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Philippines: When a City is Not a City

Categories: East Asia, Philippines, Development, Governance, Law, Politics

Sixteen new cities were reverted back into towns after the Philippine Supreme Court recently declared unconstitutional [1] the cityhood laws converting these municipalities into cities.

Among the affected include three cities in Luzon [2]: Batac City in Ilocos Norte, Tabuk City in Kalinga, and Tayabas City in Quezon. Another three are in Cebu [3]: Bogo City, Carcar City and Naga City. Catbalogan City and Borongan City are in Samar [4], Baybay City in Leyte [5], and Guihulngan City in Negros [6] Oriental. Meanwhile, the remaining six are in Mindanao [7]: Tandag City in Surigao del Sur, Lamitan City in Basilan, Bayugan City in Agusan del Sur, Mati City in Davao Oriental, Cabadbaran City in Agusan del Norte, and El Salvador City in Misamis Oriental.

The said cities, the court ruled, did not meet the requirements for cityhood (Read the Supreme Court decision online here [8]). Homeward Bound [9] explains:

Just recently, Local Government officials of Alabel were quite confident that our municipality’s income and land area would already ensure its cityhood in accordance with the requisites stated in the Local Government Code of the Philippines… What they missed, as did officials of the sixteen cities, was the amendment to Section 450, which… raised the local income requirement from P 20 M to P 100 M for the last two years.

Residents of the affected areas are saddened by this development. Kalinga Tambayan [10] lamented:

Tabuk had already started to build a city and yet this League of Cities are the thorns and obstacles for the people of Tabuk to achieve a peaceful and successful life. We have already our Urban master plan, we have engineers, architects, contractors and workers, but we don’t have the budget to continue the implementation if we lost our cityhood.

Meanwhile, officials of the voided cities are up in arms [11]. Apart from removing the term “city” to the name of their offices, plans, services, and projects requiring larger budgets not available to municipalities will have to be scuttled. Residents of the affected localities will have to adapt to this development, as Third Wave [12] shared in this brief anecdote:

[A] friend who come from one of the 16 listed rants about the calendars he will distribute as tokens of his business.

It bears the XXXXXX City as address… How would he explain that his city is now history?

Officials of older cities are happy though, Maasin City News Blog [13] observed. In fact, the League of Cities petitioned the Supreme Court to reverse the status of the new cities:

While those who are affected are dismayed with the decision made by the Supreme Court, Mayors of those unaffected cities rejoice because the IRA (Internal Revenue Allocation) that should be given to those new cities will be shared back by them.

Homeward Bound [9] adds:

As I see it, it’s a game of IRA. City Mayors are happy that the sixteens cities were reverted back to municipality status because they have fewer co-sharers of their IRA. Each year, the law provides that 23% of the National Governement will be shared among cities. Since there are only fewer cities compared to municipalities, each city will receive bigger IRA than towns.

Anyhow, Cebuano Expat [14] will still continue calling Bogo, one of the affected towns, a city:

I know Bogo City has been proud it has become a city so this is also a blow to the city's pride. I feel the blow myself and I will continue to call it a city. Representative Eduardo Gullas told his constituents not to concern themselves with the ruling as it is not final. There will be filings for a reconsideration and I suspect changes in the laws will be pushed through just in case they lose the reconsideration as well.

Jake [15] agrees with the Supreme Court decision:

dapat lang na ibalik sa municipalities ang mga new cities na yan. pinaliliit lang nila ang mga budget na para dapat sa talagang cities.

That the new cities should be reverted back into municipalities is only right. The new cities only decrease the budget intended for the “real” cities.

But for Bong Wenceslao [16] of Rebelmind [17]:

The argument for finding a way short of forcing the new cities to revert to the status of a municipality becomes more compelling if one considers that many of the new cities are more urbanized than some of the “old cities.” Bogo and Carcar are centers of commerce in their areas—and are better off than some cities in Negros.

This observation, however, can also be said of some of the voided cities, as Aileen [18] notes:

i didn’t even know that el salvador in misamis oriental is now a city. it’s near cagayan de oro, my hometown. we used to go there often, and i don’t think it is fit to be called a city yet.