Decentralisation, Power and Networked Governance Practices in Metro Manila

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The institutionalisation of decentralisation among urban local governments in the Philippines since the 1990s has been highly documented. While most of the studies have hailed its progressive development, a few have argued that decentralisation has also led to the further entrenchment of traditional élites and their allied power structures in local governance. This paper argues that, while decentralisation has allowed some local governments to initiate effective, efficient and accountable structures, thus becoming more responsive to the needs of their constituents, it has also led to the strengthening of traditional élites/political families and allied power structures as well as the creation of new ones. In short, decentralisation has ‘selectively’ democratised as well as reinforced existing power structures through the entrenchment of élite political families in urban governance and development. Utilising the concept of networked governance practices, this paper examines how local chief executives and allied officials have transformed local power structures through the mobilisation of decentralisation and democratisation discourses/strategies within and across the government bureaucracies, civil society organisations (non-government organisations, people's organisations and private-sector or business groups). Their mobilisation of such strategies is part of the overall governance framework of local government units to become locally/globally competitive amidst a weak metropolitan governance system in Metro Manila. The study describes how decentralisation compels local governments and their officials to deal strategically with the competing demands of economic growth and social and environmental governance, by reconfiguring or recasting existing power structures/practices through democratisation strategies/discourses, to respond to the needs of their constituencies, especially marginalised sectors like the urban poor. The paper concludes that the concept of networked governance practices allows us a broader understanding of how decentralisation promotes democratisation while strengthening ‘selectively’ traditional political élites and allied power bases in civil society and the business sector. These arguments are illustrated by examining the implementation of two local government environmental and social housing programmes—the Pasig Green City Programme and the Land and Housing Programme in Las Piñas City in Metro Manila.