Subsidiarity rules

In this era of coronavirus pandemic, national governments will have to give way to the principle of subsidiarity more and more or they cannot solve the problems attendant to Covid-19.

Note: This column originally appeared in The Manila Times on March 23, 2021.

If there is one thing that stands out in this coronavirus pandemic, it is the crucial role of local government units (LGUs) and the active and latent performance of the local chief executives. The latter cannot hide from the public glare when constituents are needing assistance whether that be food, service, transportation and sometimes, even work. As has been pointed out, time and time again, constituents need to feel the presence of government. It is during these times that leadership is vital in order that there is order and communities are helped in the process of containing the spread of the virus.

When the national government is hard to move and the protocols are cumbersome, it is up to the local government to design a path that would lead to action. The action has to be directly responsive to the problems needing solutions. When national government invokes “granularity of data,” it only means the aggregation is based on local numbers. That is why it is fundamental to use pandemic data a year ago to roll out vaccines. It cannot be that vaccines are equally allotted to the 17 regions of the country since the degree of infection is not the same.

A year ago, we learned that Covid-19 spreads fast in areas with population density issues. The more people per square mile, the higher the probability of spread. And from the size of population alone, these regions cover the National Capital Region (NCR), Central Luzon (Region 3) and Calabarzon (Region 4-A) or what is called Mega Manila. Then there are Cebu and Davao, both cities. Per the Department of Health, as of March 19, 2021, the top five regions by active cases are NCR (36,666), Region 4-1 (10,296), Region 7 (7,756), Region 3 (5,753) and CAR (2,267). While the top five regions by new cases are NCR (3,779), Region 4-A (1,090), Region 3 (762), Region 7 (459) and Region 6 (Western Visayas).

In this era of coronavirus pandemic, national governments will have to give way to the principle of subsidiarity more and more or they cannot solve the problems attendant to Covid-19. The social amelioration of the national government tanked because of the problem of the list of beneficiaries. From the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) actual number of families of 4,217,654, to actual number of non-4Ps families of 13,239,419. From total funds transferred to LGUs amounting to P81,557,415,700 and total amount received by beneficiaries of P98,786,563,950 or a difference of P17 million, much remains to be ironed out in terms of number of beneficiaries and how to release the same.

A year ago, we were calling for the full and fast implementation of the national ID system. One year after, the IDs are nowhere. That is why working in government, national or local, involves a lot of disillusionment because the good ideas are hard to implement. The bureaucracy does not move and if it moves, the deadwood just plant their feet to prevent any movement. We should truly study how bureaucracy can be made light and action-oriented, then be protected by some civil service protocol that compromises the whole notion of why we have government.

Then we have the roll-out of vaccines, which needed to be tweaked by President Rodrigo Duterte himself by mandating that the hot spots, or what he termed as “ground zero,” should be the priority for the allocation and the roll-out. Equity and not equality is the norm. Driving home the point that we cannot set aside the data we secured from last year. So to pull out and recover the vaccines that have been sent out of NCR delays the process when there is a limited supply. Hindsight also tells us that the so-called tripartite agreement in the purchase of vaccines by LGUs may also compound the problem because that supply will only come by the third quarter of the year. If the LGUs were allowed to buy ahead of the national, we would probably have a patchwork on our hands, but at least the contagion would have been dealt with per area. Waiting for the national is like dancing with the elephant in the room. And the local suffers waiting for the national supply only to be hamstrung by supply. Mind you, two vaccines mean there should be no delay.

Subsidiarity is a principle that decisions “should always be taken at the lowest possible level, or closest to where they will have their effect.” It is “social organization that holds that social and political issues should be dealt with at the most immediate (or local) level that is consistent with their resolution.” Even the United Nations Development Programme, in its seminal report in 1999, noted that subsidiarity is important in governance. “Decentralization, or decentralizing governance, refers to the restructuring or reorganization of authority so that there is a system of coresponsibility between institutions of governance at the central, regional and local levels according to the principle of subsidiarity, thus increasing the overall quality and effectiveness of the system of governance, while increasing the authority and capacities of subnational levels.”

National should set standards as has often been agreed upon and the LGUs will implement these minimum standards or can set the bar higher depending on their capacities. It’s through allowing LGUs to bloom that we get appropriate action made at the local level. National government cannot go it alone in this pandemic. Again, we go back to supply chain and logistics; NCR buckled down with Covid-19, and the whole country suffered. Have we adjusted our supply chains? Have we created redundancies so that it will not happen again? Someone should be building this, but it looks like everyone is just focusing on vaccines.

The danger there is as we drag our collective feet and psyche on the vaccines, the nearer we are to filing of candidacy certificates for the 2022 elections, the list of vaccine beneficiaries become a political power play. We hope this will not happen, but signs point otherwise. We should have learned our lessons well. Any decision made at the top will have a hard time in the roll-out if the lowest levels of government are not considered or are not made partners in implementation.

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About the Author
Malou Tiqiua is the Founder/General Manager of PUBLiCUS Asia Inc. A noted political management expert in the Philippines and Asia, she brings over 20 years of professional experience in public, private and the academe combined. Author of the comprehensive book on electoral campaigns in the Philippines, "Campaign Politics", Malou is a graduate of the University of the Philippines with a Political Science degree and a Master of Public Administration. She completed her second master's degree (MA in Political Management) from the Graduate School of Political Management, George Washington University.
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