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What bugs 111 LGUs in Bicol?

Congratulations to the champs!

The Bicol Mail last week carried the eye-popping headline that only nine out of 120 local government units in Bicol made it to the awarding of the Seal of Good Local Governance for 2022. The headline: “9 Bicol LGUs bag good local governance award”. They are LGUs Bulusan, Barcelona, Irosin and Pilar in Sorsogon; cities of Iriga, Legazpi, Ligao, Masbate and Sorsogon.

So, what bugs the others? Why are more than 90% of LGUs unable to pass the standards of excellence in local governance?

Two weeks ago, at the DILG Local Governance Regional Resource Center Meeting, Regional Director Arnold Escobar sounded an urgent call to the Multi-Sectoral Advisory Council for more active collaboration among all stakeholders to help raise the capacity of LGUs to better local governance and public service. The general performance of LGUs in Bicol speaks of consistent failure with long gaps of inefficiency and wastage. LGUs grapple with problems related to poverty, peace and order, social services, especially health and education, and timely and inclusive response to environmental and natural disasters. On the other hand, bureaucratic red tape, politics, limited financial/human resources, and corruption constantly plague most LGUs.

This sad and pitiful reality has persisted since the Local Government Code (1991) passage and other pertinent laws that came after to better local governance. The most recent law, the Mandanas Ruling, is now in place. Instead of becoming an ace up in the sleeve of the mayors, governors, and barangay captains, it has become a concern for all if full devolution would benefit social services provision and people empowerment. Are the LGUs prepared for full devolution?

When RD “Isko” spoke, I sensed a more serious tone. The young Escobar who took over from the former RD Atty. Anthony Nuyda, last year as the new DILG regional director, was slow in his words. I take it to mean he meant business.

“I hope that the next time I go up the stage to receive the awards along with the winning LGUs, there will be more of us there standing proud,” he said, smiling faintly but hopeful. He was addressing a personal plea to the Regional MSAC.

As a new member, the challenge is daunting but doable with many IFs. The gathering at the Hotel Pepperland in Legazpi City, with more than a hundred of us sitting around the tables, was a mix of backgrounds. I found myself seated with the regional representatives from the Philippine National Police, the Department of Budget and Management, and the Bureau of Internal Revenue. However, what I found inadequately lacking was the representation of the private sectors, including more NGOs, civil society, and business. These are the propellers and active movers for change.

So, again, what bugs Bicol LGUs? One of the agendas at the MSAC meeting was the presentation of the results of the Capacity Development Analytics, which the DILG aimed to inform the agencies of the development needs of the LGUs so they can provide better services with full devolution this year. The DILG mobilized the region’s HEIs to research the ground, namely the experts from the Bicol University for Albay; Camarines Norte State College for Camarines Norte; the University of Nueva Caceres for Camarines Sur; Catanduanes State University for Catanduanes; the Dr. Emilio B. Espinosa Sr. Memorial State College of Agriculture and Technology for Masbate and the Bicol University-Gubat Campus for Sorsogon.

The research findings are big eye-openers. For many of us engaged in policy research, the results also validated what we have been studying and recommending all along. The research identified development capacity needs per province drawn from the Devolution Transition Plans of the LGUs using their so-called capability pillars of CapDev, namely: structure, leadership, competency, management system, enabling policies and mechanisms, and knowledge and learning. Scores were 5 for very high capacity, 2 for low capacity and 1 for no capacity.

The research teams focused on some of the service provisions of the different line agencies under the LGUs, namely agriculture, fisheries, and research, local infrastructure, natural resources management/environmental services, tax information and collection services, investment information systems, health and nutrition services, information/job placement services, social welfare services, tourism services, disaster risk reduction & mitigation services. CapDev Analysis was already pilot tested in Regions I, VI, IX, X, and Mimaropa.

With the presentations, what did the CapDev data show? Stripped of the details, the CapDev results were generally the same. They are dismal and shocking. The provinces of Catanduanes, Masbate, Camarines Norte, Sorsogon, Camarines Sur, and Albay have a variety of low capacity scores, with Camarines Sur, Sorsogon, and Albay showing a bit of an edge in some areas. There are offices with no trained personnel or personnel with no offices, or worse, no offices and no personnel. Patronage, worded as “political favor,” is a concern.

MSAC members raised the concern for LGU leaders to have an essential awareness of local planning, inclusive governance, and social awareness to increase citizen participation through multi-stakeholder collaboration. Bagging the Seal of Local Good Governance may be a goal. But, more than that, if everyone agrees that poverty alleviation and climate change are critical issues today, we need to build a collective economic strength in municipalities, cities, and barangays, inclusive to all, not just a few.

After three decades of the LGU system and several elections, it looks like many local governments – at least in Bicol – are still unequal to the task. Time is running out.


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