Local Government Code almost untouched after 3 presidents

Jesus F. Llanto

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3 administrations failed to review and update the Local Government Code, and there’s no certainty that the Aquino government will prioritize the work either

(Editor’s Note: This story is first published by Newsbreak.)

MANILA, Philippines – Three administrations failed in their responsibility to review and update the Local Government Code of 1991, and there’s no certainty that the new government under President Aquino will prioritize the work either.

The country commemorated the 19th anniversary of the law that devolved enormous powers to local government units (LGUs) last October 10. It did so amid a well-publicized failure of the new chief executive to appreciate the functions and dynamics of the agency supervising the LGUs.

As senator before, chairing the committee on local governments, Aquino didn’t show a good grasp of local government concerns. Now, as President, he is not even showing full confidence in his secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), former Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo.

The Local Government Code or Republic Act 7160 was one of the laws passed toward the end of President Corazon Aquino’s term. It became operational on January 1, 1992, leaving with her successor, Fidel Ramos, the task of dealing with the birth pains of devolution.

The Code devolved some functions of the national government to local political units—provinces, cities, municipalities, and barangays. It mandates that LGUs get a share in the national revenue, and gives LGUs taxing powers so they can generate more revenues. The Code also sets rules in the creation, merging, and consolidation of local political units and the functions of all the local officials.

It is mandated that the Code be reviewed every five years with the end view of amending it to become more responsive to the needs of local governments. Section 521 of the Code said: “Congress shall undertake a mandatory review of this Code at least once every five (5) years and as often as it may deem necessary, with the primary objective of providing a more responsive and accountable local government structure.”

But in the last 19 years, efforts to introduce changes or amend provisions in the Code have resulted only in piecemeal amendments that don’t necessarily address the most important concerns of the LGUs, among them their sufficient share in the internal revenue allotment or IRA.

“That is one of the faults of the governments of Ramos, [Joseph] Estrada, and [Gloria Macapagal] Arroyo,” said former DILG Secretary Cesar Sarino, referring to the failure to push and support a legislation that sought for a comprehensive review of the law.

Obsolete, defective

Local officials and experts in local governance emphasized the need for a review of some of the provisions of the Code, which they deemed as obsolete or defective.

Among the provisions of the Code that needs to be reviewed are those that deal with the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) or village youth councils, the functions devolved to the local governments, and the formula for computing the internal revenue allotment.

Under the Code, 40% of the national internal revenues should be allocated to local government units. The 40% share is divided as follows: 23% for provinces, 23% for cities, 34% for municipalities, and 20% for barangays.

Mandaluyong City Mayor Benhur Abalos, former president of the League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP) and of the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP), had said that they wanted the 40% share of LGUs in revenues increased.

He told Newsbreak in previous interviews that the cities should have more share in IRA than other LGUs because of the economic activities in the cities contribute more to the national economy.

Some local officials also called for reforms in the computation of the LGUs share. The share of the local governments is currently computed using the following formula: population (50%), land area (25 %), and an equal sharing component (25%).

Robredo, when he was still Naga mayor, proposed that the capability of LGUs in collecting taxes should be a factor in computing their share in the, while former Tagaytay City mayor (now Metropolitan Manila Development Authority chair) Francis Tolentino said that the human development index (HDI) of LGUs should be a factor in the formula.

Recently, calls for the abolition of the SK also raised the need to review the Code. Former senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. told Newsbreak that the SK has become a “disaster.”

‘Synchronize the laws’

Undersecretary for Local Governments Austere Panadero told Newsbreak that a review is also needed to take into the account the challenges and issues brought not just by the implementation of the Code itself but also by other laws that have been passed.

“We need to synchronize the provisions of the Code with other laws that have been passed,” he said, adding that some newer laws that have been passed failed to consider their effect on the LGUs.

Panadero cited the case of the relationship of local governments and the economic zones as a result of the passage of Republic Act 7916 or the Special Economic Zone Act of 1995. Local governments hosting special economic zones, he said, do not collect real property taxes from locators in these enclaves. Companies inside the zones also enjoy tax breaks and incentives given by the national government.

A mayor of a town that hosts a special economic zone told Newsbreak in a previous interview that his town should be given more funds to address the issues that arise as a result of the creation of economic zones, like traffic, waste disposal, and the influx of migrants in his town.

Abalos said that LGUs are also having problems with unfunded mandates or tasks devolved to LGUs without the corresponding appropriations.

Impeachment stalled the review

During the 11th Congress (1998-2001), Marikina Rep. Romeo Candazo pushed for an omnibus amendment to the Local Government Code through House Bill 7845. Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr., author of the Code, meanwhile filed Senate Bill 2065 in 2000.

Before that, the DILG and various local government leagues had helped put together an omnibus bill just before the Ramos administration ended.

The proposals, however, failed to materialize because of the political events that took place during the last months of 2000 under the Estrada administration.

University of the Philippines public administration professor Prospero de Vera Jr. told Newsbreak that Congress became very busy with the impeachment trial of President Estrada, and the Code review was sidelined.

Then Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. was the chair of the Senate committee on local governments, but he gave up the committee chairmanship. “He was also the Senate president during the time of the impeachment trial,” De Vera added.

After 2000, the House bill was not re-filed. Its proponent, Candazo, was already out of power after serving for three consecutive terms as congressman of Marikina.

“There is no political will. Nothing happened,” said Alex Brillantes Jr., former dean of the National College of Public Administration and Governance, referring to the lack of subsequent efforts to amend the Code.

“I think the complexity of amending the entire Code and the fact that may be a tedious process [is also a reason],” Panadero said.

Piecemeal legislations

In the absence of a comprehensive review of the Code, piecemeal legislations amending a few provisions or paragraphs were passed. Some of the amendments introduced were:

  • RA8553 that outlines the composition of the provincial, city and municipal councils.
  • RA 8185 that clarifies the use of the LGUs’ calamity funds.
  • RA 8524, which was passed in 1998 and which expanded the term of barangay officials from three to five years.
  • Republic Act 9009, which increased the income requirement for cityhood from P20 million to P100 million.

De Vera added that it seemed that congressmen prefer to support proposals for piecemeal amendments rather than an omnibus revision of the Code.

“Some lawmakers themselves are afraid of the more than 100 amendments to be introduced to the Code,” De Vera said.

An omnibus amendment to the Code, De Vera said, said is similar to the proposal to reapportion the districts in the country nationwide. Efforts for a nationwide redistricting didn’t get support from the lawmakers, but separate legislations creating a few districts in a province were able to pass.

De Vera said that piecemeal legislations can sometimes be dangerous. He cited the case of the creation of a new district in Camarines Sur, whose legality is being questioned because it allegedly failed to meet the minimum population requirement. Another new district, in Malolos City in Bulacan, is also being questioned for the same reason.

President Aquino, when he was senator, opposed the district in Camarines Sur, but pushed for the Malolos district.

The recent controversy involving the creation of new cities, De Vera said, was also an example of a piecemeal legislation.

The latest SC decision downgraded the 16 cities into municipalities after it reaffirmed its previous decision that they failed to meet the minimum income requirement for conversion and violated the prerequisites set by the Local Government Code.

“It could have been avoided if they already amended the Code,” De Vera said.

Like in 1991

The difficulty of mustering support for an amendment to the Code was not unique in recent years. Sarino said that way back in 1991, the proponents of the Code had a hard time getting supporters from the House of Representatives.

Then House Speaker Ramon Mitra Jr. had a hard time getting support from his colleagues in the Congress.

“They (the lawmakers) were worried because some of the powers exercised by the national government would be devolved to local chief executives,” Sarino explained. “They also worried about the internal revenue allotments to LGUs because this means that the local governments can act on their own without begging from the congressmen and the Senate. Before all the mayors were beholden to them.”

De Vera said that it is natural that congressmen are reluctant to supporting the Local Government Code and proposals to amend it.

“The local officials are their natural political rivals in their locality. Efforts to amend or strengthen the Local Government Code will be a disincentive to them because it will strengthen their political rivals,” De Vera said.

Although they are considered as national officials, congressmen have local constituencies and in most elections, they ended up fighting local officials for elective posts.

De Vera said that the Code was passed because it received huge support from then President Corazon Aquino. “The main reason why it was passed was because Cory kept on pestering them to pass the Code.”

Brillantes said that this is the right time to push anew for amendments to the Code. “They should do it now in the early years of the new administration. If they do it later and toward the end of this administration, people may interpret [the efforts] in a different way.”

De Vera, meanwhile, said that one major stumbling block in the passage of the amendment is the retirement from politics of its vocal advocate, Senator Pimentel. “We already lost the champion. Those who came after him did not push for amendment.” – Rappler.com

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