Building an Archipelago of Good Governance

By Jose T. Almonte
Opinion - ABS-CBN News Online

We Filipinos have been so starved of good governance for so long that our appetite for it has become unlimited. What we hunger for is a whole archipelago of good governance. We want the blessings of good governance to spread through all our 7,100 islands—including even those submerged at high tide!

Yet, if the May 2008 State Department Global Report is to be believed, corruption and the uncertain rule of law still lie at the root of our political problems.

Achieving an archipelago of good governance will be a great challenge—because, in its geography, ecology, natural resource endowments, economy, ethnicity and culture, our country is extraordinary in its diversity.

Our fragmented geography produced a highly fragmented political system—whose ill effects we suffer until now.

Decentralization and national unity

Historically, political power in our country has been highly diffused. Until now, we as a people have a great deal to do to gather our regions, provinces, cities, towns and villages in one coherent Philippine state. Simply because the national government is inefficient, uncaring—and far away—local governments still enjoy a great deal of de facto autonomy.

But if local governments could still get away with interpreting national mandates to suit local power-holders, they also still must endure capricious releases of their IRA (internal revenue allotments) from an “imperial” Manila. The presidency’s immense power of the purse makes local governments extremely vulnerable to the political importunings of Malacañang. Consider how efficiently the Arroyo Administration’s political machine deals with oppositionist politicians who threaten her with impeachment.

Decentralization—which was finally accomplished in 1991 after being discussed for two decades—has been widely praised. It has increased the share of local governments in central government revenues; broadened the taxing authority of LGUs; and devolved some central government functions under the fine principle of subsidiarity.

Decentralization also plays to the already-strong sense of regional identity and loyalty that impedes the development of a national political identity. (Until now Cebuanos, Ilocanos and Bicolanos vote largely as language blocs. On occasion, Cebuanos apparently even sing the anthem in the local language.)

In the end, the gains in decentralization will be for naught if they do not also strengthen the national community.

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