Autonomy for local governments should not be a ‘one size fits all’
The grant of local autonomy is constitutionally mandated. Article X, Section 2 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution specifically provides for the grant of local autonomy to “territorial and political subdivisions.”
But what is local autonomy? From its etymological basis, the word autonomy is from the Latin term “auto” which means independent, and “nomos,” which means law. From this linguistic signification, local government units’ (LGUs) autonomy means their freedom of self-determination or self-governance according to their own circumstances and rules.
However, the constitutional grant of local autonomy is not absolute. LGUs are not little kingdoms that they can do whatever they please within their territorial jurisdictions.
Spelling out this limitation, Article X, Section 4 of the Constitution states that “The president of the Philippines shall exercise general supervision over local governments. Provinces with respect to component cities and municipalities, and cities and municipalities with respect to component barangays shall ensure that the acts of their component units are within the scope of their prescribed powers and functions.” This constitutional provision is even supplemented by Section 25 of Republic Act No. 7160, otherwise known as the Local Government Code of 1991, which states that “the president shall exercise supervision” over the LGUs.
The Supreme Court clarified the distinction between supervision and control and said that “supervision means overseeing or the power or authority of an officer to see that subordinate officers perform their duties. If the latter fail or neglect to fulfill them, the former may take such action or step as prescribed by law to make them perform their duties. Control, on the other hand, means the power of an officer to alter or modify or nullify or set aside what a subordinate officer ha[s] done in the performance of his duties and to substitute the judgment of the former for that of the latter.” (G.R. 125350, Dec. 3, 2002)Simply put, LGUs, while they enjoy genuine autonomy, are under the supervision of the executive branch. However, the scope of the president’s supervision power is limited only to monitoring the LGUs in the execution of their programs, projects, activities, and services, and that their local officials shall perform their mandated tasks and duties in accordance with the law.
It is my opinion that local autonomy is not a “fit for all” principle for all LGUs. As alter egos of the president, the Cabinet secretaries should check which among the LGUs are in dire need of the president’s supervision and assistance. There are those LGUs, I believe, which do not show autonomous ability, those which suffer a shortage of budget and with weak human resources. It would then be impractical and imprudent for the central government to expect LGUs to implement national projects and programs when they are not yet in the real sense enjoying local autonomy.
REGINALD B. TAMAYO
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