Carvajal: Devolution of power must be responsive to people’s will

Devolution is a prepossessing word. It purportedly transfers money and power to local government units (LGUs) so these can provide more and better quality services to those who are scraping up a living in the geographical and social peripheries of the country where government presence is hardly felt, its service at worst unavailable and at best spotty.

Like, the Mandanas-Garcia ruling by the Supreme Court gives LGUs a bigger Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) because the high court’s decision expanded the tax base from which the IRA is computed. Which means more money for LGUs to control autonomously and, thus, the added capability to render basic social services to its constituents.

And if President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. intends, as he has recently been reported to announce, to make more devolutionary moves, these should mean a ramping up of government services to the vastly underserved outlying provinces and municipalities of the country.

Upon closer look, however, I see dark clouds threatening to rain over devolution’s prospect of resulting in relevant and timely services to people. Under the current political setup, devolution could just be giving local political dynasties more money to corrupt away with their unquestioned power. For one, political dynasties do not have service-oriented mindsets; for another, people are generally powerless to question irrelevant projects conceived by self-interest.

Hence, a fundamental condition for a service-oriented devolution might be an implementing law on the constitutional ban on political dynasties. Devolution must be responsive to the people’s will, and this is not possible when political dynasties at all levels of government have exclusive control of politics and the economy.

We are quick to brag about it but we don’t really have a genuinely democratic and participative political system. Until we have such a system in place that empowers Filipinos to stand up to bossy and greedy local dynastic rulers, devolution might just result in making local lords behave more like their counterparts in the Middle Ages, the Lords of the Manor.

Devolution of power all the way down to the people is what the country needs. Mechanisms that facilitate productive citizen participation in government decision-making should be installed if devolution is to be responsive to the needs of the majority, not just of the elite.

One institution that badly needs such mechanisms is our election system. This will once again and as always make a mockery of democratic processes in the coming barangay elections. Mechanisms are flagrantly absent that effectively prevent candidates from buying votes and winning with money.

Yet, as long as political dynasties are in control of all government institutions such mechanisms are not likely to happen. Ergo, political dynasties have to go if government authority is to emanate from the people and devolution is to work in their favor.