Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Not the usual problem approaches

It’s quite refreshing to listen to young leaders posit their views on national problems. In the Synergeia Foundation-sponsored “Face to Face” encounter between the presidentiables and 100 local government leaders, which was televised live over ANC, we saw how clearly out-classed the older traditional politician, Manuel B. Villar was, by the younger crop of rising political stars --- 49-year old Noynoy Aquino, 44-year old Gilbert Teodoro, and 40-year old Chiz Escudero.

It is good that 72-year old Joseph Estrada did not appear. The contrasts would have been awful, between the young and the aging. Villar, who at 60 is not quite old, distinctly looked and sounded old in the competition. There were no bold statements, only lame pronouncements. There were no new ideas, only neither-here-nor-there platitudes from the mind and mouth of Villar.

Gibo sounded firm and resolute, if at times betraying an autocratic mindset, a macro approach that did not sound quite right to the LGU officials assembled at the AIM. Noynoy showed humility, a willingness to learn and to consult, but was rather tentative, confined to generalized statements. Chiz was refreshingly well-prepared, his knowledge of details quite amazing, his bias towards decentralizing power and resources of the national government very convincing.

What the forum underlined was the need for more such “encounters” with those who would be our next president. In their statements, the voter can glean who has enough competence and who has little. In their response and approach to problem-solving, one could discern the inner character behind the glitz of contrived propaganda. Of course the trapos would say only the ABC income levels bother about forums and debates, and the “masa” are beguiled oh so easily by paid crap masquerading as information. They underestimate the Filipino. With misery and bad governance being served to us in massive doses these days, I believe that even the lowest-educated will think and discern. Let us not insult the “masa” voter’s ability to distinguish lies from facts.

Having said that, one finds young Escudero’s approach to the recent calamities quite out-of-the-box but very sensible. Deeming it inappropriate to make a much-awaited declaration of presidential intent upon reaching his 40th birthday last Monday, the stalwart of the Nationalist People’s Coalition instead visited several towns of inundated Pangasinan last Sunday, and saw for himself the wide swath of destruction Pepeng and the Napocor-San Roque Dam wrought.

The day after his visit to the flood-devastated areas, he quickly calculated the tons of water, several billions of liters, that San Roque Dam officials released in one massive sweep in the dead of Thursday night. And I thought lawyers like Escudero are poor with numbers. But beyond measuring the liters of unwanted water, the youngest presidential candidate posited what his own party-mate, DECS Secretary Jesli Lapus, failed to see. Escudero asked government to declare a virtual “calamity pass” to all students in the flood and typhoon-devastated areas. There are but a few weeks left in the semester, he reasoned, and many of the classrooms were still in helpless disrepair. Under such physical conditions, learning is impaired. Even teachers were flood-victims too, and under such state of stress, they are not likely to teach properly. Parents need help, to clean and repair homes, or whatever is left of these. Those whose farms were devastated in the central plains of Luzon had lost their livelihood, and re-planting will be quite expensive. Young arms and energy of students would do well to help.

But Lapus twitted Escudero’s suggestion as akin to giving the youth “calamity diplomas”, insisting that learning in classrooms was paramount. Escudero earlier stated that the students had learned in two weeks of disaster more lessons in life than an entire semester of classroom work could have given them.

The young senator had more. He proposed a one-stop processing center to be immediately set up by government in the regional centers of the flood-devastated areas. For indeed, the disaster also rendered important documents lost or watered-down beyond recognition. There is little we could do to restore photographs and diplomas, or other such precious mementoes of a lifetime. But what about passports, licenses, birth and marriage certificates, land titles, tax declarations and tax receipts, the loss of which would impact on the normalcy of lives post-calamity? So Escudero proposes that DFA, NSO, LTO, LRA, and the local documenting officials make the process of reconstruction easy and facilitated. How come nobody in the executive thought of this?

There were other solutions that the senator proposed, such as condonation of real property tax debt for the certifiable victims whose properties have been destroyed, surely the least government could do to ease the pain. And as a medium-term solution, designing and building permanent evacuation sites with enough equipment and provisions for the next year, instead of perennially using classrooms as temporary shelter.

Again on the medium term, he asks that a national land use policy ought to be promulgated, with emphasis on recognizing the inevitable effects on our residential and commercial zones of climate change. His fellow NPC stalwart, Senadora Loren Legarda, has been espousing the environmental cause with a passion for years on end, but government, local as well as national, paid little heed. I remember that Orly Mercado, who was Loren’s professor in mass communications at the state university, authored legislation intended to create a national land use policy as early as the Cory Aquino days when he was a first-term senator. Nothing came out of it, because land-owners in Congress have been sitting on it for the past several congresses. I should know. I helped Sen. Orly in those days as a consultant in his legislative staff.

But Escudero goes beyond realization of the imperative of a national land use policy that would frame local zoning within proper environmental safeguards and disaster-preparedness plans. In the short-term, he is appealing to big land-owners to share some of their land, for use as permanent relocation sites for those who must now be evicted from habitat which encroach upon waterways and lakes, and whose lives will always be at peril with every typhoon or flood.

There are at least half a million families whose shanties and lean-to’s are at constant peril, along Laguna de Bay’s coastline, or Metro-Manila’s creeks and esteros. Where in God’s hands would we entrust their immediate habitat?

There are thousands of hectares around Metro Manila in nearby provinces that are either public land or private property. Indeed we should initiate the building of new townships, and the first settlers therein should be those whose lives are at constant peril. But where do we get enough land? Informal settlers can do with 50 square meters each, even less. On simple arithmetic, without considering thoroughfares and public space, only 200 families will fit in a hectare of land, assuming single-storey dwellings, more if we can build low-rise housing. And yet again, where do we get the land?

There are landowners, family or corporate, who own thousands of hectares of land, in Pampanga, Tarlac, Bulacan, Laguna, or hundreds of hectares in Rizal and Cavite. Will they share?

That Escudero’s rivals for the presidency are prominent and wealthy landowners is beyond question. Does this make his challenge laced with politics? Perhaps. Perhaps not. That Escudero owns no property other than his Quezon City digs probably makes it easier for him to appeal for the rich to share.

But surely, the suggestion is innovative and creative, and if all in this country would only imbue themselves with the Bibical precept that property and wealth is stewardship of God’s gifts, and share these with the many who have no land and little other property, then perhaps even Mother Nature would smile.


Anonymous said...

With all due respect Sir, i see through Mr. Escudero's bullcrap so he is not getting my vote. Just keeping it real.

Anonymous said...

No offense meant but unlike you, i see through Chiz's bullcrap...sorry, just keeping it real.