TACLOBAN CITY – Eastern Visayas provinces are seeking a more equitable fund from the national government that would prioritize poor communities affected by decades-long insurgency in the region.
Eastern Samar Governor Ben Evardone raised the appeal during a meeting with National Security Adviser Clarita Carlos at the Summit Hotel here on Friday.
“Big cities in the National Capital Region have billions of income and they still get big share from the national government. All their roads are already paved, and they can even provide shoes and school supplies to each learner. Rural communities don’t even have enough classrooms, no electricity, and roads are muddy,” Evardone said.
The governor said the province has only PHP300 million in annual funds intended for development projects in 597 villages.
The amount represents 20 percent of the annual internal revenue allotment share of the province.
Samar Governor Sharee Ann Tan shared the same concern as they only have PHP430 million annual budget for development projects.
“The amount is divided by 24 towns, two cities, and 951 villages. We will not see development with the amount. We want to concrete the road leading to San Jose de Buan town, but we can’t since we need PHP35 million to concrete every kilometer of road,” Tan said.
The situation of budget constraints seems to have been worsened by poor coordination between national government agencies and local government units, according to Leyte Governor Carlos Jericho Petilla.
“National government agencies in the region cannot help us since the decision making is done in the central office. We are asking the national agencies to let us know what their programs are. Don’t just come to our office to ask for counterparts to implement their projects. We need to know what the weapons of the national government are to fight armed conflict,” Petilla said during the meeting.
Evardone asked for the creation of equalization of funds for poor areas since it is a complicated process to amend the existing rules on the allocation of revenue allotments. The share of allotment is currently based on population and land area.
Among the proposed criteria for the prioritization in the allocation of proposed equalization funds are vulnerability to disasters, high poverty incidence, and absence of basic infrastructure.
“I like the idea of equalization fund, and can we push the idea further? I don’t even know how small the budget for development project of local governments,” Carlos told the local officials.
She vowed to come up with a summary of concerns and raise the issue in their upcoming Cabinet meetings.
“I listen to people who are on the ground. The President really wants to do something, and he wants changes done,” Carlos added.
The official was in the region to meet with the members of the Regional and Provincial Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, including village chiefs from areas affected by conflict.
The region, particularly Samar provinces, is the most affected by the presence of the New People’s Army with four guerilla fronts operating in the northern part of Samar Island, according to the Philippine Army.
The lack of infrastructure and high poverty incidence are among the key issues raised in the three Samar provinces. (PNA)