29 July 2021 – The Development Academy of the Philippines Center for Governance – Policy Research Office (CfG-PRO) continued its two-part discussion on full devolution in line with the implementation of the Mandanas ruling in the fourth installment of the Thursday Talks Webinar Series entitled “Devolution Ready: Realizing Meaningful Autonomy” under the Capability Building on Innovative Leadership for Legislative Staff (CBILLS) program. 

Moderated by Dr. Maria Ela L. Atienza, local governance and devolution expert from the Department of Political Science at the University of the Philippines Diliman, the webinar featured Undersecretary Mercedita Sombilla from Regional Development Group of the National Economic and Development Authority, who highlighted the inequity within the Philippines and enumerated the initiatives used in guiding offices to promote regional equity. 

The second session, led by OIC-Director John Aries Macaspac from the Local Government and Regional Coordination Bureau of the Department of Budget and Management, discussed the past and current computation of LGU shares in line with the Mandanas ruling. He also asked Congress to pass the proposed Income Classification Bill, which would aid the determination of the financial capabilities of LGUs to undertake development projects and provide different forms of assistance to LGUs.

Afterwards, in a panel discussion, Quirino Governor Dakila Carlo Cua, National President of the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines and National Chairman of the League of Provinces of the Philippines, stated that there should be clearer recognition of the inequity experienced by LGUs and raised concerns on the difficulties LGUs might face with the intended timeline for the devolution transition plan. 

Gov. Cua had emphasized that IRA shares from the Local Government Code 30 years ago allocated to LGUs were not enough to fulfill their envisioned responsibilities and mandates, and the additional financial shares for the devolution efforts are what the national government ‘owes’ the LGUs in the first place. 

Following this, Dr. Charlotte Justine Dikono-Sicat began by stating that it is an opportune time to devolve, especially since LGUs have always strived to fulfill their duties and responsibilities to their constituents. She then shared her four general recommendations for the strengthening of devolution which were strategic fund utilization, enhancing the generation of funds, alignment of funds, and improving institutional adjustment, alignment and coordination.

During the open forum, Dr. Diokno-Sicat explained that the economic principles behind devolution, decentralization, and federalism are essentially the same and that we have the tools to help us strengthen the goals of the Mandanas ruling. 

Next, Gov. Cua stated that LGUs have been ready and keen to spend on projects as LGUs have been waiting on funding to come in for decades. Undersecretary Sombilla discussed that all LGUs will be affected by the Mandanas ruling and highlighted the importance of utilization of funds from the national government among the LGUs as well as the budget preparation and optimization of IRA/NTA so it may be efficiently managed.Director Masapac added that it is up to LGUs to prioritize projects that they feel are important for their development and that projects cannot be imposed on the LGUs.

In her synthesis, Dr. Atienza highlighted the importance of capacity building for LGUs and the importance of stakeholder involvement in the devolution efforts. She also expressed her hope that with the Mandanas ruling, LGUs will have the ability to maximize their available resources and undergo successful harmonization within the different levels of government.

The livestream of this event can still be accessed through the Policy Research Office Facebook Page at www.facebook.com/DAPCFGPRO. – by Rion Cairus Reyes