Safe cities

BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon (The Freeman) - October 19, 2019 - 12:00am

If I were to liken Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella’s sacking of the MCWD board of directors to a court pleading, I’d say it’s a “shotgun pleading” – a legal complaint that alleges everything, filled with conclusory, vague, and immaterial facts, and lacking in specific acts or omissions which the defendants are responsible for.

I wrote a special report for The FREEMAN about Metro Cebu’s water problem back in 2001 so I know, and the public know too, that today’s water crisis is borne out of years of neglect and bad policy by our local and national leaders, including an entire community which only recognizes a water crisis when the tap runs dry.

Now the tap has run dry on most days, aggravated by climate change, and our politicians’ most convenient ploy is to train their guns on the MCWD board. The plot seemed obvious. In a chorus of town resolutions and politicians’ statements, MCWD was set up as the main culprit of our salty aquifers and drying wells and water basins.

One can even make a conspiracy theory out of it: Is public interest solely at stake here? Or is this actually about accommodating certain political and private business interests?

I do not wish to question the mayor’s power to remove the members of the MCWD board, but he should at least properly lay down the specific basis of their removal apart from what he calls “massive dissatisfaction”.

His hands are not tied, but he owes it to the public to proceed to do what he must do with some amount of credibility. His supporters associate him with that political brand. Why the seeming haste this time?

* * *

Last Wednesday, upon the invitation of Cebu City Councilor Alvin Dizon, I had the chance to sit down in a discussion with civil society organizations on the topic “Right to the City: A Social City Discussion on Green Development and Women’s Safety in Urban Public Places.”

In his first 100 days in office, Dizon has already introduced several proposed ordinances on green development. Some of these proposed ordinances are on reducing food waste which has already passed first reading in the city council, on banning food foam container and single-use plastics in all public events, on creating the UN Sustainable Development Goals Monitoring Council, and on institutionalizing the first week of June each year as Cebu City Environment Week.

Meanwhile, Arline Santos, executive director of the Institute of Politics and Governance (IPG), shared their group’s initiatives in promoting safe public spaces for women and girls. The Safe Cities Program was started in 24 cities worldwide, with Metro Manila as among the cities where it was launched - Quezon City in 2015 and the City of Manila in 2017. Today, the program has reached Cebu City and Antipolo City in partnership with the Canadian Embassy.

In a Social Weather Stations survey in 2016 in Quezon City, it was found that 60 percent of women are victims of harassment in public places at one point in their lives; 15 percent experienced harassment at least once a week, and 34 percent experienced some of the worst forms like being groped in public and being exposed to men’s genitals. Most of the time, these sexually-based harassments happen during the daytime (70%) and are perpetrated by men regardless of educational attainment, background, or employment status.

To address this problem, civil society organizations like the IPG have called for locally-owned programming through strong partnerships with local governments, starting from the design phase. Said programs must also be evidence-based through qualitative scoping study and quantitative baseline data gathering which takes into account the local context of the problem.

The IPG is also calling for a review of policies to address the gaps in the prevention and response of SHiPS and SVAWG. SHiPS is NGO-speak for “Sexual Harassment in Public Places,” and SVAWG stands for “Sexual Violence Against Women and Girls.”

I believe in what they say, a city safe for women and girls is a city safe for everyone. And I especially like the part about evidence-based programming because that is usually what is lacking in many government programs we have. Rather than being evidence-based, many government programs and projects are largely determined either by our incumbent public officials’ desire to score political points or by certain interests and opinions of those who carry the most influence.

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