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Speech: Joint Meeting of the Region VI Regional Development Council and the Regional Peace and Order Council

March 15, 2019

Speech of Senator Loren Legarda
Joint Meeting of the Region VI Regional Development Council and the Regional Peace and Order Council
15 March 2019 | Boracay Island, Malay, Aklan

Government leaders, both national and local, have the moral responsibility to work towards the achievement of inclusive, equitable, resilient and sustainable development for our nation and our communities.

The people expect and deserve good governance.

The World Bank defines good governance as “the manner in which power is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources for development.”[1]

I believe that all of us public officials strive to govern well and lead our people towards progress. But local government leaders, being closest to the people, have the special role of translating national policies, plans and programs into concrete and visible actions for the people.

In 1998, when I first ran for public office, I envisioned that by becoming a senator, I would be able to contribute in providing solutions to the problems of society, which I exposed and documented as a journalist, through policy legislation.

Twenty years into the job, I have accomplished many laws with only the best intentions in mind. I have done eight of the country’s major environmental laws. I also did laws on women empowerment, children’s protection, health, education, job generation, rural livelihood and MSME promotion, among many others. Oftentimes, I get frustrated when I learn that some of these laws have low compliance rate. The key is implementation on the ground.

When I became Chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, I have discovered a challenge that has continuously plagued the government. Slow utilization and deliberate underspending have always been the scourge of the national budget for years. It is unfair and unjust that billions of pesos are left unspent when many of our citizens and communities are in dire need of basic services and programs from government.

It is for this reason that in the proposed 2019 General Appropriations Act (GAA), we introduced a special provision that will ensure that local development plans are formulated based on a comprehensive consultation among the local development council (LDC), the local peace and order council and the local disaster risk reduction management council, along with other local sectoral councils/committees.

Joint meetings shall be conducted to enable local government units to come up with plans that are responsive to existing and emerging challenges as well as to formulate joint strategies to address such challenges.

The output of the LGUs shall be used by the national government agencies (NGAs), as a way of strengthening NGA-LGU interdependence in shaping their future development roadmaps and annual budget proposal.

While we await the enactment of the 2019 GAA, I would like to urge local governments of Region 6 to start implementing this provision already.

Allow me also to share my thoughts on how LGUs can further improve performance on the core areas of governance, and how you can work with the national government.

Financial Administration

As Chair of the Senate Committee on Finance since 2015, I know how hard it is to manage the government’s finances. All agencies want to get big budgets but at the end of the year, billions of pesos of unspent funds go back to the Treasury instead of benefitting the people.

The problem is poor planning—probably lack of research and study on proposed projects, or lack of anticipation on possible challenges, or lack of sense of urgency to get things done, or all of the above. Understanding the needs of the people is the best way we can plan our programs. Local governments are in the best position to assess these needs and craft programs that would address the same.

That is why, it is important that LDCs craft need-based local projects, which should be part of LGU planning to ensure that the needs of the people, especially those that cannot be covered by the LGU, are included in the programs of national agencies and are funded.

We should make our LDCs more efficient in accelerating economic and social growth and development at the local levels. There should be seamless convergence between the LDCs, the Provincial Development Councils, the Regional Development Councils, and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), which shall convey these local needs to other national government agencies for accurate planning of national programs that will be downloaded to LGUs based on the proposals from the LDCs.

Moreover, with enhanced transparency and strengthened accountability on the use of public funds, we can encourage improved management of our fiscal resources.

 

Business-friendliness and Competitiveness

Relative to managing fiscal resources is improving ease of doing business in the country. We need to attract more businesses for investments and employment and we can do so if we streamline the process of putting up businesses.

I have a proposed measure, the Innovation Act, which has been passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives and we hope this would be signed into law soon. The measure aims to put innovation at the center of our national development policies and make innovation a major driver of economic development.

Once enacted into law, it will mandate all government agencies and LGUs to improve efficiency in addressing public transactions that impact on innovation, including reducing the number of days and costs of starting or expanding a business. It will eliminate regulatory barriers and cut red tape to boost innovation efforts.

Social Protection

In broadening access to social services, especially the marginalized and most vulnerable in the community, communication and convergence are the challenges, more than funding.

We have so many programs available for access. Aside from the cash allowance given to poorest families under the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) of the DSWD, indigent Filipino children now have the opportunity to finish their studies since tertiary education in state universities and colleges, local universities and colleges, and state-run technical vocational institutions is already free because we have funded the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act.

Health services are also free in government hospitals even for those who are non-members of PhilHealth; while livelihood opportunities are available through various government programs such as the DSWD’s Sustainable Livelihood Program (SLP); the Department of Labor and Employment’s (DOLE) TUPAD or Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers Program, and Kabuhayan Program; and the Department of Science and Technology’s (DOST) Community Empowerment through Science and Technology (CEST).

The Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) has Training for Work Scholarship Program (TWSP), Special Training for Employment Program (STEP), and community-based and livelihood programs under the Barangay Livelihood and Skills Training Act; while the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) also has programs to help micro enterprises, particularly the Shared Service Facilities (SSF) and Small Business Corporation’s Pondo para sa Pagbabago at Pag-asenso.

The challenge is communicating the services that the government offers and helping prospective beneficiaries avail of these social services, which were created for them. There needs to be stronger convergence between national agencies and LGUs to ensure that these services reach the intended beneficiaries.

Peace and Order

Meanwhile, in protecting the community from threats to life and security, we have supported this by doubling the base pay of military and uniformed personnel in the government.

We also supported improved law enforcement and monitoring capabilities of our policemen by increasing the budget for acquisition of body cameras, closed circuit television (CCTV), and helicopters, among others.

Disaster Preparedness

In the area of disaster preparedness, it is not enough that we are ready for challenges posed by disasters. We need to go beyond that by managing disaster risks and building resilience to climate change impacts.

This is especially crucial now because we have been warned by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s leading body assessing the science related to climate change, that we need to work double time to limit global warming not to 2 degrees Celsius but to the more ambitious 1.5 degrees Celsius. Half a degree matters because it means survival of more individuals, species and communities.

Extreme weather events caused by the warming climate compel us to strengthen disaster risk management systems. We must incorporate the Sendai Framework for Disaster Reduction’s four priorities for action, namely, understanding disaster risk; strengthening disaster risk governance; investing in disaster risk reduction; and enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response and to build back better. But I wish to stress that there won’t be a need to build back better if we build stronger the first time we do it.

Remember this: Every dollar spent on disaster risk reduction saves around seven dollars in economic losses.

Environmental Management

Building resilience to disasters and climate change is intrinsically linked to environmental management. Mangrove forests are both reliable protection against tsunami and storm surge and also serve as carbon sinks. Our protected areas, such as the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park, Aklan River Watershed Forest Reserve, Northwest Panay Peninsula Natural Park, and Pan-ay River Watershed Forest Reserve, to name a few, are critical in biodiversity conservation. Biodiversity is essential for human existence as it provides for the many goods and services we need, such as: clean air, fresh water and food products, as well as the many other products like timber and fiber.

We need to manage our natural resources sustainably so that future generations may still inherit lush forests and natural springs and discover our endemic species of flora and fauna.

The management of our environment must be in line with our eight environmental laws, namely, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Ecological Solid Waste Management Act (ESWM), Renewable Energy Act, Environmental Awareness and Education Act, Climate Change Act, People’s Survival Fund Act, and the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act.

The case of Boracay Island is a learning experience for all of us. It stresses the need to protect critical biodiversity areas, such as wetlands, and the importance of implementing the EWSM Law, especially waste segregation, recycling, and establishing materials recovery facilities (MRFs).

Tourism, Culture and the Arts

Optimizing tourism potential of our communities and enriching cultural heritage are likewise linked to environmental management.

Going back to the case of Boracay, the rehabilitation of the island to address environmental concerns is a right step towards sustainable tourism. Our natural resources should never be compromised for the sake of development.

In promoting ecotourism, we must preserve the pristine state of our natural tourist spots. We should not build on protected areas or encroach critical biodiversity areas; we should not use our islands, seas, bays and rivers as sewerage or garbage bins; instead, we must preserve our wetlands and forestlands, which ensures the balance of our ecosystem.

Cultural tours should also be developed as a way to promote tourism, especially since each province and town in the country has a rich cultural history and historic spots that would be interesting sites for local and foreign tourists alike.

Closing

Delivering well on these core areas of governance is a mark of good governance. We must always remember that we need to bring government closer to the people. Our citizens must feel the presence of the national government through actual programs that benefit them. This is the very crucial role of local government.

Let us all work together to uplift the lives of our citizens. Let us all aim to build inclusive, equitable, resilient and sustainable communities.

Thank you very much.

[1] Governance and Development, The World Bank, Washington, D.C., 1992