02 March 2007

An issue that should unite Philippine cities

LAST NIGHT, this news item from the Inquirer website caught my attention, especially this quote:

"They are depriving us of our right to develop, which is unfair to us and our people. We also have to grow… which is possible if we become a city."
Those words came from Baybay, Leyte Mayor Jose Cari, whose town is one of the 14 that will benefit from last-minute Senate measures approving their conversion into city. The League of Cities of the Philippines vehemently opposes their conversion; its official statement can be found here.

I am not sure what the correct number is -- the Inquirer's 14 or the LCP's 12 -- but what riles the League and its 117 member cities is the fact that Congress has relaxed the income requirement for cityhood provided for under Republic Act 9009 (P100 million locally generated income as of 2000 constant prices) so that these wannabe cities will qualify.

At least, the mayor was candid enough: "Cari admitted that his town's annual income would not be sufficient to meet the requirement for cityhood as mandated under Republic Act 7610 or the Local Government Code of 1991."

To me, this effort to lower the bar in favor of capital towns of provinces that do not have cities is grossly unfair. First and foremost, it is unfair to cities that abided by the law, met the legal requirement for cityhood, and proved themselves ready for the responsibilities it entails, as evidenced by the local income requirement. In this respect, Cari clearly got it wrong, putting his cart before its carabao.

Secondly, it is unfair to capital towns of provinces that already have cities. My hometown, Pili, is one of these. Going by Cari's argument, doesn't Pili also have an equal right to growth and development like Baybay and the other wannabes?

Thirdly, it betrays a very narrow and traditional conception of development anchored on getting a bigger slice of the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA), symptomatic of what the ADB warned in one of its key reform challenges for the Philippines. Inquirer columnist Juan Mercado covered this aspect more extensively here; this Manila Times news item touches on the same theme.

This development highlights the sordid practice by Congress to violate its own laws when politically convenient. I hope the League will cross party lines and do as it promised here against the senators responsible -- Angara, Recto and Arroyo -- for these measures, and send the message that it means business.

This issue is way past rational discussion of merits and the search for an acceptable middle ground, a debate to which Naga contributed its share. The battle shifts to our courts, to challenge the legality of what Congress just did, and to the senatorial race, to hold accountable those responsible for this act.


Born in Baybay said...

I totally agree with what you said in your article "An issue that ...". Though I definitely want a cityhood for Baybay, it has first to work hard to get the minimum requirement. We can't simply make rules, then create exceptions later on. What's the point in making laws in the first place? If investments to create income are scarce, perhaps Baybay can augment its income through religious collection of potential taxes. There are many sources from which it can do these, for example, land and property taxes. Baybay is a huge municipality by land area and population, it should have no problem generating income. What maybe needed is an effective computerized tax mapping and collection system. Making people pay taxes they owed, also is another thing. Well, the town fathers have to think about that.

Willy B. Prilles, Jr. said...

Hi Born: I hope the Supreme Court, as it has been doing lately, will set matters right.