THE devolution of agriculture programs requires a reworking of the roles of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and local government units (LGUs), which must be built up to absorb more of the national agency’s functions, a former government chief economic planner said.
National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Secretary Cielito F. Habito said that “now is the time to fix the partnership between the DA and the local governments. They really have to work through the local governments, particularly the provincial governments, who in turn must orchestrate the municipal agriculture workers,” he told reporters on the sidelines of a briefing late Monday.
The Supreme Court’s Mandanas-Garcia ruling granted LGUs a larger share of national taxes, to which the National Government (NG) responded by shifting more functions formerly carried out by the NG to the LGU level. The devolution process was initially expected to be completed by 2024.
Early this year, President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. ordered a study on delaying the devolution timetable to give more time for LGUs to transition.
“With the Mandanas-Garcia ruling, I would assert (that) NG departments must take it as their responsibility to capacitate LGUs to do the work that has been devolved to them,” Mr. Habito said.
“I have always been a believer in LGUs, (even) knowing that there are still a lot of problems. I’m a believer in devolution,” he added.
Mr. Habito said that the absorptive capacity of the Department of Agriculture (DA) is “very low.”
“The proof of that is since I was at NEDA, only 60-70% of the (agriculture) budget was actually being spent. Everybody’s arguing to death that the DA should get a bigger budget. How can you give a bigger budget to an agency that has not demonstrated the ability to move the money? The way they can move the money quickly is to download it to the provinces but capacitate them to use it well, and of course, govern it with a tight memorandum of agreement,” he added.
“When it was devolved back in 1991… they should have deliberately made it their responsibility to capacitate and train the LGUs to handle agriculture. But no, what happened was that they kept doing things centrally,” Mr. Habito said.
The Local Government Code of 1991 requires basic services be devolved to LGUs to make them more “self-reliant.”
“After 1991, the municipal agriculture workers were left to their own devices. Nobody was giving them any supervision,” he added.
Mr. Habito also recommended the use of performance indicators to determine whether LGUs have the capacity to manage agriculture programs.
“What they ought to be doing, and this is now happening finally, was started by (former Agriculture Secretary) William D. Dar, what is called the Provincial Agriculture and Fisheries Extension Systems (PAFES). It hit several birds with the same stone,” he added.
PAFES consists of flagship programs that strengthen LGUs’ agriculture and fishery extension services. The program is a collaboration between the DA, LGUs, educational institutions, and the private sector.
“With PAFES, the province serves as an extension hub that synchronizes agricultural plans and programs as well as orchestrate the activities of the various stakeholders. DA will co-plan, co-invest, co-implement, and co-monitor priority projects in the provinces, particularly as they embark on commodity specializations to maximize comparative advantage,” according to the DA. — Luisa Maria Jacinta C. Jocson