LOCAL GOVERNMENT UNITS (LGU) need to build up data management and planning capacities as they absorb the basic services functions of the National Government, panelists at a virtual event on Philippine competitiveness said.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte recently signed Executive Order No. 138 tasking government agencies to transfer several functions to local government units by 2024.

International Labor Organization Philippines Country Director Khalid Hassan said there are different data management processes among different LGUs instead of a centralized system.

“Some of the LGUs are lacking capacities of micro-planning… Decentralization requires a lot of training, a lot of capacity building,” he said at the event organized by the Asian Institute of Management.

Financial services and improved infrastructure will be needed as more jobs are created in rural areas, he added.

“Great step, but a lot of planning, a lot of support will be needed in this process. Capacities have to be made at local government units.”

Ateneo de Manila University Center for Economic Research and Development Associate Director Ser Percival Peña-Reyes in the same event said that as this decentralization happens, national and local interests should be aligned.

“What would be the delineation of functions? What would be the division of labor? We have to spell that out clearly at the outset.”

Chris Nelson, executive director of the British Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, for his part, said the devolution is both positive and negative. He credits LGUs that have actively rolled out coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines.

“However — if I come back to the pandemic and the response — we need a national approach,” Mr. Nelson said. Citing the unified European digital passport as an example, he said some pandemic-related measures need national solutions.

Differences among LGU interpretations of national guidelines at the start of the pandemic had caused disruptions among industries, he added.

Meanwhile, a public sector workers union had said the devolution would displace civil servants, calling the order “anti-employee.”

“Its provisions for personnel to be affected by this order are limited, demeaning and its separation/retirement packages have no real funding,” the Confederation for Unity, Recognition, and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE) said.

The Philippines slipped seven spots to 52nd out of 64 countries in an annual global competitiveness report from Switzerland-based business school International Institute for Management Development. The country saw the steepest decline in Asia after its economic performance slumped amid the pandemic. — Jenina P. Ibañez