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Power to the Province

by: Larry Villanueva

The Philippines has 7,107 islands. The distance between islands has made it hard for Filipinos to identify themselves as “Filipino.” Exacerbated by bad habits picked up from our Spanish colonial masters, we tend to identify ourselves by our region or province. Hence, we more closely identify with Cebuano, Pampangueno, Boholano and Davaoeno; or in my case, Negrosanon, as I hail from Negros Occidental.

Is there any Filipino out there who cannot trace his roots to a province? Most, if not all of us, are (in Tagalog) probinsyano or (in street parlance) promdi. Yet, the stark reality is that many Filipinos leave the province in hopes of finding a good job, a better way of life or, at least, more options than what is available to them. Naturally, people flock to Metro Manila — the social, cultural and economic center of the country.

Some provinces are bucking this trend by seeking more investment and business opportunities which, in turn, lead to more job opportunities and urban development. Given time, provinces like Cebu and Davao will eventually rival the development of Metro Manila. But there are still a lot of provinces in the country which have a long way to go in terms of development. These provinces need better roads for easier accessibility and better facilities to provide the most basic of social services. Real national development is not limited to Metro Manila but to all provinces across the country.

Developing the Provincial Empowerment Advocacy Agenda

Last October 8, 2013, the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (iCSC) sponsored a forum to discuss the Human Development Network’s Philippine Human Development Report 2012/2013 (PHDR) at Dulcinea, Tomas Morato in Quezon City. In attendance were guests from various CSOs, NGOs and the public sector.

Geography and national development

The lead author, Prof. Toby Monsod, presented the highlights of the Report to the group. She revealed that “geography is a deep determinant of human development. It has a direct impact through its influence on human health and agricultural prospects, and an indirect impact because it affects access to markets and the quality of domestic institutions.”

Unfortunately, the government’s failure to address the implications of geography has resulted in unbalanced human and community development, an agglomeration of economies and uneven living standards at local levels.

Prof. Monsod focused on three sectors to clearly illustrate the role of geography: health, agriculture and access and market integration.


In an archipelagic country like the Philippines, many threats to human health like worm infections and other neglected tropical diseases are location or site-specific, affected by natural factors like rainfall or topography.

In the forum, Dr. Jun Belizario of the National Institute for Health (NIH) related his experience on the government’s “War on Worms.” He said that in some provinces, there are high rates of worm infestation (e.g. hookworm, tapeworm) affecting the children. Worm infections are a major cause of malnutrition, absenteeism and poor school performance.

He stressed that given the proper coordination and implementation between the Department of Health (DOH) and local government units (LGU), school teachers can administer de-worming medicines during recess — meaning that all schoolchildren could be de-wormed in one day in a certain area.

Unfortunately, some local officials are more interested in implementing school feeding programs not realizing that they are actually feeding the worms — not the children.


The agriculture and fishery industry is also site-specific, affected by local climates and soils. The country’s diverse agricultural farmlands can offer our farmers multiple crops and commodities with which they can plant, grow and earn money from. Our coastal waters also offer vast marine resources which fisherfolk can take advantage of to earn a decent living.

Unfortunately, the Report cites that the government, through the Department of Agriculture (DA), follows a “top-down commodity approach in agriculture development…is characterized by an overemphasis on rice, mediocre participation of farmers and fisherfolk on program development, high program inefficiency, lack of transparency and lack of accountability.”

Republic Act No. 8435 or “the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act” was meant to spur locally-initiated agriculture programs. Instead, LGUs continue to depend on the DA for agricultural policy and program implementation and funding.

Access and market integration

According to the Report, “distance is more than physical or straight line distance – it refers to the ease or difficulty by which labor moves, goods are transported and capital flows and services are delivered between two locations.”

Leading places like Metro Manila and Cebu, areas with the highest density or highest market potential are crucial for trade and for the competitiveness of an area’s industry and services. Lagging areas like Cagayan Valley and Cotabato are typically economically distant from leading places.

In order for development to occur, there is a need to improve accessibility, connection and interaction from leading areas to lagging areas, regardless of the political boundaries between such areas.

The Report cites the government’s approach to addressing uneven national economic growth by prematurely pushing production to lagging areas. An example is the establishment of special economic zones or freeports like “Subic (1992), Poro Point (1993), Clark (1995), Cagayan (1995) and Zamboanga (1995)—none of which have thrived.” The most recent freeport is the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport (APECO) established in 2008.

Apart from the freeports, other examples of poorly implemented programs are the country’s portfolio of

87 airports, most of which are within a two-hour ride from each other; 140 seaports, 40 of which lack any traffic; 534 state university and college campuses (alongside 93 local colleges and universities and 1,604 private institutes) staffed by faculties only 37 percent of whom have graduate degrees.

Empower the provinces

In contrast to on-going policies and programs, the Report suggests that the inclusion of the geographical factor requires that the delivery of basic and social services are integrated, locally anchored and the policies to be formulated and implemented promote economic integration.

The Report advocates making the province [provincial LGUs] the planning domain and the anchor for providing integrated customized public services instead of relying on programs of the national government.

Integration involves choices to take into account good and bad sovers across sectors and localities. Provinces have the most at stake in improved health, education, adult productivity, farm incomes, food security, disaster aversion, local growth and human development.

To achieve these ends, strong provinces are KEY but the province is currently the weakest link among the layers of government.

Current laws and planning and budgeting practices constrain provincial LGUs from performing their integrative function. Provincial authority over important services is limited while municipalities are assigned functions that require scale beyond their reach; tax bases and tax powers are circumscribed; provincial spending responsibilities far outweigh funds given to it (i.e. share of provinces in the cost of devolved services like agriculture and health: 37 percent.)

While recognizing the difficulties in pushing for amendments to legislation, the Report offers alternatives that may immediately strengthen provincial LGUs.

One is to give to the provinces control of non-IRA funds for devolved functions (e.g. DA funds for commodity programs).

Another option is giving provinces a formal mandate to lead rural-urban, interurban and metropolitan integration efforts within their geographical jurisdictions.

Abolish the “pork barrel system” and allocate the funds to the provinces instead.


Participants in the forum discussed the matter of political dynasties that pervade all levels of government in reaction to the idea of giving more funds to the provinces. Prof. Emmanuel de Dios of the Human Development Network shared some of his insights by saying that political dynasties are a consequence of corruption and not the cause of corruption. Furthermore, some political dynasties do not control the economic development of their bailiwicks. Unlike senators and congressmen, provincial officials have a closer proximity to the people and are, consequently, more accountable to them.

PHDR 2012/2013 Roadshow

A national roadshow is in the works to promote and advocate the findings of the Philippine Human Development Report 2012/2013. It was suggested that possible venues may be in La Trinidad, Benguet for Luzon; Catbalogan or Calbayog in Samar for Visayas; and Davao, Iligan or Cagayan De Oro for Mindanao.

Let us educate provincial leaders and stakeholders that the traditional “one size fits all” policy of government can, actually, be counterproductive to economic development. Instead, the provinces can empower themselves to come up with local, customized policies and programs that are the “right fit” for their constituents.



  1. “2012/2013 Philippine Human Development Report,” Prof. Toby Monsod, Human Development Network, 2013. Download here: http://ejeepney.org/pdf/2012-2013-PHDR.pdf
  2. “Scrap Pork, Empower Provinces,” Toby Monsod and Emmanuel de Dios, Phil. Daily Inquirer, 7 September 2013. See: http://opinion.inquirer.net/60613/scrap-pork-empower-provinces
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