13 March 2007

The slowness of government

I SPENT the whole morning in Legazpi attending my first RDC meeting after a long, long while. It is also my first trip to this city of fond memories since Super Typhoon Reming, mainly because of the years I spent at Bicol University.

The destruction wrought by Reming no longer shocked me; the communities that suffered under its might have mostly sprung back to life. What really shocks is the continuing presence of relocation areas -- the temporary makeshift tents housing dislocated families -- in many elementary schools in Guinobatan close to four months after the calamity. Their presence there for two months I can understand, but four?

The proposed Bicol Rehabilitation Plan (or BRP), one of the top agenda items for the meeting, provided part of the answer, and showed why it is foolhardy to depend solely on government to get things done. Because the budget impasse was only broken before the start of the senatorial campaign, resettlement and relocation of the affected families practically moved to a standstill. And when the budget battle smokes cleared, the region only ended up with P5 billion when the plan, not to mention the Bikolano leaders behind it -- Salceda, Andaya, Joker Arroyo, Villafuerte, Lagman and their cohorts who initially promised P10 billion -- called for P13.2.

So, you end up with a situation where there are two amounts, and two tracks of official decisionmaking. On the one hand, you have the P13.2-billion BRP, a document at least half-inch thick which is closer to the realities on the ground and, having underwent completed staffwork by the NEDA regional office, is a little more transparent as projects have been neatly organized into sectors (like settlements, agriculture, trade and industry, tourism and so on and so forth), location and implementing agencies.

On the other hand, you have another rehab plan that is equally official but more importantly backed up by funding -- the P5 billion kitty authorized by Congress and approved by the president -- but is short of expectations and shorter on details, on transparency and on eventual accountability: the product of a short-circuited process negotiated between the congressmen, the provincial governors and some shadowy cabal of national officials that will more or less end up supporting the election of incumbents allied with the Arroyo administration, as Vox Bikol warned about in its recent editorial.

Which reminded me of a post-Reming conversation between Naga City Vice Mayor Gabby Bordado, Jr. and Senator Arroyo over RMN-DWNX, where the latter proudly bandied about the P10-billion Bicol Rehab Fund he is working out with Budget Secretary Andaya as their response to the Reming disaster, and assured that Naga will get its due. Gabby, of course, praised Joker to high heavens for his integrity and independence, especially in standing up to the Con-Ass assault that the president and her minions launched against the Senate. Now, three months later, it is clear as day that the city has been shafted, and Joker is back in GMA's tight embrace.

That RDC meeting is a perfect metaphor of everything that's wrong with government planning today: all the man-hours invested by the professional class and their regional leaders -- not to mention the
efforts to make it participative, transparent and equitable, in the name of good governance -- end up being trumped and dominated by a separate track that the political class lords over and is jealously protective of. No wonder planning has got to be one of the most, if not the most, frustrating job there is in the Philippine bureaucracy.


Maryanne Moll said...

Slow like the the slow rehabilitation of the slow Andaya Highway. So quick to brand the highway with a new name, so slow to actually make it a safe highway.

Willy B. Prilles, Jr. said...

Hi Maryanne: You can certainly say that again. And DPWH has got to be the most insensitive agencies we have today.

In that RDC meeting, for instance, it is proposing, and got Council endorsement, for a P1.5-billion Korean loan that seeks to repair and overlay with asphalt the entire stretch of Quirino.

But in its presentation, it reported that overloaded cargo trucks (carrying 60 tons when road capacity is only 20) are mainly responsible for the sad state of Quirino-Andaya Highway. But it is not willing to incorporate the establishment of weighbridges at both ends of the highway in the proposal (as suggested by private sector reps), saying they still have to prepare a plan for it!

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