Thursday, January 27, 2011

Poor Questions, Why?

“I shall call the innocent multitude, I shall show them their poverty.” – El Filibusterismo, Jose Rizal

            There are questions that are better unasked and left unanswered. In the same light, that there is a precariously thin line between a stupid question and a notable one. Invariably, we don’t know which one to ask, and yet we expect excellent answer somehow.

            Why are we poor?

            It is never a covert practice of public officials to accept bribes, acquire lavish lifestyles, and plunder the people’s money. If they have spent millions for their election in office that doesn’t in any way offer a substantial compensation, where do they source their payback? I would like to believe that these politicians are simply generous and sincere in their desire to serve the public. 

         Woe to the people who have been betrayed and still willing to be victims, and shame to those who have done such acts. Now no less than a governor is pointing a finger to a president allegedly receiving bribed money from gambling lords. Bereft with evidences, the allegation is likely to stay like a liquid looking for a container. Soon it will evaporate if we continue to shrug it off. (Wake up, we are being cheated straight-faced.)

            Is it why we are poor? Most of us dread interviews especially a job interview. It is not that we don’t want to get a job but we are scared to tell someone how we badly need one. It is usually the rhetoric questions that discourage us to finally dress up decently, carry that old bio-data, enter the door of uncertainty, sit down with other rivals thinking similarly that they are much more qualified, hear their family name called with the bourgeoisie sound, face the unassuming interviewer who hold our future, respond unreadily to the  familiar questions, walk out the room with failing hope, and expect a call even if we have no phone at home. No days would pass without recalling which questions we might have answered wrong. “Can you tell me about yourself?” That’s it. We should have answered correctly this way, we are poor and we are unemployed and we need this job. Is it hard to speak about? Because it is the truth and the other painful truth is that we don’t have a “padrino” to boot.

            Why are we poor then?

            It does not make sense if we see billboards declaring, “Sorry for the inconvenience, this is where your taxes go.” We can accept the inconvenience thing because we are very much used with it but the hardest pill to swallow is the alleged recipient of our taxes. The culture of corruption in our society particularly in the public sector is endemic. The structure, the system, the values, these all contribute to bring about and breed corruption. Sometimes we are partly to blame for we succumb to the greedy system by giving bribes. The cycle of blaming syndrome, that no one will give if no one receives and that no one will receive if no one gives, is not going to help in combating corruption.

            What kind of basic services, just the most basic ones, can we expect from our government if we lose 20% of our national budget to corruption every year, says the World Bank. The Bank also identifies a number of recommendations to fight corruption in our country; reducing opportunities for corruption through policy reforms and deregulation, reforming campaign finance, increasing public oversight, reforming budget processes, enhancing sanctions for corruption, developing partnerships with the private sector, improving meritocracy in the civil service and supporting judicial reforms.

            If South Korea could jail former presidents convicted with corruption, why can’t we just investigate our own? If it does happen, I suppose we are now prepared to liberate ourselves from poverty.

            The beatitudes of poverty, that bestow blessedness because the Kingdom of God is ours, are purely expressions of the vicarious suffering and not earth-shaking protests of the real suffering. The illusions of that promised happiness do not constitute real happiness we are supposed to enjoy while on earth. Mysticism, spiritualism, and religion intend to rationalize the miserable conditions of the poor, and we, the innocent and trusting poor in our shallow discernment, find the means of escape from poverty and oppression through them. They have been quite successful in having us believed that our liberation from oppression lies not on this world, that our freedom from poverty is not of this world. 

            Another world must be truly possible.

            What is the question again?

            Our poor memory tends to make us repeat the same mistakes. But this time, never again.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Participative Governance on Urban Development in Naga City, Philippines

“He is the same as me, yet I am not him. Only if you understand it in this way will you merge with the way things are.” – Tung-Shan (807-869)

            One of the key ingredients of development is participation of the peoples. Naga City in the Philippines has institutionalized this through the Naga City People's Council (NCPC).

Paving the Road of Dialogue
            The NCPC, being the nucleus of representation of various sectors in the city, has called on the concerned sectors namely; the business, urban poor, city government, and NGOs to discuss the current issues besetting the city such as land conversion, expropriation, resettlement sites, and among others relative to urban poor concerns, business interest, and the city’s policies on urban development. It was quite clear to all sectors present that the dialogue will not result to a draft of policy direction of the city in view of the issues raised. Rather, it would open more rooms for discussion, brainstorming, and convergence of the different points of view.

Three Lanes of the Road
            City Government. The programs and policies in urban development of the city are premised on its pursuit of the common good for all sectors. Every sector is a vital part and parcel of its vision for development, thus the NCPC was formed. In an event that one sector feels marginalized in favor of other sectors, it should not be construed that the former is less important than the latter in terms of resources from the government. The city assures all sectors that there would be given their due.

            For example, the Naga City government has no choice but to expropriate the land should there be an impending demolition order in the given urban poor settlement. The city government’s act of expropriation should not be interpreted as a case of favoring the urban poor over the landowner. In a given circumstance like this, the city government’s best decision is to deliver justice to the majority who need the land more than the landowner. As Magsaysay aptly explained, “Those who have less in life should have more in law.”

            For example, in one meeting, the Urban Poor Affairs Office (UPAO) presented 4 options for the city to act upon with regard to the issues affecting the urban poor. These options are the negotiated purchase, the land swapping scheme, the land sharing scheme, and the expropriation of properties. The last option is the last recourse. The city therefore does not automatically expropriate a land without exhausting first the 3 options. Anyhow, there are cases that should be treated as an exemption than a rule so must not be defined as a precedent to any case.

            Engagingly, a member of the Naga City Urban Development Housing Board (NCUDHB) asserted that before the city endorsed an expropriation proceeding, it should consider first the affordability of the land by the occupants. He cited a case where the land in question is a high-priced property which could cost from P300,000 to P400,000 for each occupant-family. The assertion was well taken by the city official present.

            Business Sector. The apprehension was unanimously shared by the business people that in such case – expropriation would become the policy direction of the city and a precedent to settle land issues. Their reason was primarily anchored on the city’s declaration of a specified area as part of growth corridor. The city, according to them, contradicted itself when it decided to expropriate the land for the urban poor when it had identified the area, sitting along the national road, as potential investment site. They feared that the city’s decision could send a wrong signal for prospective business investors. They also noted that politicians already aiming for public office since election will be held in 9 months time could use cases like this for propaganda.

            Urban Poor Sector. As the informal sector of society, they want to live decently as part of the growing society. Topping all concerns, they reiterated their need to have a shelter of their own that is livable, accessible by transportation, has means to earn a livelihood, to do their share in the development of the community. They asked to be regarded as partners in development and not impediment of the same.

            It is widely accepted now that economic capital alone does not bring about development. Social investments through housing, health, education, are essential in developmental goals.

Hope at the End of the Road
            Recognizing the diverse interests of the sectors present in the dialogue, it was difficult to come up with one statement of principle relative to these issues. The differences in the concept of development appended the indifference among each sector’s interest. But then if there was one thing that the dialogue had gained, it was the motion to willingly look into the areas where each sector could compliment each other’s interest. The fact that this kind of dialogue had happened, it was not too much to hope for a point of concurrence among sectors of society to make Naga indeed a “Maogmang Lugar.” That,  I think, will supersede conflicting interests among/between sectors of society particularly Naga City, Philippines.