'Lawmakers should be careful in passing cityhood laws'

By Jesus F. Llanto, abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak

Posted at Dec 15 2008 11:17 PM | Updated as of Dec 16 2008 09:45 AM

The Supreme Court decision voiding the conversion of 16 municipalities into cities should make lawmakers more careful in passing cityhood bills, local officials and an expert on local governance said.

Sources interviewed by abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak said that lawmakers should ensure that the criteria set by the Local Government for cityhood are met before pending cityhood bills are approved to avoid another incident similar to the High Tribunal’s decision to void cityhood laws.

In November, the SC, voting 6-5, junked the cityhood laws of three cities in Luzon, seven in the Visayas, and six in Mindanao for failing to meet the qualifications prescribed by the LGC.

The SC voided the cityhood laws of the following cities: Tabuk in Kalinga; Tayabas in Quezon; Batac in Ilocos Norte; Naga, Bogo and Carcar in Cebu; Baybay in Leyte; Guihulngan in Negros Oriental; Catbalogan in Samar; Borongan in Eastern Samar; Tandag in Surigao del Sur; Bayugan in Agusan del Sur; El Salvador in Misamis Oriental; Mati in Davao Oriental; Lamitan in Basilan; and, Cabadbaran in Agusan del Norte.

As of posting time, local officials of the 16 cities filed a motion for reconsideration at the Supreme Court.

Alex Brillantes, dean of the University of the Philippines National College of Public Administration and Governance (UP-NCPAG), said that the decision was a “positive development” because it emphasizes the need to follow the rules in converting towns into cities.

“The bottom line is the creation of cities should be done in accordance with the law,” Brillantes told abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak.

“Follow the LGC”

Iloilo City mayor and League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP) national chair Jerry Treñas told us that the SC ruling proved that no other law provides the criteria for cityhood but the Local Government code (LGC).

“The Local Government Code is the only law that provides the requirement for cityhood,” Treñas told abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak.

Section 450 of the LGC mandates that a cluster of barangays or a municipality can be converted into a city if it has a minimum income of P20 million and any of the following: a population of at least 150,000 or a contiguous territory of 100 square kilometers. The minimum income requirement was raised to P100 million because of the passage of Republic Act 9009.

The cityhood laws of the 16 cities contain a provision that exempts them from the minimum income requirement, but the SC said that it is only the LGC that prescribed the rules on cityhood.

“The Constitution requires Congress to stipulate in the Local Government Code all the criteria necessary for the creation of a city, including the conversion of a municipality into a city. Congress cannot write such criteria in any other law, like the Cityhood Laws,” the SC decision penned by Associate Justice Antonio Carpio reads.

City mayors of old cities we interviewed after the release of the decision hailed it for upholding the provisions set by the LGC. Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat told us in a November interview that the decision provides “equal protection” to all the cities.

“There are no exceptions to become a city,” Lobregat said. “Some municipalities have waited for years to meet the requirements to become cities. Why are you going to give exemptions?”

Impact on pending cityhood bills

Sources interviewed by abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak that the SC decision is expected to make lawmakers stricter when they deal with pending cityhood bills.

At least 13 municipalities are seeking conversion into cities, research by abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak showed.

A check on the records of bills filed on the committee on local government during the 14th Congress showed that there are seven municipalities from Luzon, three from the Visayas, and three from Mindanao.

Among the towns vying for cityhood status are: Narvacan in Ilocos Sur, Mabalacat in Pampanga, Dasmariñas in Cavite, Biñan in Laguna, Baler in Aurora, Nasugbu in Batangas, Daet in Camarines Norte, Kalibo in Aklan, Binalbagan in Negros Occidental, Midsayap in North Cotabato, Catarman in Northern Samar, San Francisco in Agusan del Norte and Ipil in Zamboanga Sibugay

Rep. George Arnaiz, chair of the House committee on local government, said that as a result of the SC decision, they would become stricter in screening applicants for cityhood.

“We will make sure that only those who are qualified will be converted,” Arnaiz told abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak.

1. San Francisco, Agusan del Sur
2. Dasmariñas, Cavite
3. Biñan, Laguna
4. Catarman, Northern Samar
5. Midsayap, North Cotabato
6. Baler, Aurora
7. Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay
8. Kalibo, Aklan
9. Daet, Camarines Norte
10. Mabalacat, Pampanga
11. Binalbagan, Negros Occidental
12. Nasugbu, Batangas
13. Narvacan , Ilocos Sur

Of the 13 candidates for cityhood, only seven have met the requirement for land area. Only four have population higher than 150,000 while only nine are classified as 1st class municipalities—those that earned an average annual income of P50 million or more during the last three years—and may, therefore, have generated the minimum income requirement of P100 million set by RA 9009.

Arnaiz said of all the pending applicants for cityhood, only two municipalities have so far met the requirements set by the LGC.

Cityhood means more IRA

Marlyn Alonte-Naguiat, mayor of Biñan in Laguna—a candidate for cityhood—told abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak said that she hopes her town could qualify as a city so that it could avail itself of more funding from the national government.

A study by the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) showed that the share of a municipality from the revenues generated by the national government or the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) is usually tripled when it is converted into a city.

“If we qualify as a city, we will receive more funding and we can hire additional staff for Ospital ng Biñan, our community hospital,” Naguiat said, adding that her town has already met the LGC requirements. She added that Biñan—which hosts IT parks—has generated P700 million revenues in recent years and has a population of 262,735 as of August 2007.

‘No to short cuts’

LCP chair and Mandaluyong City Mayor Benhur Abalos told us in an interview in November that they are only opposing short cuts to attain cityhood because “the parameters required to be a city are established.”
“When Navotas and San Juan were converted into cities, we welcomed them because they met all the requirements for cityhood,” Abalos told us.
The 120-member LCP questioned the conversion of the 16 cities because they failed to meet minimum income requirement. It also argued that these conversions have eaten up the share of old cities in the IRA, which finances the operations of most local government units.
Politicized conversion
The conversion of cities, a city mayor interviewed by abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak said, is usually politicized. The mayor told us that some congressmen sponsoring cityhood bills lobby very hard and usually bring local officials—from municipal mayors to barangay councilors—when the cityhood bills are being discussed in the Congress and in the Senate.
Lawmakers who want to get more votes and support from local officials, the mayor said, naturally will support the conversion.

Brillantes said that conversion of cities should be a “political-administrative” decision and consider the financial capacity economic viability of the municipalities.

“They [lawmakers] can create as many cities they want as long as they have the capacity to generate revenues, alternative source of income and collection of taxes,” Brillantes told us.

When a municipality is converted into a city, some additional offices are also created like the city prosecutor’s office, city trial courts and city schools division, and these require additional workers and expenditures for the newly-created cities.

More allocation to LGUs

Abalos said that there is need to study the current formula used to allocate funds for the LGUs. At present, only 40 percent of the taxes collected by the national government go to LGUs.

Abalos, who also heads the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP), said the LGU share should be increased either by five or ten percent. “This will serve as a buffer to us whenever new LGU is created.”

UP’s Brillantes, meanwhile, said that the provisions specifying the minimum income requirement of cities should not be permanent and should take into account inflation.
“A hundred million now will have a different value ten years from now,” he told abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak.