Vol. 10, No. 2, Takagi Yusuke


Contents>> Vol. 10, No. 2

Policy Making after Revolution: The Faces of Local Transformation of the Philippines

Takagi Yusuke*

*高木佑輔, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS), 7–22–1 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106–8677, Japan
e-mail: y-takagi[at]grips.ac.jp

DOI: 10.20495/seas.10.2_199

The decentralization process trigg Congressional Record. Quezon City: House of Representativered by the Local Government Code of 1991 resulted in local politicians rising to the national political arena in the 2016 Philippine elections. A former mayor of Davao City was elected to the presidency and the widow of a former Naga City mayor to the vice presidency. These cases reflect various political dynamics, including bossism, patronage politics, a developmental authoritarian regime, and a grassroots democracy. Beyond typological studies on local politics, this chapter reveals the transforming nature of local politics by scrutinizing policy making and policy implementation at the local level. Local policy makers become policy entrepreneurs when they find innovative ways to implement existing policies in particular local contexts or when they create new local policies. The policies may take on their own nature, or a built-in nature, via new institutions and changing expectations that outlast the term of political leaders. After reviewing conventional knowledge to understand the transforming nature of local politics, this chapter provides a brief case study of the coalition politics behind the Local Government Code of 1991. Policy coalitions—made up of politicians, bureaucrats, civil society activists, and businesspeople—work to make and implement policies at the national and local levels.

Keywords: local politics, reform policy, policy entrepreneurs, policy coalition, decentralization, built-in nature, local transformation, the Philippines


The decentralization process triggered by the Local Government Code of 1991 resulted in local politicians rising to the national political arena in 2016. A former mayor of Davao City was elected to the presidency, and the widow of a former Naga City mayor was elected to the vice presidency. A former mayor of Makati City also led the presidential race in 2015, but he lost in the end. The 2016 election results were more striking than previous election results. Almost all the presidents prior to the implementation of the local government code had experience serving as senators with nationwide electoral districts.

It is, however, misleading to paint the fruits of the reform as one color. President Rodrigo Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo represented two different types of local leadership after decentralization. Mayor Duterte was famous for his iron-fisted approach toward rebels and vigilantes in Davao City, and his ruling style was investigated by the national government’s Commission on Human Rights. Meanwhile, Mayor Jesse Robredo, the vice president’s late husband, was known for a reform-oriented governance that empowered local residents, which was admired by local and international observers (Kawanaka 2013; Parreño 2019). Local politics are diverse enough to allow iron rule by strongmen as well as a democratic governance that encourages citizens’ participation.

The early literature on local governments is dominated by claims that bossism characterized local governments. In a compilation about local political bosses, Alfred McCoy (1994) emphasizes that the weak Philippine state has failed to penetrate into society. Political families, also called clans or dynasties, have maintained their power bases through illegal or extralegal ways, such as violence. McCoy emphasizes social forces such as family, while John Sidel (1999) points out the significance of the American colonial state’s institutional legacy of elected local officials who dominate economic resources and administrative prerogatives.

The discourse based on the weak state, or bossism, does not cover Philippine politics’ entire nature. The investigative journalism exposing bossism and warlordism represents a space for freedom of speech and a right to know, a space sustained by brave journalists. Based on Sidel’s bossism framework, leading Filipino journalists have exposed stories about local bosses throughout the country (Lacaba 1995).

Moreover, the story of policy making reveals an interesting context where policy makers exploit bossism or warlordism in reform politics. Jose Almonte, an influential presidential adviser to President Fidel Ramos, pointed out the use of publications on dynastic rule to generate public support for dismantling the telecommunication sector’s monopoly in the early 1990s (Almonte 2015, 241). Policy makers such as Almonte exploited studies on dynastic rule to carry out reform and successfully dismantled the telecommunication industry’s monopoly, revealing the political dynamics beyond those of a simple oligarchy.

We can expect contested politics among oligarchs, bosses, and reformers (cf. Quimpo 2008). Against the dominant discourse of a weak state, several policy reforms appear in tax laws, peace building, social policy, and budgeting at the local level (Sidel 2014; Takagi 2017; Hara 2019). McCoy (1994) refers to the Mafia’s resilience in Italy to highlight illicit activities in Philippine local politics. Italian local politics, however, were characterized not only by the Mafia but also by a rich history of social capital accumulated by the local civil community (cf. Putnam 1993). Local politics in the Philippines may be as diverse as Italian local politics.

As shown in Jose Magadia’s (2003) study on social capital, citizens actively engage with public issues in places with a dense civic community. In a study on social capital in local Philippine politics, Kobayashi Jun and Osaki Hiroko (2019) found that local political leaders with strong ties to residents performed well in social service delivery, while those with strong ties to the central government performed well in administration. Using the same data set, Nishimura Kenichi (2019) argues that most local governments with councils performed better than those without.

In the following sections, this chapter seeks to appreciate various local political practices and to understand the transformation of local politics by highlighting policy making. The first section critically reviews existing literature on local politics and argues that there may be pockets of local transformation where policy entrepreneurs work locally for reform, despite the presence of a developmental authoritarian state, a patronage-driven state, and a weak state in other parts of the country. The second section elaborates the concept of policy entrepreneurs and coalition politics to shed new light on Philippine politics through a case study on making the Local Government Code of 1991. The third section examines the cases studied and clarifies the practices of local policy entrepreneurs and the nature of local coalition politics in each case.

I Varieties of Local Political Practices: Beyond the Weak State

A critical review of the existing literature reveals some clues about political development in local settings. In his insightful paper on local Philippine political economies, Emmanuel de Dios classifies local leadership into three types: patrons and patronage (clientelism), bosses and violence (warlordism), and brokers and national resources (De Dios 2007, 166–177).

First, local leaders in a system of clientelism often depend on landownership and exploit the huge socioeconomic gap between themselves and their constituencies. Patrons can dominate physical forces by appointing local police or by organizing private militias; they can achieve political stability but cannot provide socioeconomic development. De Dios (2007) repeatedly mentions cases where landlords dominate large farm areas and exploit patron-client relations with minimal social burden to their clients. Other scholars point to machine politics, in which professional politicians provide material benefits only to constituencies in cities (Machado 1972). Patrons in rural areas and machine politicians in cities both engage in patronage politics, whose ideals oppose politics based on contested programs or platforms of political parties (Kitschelt 2000).

Second, bosses are local leaders who maximize violence to stay in power. In his influential study on bossism in the Philippines, Sidel (1999) emphasizes the political legacy of American colonial state building after independence. As a result of the peculiar sequence of colonial state building—introducing local elections before making a national bureaucracy—elected officials dominate the nation’s economic and coercive resources. Thereafter, local political leaders consolidate their power against the national administration because national politicians depend on local politicians for voter mobilization. Based on bossism, the Philippines has a predatory state that mostly fails to use legitimate violence and fails to consolidate the rule of law.

Third, brokers are local leaders who excel at bringing national resources to local areas. They impose initiatives from above and fail to represent the people’s voices through political parties. De Dios highlights Mayor Tomas Osmeña of Cebu, who developed the city by establishing a special economic zone and consolidating his power base as the head of the Osmeña family.

The typology of de Dios is an excellent starting point to consider a new perspective on local politics and the Philippine state.1) Tellingly, he recognizes the economic development under brokers and bosses while criticizing socioeconomic performance under patronage politics or clientelism. For instance, de Dios recognizes socioeconomic development under the rule of strongmen such as Mayor Rodrigo Duterte of Davao City and Governor Juanito Remulla of Cavite Province. We can hardly expect socioeconomic and political development within a weak state and oligarchy, so de Dios provides a hint of a new perspective.

Fig. 1 highlights the differences between de Dios’s argument and the previous weak state argument, which also differs from his trifold typology of local leadership.



Fig. 1 Varieties of Local Political Leadership and the State beyond the Weak State

Source: Author based on De Dios (2007).


The y axis shows the degree of socioeconomic development, and the x axis shows authoritarian versus democratic regimes.

The first quadrant depicts socioeconomic development and no political violence. The detailed case studies on each leadership type reveal a mixture of individual initiatives, supporter organizations, and policy sets. In the case study on Mayor Osmeña of Cebu City, Sakuma Miho (2012) describes an evolving developmental strategy led by the mayor. Osmeña worked hard for the Metro Cebu Developmental Project to grow Cebu City’s coastal area after the 1987 elections. Learning from the failed project in the 1960s, Osmeña designed the government-led developmental project and successfully borrowed 12.3 billion yen from Japan’s Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund. Osmeña maximized the Local Government Code of 1991, which allows local governments to contract a loan without intervention by the national government. In 2008, Cebu City finally turned its deficit into a surplus to manage the economic zone and provide social services to its citizens. One may argue that the mayor represents the Osmeña clan’s dynastic rule, but the Osmeña clan also has competition. The Garcias emerged as a competing political force in Cebu politics from the early 2000s (Pabico 2007).

Mayor Robredo’s much-lauded leadership of Naga City could be a better example of the first quadrant. Robredo built his professional career before running for political office. He created an innovative financial scheme for owners of small- and medium-sized businesses while raising tax collections from the big businesses in the city. He also invented a conditional aid scheme to help the urban poor with medicine and funerals (Kawanaka 2013). Kawanaka Takeshi criticizes Robredo’s machine politics, but we cannot underestimate Robredo’s innovative policy-making achievements when considering other local machine politics.

Mayors Osmeña and Robredo achieved socioeconomic development, but others in machine politics or family politics failed at developmental projects. Two types of family politics and machine politics apparently exist: static and transformative. In the static politics of Fig. 1’s fourth quadrant, leaders focusing on redistributing existing pies merely transferred slices of pie from the central government to local governments and reproduced the existing socioeconomic stagnation. Meanwhile, in transformative politics, political leaders do not depend on the existing socioeconomic structure but rather seek transformation, which may lead to the area’s socioeconomic development. Notably, Osmeña supported the local government code’s creation, while some politicians opposed decentralization to avoid disturbing local power bases (Katayama 2001, 117).

In the second quadrant, political leaders achieve socioeconomic development but depend on violence and suppression. This combination typifies a developmental authoritarian leadership, which was historically a common type of national leadership in Southeast Asia, such as Indonesia under Suharto, Thailand under Sarit and Thanom, and so forth. As de Dios points out, economic development in Cavite Province fits into this type of leadership. Governor Remulla of Cavite Province exploited experts’ knowledge of the Japan International Cooperation Agency when he invited Japanese foreign direct investment (FDI) in the 1980s.2) Besides, Remulla worked with the top Filipino technocrat at the time, Cesar Virata, who was born in Cavite and served as finance minister and prime minister under the Marcos administration (Coronel 1995, 4, 11). He obtained FDI while suppressing opposition with an iron fist (Coronel 1995).

Another famous example of a local developmental authoritarian regime can be found in Davao City under Mayor Duterte. Duterte was first appointed by the revolutionary government of President Corazon Aquino in 1986 and was then elected in 1988, when the city of Davao was called the “murder capital” of the Philippines because of its clashes among the Communist insurgents, anti-Communist cults like Alsa Masa, and several criminal syndicates. Aside from empowering the local police, Mayor Duterte apparently “outsourced” an anti-criminal campaign to private gunmen, which evolved into the so-called Davao Death Squad (Parreño 2019, 128–131, 177–195). While he adopted an iron-fisted approach against violence in the city, he sought economic development through FDI following the model of Singapore under Lee Kwan Yew (Parreño 2019, 173–174). Highlighting the achievements in Davao, Duterte climbed the ladder to the presidency of the Philippines in 2016.

In the third quadrant, we can assume a classic type of weak state that has failed in democracy and socioeconomic development. We may also call such a state predatory since it emphasizes the role of institutions rather than the social structure (Sidel 1999). Differences exist between developmental authoritarian leadership and predatory authoritarian leadership, with the latter failing to achieve economic development. Nationally, President Ferdinand Marcos failed socioeconomically, especially in the 1980s, but he might have equaled other leaders, such as Suharto and Sarit, in abuse of political power. In the Philippines, lists of bosses exist in the weak state at the national and local levels (cf. McCoy 1994; Lacaba 1995).

In the fourth quadrant, de Dios distinguishes local economic development under patrons from a developmental authoritarian state (the second quadrant), using the examples of Tarlac and Cavite Provinces (De Dios 2007, 182). In both provinces, Japanese capital provided direct investments in the 1980s. In Tarlac, the Japanese electronics company Sanyo had relations with then President Aquino, who did not dismantle her family’s plantation (Hacienda Luista) in the province. Tarlac and the surrounding provinces failed to maximize opportunities from being adjacent to the National Capital Region, but Cavite became a center for manufacturing exports and enjoyed economic growth. According to de Dios, the difference might have resulted from differing political leaderships in the two provinces: the Remullas could not dominate Cavite’s urban political economy, while the Aquino and Cojuangco clans maintained dominance through landownership (De Dios 2007, 182). Not much could be expected from the patronage-driven state leadership in Tarlac.

With examples fitted into each quadrant of Fig. 1, we now shift the discussion from why the Philippines has a weak state in general to why some areas have successfully freed themselves from authoritarian rule and socioeconomic underdevelopment—toward the first quadrant in Fig. 1. In the following section, we highlight the transformative role of policy making in emerging states.

II Policy Making as Institution Making

II-1 Policy Entrepreneurs in Local Politics

In transforming states in Fig. 1, someone made a difference. In this special issue, we focus on the role of policy makers who become policy entrepreneurs by creating new policies or finding new ways to implement existing policies. In his classic work on policy studies, John Kingdon (2003, 196–208) highlights the roles of certain policy makers, calling them policy entrepreneurs. Policy entrepreneurs invest their resources into policy-making processes because of certain interests and values, and for the simple joy of participating in the process (Kingdon 2003, 123). Lobbyists work for existing interests, but policy entrepreneurs make a difference through policy making. Scholars focusing on the role of policy entrepreneurs, therefore, highlight policy-making innovations.

Kingdon focuses on national policy entrepreneurs, while this special issue looks at local policy entrepreneurs. Locally, policy entrepreneurs may find new ways to implement existing policies. The Philippine Local Government Code of 1991, for instance, allows local governments to carry out various initiatives, but it is poorly utilized by local practitioners. Local policy entrepreneurs are not necessarily the same as policy makers with new ideas. Policy entrepreneurs interpret an existing policy in a local context to create a new local policy initiative.

We examine policy entrepreneurship in its implementation and creation. Local policy entrepreneurs find ways to implement national laws locally. Those who helped make economic zones in the Calabarzon area exemplify policy entrepreneurs who utilized the national government’s development policy to enhance the local economy. Policy makers also create new laws at the national and local levels that are designed for local development via the national government’s actions. Those who worked on the Local Government Code of 1991 exemplify this type of policy entrepreneurship.

II-2 The Built-in Nature of Reform Policy at the Local Level

In the weak state framework, political players do not focus on policy making and implementation. They may neglect the achievements of their predecessors and fail to consolidate reform initiatives, resulting in a weak state. Against this backdrop, Filomeno Sta. Ana, who has worked for tax reform beyond the administration, argues that policy making is part of institution making. If institutions are sets of rules shaping people’s behavior, public policy is an example of an institution (Sta. Ana 2010).

The built-in nature of reform policy may appear in institutions, organizations, and people’s expectations. Ma. Regina M. Hechanova et al. (2017) provide a candid collection of transformations in eight local governments—provinces, cities, and municipalities—that received a Galing Pook Award. Table 1 summarizes their findings.


Table 1 Transformation of Local Governments


Source: Based on Hechanova et al. (2017).


Reviewing this rich case study shows some instances of consolidation of the reform policy beyond the terms of individual politicians, whose terms are limited by law to a maximum of three (or nine years in total). In other words, case studies of local transformation reveal a series of continuous reforms beyond the term limits of particular politicians, as a result of the built-in nature of local policy making.

Local policy entrepreneurs succeeded in ensuring the continuation of their policy innovations beyond their limited terms in office in two ways. First, the successors came from the incumbents’ families or close aides and followed their predecessors’ initiatives, as expected. The cases of Marikina in 2001 and Mandaluyong, Bohol, and Naga exemplify this pattern.

More intriguing are the cases where competitors simply followed or expanded upon their predecessors’ policies. Notably, the successor of the reform-oriented mayor of Marikina City actually ran against the candidate nominated by the mayor, but the successor maintained similar policy initiatives as the previous mayor after winning the 2010 elections (see Chapter 3).

How did policy initiatives survive a political power struggle in the latter cases? Succession comes from the reform policy’s built-in nature. For instance, the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation introduced a community-based disaster preparedness program in Albay Province under Governor Romeo Salalima in 1989 (Amo and Felipe 2010; Alampay 2017, 15). After Joey S. Salceda was elected governor in 2007, he added climate change to the existing disaster risk reduction and management program and established the Climate Change Academy–Disaster Risk Reduction Training Institute. Salceda advanced the program and was elected co-chair of the board of the Green Climate Fund of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2011 (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, n.d.). Salceda once again fought against Salalima in the 1998 elections and improved upon, instead of abolishing, his predecessor’s initiative, illustrating how the issue survived a political power struggle.

II-3 The Policy Entrepreneurs’ Coalition for the Local Government Code of 1991

Coalitions of Policy Entrepreneurs

When policy entrepreneurs form a coalition to make a new law, they can make a big difference. In his study on educational reform and reproductive health lawmaking, Takagi Yusuke reveals that policy coalitions under the Benigno Aquino administration were made up of policy entrepreneurs from within and outside the government. The policy coalitions achieved policy reform in certain areas even without a program-oriented political party with a party platform to formulate a full set of reform policies. This was because policy coalitions can play a similar role as political parties in a certain program through continuous efforts for policy advocacy, making, and implementation (Takagi 2017).

Policy coalitions become especially powerful when they can go beyond the immediate stakeholders. In educational reform and reproductive health lawmaking, advocates can enlarge their coalitions by framing issues in terms that the business community understands (Takagi 2017). In this subsection, we review the creation process of the Local Government Code of 1991 to see an emergence of policy coalitions comprising advocates with local autonomy, anti-Marcos politicians, and technocrats working for liberalization and privatization.

Economic Bureaucracy

Significantly, some economic planners worked for decentralization before the democratization (Hill et al. 2007, 11–12). As Alex Brillantes and Abigail Modino point out, policy makers under the authoritarian regime could achieve administrative dis-concentration but not political decentralization (Brillantes and Modino 2015). The planners prepared for reform despite neglect or political machinations by then President Marcos.

In December 1986, after democratization that February, the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) published the Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan, 1987–1992. The planners clearly identified “decentralization, checks and balances, and minimal government intervention in economic activities, as well as the need to provide for necessary infrastructure facilities and basic social services” as the principles governing the government’s role and structure (Republic of the Philippines, NEDA 1986, 38). The plan mentioned three paths to achieving decentralization. First, more power would devolve from the central government to local governments. Second, regional and local governments would be strengthened as focal points for local development. Third, the government would encourage people’s participation.

Notably, the NEDA proposed this plan when the government was under heavy pressure to avoid expansionist fiscal measures. The NEDA discussed, for instance, the employment implications of market-oriented reforms, such as trade liberalization, tax reform, and public sector reform, and some cabinet members emphasized an employment-oriented economic policy (Republic of the Philippines, NEDA 1986, 36). The planners prioritized market-oriented reform over poverty eradication, although they recognized poverty eradication as “the ultimate aim of development efforts” (Republic of the Philippines, NEDA 1986, 3).

The planners discussed regional development in greater depth in the plan’s second chapter, titled “Regional Development and Physical Planning Framework,” but they did not forget about fiscal constraints. In the chapter, the planners examined problems and strategies to deal with each of the 13 geographical regions’ issues in Fig. 2.



First, the planners highlighted poverty as a critical problem throughout the country, and they pointed to the widespread poverty in the Visayas area, or Regions VI, VII, and VIII (Republic of the Philippines, NEDA 1986, 50). They also mentioned the gap in the incidence of poverty within the country: the National Capital Region had a 43.9 percent poverty incidence, but Region V’s (Bicol’s) hit 73.2 percent (Republic of the Philippines, NEDA 1986, 50). In poverty-stricken regions such as Bicol, planners suggested developing the rural hinterlands and upland areas by diversifying crops (Republic of the Philippines, NEDA 1986, 71). To achieve this goal, they proposed developing off-farm employment opportunities in livestock-based enterprises in Masbate, in agroforestry industries in Catanduanes, in wood-based industries in Sorsogon and Camarines Norte, and so on.

Second, when it came to productivity, only the National Capital Region and Region IV (Southern Tagalog) exceeded the national average; Regions II (Cagayan Valley), V (Bicol), and VIII (Eastern Visayas) remained the least productive (Republic of the Philippines, NEDA 1986, 50). The planners suggested utilizing existing resources more efficiently in low-productivity regions. In Region II (Cagayan Valley), for instance, the authorities prescribed expanding and intensifying unutilized and underutilized croplands via irrigation, farm-to-market roads, and so forth (Republic of the Philippines, NEDA 1986, 67). The planners presented three categories of agricultural products to be promoted: products with existing comparative advantages (such as unhusked rice and white corn), products with linkage potential (such as tobacco and coffee), and products with high nutrients. The last category reflects the lack of highly nutritious foods in the region.

Third, off-farm income, indicating economic transformation from an agrarian economy, ranged from 61 percent in Regions IV (Southern Tagalog) and VII (Central Visayas) to 33 percent in Region XII (Central Mindanao).3) The Cavite–Laguna–Batangas Growth Corridor was established in Region IV so that provinces could absorb FDI. Region VII’s Cebu City is an urban center, along with Mactan International Airport, which has an export-processing zone.

The NEDA plan’s last chapter points out the necessity of administrative reform. The planners criticized previous decentralization efforts for their “conflicting tendencies” of reform orientation and stated that “greater and meaningful decentralization, therefore, will have to be a major policy agenda for this plan period” (Republic of the Philippines, NEDA 1986, 393). In its recommendations, the NEDA listed issues to consider, such as transferring authority over social services and local infrastructure projects from the central government to local governments, increasing Internal Revenue Allotments (IRA), increasing freedom for local development plan making, and so forth (Republic of the Philippines, NEDA 1986, 404).

In addition to the reform’s possible positive outcomes, planners worried about bossism. The plan, in fact, refers to “the need to minimize the evils of local oligarchies, nepotism, and corruption” (Republic of the Philippines, NEDA 1986, 405). The planners suggested policy makers should encourage citizens’ participation to mitigate the evils, though they did not elaborate further. The policy makers recognized the issues of local politics, which were addressed by the Aquino cabinet’s local minister, as discussed below.

Revolutionary Government

Another significant development toward local governance reform evolved within the Corazon Aquino administration and gained special momentum from the People Power Revolution. Minister Aquilino Pimentel Jr. began purging incumbent elective officials in local governments that were dominated by affiliates of the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL, New Society Movement), President Marcos’s party, and appointing officers in charge (Nemenzo 1988, 227). With Pimentel’s draconian measures, 76.3 percent of governors, 66.7 percent of mayors, and 42.7 percent of town mayors were purged within two months (Asano 1992, 239). Pimentel’s actions were controversial because he aggressively removed local KBL politicians and seemed to have appointed close affiliates of his party, PDP-Laban. Within anti-Marcos factions, the United Nationalist Democratic Organization, led by Vice President Doy Laurel, had 37 seats, and Pimentel’s PDP-Laban had only 10. The KBL, however, occupied 124 seats in the assembly (Asano 1992, 233). Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile Sr. accused President Aquino of working toward peace with the Communist Party and its New People’s Army and demanded that some of the officers in charge in local governments be replaced (Nozawa 1987, 293).

Over time, Pimentel lost influence in both the cabinet and his own party. He was forced out by Peping Cojuanco Jr., brother of Corazon Aquino, as the president of PDP-Laban in October 1986 and subsequently resigned from the cabinet amid the power struggle between President Aquino and Defense Minister Enrile in December the same year (Asano 1992, 241, 244). Pimentel would be elected senator in 1987 and play a vital role in making the Local Government Code of 1991, but his being once replaced by the president shows he was not the only policy maker working for decentralization.

Pimentel was not the sole voice for local autonomy within the administration. Aquino appointed members of the constitutional commission, which supported decentralization. Article X of the 1987 Constitution covers local government. Section 3 of the article states, “The Congress shall enact a local government code which shall provide for a more responsive and accountable local government structure instituted through a system of decentralization.” In the articles, the framers clearly state that local government units can create their own resources via taxation, fees, and charges in addition to a certain allotment from national taxes (Sections 5 and 6, Art. X, Constitution).

Aquino actively promoted decentralization and organized the Cabinet Action Committee on Decentralization to examine powers and responsibilities to be given to local governments in May 1988. The committee implemented the Pilot Decentralization Project to examine the feasibility of reform (Matsuda 2011, 6). Notably, President Aquino worked closely with Dr. Ediberto de Jesus, who established and managed the Rural Development Management Program at the Asian Institute of Management in 1977. President Aquino appointed de Jesus as the presidential adviser on rural development and asked for a government-wide nongovernmental organization liaison system, including the NEDA Focal Point in 1988 (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization 1994, 48). The presidential office was heavily involved in rural development, and on September 8, 1988 the president certified several administrative measures to increase the IRA to local governments (House of Representatives, July 24, 1990, 93).

Congress and the Making of the Local Government Code of 1991

Pimentel, who resigned as local government minister and was elected senator in 1987, worked in the senate to establish the local government code (Brillantes 2003; Matsuda 2011). Meanwhile, in the lower house, the Committee on Local Government prepared the bill for two years before submitting it to congress on June 6, 1990 (House of Representatives, June 7, 1990, 761). Crafting the code took time, and the bill’s deliberation was delayed because some members of congress feared losing influence in their own local constituencies (Fukushima 1991, 328). After continuous criticism from her own administration, President Aquino convinced congress to work on the local government code in 1990.

Congressman Celestino Martinez of Cebu served as chair of the Committee on Local Government and sponsored the bill in a speech on June 7, 1990 (House of Representatives, June 7, 1990, 755). Martinez emphasized four points: fiscal decentralization via IRA reforms and decentralization via deconcentration, devolution, and citizen empowerment.

Through deconcentration, lawmakers stipulated how national departments delegated authority to regional, district, and field offices. This reflected criticism of the previous Local Government Code of 1983, which prescribed that national departments and agencies could delegate authority only to their own local branches (House of Representatives, June 7, 1990, 757).

A distinguishing feature of the code is its trust in the electoral process rather than in meritocracy or technocracy. In his sponsorship remarks, for instance, Congressman Hilario L. De Pedro III of South Cotabato clarified the difference between administrative decentralization and political devolution by quoting Speaker Ramon Mitra:

As Speaker Ramon Mitra himself has observed, the bulk of power in government is concentrated in the sectoral line agencies which are run by nonelective Manila-based functionaries with little empathy for ordinary Filipinos. . . . It is high time that the fulcrum of political power shifts away from imperial Manila to our local governments. (House of Representatives, June 7, 1990, 758)

De Pedro’s emphasis on politics rather than administration is intriguing, and it aligns with his support of the local government code. Lawmakers apparently believed in the legitimacy and capacity of elected officials rather than in a professional bureaucracy.

Devolution confers a national government’s power and authority to a local government (House of Representatives, June 7, 1990, 756). The local governments’ functions cover a range of activities, including the construction of administrative halls, roads, bridges, and schools and the establishment of day care centers, health centers, public markets, and cemeteries (House of Representatives, June 6, 1990, Sec. 20).

Concerns about local oligarchs arose during discussions on this issue. Congresswoman Socorro Acosta of Bukidnon, who founded a local NGO for microcredit in her region and was one of the sponsors of the bill, spoke about the risk of domination by political elites and countermeasures against this risk in the code (House of Representatives, June 7, 1990, 761–762; Mukherjee 2007). She argued that lawmakers had prepared a recall mechanism and used NGO participation in local development councils as safeguards against domination. Additionally, she expected the local government code would provide opportunities for political education and enhance political leaders’ capabilities.

Generally speaking, lawmakers were optimistic about their trust in NGOs, reflecting the atmosphere right after democratization led by the People Power Revolution. Regarding citizen participation, lawmakers mentioned the arrangements of elections, the recall of local politicians, the participation of local education boards’ management, and the participation of NGOs in the planning processes for development (House of Representatives, June 7, 1990, 756).

While the Local Government Code of 1991 was being made, a coalition advocating for local autonomy began emerging. First, economic managers concerned about the country’s financial conditions prepared a medium-term development plan that clearly promoted decentralization to enhance local governing capacities without large government expenditure. Second, President Aquino and Local Government Minister Pimentel were very interested in local autonomy in the context of democratization or departure from dictatorship and supported the constitution, which promoted the same principles. Third, Senator Pimentel and some legislators worked in congress to institutionalize decentralization by highlighting the role of local politicians and civic participation in governance.

II-4 Local Development after Decentralization

The policy coalitions for decentralization helped local governments to see the fruits of reform through the passage of the Local Government Code of 1991. Brillantes, who was instrumental in decentralization, argued that it yielded good and best practices in many local governments (Brillantes 2003). Good practices properly implemented existing policies, and the best practices were creative policy making by local practitioners. Resonating with the Local Government Code of 1991, the Galing Pook Foundation assessed local governments’ performance. Figs. 3 and 4 show the achievements of local governments.



Fig. 3 Galing Pook Awardees by Category (1994–2014, n = 392)

Source: Galing Pook Foundation (various years).




Fig. 4 Galing Pook Awards by Region (1994–2014, n = 392)

Source: Galing Pook Foundation (various years).


Fig. 3 illustrates the activity fields awarded by the foundation. Environmental protection, health and sanitation, and local economic development were the top three areas awarded. When it comes to indigenous people and labor dispute resolution, however, good and best practices appear difficult to find.

Fig. 4 shows the awarded local governments by region. As of 2018, the Philippines had 16 regions. According to Fig. 4, Region VII (Central Visayas) received the most awards. In our case study, we examine Bohol in this region, focusing on its ecotourism promotion and poverty eradication measures. The National Capital Region received the second-largest number of awards. In our case studies, Marikina City exemplifies reform-oriented governance and environmental protection in this region. Meanwhile, two autonomous regions, the Cordillera Autonomous Region and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), were the lowest performers. As will be discussed in Chapter 5, people in the ARMM face more difficulties than those in other regions, but some people are moving forward to make a difference by cooperating with military officers implementing civil-military operations.

In terms of human development, we can observe improvement in general, although the gap between the national average and Muslim Mindanao is still wide, according to Fig. 5.



Fig. 5 Philippine Subnational Human Development, 1990–2017

Source: Global Data Lab (n.d.).


While moderate improvement in human development may be observed throughout the country, improvement does not occur automatically. As we will see from the summary in the next section and more details in succeeding chapters, policy entrepreneurs and their coalitions make a difference at the local level.

III In Search of Local Policy Entrepreneurs

In this special issue, we encounter policy entrepreneurs with and without policy coalitions. Chapter 2, on San Nicolas, Ilocos Norte, details Mayor Alfredo Valdez’s innovative leadership. Valdez worked toward business-friendly governance to encourage local and international investments. Valdez’s administration built the Valdez Center to entice one of the country’s largest retailers: Robinsons. Working coalitions led by mayoral initiatives and supported by private businesses began to emerge. Further, the administration took advantage of opportunities presented by the growth in the local economy via remittances from Filipinos working abroad. The San Nicolas case exemplifies the uncoordinated efforts of policy entrepreneurs and private businesses.

In Chapter 3, on Marikina City in the National Capital Region, the author finds that reform-oriented governance originated with a couple who retained power for almost two decades. The mayors maximized opportunities created by the Local Government Code of 1991 by encouraging local governments to work directly with international donors to improve the city’s socioeconomic conditions. In this chapter, Mendoza argues that the successive mayors were not trapped by “cancel culture” but developed reform policy based on their predecessors. This case exemplifies a coalition of local politicians, business leaders, and labor leaders who collaborated to mitigate liberalization’s negative impact.

Chapter 4, on Bohol Province, highlights coordinated efforts among the provincial, city, and municipal governments to eradicate poverty by promoting ecotourism. Bohol Province orchestrated efforts to promote ecotourism, which increased economic development and freedom from a Communist insurgency. It is an impressive successful case of local transformation through policy entrepreneurship.

Finding coalitions is difficult in Sulu, in the ARMM, where civil authority largely failed to provide peace and order, as the author discusses in Chapter 5. Instead, the military provides de facto governance in Sulu by emphasizing a civil-military operation promoting social welfare. The governance, however, depends on a military leadership that is usually stationed in Sulu for two years or less and can change the operation’s emphasis from a “search and destroy” operation to a civil-military operation or vice versa.


As a critical review of the literature on local politics, this chapter sheds new light on local practices in the transforming Philippine state. In a transforming state, policy entrepreneurs and policy coalitions may collaborate to make a difference through policy making. Policy entrepreneurs may be able to build in reform initiatives through innovative policy making and policy implementation.

Policy entrepreneurs can make a bigger impact when they create a coalition covering various societal interests. The Local Government Code of 1991 resulted from continuous efforts by various policy makers, including economic planners, legislators, the president, and professionals working for rural development. The policy coalition established foundations for local development, some of which have been awarded by the Galing Pook Foundation.

The following chapters will show the practices of various local actors in creating a transforming state at the local level. They reveal individual policy entrepreneurs or coalitions of practitioners who collaborate to make a difference in local governance.

Accepted: December 15, 2020


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1) De Dios criticizes all three types of leaders because they do not guarantee accountability for leadership as a functional party system does. Party politics might guarantee accountability, but party systems have failed to capture the changing nature of constituencies even in older European democracies and the United States.

2) I appreciate Miriam Grace Go for her insights on the local development of Cavite.

3) Data on the NCR’s off-farm income are not shown in the plan, but statistics for the country in general are shown: 50.2 percent (Republic of the Philippines, NEDA 1986, 53).