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Provincial Empowerment Agenda gets off the ground!

By: Teddy Arellano

One of the breakthrough reports that came out last year was the 2012-2013 Philippine Human Development Report (PHDR) that carried the theme “Geography and Human Development”. The report links human development with geography (the fixed physical space with its own topography and climate) and locates the interplay of socioeconomic factors (such as health, agriculture and fisheries, political and economic development) within specific geographical contexts that produce different human development outcomes.

The Report states that existing government institutions and fiscal policies provide centrally-planned programmes that do not take into consideration specific requirements of a geographical area, and that the main domain for geographical planning and administration should be at the provincial level. Unfortunately, the study also demonstrated that the province is currently the weakest among all current tiers of government.

The PDAF scandal last year brought home the lesson how messy and inefficient public funds are disbursed. In an opinion piece written by Dr Toby Monsod and Dr Noel de Dios, the authors said “the pork barrel mess presents an opportunity not just to plug leaks and strengthen budget controls but also to confront whether scarce public resources for development have been allocated and used efficiently and strategically. The pork barrel system should be abolished even if one could be assured

of zero corruption and zero leakage. For inclusive development to matter at all, we cannot continue to dissipate government funds through pork barrel-like allocations. Rather, these and other lump sums would be better spent on strategic and integrated initiatives planned and coordinated by provincial governments.” Monsod and De Dios are members of the the Philippine Human Development Network (PHDN), which published the 2012/2013 Geography and Human Development Report. Monsod is the author of the report.

Last October 8, 2013, Monsod and De Dios presented the 2012/2013 PHDR in a multistakeholder gathering organized by the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (iCSC) at Dulcinea in Morato Ave. (iCSC contributed the climate change section in the report.) The group was diverse and consisted of people representing members of government think-tanks and legislative clusters, several NGOs, development agencies, civic groups, campaign centers, and communications spets..The group discussed plans to promote the PHDR as well as to help craft a provincial empowerment advocacy agenda.

A number of engagements have been made since the Dulcinea gathering, led particularly by the PHDN. In fact, most recently, the Aquino government acknowledged the importance of provincial-level focus of government planning and services delivery. In effect, it gives tacit recognition and support to the premise of the PDHR report.

On March 7, 2014, iCSC and PHDN discussed concrete plans to carry forward the agenda to empower provinces. An important facet was the recognition that a constituency calling for the empowerment of provinces was vital, including the identification of practical and policy steps that can help leverage the aims of the PHDR short of legislation. These ideas will be presented this 11th of April to participants from the October meeting last year for finalization.

The provincial empowerment agenda will create a broad constituency around this framework, building awareness that promotes debate that creates meaningful change in how human development is planned and resources allocated. In the next few months, workshops will be held in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, inviting government (LGUs and line agencies represented by different levels of local, regional, district and national offices), civil society organisations who are engaged in governance issues, and members of the academe.

The workshops provide an opportunity to deepen the dialogue and, more importantly, create space for ideas of participants to flourish and shape the advocacy agenda, so that local initiatives can take root. Results will be fed back to the PHDN, and to other stakeholders (e.g. back to government), based on the outcomes of the workshops.

We need to seek betters ways to develop as a country, where scant resources are effectively utilized to meet the specific needs of people who face unique situations that cookie-cutter solutions from centralized government programs just can’t address.

To download a full copy of the 2012-2013 Philippine Human Development Report, go to:

Selfie by the author, Teddy Arellano

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