This month we inaugurate a new website for LOGODEF, one that could best reflect the various work and interests of the foundation. Since 1989, we have been working for better, decentralized local governance in the country. And since the passage of the landmark legislation on decentralization in Asia in 1991, the Local Government Code (LGC) has yet to be officially reviewed and revised according to the limitations and problems encountered by local governance since its passage. It is mandated that every 5 years there should be a review of the Code and from which, appropriate changes should be introduced. Sadly there has yet to be any review or amendment to the LGC. There is much work to be done still in other words and this is the rubric by which our work is guided. Especially with the hyper political environment that the country has, reforms will be a continuing struggle and institutionalization will remain the ultimate objective.

Not one organization can push for reforms, especially that reforms are intended to change the system and thus change the rules. Changing the rules will always be very political and divisive and will require concerted effort by as many stakeholders as possible to work together and pull and share resources together. This is the biggest challenge ahead that we know, whichno substantial reform could be accomplished by one individual or organization. Capacity building could introduce new processes, even new programs, but will not have any impact that could possibly result in institutional reform. With collaboration and partnership, there is so much that could be done; apart from merely sharing resources, and the individual work of every stakeholder, difference of opinion, of programs, in whole, difference in approach and even principles, could be addressed, at least discussed by the stakeholders. When the time comes to meet with the policy-makers, they will know that some agreement may have already been reached and thus reform measures may be easier to pass.

This is easier said than done of course. We now have, probably the most popular President the country will have and is in the last 3 years of his 6-year tour of duty. What institutional reforms have been introduced? So far, the most notable are the new sin tax law and the RH law. Whether these could count as institutional reforms depend on how we see needed changes in the country. The very unpopular former Chief Justice Renato Corona’s impeachment could count as institutional reform as it shows political will, the vigor the President pushes for what he thinks is right, but to be complete will have to be with a review of the judicial system in the country, and possibly new legislation. The question that comes to mind is how do we make sure that there won’t be another midnight appointment to the Judiciary, especially the top post, by an outgoing Chief Executive? Ideally, the question how do we improve the justice system in the country, should also be asked. Then we realize, it is not just the judiciary that requires reforms, but the parallel work of law enforcement and investigation or forensics. Then we can say we are talking about institutional reforms.

What do all these have to do with local governance and reforms needed to local governance? Everything actually relates to local governance. The first line of public service is local government. May not be felt in the highly urbanized centers like Metro Manila, but is surely felt in the rest of the country, especially in the rural areas that require more attention if development is to come by. How do we enforce national security for example? Do we just need sophisticated firearms and equipment? Of course these are needed, but what is needed is also intelligence and as much possible, the capacity to solve a crime before it escalates to become a national concern. In the case of insurgency, working with local communities will be the best approach, and all these could be done best by and thru local governments.

But hey! Many would argue, especially if you’re coming from the central government’s perspective, local governments are incompetent. They have money because of the Internal Revenue Allotment, but other than that, it does not have much. It does not have much because local leaders would not want to raise revenues locally as it could be political suicide. And because local governments do not have much, it can hardly hire competent and qualified personnel. In the first place, is it even possible to hire competent and qualified personnel if there’s no good school nearby that prepares good and talented people? Of course, many may probably have opted to have their education where there is a university, and this is probably Manila, if not Cebu, or Davao, probably Negros Oriental or Zamboanga. The question is, once able to earn a good degree, and therefore qualified, will they be willing to come back from where they come from and serve?

Yes, local governments, to a certain extent remain incompetent. The reason why this is the case is because we have not given them enough reason, enough capacity to be competent. The LGC gave powers to the local government units (LGUs). It does not mean resources and technical capacities were likewise given. Further question is if decentralization was improved or furthered by the central government in the more than 20 years of decentralization or if instead stunted by the fluctuating priorities and orientation of national leadership. Your answer is as good as anyone’s.

Every week, this part of LOGODEF’s website will talk about issues. The points need not reflect the foundation’s position but of the ED, of his musings. May not directly be about local governance, but will definitely be about pushing for good governance. Ultimately it will be guided by the foundation’s axiom, and that is “good governance, is local governance.”