The advantage of the Local Government Development Foundation (LOGODEF) is its people. The board is made up of a good mix of qualifications and experience, translating essentially to wisdom. The work of local governance has always been there and, up until now we are still in the process in making sense of it, making the most out of it. Governance challenges are more and more becoming complicated and no matter what the central government does, without local governance, nothing will be effective. And so we sat down for a series of meetings reviewing what has been done in the last 20 years (LOGODEF has been in governance work since its foundation in 1989) and what has yet to be done in the years to come. And everyone seem to be in agreement that not much is new and if there is, if at all, what has been done before was incomplete or downright wrong.

Essentially, what could make today’s programs different from before is the approach. Initiatives were always piecemeal, and policy makers and even policy research saw the issues or problems to be addressed as stand-alone and not as part of the whole. The result is a cacophony of policies that are often conflicting and ineffective. There are many institutes and academic institutions, even research and consultancy groups that work on governance both at the national and local level. The problem is not many take an approach that is broad and systemic. Not that this is something new and that we can claim proprietary ownership. It is more like a lack of tradition of looking at policies and programs from a systems’ and even institutions’ lens. And what reinforces this is the thinking that it is difficult, if not an impossible approach. The piecemeal approach allows concentration on the part of policy makers and stakeholders, therefore easier to discuss and decide on. A systemic approach is broader, and therefore will have to involve more actors and stakeholders, a myriad of issues overlap that many anticipate to mean troublesome discussions and difficult compromises to make. And so, it appears, a broader, systems and or institutions approach remains a novelty. It is still difficult of course, except that addressing many problems today can only be thru this approach. Having new policies that will only add to an already long list of overlapping and conflicting ones will only exacerbate the problem. Not that we can say that policy makers will readily adopt this approach. At least, it could be started by way of adopting it as a training methodology and open up the minds of policy makers at the local level.

All these have been the side discussions, which proved to be equally interesting to the main agenda in a series of meetings we have had to update LOGODEF programs for local governments. We can start with the discussion on Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) as a case in point. Among others, any initiative should start with an assessment of existing laws, in this case the Climate Change Act and The DRRM Act of 2010. And because essentially, no national program or policy could be implemented without the active participation and involvement of the local governments, these laws should also be related to the Local Government Code. Local governments will always be a key implementing agency and thus there has to be a review of its mandate as well as its capacity to undertake climate change programs and ensure effective DRRM. Then again it was thought, what would be the best approach, especially incorporating environmental management and land use planning? Because of limited purview, allowing the fragmentation (we have more LGUs compared to other bigger countries like Indonesia and even China) of our local government units (LGUs), policy makers inadvertently failed to note that the environment, including disasters, does not respect political boundaries. Besides, disaster mitigation and environmental management require a bigger jurisdiction to be effective. Of course, LGUs can always work together by clusters, but then, this means other problems, considerations and even limitations, as more stakeholders are involved.

Just when we thought we have already covered enough ground, we’re reminded of another issue. Environmental management, Climate Change, and even the fundamental requirement of a development plan and other related plans for LGUs, essentially require a consideration of natural resources; land, water, mineral resources, etc. The approach is called “spatial” as space is fundamental consideration in an initiative. The question now is how capable are LGUs in considering space. And since we started at looking at existing laws that are often overlapping and conflicting, we cannot avoid looking at the imperatives of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA). Of course, more space is required to at the very least go thru the basic issues where IPRA overlaps and conflicts with the other laws already enumerated. In the first place enumerating all these laws that have to be reviewed even opens up other problems in governance, especially in legislation and policy and or program formulation. And as we discuss policy and program formulation, it will bring us to the question of intergovernmental relations, the role the different agencies and levels of local government play and how each enhances or contributes, if not limit the performance of each.

So essentially, the work is never done. Systems approach is undeniably the right way to proceed. On the other hand, the lack of institutions is a fundamental problem. In the first place, the lack of institutions is the very reason why a systems approach is fundamentally difficult. This brings us only to the conclusion that capacity building could be done but will have significant impact only if it comes with advocacy at the national level. Decentralization worked in other countries. In fact, it has been there for many years; even in countries we thought were not decentralized because they were not democratic (see earlier policy paper with the Strategic Studies Council). In essence, decentralization is a key strategy for public administration. But then, this will require another discussion.