Interjurisdictional Cooperation and the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Case of the Metro Naga Development Council.

AuthorBulao, Mary Joyce

Local governments in the Philippines have been at the forefront of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. On 15 March 2020, in an initial move to try to contain the virus, the national government imposed a community quarantine that included the suspension of classes and government work, business closures and the non-operation of mass transportation. As the closure of business establishments led to mass layoffs, many residents of Metro Manila quickly returned to their home provinces. Unfortunately, this came prior to the release of protocols on COVID-19 response for local government units (LGUs), forcing local officials to craft individual strategies to tackle the pandemic.

A common initial strategy of LGUs was border control, which sought to limit mobility in and out of their respective jurisdictions. From an economic standpoint, however, this was an inherently flawed strategy that did not take into consideration the movement of people and goods across local borders. As neighbouring municipalities have interconnected goods, services, labour and financial markets, it was necessary to coordinate with other LGUs. However, achieving this posed a problem.

This article examines how these issues were resolved in the vicinity of Naga City, an urban centre in the Bicol peninsula of southeastern Luzon Island. Our focus is the Metro Naga Development Council (MNDC), an inter-jurisdictional institution that played a significant role in promoting coordination among its member LGUs: Naga City and 16 neighbouring municipalities. It examines subtle changes endogenous to the MNDC since it was established in 1993, and how such changes in metropolitan governance played a critical role in the local response to COVID-19. We argue that subtle institutional layering has allowed the MNDC to persist and function beyond its mandate during the pandemic.

Institutional Layering and the MNDC

Institutions are bound to change, and without change they may become irrelevant or cease to exist. According to the punctuated equilibrium model, institutions persist or break down depending on how they respond to exogenous shocks. (1) However, some changes in institutions happen very subtly and gradually over time. In order to account for how these incremental changes affect the evolution of institutions, Kathleen Thelen introduces the concept of institutional layering, whereby change happens within an institution by adding new arrangements that may diverge significantly from the goals that initially led to the establishment of the institution. (2) This framework helps explain the evolution of the MNDC.

MNDC is an inter-jurisdictional institution, created via a 1993 presidential executive order, mainly for the purpose of promoting equitable development in Naga City and neighbouring municipalities. Initial members included the City of Naga and 12 neighbouring municipalities, namely Bombon, Calabanga, Camaligan, Canaman, Gainza, Magarao, Milaor, Minalabac, Pasacao, Pili, Pamplona, and San Fernando. Four more municipalities joined over the next few years. The presidential order provided the council with seed money of Php500,000 (US$18,000, 1993 conversion) and made explicit the source of funding: the national budget and contributions from member jurisdictions.

Among the MNDC members, Naga City deviated politically and economically from...

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