By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Government employees expressed apprehension over the newly-signed executive order that directs full devolution of certain functions of the national government to local government units in the next three years, saying that thousands among their ranks stand to lose their jobs.
Executive Order No. 138 of 2021, signed by President Rodrigo Duterte on June 1, directs local governments to be “primarily and ultimately responsible and accountable for the provision of all basic services and facilities devolved to them in accordance with the standards for service delivery to be prescribed by the national government.”
President Duterte’s devolution order pushes for the devolution of government functions, as indicated in the Republic Act No. 7160 or the Local Government Code of 1991. These include among others health and social welfare, agricultural support, maintaining of infrastructure, and low-cost housing.
Devolution refers to the transfer of authority for decision-making, finance, and management of national government functions to local government units. Such decentralization has long been pushed by multilateral bodies, including the World Bank.
A Committee on Devolution has been set up through the executive order, with the heads of the Department of Budget and Management and the Department of Interior and Local Government as co-chairpersons. This committee will oversee and monitor the implementation of the devolution order.
However, the government employees union Courage considered the executive order as “anti-employee” as provisions for personnel that will be affected by it are “so limited, demeaning, and even its separation/retirement package has no real funding.”
Courage Secretary General Manuel Baclagon said that the “worst part” in the executive order is that “it says nothing about the tens of thousands of contractual, contract of service, and job order workers who are most likely to be laid-off when this order is implemented.”
The devolution order states that affected government workers may apply for transfer without reduction of pay or avail of retirement benefits or separation incentives.
In addition to retirement benefits, affected workers are also entitled to separation incentives. However, the order also stipulates that a minimum of five years of government service is needed for personnel to be able to avail of separation incentives. Workers aged 60, on the other hand, will no longer be able to avail themselves of the said separation incentives.
As such, more than a thousand workers of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, for one, stand to lose their jobs, said the employees union of the government agency.
Kawani Laban sa Kontraktwalisasyon Spokesperson Roxanne Fernandez lamented, “We are always the first to be sacrificed to go whenever there are reorganizations or budget cuts by the government even at the height of this pandemic. This is so unfair and inhumane.”
Impact on services
In the Philippines, public health services were the first to be devolved from the national government to the local government units as part of the neoliberal dictates through US-funded technical programs that began in the early 2000s. This recommended, among others, fiscal autonomy of government hospitals.
Critics pointed out that devolution, coupled with a highly privatized health sector and budget cuts, has resulted in further deterioration and inaccessibility of public health care for poor Filipinos.