Dear Mr. Harvey Keh:
I completely understand your will and tenacity for moral recovery especially in the leadership in our country. However, in your desire to present heroes, you miserably failed to present the truth. Instead, you fortified a myth, a fantasy of good governance embellished by all the trimmings of a Disney movie.
Did it not occur to you that Mayor Robredo's 16 years in power manifests how he failed to groom anyone to take his place? Is this good governance? Did it not occur to you that this is and nothing but, the traditional politics the Jesuit Universities have condemned even before the term was invented?
Staying long in power must in all cases be suspicious. Has not Thomas Jefferson said, "whenever a man has cast a longing eye on office, a rottenness begins in his conduct?" History is replete with characters that latched on to power by all means, at all costs. We only need to skim through history to know that staying long in power stagnates the mind and the years breed stubbornness and folly.
Naga City's current administration boasts of ubos kung ubos, a political campaign slogan which roughly means, all or none at all. It boasts that if one votes for Mayor Robredo, one must vote for all HIS councilors. But did it not occur to you that this manifests how pseudo-power is exercised by a handful? Pseudo-power because, in fact, power rests only on the local chief executive, with the local legislators an assembly line of an ordinance-mill.
Pseudo-power because when a local legislator shows the slightest hint of independent thinking, he becomes a frozen delight for having earned the mayor's ire. When a dissenting opinion is expressed louder than a whisper, someone else will be assigned to head the dissenter’s committees or another council will be created. These maneuverings have been accepted as a fact of life by our local legislators.
Naga City is known for the people participation but have you looked closely at the Naga City People's Council? Is it the people's voice? Did it strengthen checks and balances and people participation? Or has the council successfully changed the meaning of "consultation" as mere "information dissemination? " How about the decisions in public hearings? Do decisions become an ordinance even when they are contrary to the original intent of the local administration?
You wrote about Naga City 's website and how it promotes transparency and accountability. But have you read in the website anything about the Naga City Coliseum and the Naga City Sports Complex and how these gigantic white elephants cost local taxpayers millions of pesos in basic services? What justifies this colossal wastage? Only the naïve would not see that at its core is corruption, and nothing but.
Mr. Keh, a display of a simple lifestyle is a dangerous criterion in choosing our heroes. In this age of media consultants, PR men, or by any other name they are called, anyone can be anything. Image is created and re-created as needed. Erap's legendary appeal to the masses remains a standard among politicians; see how they belabor trying to look reachable, lovable by the masses. Even Raul Roco wore floral polo shirts to soften the disciplined intellectual that he truly was.
A simple house, a taxi ride, an absence of obvious bodyguards may be traits of a simple lifestyle, but they delude the masses of what good governance really is. Image is, never was, and never will be, good governance. Even worse, image can successfully hide the fact that there is lack of basic services.
Take the case of Naga City 's drainage system. After a few hours of heavy rains, the roads are flooded. We walk through murky waters to get to our houses. Worse is our sewage system; our river is under serious threat. The city's thoroughfares are now lined with tasteless, gaudy, kitschy lampposts. Yet, between these lampposts and better drainage and sewage systems, we know what the people need. But of course, who gets to see the drainage and sewage systems? While the lampposts, they add color to the streets. Never mind if they actually inconvenience motorists because the two-way streets are narrow and easily congested especially during peak hours. Never mind if instead of beautification, we have destruction of beauty in the city and disrespect for styles in architecture.
Mr. Keh, as you promote good governance among our people, I hope that there would be diligent verification. In your pursuit to show that there are good leaders among us, please do not lower the standards of what is good and what is truly beneficial to the people. Otherwise, our efforts only feed our people's fantasies and deplorably, we continue to wallow in corruption and poverty consumed by a fantasy called good governance.
Very truly yours,
FR. WILMER TRIA
On January 28, 2009, Fr. Tria will talk on Transparency and Local Governance: The Naga City Example, at 4:30 in the afternoon, Arrupe Hall, Ateneo de Naga University. The public is invited to attend.