We are just days before the President delivers his 4th State of the Nation Address (SONA) and for sure we’ll hear good news, so many of which we have already read and heard from the media in the past weeks. From upgrades in credit ratings, to improvement in the macroeconomic fundamentals to improved trade and agriculture production and tourism, the country seem to have gone a long way since 2010 and we have every reason to be proud and celebrate. And now that the feared impasse on wealth sharing in the still ongoing negotiations with the MILF has been successfully hurdled, we sure will hear about what lies ahead and if indeed the future of the MILF as an organization will be the next difficult discussion of the peace panel.
Now about reforms that this administration still should consider, and consider seriously pushing in the last half of its term. Any and all of these reforms could be PNoy’s legacy as his mother had her own legacy and probably even other Presidents. Any leader would like to have a legacy, something that s/he will be best remembered as the leader of a country. And this could only be a kind of reform that will help in the strengthening of our public institutions. Any initiative for institutional reform in the first place could have been the foremost objective from the very start, way before this second half of the six-year term where everything, regardless how well-meaning an initiative is, will surely be political and partisan. Then everyone equally has a good guess as to how things went that led us to this situation.
And so we discuss a subject that has been, if not controversial, unattractive for policy-makers and even the general public. For most if not all development organizations however, the subject of local governance has always been attractive and certainly fundamental if this country is to really develop. And as we have stated in so many occasions and studies, apart from serving as the icon for unity and instrumental in the return of democracy to the country in 1986, former President Cory Aquino, has the Local Government Code of 1991 (LGC) as her legacy. And while many may not agree, it is the single most significant contribution of President Cory to the Filipino people. Decentralization is not only an institutional reform, but also certainly a political reform. If only the government, the central government, really took pains in ensuring its success, providing the right measures, this means technical, more than financial assistance that is already in some way already addressed in part with the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA), then we could have had, at the least better working relations between the central and the local government. By better means national government agencies, and most especially national political leaders will not look down on local government leaders as less of a public servant.
Every 5 years, the government should undertake an official review of the LGC. The purpose is to assess the state of local governance in the country and assess whether the law is enough or require some tweaking. So many reviews were already undertaken albeit by donor organizations and civil society groups which include the academe. And while this is the case, not many of the recommendations made by these reviews led to an amendment or revision of the LGC. There were also conflicts encountered between the LGC and other laws, e.g. the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA) and the National Integrated Protected Areas System law (NIPAS), and some other issuances and or programs of the national government and local laws or ordinances enacted by local governments. Still, we have yet to have a conscious effort to take a look at the LGC and introduce needed changes to address these problems. We are again towards the end of the term of a presidency and we have yet to hear from any of our leaders about local governance and what, if any plans there are to strengthen decentralization, to make local governments more responsive agents of the state.
There are other measures that hopefully could be given attention by our leaders in the next 3 years. The political party development act, the freedom of information bill, and the competition law should be passed. These are among the institutional reform measures that would surely make a difference and contribute to our country’s development, political and economy wise. The question is the same as the need to revise the LGC that is if our political leaders will see the wisdom of at least taking a serious look at these measures.
Civil society can only do so much, advocate and or lobby. Champions are needed in order to at the least have any of these needed legislations discussed prominently in the legislature. Institutions have to be strengthened and any well-meaning legislator will surely understand the value of any and all these measures. We can start asking why corruption is a problem in this country. Is it because of culture? Poverty? Probably both. Now what could be the solution to the problem of corruption? Education? Better system? Or both? How much is needed to run a successful campaign for the House of Representatives or the Senate? Even the Presidency? If the system will always be one that will require millions if not billions to run a campaign, do you think there could be a conscious effort to follow an accountable and responsive standard of public service? Will there be more or less need of a JLN? What if we have better delivery of basic services at the local level; would there still be a need for a national agency to hire up to the municipal level so it can perform its function? Or better yet coordinate with the local governments to get things done in no time, probably even better because the people there may know better the local situation?
There are so many questions that when asked already answers so many nagging questions. The point is to ask and hopefully lead to some action. Let’s see how we can tread along with these questions.