13 August 2006

If GMA were really sincere about dismantling "Imperial Manila"...

THIS POST was prompted by a comment I made in Manolo Quezon's blog, which essentially calls for a better alternative to what Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo unveiled in her recent SONA.

One way to go, without the need for a divisive charter change, is to put money where the government's mouth is: through a meaningful regional block allocation system embedded in the annual national budget.

I first encountered the concept a decade back when I was spending part of my time with the Regional Development Council in Legazpi City. The scheme calls for the RDC to apportion a uniform amount among regions (it was P100 million at the time, if I recall it right) to fund priority development projects. Unfortunately, Congress eventually killed it at the bicam (which only goes to show the institutional resistance by Manila-based gatekeepers against any effort for regional self-determination).

Actually, the RDCs are the nearest thing we have today to a regional entity under a federal form of government. It consists of the provincial governors, city and capital town mayors, congressmen, directors of regional line agencies and private sector representatives elected by province. Its operation is backstopped up by regional offices of the NEDA, which provide the essential regional perspective lacking at the local (i.e. town, city, provincial) level. But it is being taken lightly by locals and has remained mostly a toothless paper tiger because its decisions need to be vetted by central authorities.

Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya, Jr. has placed the final price tag of GMA's SONA at P372 billion, around P187 of which will be funded through the annual budget of the national government. The latter translates to roughly P11 billion for each of the country's 17 administrative regions, which is certainly more equitable than the five "super regions" she has conjured. If she (and any other president for that matter) were really sincere about dismantling "Imperial Manila," a regional block allocation system should be the non-negotiable centerpiece of the annual budget. Placed at the RDCs' disposal, it is more than enough reasons for LGUs to take the councils more seriously, and in the process lay down the foundation for the development of regional states.

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