the rallying cries of the period. 19] The Malolos Constitution which served as the framework of the Philippine revolutionary government, provided or the creation of municipal and provincial assemblies, autonomous local units, and popular and direct elections. [20] The American occupation of the Philippines (1902-1935) saw the promulgation of a number of policies promoting local autonomy. These included the organization of municipal and provincial councils based on general suffrage.

Other pronouncements indicative of the thrust towards local autonomy included the following: the Instructions of President McKinley to the Taft Commission; the incorporation of the City of Manila (Act 183 of the Philippine Commission in 1902); the establishment of he Moro Province (act 787 in 1903); the organization of provincial governments (Act 1396 in 1905); and the extension of popular control, like the elimination of appointive members from the provincial board. 21] The American colonial period began with an emphasis on local self-government with the aim of building democracy from below. Municipal and then provincial elections were first introduced before national elections. However, American administrators discovered that Filipino elites who came to fill posts in municipal governments “where regularly ‘mishandling public funds’ by voting all available revenue to pay for their own salaries. [22] Concerned with inefficiency and corruption in local governance, Americans tinkered with the liberal “evils” of unrestricted and “untutored” Filipino rule.

While the United States attempted to institute a new system, it ended up preserving much of the informal power structure and in ruling through the ilustrado and cacique classes. Like their Spanish predecessors and other colonial regimes in South East Asia, American administrators allowed the cooperative elements of the Filipino elite an increasingly larger role in government for expediency purposes. But in the process, they turned a lind eye on the local elite who “enriched themselves at the expense of the peasants and increased their traditional power within the local communities. 23] In spite of the enactment of the above-mentioned policies purportedly supportive of local autonomy, the Americans maintained a highly centralized politico- administrative structure. Largely because of security considerations, local affairs had to be under the control of the Americans. The Commonwealth period (1935-1946) saw local government in the Philippines placed under the general supervision of the President as provided for under Article VII Section II of the 1945 Constitution. Additionally, the President, by statute, could alter the Jurisdictions of local governments and in effect, create or abolish them. 24] Ocampo and Panganiban note that the constitutional provision limiting the President’s power to general supervision was a compromise measure substituted for the stronger guarantee of local autonomy proposed during the constitutional convention. President Quezon preferred to appoint the chief officials of cities and would brook no “democratize nonsense” . [25] During the 1934 – 1935 Constitutional Convention, emerging Filipino leaders were roup into two camps: those who favor stronger local government, and those who consider state control more important than local governments.

The second group won. Thus, the 1935 Constitution had no separate article on local governments, in contrast with the two succeeding constitution of the Philippines. In addition, the 1935 Constitution formally created a very powerful Philippine president. Thus, the trend during the Commonwealth period, the transitional government before the granting of independence, was centralization. Aside from the state-control bias of the 1935 Constitution, some writers also attribute the centralization trend to the strong leadership style of President Manuel Quezon.

Quezon believed that under a unitary system, the national chief executive should control all local offices. The result was that central supervision rapidly increased and was personally exercised by the president to a degree previously unheard of. However, as Hutchcroft noted, Quezon was primarily concerned with centralizing control over patronage resources. Thus, he achieved great success in establishing central-local relations aimed at electoral objectives rather than promoting administrative effectiveness. Formal centralization continued during the brief Japanese occupation (1942 – 1945).

As in the case of the Spanish and American colonization of the Philippines and especially since there was a world war going on, an even greater degree of central national government where Filipinos collaborators, still from the local elites that cooperated with the Americans, held positions. Philippine political independence was granted by the Americans in 1946. The first local autonomy act (RA 2264) was enacted in 1959, entitled, “An Act Amending the Laws Governing Local Governments by Increasing their Autonomy and Reorganizing Provincial Governments”.

This act vested in city and municipal governments greater fiscal, planning and regulatory powers. It broadened the taxing powers of the cities and municipalities within the framework of national taxing laws. [26] The year 1959 also saw the passage of landmark legislation as afar as local autonomy is concerned. The Barrio Charter Act (RA 2370) sought to transform the barrios, the smallest political unit of the local government system into quasi-municipal corporations by vesting them some taxing powers. Barrios were to be governed by an elective barrio council.

Less than a decade later, the “Decentralization Act of 967” (RA 5185) was enacted. It further increased the financial resources of local government and broadened their decision-making powers over administrative (mostly fiscal and personnel) matters. [27] More specifically, the Decentralization Act provided that it will: Grant local governments greater freedom and ampler means to respond to the needs of their people and promote prosperity and happiness to effect a more equitable and systematic distribution of governmental power and resources.

To this end, local governments henceforth shall be entrusted with the performance of those functions hat are more properly administered in the local level and shall be granted with as much autonomous powers and financial resources as are required in the more effective discharge of their responsibilities. [28] By any measure, the imposition of martial law in 1972, which abolished local elections and vested in the dictator the powers to appoint officials who were beholden to him, was a great setback for the local autonomy movement in the Philippines.

Notwithstanding the highly centralized dictatorial set-up, the 1973 Marcos Constitution rhetorically committed itself to a policy of local autonomy: The State shall guarantee and promote autonomy of local government units, especially the barrio, to ensure their fullest development as self-reliant communities. [29] The document likewise constitutionalized the taxing powers of local government units thus: Each local government unit shall have the power to create its own sources of revenue and to levy taxes subject to limitations as may be provided by law. 30] However, the President continued to exercise “supervision and control” over the Code of 1983 (Batas Pambansa Bilang 337) which reiterated the policy of the State to uarantee and promote the autonomy of local government units to ensure their fullest development as self-reliant communities and make them effective partners in the pursuit of national development. [31] Obviously, genuine autonomy could not be realistically implemented under the authoritarian regime. 32] From the granting of formal independence in 1946 until 1972, the general trend had been toward the decentralization. Until 1950, national executive departments made all administrative appointments at the provincial and municipal levels. However, they were generally made in consultation with the local political elite. A number of laws passed by Congress gave greater autonomy to local government through the grant of additional powers or the lessening of national control on local affairs.

Significant legislative enactments include the Local Autonomy Act (Republic Act RA 2264), the Barrio Charter (RA 2370, later amended by RA 3590), and the Decentralization Act of 1967 (RA 5185). The Supreme Court also contributed to the cause of local autonomy by moving away t a liberal to a narrower interpretation of constitutional power of the president to supervise local governments. The decentralization trend culminated in he inclusion of a separate article on local government in the draft of the new constitution and the draft Integrated Reorganization Plan (IRP).

The draft constitution contained provisions guaranteeing local government autonomy, local power to create their own sources of revenue and to levy taxes, greater citizens’ draft IRP, meanwhile, strengthened the regions. But under the draft law, LGUs were still supervised through the office of the President and the various departments. [33] Furthermore, central-local relations in the Philippines before the declaration of martial law in 1972 differed from other developing Asian countries that were haracterized by the widespread phenomenon of tight central control at the time.

According to Friedman, this difference sprang from the countrys colonial heritage and reflected formal, structural, alternatives, albeit unaccompanied by new conceptions of government. Before the 1970s the Philippines already had constitutionally differentiated provincial governments and a variety of elected governing bodies and officials at the city, municipal, and barrio levels. Friedman continued that while financial resources needed for governing were always lacking, “a complicated and politically influenced system of grants” made the Philippine local overnment system more autonomous than in other Asian countries.

While this type of system generated its own benefits as well as problems, “the potential for continued development” that is not discernible everywhere in Asia existed in the Philippines. After the 1896 EDSA People Power Revolution toppled the Marcos dictatorship, the Philippine government headed by Corazon Aquino renewed its commitment to greater decentralization as a means of attaining its development goals and program (“the Policy Agenda for People Oriented Development”).

The program stated that the role and structure of government would be guided by the key organizational rinciples of decentralization, among others. The administration’s commitment to achieving greater decentralization was further reinforced by the extensive provision on local autonomy in the 1987 Constitution. Article 2 (Declaration of Principles and State Policies), Section 25, says: “The State shall insure the autonomy of local governments. ” There is also a separate State shall insure the autonomy of local government (Article 10) that is more extensive than its counterpart in the 1973 Constitution.

Article 10 has the following very important provisions: 1 . Creation of autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordillera. . Granting LGUs the power to create their own sources of revenue and to levy taxes which shall be automatically released to them. 3. Providing local governments with a Just share of the national taxes which shall be automatically released to them. 4. Entitling local governments to an equitable shares in the proceeds of the utilization and development of the national wealth within their respective areas. 5.

Providing for regional development councils for other similar bodies composed of local government officials, regional heads of departments and other government offices, and representatives from NGOs within the region for urposes of administrative decentralization to strengthen the autonomy of the units thereon and to accelerate the economic and social growth and development of the units in the region. [34] The provision of the 1987 Constitution would serve as the legal precedent for the enactment in 1989 of two laws creating autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras.

Then, in 1991, after almost five years of debate in Congress, the Local Government Code or RA 7160 was enacted. This law is by far the most focused on devolution and democratic decentralization in the country. It is also considered he most important piece of legislation to emerge from the Aquino administration. The 1991 LGC is a product of both external factors, although internal factors play a stronger role in terms of the actual contents of the legal basis as well as the dynamics of its implementation.

Decentralization has been carried out not solely for the traditional public administration arguments but, more important, in light of its democratic dimensions and other political considerations. There are mixed motives and a conjuncture of political factors in the decision to undertake decentralization. First, there are practical and administrative reasons. For decades and peaking with Marcos’s dictatorship, a formal centralized structure failed to deliver services. This failure is especially relevant in a diverse archipelago of thousands of islands.

In addition, overly centralized formal mechanisms limited prospects for development in the countryside. Second, The Philippines undertook decentralization after the overthrow of Marcos for governments, and some national legislators genuinely felt that decentralization and local autonomy were more than administrative innovations. They were tools toward achieving democratization and vice versa. The Code was meant to be centerpiece of a overnment that came into power by overthrowing a dictatorship. Finally, political leaders also have personal reasons for undertaking decentralization.

Obviously, traditional local politician saw the new benefits they would reap from devolution. More important, subject to the new constitution’s imposition of term limits, members of the House of the Representatives were motivated by a desire to assume local government positions in the failure in an environment where significant powers and finances have been devolved to LGUs. In terms of timing of the Code’s approval, many legislators were also motivated by a desire to get reelected or get lected to higher positions in the coming elections.

Philippine politico-administrative history is replete with examples of tensions between a highly centralized governmental structure and the demands for autonomy among the various component local units: at one level, there is an imperative for a dominant and assertive leadership necessary for the consolidation and even the very survival of a weak state; at another level, there is demand among component local institutions for autonomy from the central government in order to enable them to become more responsive to situations obtaining locally and, paradoxically, trengthen a weak state. 35]Earlier historical attempts to decentralize power and authority to local institutions through various means are testimony to the fact that the problem of overcentralization is one that has been recognized – but continued to persist – through the years. For instance, the decentralization of administrative authority (but conspicuously unaccompanied by political decentralization) was a hallmark of the Marcos dictatorship. A Local Government Code was in fact enacted in 1983.

But these attempts at decentralizing government remained simple administrative formalisms. Power continued to be concentrated in Manila with local units heavily dependent upon central government. In fact, before the enactment of the Code, local governments were beginning not only to be restive but also assertive, demanding that the umbilical cord that tied them to Manila be severed because this was the root cause behind their stunted growth and underdevelopment.

With Philippines’ archipelagic nature, it is no wonder that the Philippine government had made lots of experiments to find the most suitable way to govern the country. The reinforcement of a centralized and decentralized government varied from the re-colonial barangay to the 1991 Local Government Code. A lot of factors triggered such trend variation.

Aside from the country’s geographic nature, which hindered the successful consolidation of all islands under the control of one government, the public officials were not yet properly trained or educated on the implementation of government’s policies and procedures to prevent unethical acts such as corruption option to effectively implement government’s programs and policies, wherein the provinces, cities, municipalities and barangays of the nation enjoys local autonomy which are then generally supervised by a central government. 6]And because of a greater degree of accountability, responsiveness and participation, effective decentralization can make a big difference by making the provision of local (social and economic) services more efficient, equitable, sustainable and cost-effective. Through community participation in decision making, planning, implementation and monitoring and backed by appropriate institutions and resources, it can go a long way in improving the quality of life, particularly of the poorer and marginalized sectors of the population, thereby alleviating poverty.

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