Hearing about the additional funding to be devolved to local government units (LGUs) as a result of the Mandanas-Garcia ruling made Mayor Cristina Antonio of Alcala, Cagayan excited. Mayor Tin, as her constituents better know her, thought that the increase in funding, especially for Alcala, would mean more projects to resolve their area’s environmental issues. But before she could understand the other implications of the Ruling, Mayor Tin received letters from a few National Government Agencies (NGAs) informing her of the programs that will already be devolved to them. She cannot help but feel bothered by this move, as some functions that the NGAs are attempting to devolve to them are inherently theirs. Fortunately, Mayor Tin and other local chief executives (LCEs) have been given an opportunity to address their concerns about the roll-out of the Mandanas-Garcia Ruling through a roundtable discussion. The issuance of Executive Order (EO) 138, stating the Full Devolution of Certain Functions of the Executive Branch to Local Governments, Creation of a Committee on Devolution, and for other Purposes, provided clarity on how the NGAs and LGUs should abide with the ruling.
“LGUs have to step up anyway.”
For Mayor Tin, LGUs already know which functions would remain with them. The Local Government Code (LGC) of 1991, specifically under Section 16, has already listed down all services that LGUs should provide for their constituents. Mayor Tin believes that the Mandanas-Garcia Ruling should not have any drastic impact on them. “Sa totoo lang (To be honest), I am not bothered at all by the Devolution Transition Plan (DTP). I do not find it difficult because on the part of the LGUs, we really have to step up anyway”, she shares. The Mandanas-Garcia Ruling puts into test not only the leadership capacities of the Local Chief Executives (LCEs) but their management skills as well. Mayor Tin emphasizes that as LCEs, they have to fulfill both political (i.e. dealing with the communities) and managerial functions (i.e. budgeting, planning and monitoring). The additional fund provided by the Mandanas-Garcia Ruling is a welcome fund, according to Mayor Tin. “As I review our own [DTP]…there are positions that need to be created and filled up, and that’s just but right. The more personnel in the plantilla we have, the more that we are able to serve our constituents”. Everything that the DTP asks from the LGUs, from expanding their workforce to presenting their plans to increase local revenue, is beneficial for them and their constituents.
Mandanas-Garcia Ruling: Testing the LGUs’ Innovation and Creativity
The Devolution Transition Plan or DTP, required in rolling out the Mandanas-Garcia Ruling, expects the LGUs to present their yearly revenue targets. This challenges the LGUs to be creative in bringing in more revenue for their provinces, municipalities / cities and barangays. For Mayor Tin, this challenge is well-accepted as she recognizes that there should come a time when their LGU should not be heavily dependent on the National Tax Allotment (NTA) or also known as the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA). “[Entering into economic ventures for income generation] is not explored so much by most Local Chief Executives, unfortunately. But it is an exciting, fruitful and meaningful engagement [if LGUs will explore how to enter into these income generating ventures] so that LGUs would not be dependent on IRA”, Mayor Tin adds.
Currently, in Alcala, aside from being prudent in collecting Real Property Taxes, their LGU largely benefits from operating their water system. Based on the LGU data, the income from their waterworks system operations increased to 27.65% in 2021 (see table below). Mayor Tin attributes this to the continuous investment of the LGU to further improve the services of their water system.
|Real Property Tax
|Waterworks System Operations
Aside from developing new economic ventures, based on her experience, Mayor Tin perceives that LGUs can get by with the resources available to them: “It is a matter of sitting down and looking at the budget, being prudent and being frugal. It is a matter of prioritization”. Monitoring and evaluation, not only of the impact of the projects and programs, but as well as budget utilization should be done by every LCE with the LGU Departments. “Even in the execution, as you go along per quarter, you will see which items have savings that can be realigned to other more important areas”, says Mayor Tin.
“Running an LGU is really like running a household”, Mayor Tin highlights. With the definite budget given to each LGU, how will the LCEs stretch that budget? How will the LCEs make sure that every peso counts? Mayor Tin mentions that the resourcefulness and creativity of LCEs are challenged in this way: “It is a challenging but very satisfying job if you really roll up your sleeves and study the budget.” LCEs should be judicious in looking into their utilization rate and savings as these may be the solution to the constant issue of LGUs’ lack of budget.
Looking at the Bigger Picture
In the case of Alcala, crafting the DTP is done like how their LGU budget is usually created. Mayor Tin points out that they treated the budget from the Mandanas-Garcia Ruling not as a separate fund but integrated into the whole LGU budget: “So when we planned, DTP did not take the center stage but the process of planning that budget”. And in doing so, the LGU engaged the necessary stakeholders in creating its budget through Alcala’s Municipal Development Council. Their discussion resulted in prioritizing the incoming additional budget for the Alcala farmers. Mayor Tin excitedly narrates how their agricultural program will not only benefit their local farmers but the LGU as well: “We discussed with the Municipal Development Council that our IRA will increase to 27% or equivalent to roughly Php 60 M. It was agreed that it will go to the interventions for our farmers, especially in establishing a Rice Center in Alcala. Through the Rice Center, the LGU can buy from small farmers, those who have below a hectare of land, at a much higher price. Then, we will sell to the barangays and other LGUs.”
For the next three years, the LGU of Alcala will devote the additional funding from the Mandanas-Garcia Ruling in improving both its agriculture sector and conserving its environment. Through the Green Wall of Alcala program, aside from the Rice Center, the LGU will shift to more sustainable and productive agricultural products such as white corn and peanuts, and plant more native flowers and trees that would help in preserving Alcala’s watersheds and in promoting ecotourism, among others.
Instead of seeing the potential difficulties, the Local Government of Alcala is maximizing the benefits of the Mandanas-Garcia Ruling. While some took the crafting of the DTPs as an additional chore on top of the LGUs’ already-endless checklist of to dos, the LGU of Alcala, led by Mayor Tin, has looked into its essence and integrated it seamlessly into their planning process. We see here an example of an empowered LGU, which innovativeness and creativity are being triggered when faced by challenges.