Local governance
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - July 26, 2019 - 12:00am

There were only a few directives issued by President Duterte in his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA), and two of them involved local governance.

The first was a reiteration of his order to cut red tape, and the second – aimed at easing traffic and cleaning up like in the city of Manila – was to reclaim public roads that are being used for private purposes.

Obviously, both directives need the cooperation of local government units. While LGU executives are elected and may consider themselves independent rulers in their fiefdoms, there are ways by which Malacañang can make them implement the agenda of the national government – short of President Duterte warning that he would kill those who refuse to cooperate. It was a joke, but as we all know, LGU officials ignore the threat at their own risk.

The Department of the Interior and Local Government, unfortunately, is one of the underwhelming performers in the Duterte administration. You need a strong DILG chief to get elected political warlords, dynasts and other LGU officials to support Malacañang’s agenda.

Most DILG secretaries defer to the elected politicians. Eduardo Año has been no different, except in a few cases where he had Duterte squarely behind him, as in Boracay. The operations against narco politicians have been seen as the handiwork mainly of the Philippine National Police, with its mother agency the DILG seen to be removed from the brutal crackdown.

It would be interesting to see how far Año and the DILG can go in persuading mayors and provincial governors to carry out Duterte’s SONA priorities.

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Duterte reiterated his directive since assuming power, to cut to three days the processing time for ordinary government permits and clearances. Many of these documents are secured from LGUs.

The Anti-Red Tape Act or ARTA was passed back in 2007, but there were continuing complaints from businessmen and the general public about the persistence of red tape, which promotes the payment of “facilitation fees” or grease money.

Duterte had to sign into law in 2018 an enhanced version of the ARTA, the Ease of Doing Business Act, with increased penalties for violators.

The fact that he had to reiterate his call for cutting red tape in his recent SONA shows that enforcement of the two laws has not been satisfactory. Livelihoods are at stake – those of the bureaucrats who have come to depend on grease money to augment their regular income.

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Then there’s the traffic mess, which in Metro Manila is causing an estimated P3.5 billion in economic losses every day, Duterte said.

Officials of the DILG and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority met with Metro mayors yesterday to discuss the President’s directives.

The mayors said they were ready to implement Duterte’s orders on red tape and road clearing.

Manila Mayor Isko Moreno was the first to clear the streets in some of the most congested parts of his city, and might have inspired Duterte to issue his order.

San Juan Mayor Francis Zamora conducted his own clearing operation yesterday, prohibiting parking in the streets around the Greenhills shopping center complex. In the afternoon, I asked him if the ban was holding. He promised that he had posted personnel to enforce sustained compliance with the ban.

Zamora also expressed openness to the possibility of opening to the public certain streets inside gated private subdivisions in San Juan to ease traffic during peak hours.

This is one initiative that takes considerable political will, because the homeowners of the gated subdivisions can be influential personalities.

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Duterte’s home is not in a gated village. Neither is the Times Street home in Quezon City of former presidents Noynoy Aquino and his late mother Corazon. Whether during martial law or in the post-EDSA years when the Aquinos were in power, Times street was never closed to the public – and I don’t think the Aquinos ever suffered for it.

Some of the largest homes in Metro Manila, a number of them belonging to the old rich, are located in certain districts in Quezon City. The homes, more like residential compounds, are comparable to the mansions in Forbes Park, favored home of the .01 percent of the population. One noteworthy difference is that the old enclaves of the wealthy in Quezon City are not cut off from the great unwashed, by being enclosed within an exclusive gated subdivision. 

Despite the lack of subdivision walls, gates and security guards, the homes – and even the massive old trees within and outside the compounds – appear to have survived the use of the streets by the general public.

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Many foreign expatriates have asked me why there are so many gated villages in our country. I’ve lost aluminum ladders and even a tarpaulin sign in my gated village. Subdivision walls and gates don’t keep out burglars, rapists and murderers. One of the most notorious crimes, the brutal murder in 1991 of the wife and two daughters of Lauro Vizconde, with the elder daughter raped, was perpetrated in gated BF Homes Parañaque.

The Parañaque government had promised to open to free public use some of the streets in private subdivisions that are among the most heavily used by motorists in the city. But this was before the 2016 general elections. There must be a million reasons why the Parañaque mayor spared the streets of BF Homes, where non-residents must pay the homeowners’ association P2,000 a year for vehicle stickers valid along just four major thoroughfares in the village.

Gated village walls, meant to keep out troublemakers, can also keep them in, and beyond the reach of the law. Some years ago, an Indian businessman who accidentally hit and killed a pedestrian in Makati evaded arrest by fleeing to exclusive Dasmariñas Village. That was a hit-and-run homicide case and the Indian should have gone straight to jail. Instead it looked like the case was settled quietly and the Indian never saw even the shadow of a Philippine detention cell.

The cleaning fever in the city of Manila, incidentally, has yet to infect the local government in Parañaque, where waterways are littered with garbage.

Even in Palawan’s El Nido, Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat lamented that the biggest hindrance to the rehabilitation of the popular travel destination is the refusal of LGU officials to cooperate.

Local executives, with turf protection in mind, could also prove to be the biggest stumbling blocks to reform efforts in Metro Manila.

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