Malilong: Consultation or consent?

Welcome to round two of Gwendolyn Garcia versus Imperial Manila.

The governor won the first round. Remember when, during the Covid pandemic, she insisted that incoming passengers be made to observe a shorter isolation period than what the Department of Health (DOH) imposed? She prevailed. The DOH knew better than engage Garcia in a protracted fight over turf and quietly and impliedly conceded that her approach was right.

The second round was triggered also by disease, this time attacking pigs, instead of humans. Angered by the decision of the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) to cull pigs infected with the African swine fever without coordinating with the Provincial Government, the governor sued BAI officials in the Office of the Ombudsman and caused the passage by the provincial board of an ordinance criminalizing the failure to coordinate.

The law is clear, Garcia said, citing the Local Government Code, Sections 25 (b) and 2(c) of which lays down the policy of the State “to require all national agencies and offices to conduct periodic consultations with appropriate local government units,” among others, before any project or program can be implemented in their respective territorial limits.

Not so, countered Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla. Prior consultation and approval by the LGU are not required in all cases but only in six instances, citing a decision of the Supreme Court which he did not, however, identify. The implementation by the BAI of its policies is not included in the six instances mentioned by Remulla.

A key to the resolution of the conflicting positions of the province and the national government on the import of Section 2(c) lies in its phraseology. The law requires only “periodic consultations.” Does the term include consent or approval such that if no such consent or approval is obtained from the LGUs, no project or program can be implemented?

Note, however, that under the same law, the consultations shall be made not only with the LGUs but also nongovernmental and people’s organizations “and other concerned sectors.” Should their consent or approval also be similarly obtained?

In Pimentel vs. Aguirre, the majority in the Supreme Court noted with agreement the part of the dissenting opinion of Justice Kapunan, which cited the need for “interaction between the national government and the LGUs at the planning level” in order to ensure that “local development plans hew to national policies and standards.” The problem is that no such interaction or consultation was ever held, the Court added.

There may be other decided cases that are clearer in their interpretation of Section 2(c) but Pimentel is the only one I found in my brief research that has seeming relevance to the disagreement between the province and Malacañang.

Garcia said she does not desire a war for turf. That’s admirable, but sometimes you need a referee to help you bridge a chasm. It would be better, considering its wide-ranging implications that the conflict goes all the way to the Supreme Court even if only to enrich jurisprudence.