Parag Khanna, a Senior Research Fellow at the New America Foundation, wrote in 2011: “The 21st century will not be dominated by America or China, Brazil or India, but by the ‘City.’ In a world that increasingly appears ungovernable, cities – not states – are islands of governance on which the future world order will be built… In this century, it will be the city – not the state – that becomes the nexus of economic and political power.”
This echoes what journalist and urban activist Jane Jacobs wrote almost three decades before. In her Cities and the Wealth of Nations (1985), Jacobs outlined how “import-substitution” in cities and towns – or the process through which a certain locality gains the ability to create products and services that it previously imported – is in fact at the root of all economic expansion. In short, cities (municipalities, villages or other subnational divisions) are the true engines of national prosperity.
Hence, if we seek to propel the nation forward, our local governments – provinces, cities, municipalities, and barangays – must be empowered to take charge of their future and have real autonomy to pursue prosperity for their people. No less than my late father, Senate President Edgardo J. Angara once said: “The road to national development starts at the people’s doorstep.”
That is of course why a Local Government Code or LGC (RA 7160), mandating the decentralization and devolution of powers and responsibilities from national authorities to local government units (LGUs), was enacted in 1991.
True, the path to achieving true LGU autonomy since the LGC’s passage nearly three decades ago has had its share of challenges. Some continue to decry that local autonomy is all but an illusion, and that more should be done to let LGUs have a decisive say in their destinies.
But while the Senate Committee on Local Government which I chair is currently working on several measures and reforms to make local autonomy “real” throughout the country, that does not mean there haven’t been any noteworthy successes in local governance.
In fact, recently, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) awarded some 263 LGUs – 17 provinces, 39 cities and 207 municipalities – with the Seal of Good Local Governance (SGLG).
An LGU earns the SGLG only if it passes all the requirements of the DILG and meets the high standards provided under seven “governance areas”: financial administration; disaster preparedness; social protection; peace and order; business-friendliness and competitiveness; environmental management; and tourism, culture, and the arts.
If an LGU makes the cut for an SGLG, they are entitled to a cash grant – worth P3 million for each municipality, P5 million for each city and P7 million for each province – for a local project of their choosing. This year’s awards are particularly noteworthy since the DILG imposed stricter, more comprehensive criteria than in previous awards.
Meanwhile, last month, the National ICT Confederation of the Philippines (NICP) and the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) recognized 17 “digital cities” across the Philippines for their success in implementing different e-government projects or initiatives that utilize ICT for delivering better public services.
Clearly, cities around the country are already leveraging the power of ICT connectivity for good ends. In the 2018 Tholons Services Globalization Index (TGSI) even, six of our cities were included in the Top 100 “Super Cities of the World” for outsourcing. These were: Metro Manila at No. 2 (from No. 4 last year); Cebu City at No. 11 (from No. 12); Davao City at No. 75 (from No. 85); Bacolod City at No. 89 (from No. 97); the City of Sta. Rosa, Laguna at No. 87 (from No. 100); and Iloilo at No. 92 (who wasn’t part of the list last year).
Many LGUs are already taking charge and rolling out truly noteworthy initiatives. And it is only right that some of them have been recognized and given awards. For doing so shines a light on them, and allows others to follow and one day become true engines of national prosperity.
Sen. Sonny Angara was elected in 2013, and now chairs the Senate committees on local government, and ways and means. (Email: [email protected]| Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @sonnyangara)