The leaders we deserve to haveBy Gloria Ramos
Cebu Daily News
On her Facebook wall, a friend stimulated sluggish brains one Sunday morning with a complex question, “Unsaon nato pagsulbad ang baha sa Cebu City?” (How do we solve the flooding in Cebu City?) Flooding, at a moment’s notice, has become a regular occurrence the past days. Residents and visitors caught in the heavy downpour at times have no choice but to wade in murky knee-deep waters just to get to their destination.
Constituents in other highly urbanized cities like Talisay, Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu share the same annoying inconvenience and potential health issues. Leptospirosis and skin ailments are real possibilities. But, the urbanites, except, of course, the settlers along the river banks, could still count themselves “lucky”—for now, that is.
In mountain barangays, lives are exposed to graver hazards with perennial looming threats of landslides and flash floods. Tragically, there had been preventable deaths in the past weeks. Residents simply refused to leave their abode. Officials do not have the heart to compel them as they are hard-pressed to provide decent housing for our marginalized sectors. Socialized housing was and is still not a priority program, notwithstanding the increasing number of environmental refugees.
Urban flooding is traceable to haphazard planning, if there is planning, that is. Margareta Wahlström, special representative of the secretary general (SRSG) for Disaster Risk Reduction and head of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), put it succinctly: “Unplanned urbanization is increasing flood impacts.”
Are there solutions in sight? Definitely. Comprehensive land use plan, drainage and sewerage system, solid waste management implementation including plastic bag regulation, massive education campaign and multi-stakeholder participation are among the oft-repeated proposals to ease the problem. But, these are just that—proposals—at the moment.
The bottom line is still sincere leadership. “Where city and local governments demonstrate leadership and competence in working with low-income populations living in informal settlements, flood impacts can be reduced and the threats from other natural hazards minimized,” says a team from the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development led by senior fellow, Dr. David Satterthwaite.
Good governance, the Robredo way, where people and public servants work together, is the essential requirement. It is unfortunate that despite the passage of RA 10121, the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) Law, many barangay officials still sorely lack the leadership skills in mobilizing and capacitating the people to respond to flooding and other disasters through education and participatory planning and implementation of DRRM programs.
A case in point is barangay Jaclupan, a watershed area in Talisay City. Senior law students designed, for the barangay’s constituents, a module and a primer translated into Cebuano on Labor Law, common issues in registration of birth, correction of entries, land title, DRRM and Environmental Laws. They also arranged with the Commission on Elections for a simultaneous onsite voters’ registration and provided the snacks and drinks for the participants.
The barangay was expected to mobilize the people to be involved in the law education program and the voters’ registration. It is not every day that such an activity transpires in the area. Well, the attendance was dismal, to say the least. Only the tanod and the barangay health workers came. There was no one from the rest of the community.
The students immediately did an instant door-to-door campaign to inform and encourage residents to attend the activity. The latter were surprised that there was such an event. But they could not participate on such a short notice.
Just like the residents, the no-shows included the barangay head and the members of the sanggunian. A clerk from the barangay spoke for them.
It was another missed opportunity for the residents to know more about the law and how it protects them and for the first-time voters to register as well. The disappointed law students went home, amid a landslide, richer in experience. They learned not to rely, henceforth, on the barangays for public mobilization, but upon their own initiative.
The lethargy of the barangay officials in performing their duties and in using geohazard maps as tools in participatory planning poses a serious threat to the lives of the inhabitants and the already devastated environment.
Local chief executives should now hold these officials accountable for gross dereliction of duties. Under the DRRM Law, public officers and employees can go to jail or lose their position in the public sector if they continue to be uncaring in finding solutions to the increasing severity and magnitude of disasters.
I was told by my seatmate in the plane, a longtime resident of Hiroshima, that when the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, the government built a shelter for the homeless in three months’ time. That is how compassionate their public officials are. In our country, we allegedly don’t have funds for the displaced. But there is no such revenue-sourcing problem in buying luxurious vehicles for the barangay officials. Residents in Cantipla, for instance, would be happier if a water distribution system is installed in their area. Women still walk to get their household’s daily supply of water. To think that access to water is a human right.
Indeed, it is a tough act to demand good governance. Not one local government unit in Cebu received the Seal of Good Housekeeping from the Department of Interior and Local Government. But we should not give up. There is always hope.
I see it in the vigorous citizen movements like the Movement for Livable Cebu, which recently celebrated its first anniversary, and the newly-formed Anti-COALition. There is hope in the Anti-EPAL Epalibot Tour launched by Juana Change and Carlos Celdran against the “Epaliticos.”
There is hope in each one of us becoming the leaders and the change that we and the future generations deserve to have.
More from this Column:
- Public participation and political dynasties
- Being green
- Nature cannot wait
- The stirring journey of Jireh
- Rediscovering our paradise in an ailing planet