Lawmaker questions DILG orders on LGUs

Rona T. Fernandez

“SINCE when has the DILG begun exercising the power of control over LGUs?”

So asked Deputy Speaker Pablo John Garcia (Cebu, 3rd), who delivered a privilege speech on Tuesday, March 10, 2020 on the issue of local autonomy.

The matter stemmed from a series of memorandum circulars issued by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) directing local government units (LGUs) nationwide to clear public roads of obstructions and recently, to ban tricycles and pedicabs from operation on national highways within a 75-day period.

The road clearing period, orderd by the DILG, started on Feb. 16 and will end on April 30.

The LGUs were likewise ordered to create a task force that will identify national roads within their jurisdiction and determine the present and proposed routes in view of drafting a tricycle route plan within 30 days from the issuance of the memorandum issued last month.

“On the surface, the task seems straightforward enough. The regulation of public roads, after all, is within the express powers of LGUs, and the clearing of roads and banning of tricycles and pedicabs would fall under this general power of the LGU. We all share in the objective sought to be achieved: Who doesn’t want roads cleared of obstructions; who doesn’t want safer, smoother trips along national highways? But the manner in which this stated national objective is sought to be implemented by supposedly autonomous--constitutionally and by law--local government units is what we, as legislators, the authors of the law on local autonomy, should be concerned about,” Garcia said.

A lawyer, Garcia lamented that LGUs are apparently “dictated” upon by the DILG on how to exercise the power to regulate public roads.

The non-compliance to the latest directive on the tricycle ban, for example, will warrant the issuance of a show-cause order.

Failure to provide a sufficient response shall be a ground for the filing of appropriate administrative cases pursuant to Section 60 of the Local Government Code and other laws and policies, according to the official website of the DILG.

“What is the DILG’s legal basis for ordering LGUs to implement national policy, supplanting the local legislative body’s will, preempting its wisdom, and requiring the Sanggunian instead to mechanically copy-paste what the DILG deems is good for everyone, dispensing its wisdom from up above, for the officials below to blindly follow?” Garcia asked.

“Worse, what gives it the power to threaten administrative cases and penalties should the LGUs fail to follow its dictates to the letter?” Garcia added.

Garcia noted that when the Local Government Code was passed by Congress, it was for the implementation of the “constitutional grant of local autonomy.”

He added that the role of the Executive, with the DILG as its alter ego, is to have general supervision over LGUs to ensure that their acts are within their prescribed powers and functions.

“Certainly not the power of control, which is the power to revise or reverse the acts or decisions of a subordinate officer involving exercise of discretion. In this case, worse than revising or reversing decisions of the LGUs, the DILG is imposing its own will upon the LGUs, in advance of or to supplant whatever decisions it may yet, or may have already made,” Garcia said.

He pointed out that LGUs are to be “consulted, not ordered around.”

“LGUs are partners in implementing national policy, not miscreants one threatens with punishment at every turn,” Garcia said.

He said it was important to voice out the importance of local autonomy in Congress as mayors and governors were afraid to raise these questions themselves.

He recalled that when his elder sister, Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, questioned the DILG’s rating system in the road clearing program, she was instead told that an interior assistant secretary will be suing in court.

“The DILG seems to be operating under the premise that they have the power of control over LGUs when they do not. When the Province of Cebu, for instance, through its Sangguniang Panlalawigan, and in the exercise of its general welfare power, banned the importation of meat products from areas affected by the African swine fever outbreak, the DILG issued a memorandum ordering 56 LGUs to lift the ban on certain pork products from Luzon. This is the exercise of control, which power it does not have, for it seeks to reverse or revise--even repeal--an ordinance, on the strength of a mere memorandum,” Representative Garcia said in his speech.

“Can a memorandum from the DILG repeal an ordinance? And it is unfortunate to note that whenever the DILG makes a public announcement about a policy to be implemented by the LGUs and our local chief executives, it is always with overbearing words like ‘orders,’ ‘warns,’ or ‘threatens.’ Is it too much work to ‘ask,’ to ‘urge,’ to ‘encourage’? Words, most certainly, but words matter. How we use words is shaped by how we view the world,” said Garcia.

He said he believes that DILG Secretary Eduardo Año can “correct” the missteps of his subordinates.

“We need a hard restart. And we, in Congress, in the exercise of our oversight powers, need to remind the DILG what its proper role is, in a constitutional system that values local autonomy, and in an administration seeking a transition to even greater autonomy through federalism,” he added. (with PR)