The disruption of devolution

>> Friday, June 3, 2016

Ike Señeres

Amidst talks of federalizing our system of government, the time has come now to revisit and review the devolution of functions to the Local Government Units (LGUs), to find out what has gone right and what has gone wrong. As it is commonly used, the term devolution is generally associated with the terms decentralization and localization. As the term suggests, devolution is relative to the source of the authority, implying that a set of authorities is being devolved from a central authority to a local authority.
Up to now, I still remember a lesson that I learned from the late Vice-President Emmanuel Pelaez. I served under him as a Press Attaché when he was the Philippine Ambassador to the United States of America (USA).
He said that in the case of the USA, the American Republic was formed by the member states, and thereafter the federal government was formed to be on top of the state governments. By comparison, the Philippine Republic was formed at a time when the member provinces were already pre-existing. He added that that was the reason why the national government has ascendancy over the provincial governments.
I mentioned the lesson that I learned from Ambassador Pelaez, because in the case of the USA, the term devolution does not apply to them. Over there, the prevailing legal fiction is that the specific matters of governance would belong to the state governments, not unless these are specifically overruled by federal laws.
In other words, most of the functions of governance are already devolved to the state governments, right from the very start. Again by comparison however, in the case of the Philippines, it still has to be decided what functions have yet to be devolved to the prospective state governments.
The health and education functions would be good frames of references for discussing the status of devolution in the Philippines, as a way of finding out what has gone right and what has gone wrong. Between the two, it seems that it is only the health function that has been devolved, at least partially.
I say partially, because it appears that it is only the administration of the public hospitals that have been devolved to the LGUs. In the case of the education function, it appears that it has not been devolved to the LGUs, but there are some LGUs that are practically administering their own public schools, at least in the provision of some material supports.
Sad to say, it could be said in a manner of speaking that it is only the function of administering the public hospitals that has been devolved to the LGUs, but not the budgets to make them run. Very clearly, that is the reason why the public hospitals in the provinces have practically nothing except the hospital buildings, and not even those are well maintained.
There could be some doctors in some of these hospitals here and there, but the quality of their services is often hampered by the lack of equipment and the lack of medicines. What usually happens is that the indigent patients are given free consultations, but these are practically useless because they do not have the money to buy their medicines.
For so many decades now, the officials of the Department of Education (DEPED) have always been saying that they are lacking teachers, classrooms and textbooks. Since we are now considering a shift to the federal system, these shortages should already be met as soon as possible.
I really wonder why these shortages would still exist, despite the fact that the DepEd always gets the biggest budgetary allocation every year, as provided for in the Constitution. The question now is what would happen if the education function is fully devolved as part of the new federal system. As I see it however, the DEPED should review the economics of their present methods, so that the problems of their system will not be passed on to the future states.
Generally speaking, we could actually say that when all of the powers are finally devolved to the future states, the problems and defects of the old systems should no longer be part of the devolution to the future states.
Since it will take some time before the complete process of federalism will finally happen, we should take advantage of the time in between to fix the present problems, so to speak. As I understand it, the prospective devolution of authorities to the future states will include most of the national functions except foreign affairs, national defense, central banking and finance.
As I see it, there are three levels of government functions and these are policies, programs and projects. There are many ways of understanding this dichotomy, but I would usually explain it by saying that objectives should be translated into policies, programs should be based on programs and projects should be based on programs.
In other words, everything should be derived from policies, everything should be programmatic and everything should be project based. In the language of the government, a project should have a beginning and an end, and rightly so. Having said these, the next question now is how these levels would be distributed when federalism happens.
Based on common sense, we could right away say that the federal government should limit itself to policies and programs, and should no longer go down to the level of projects. Logically, we could expect the states to implement their own localized policies and programs, but only these states should be allowed to implement their own projects.
As a way of saying that the federal government should put their money where their mouth is, it should be ready to propose programs that could be translated into projects that are federally financed.
Health and education are two of the government functions that could easily be disrupted towards the common good and this could be done by using information and communications technologies (ICT) hat are already readily available. For example, the government could promote telemedicine and online learning.

One good thing about this approach is that there is no need to build a separate infrastructure for each and every government function, because the ICT infrastructure that will be used for health could also be used for education. As a matter of fact, the same infrastructure could also be used to deliver justice, employment, livelihood and shelter, among other public services. Email or text +639956441780


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