21 June 2009

A life changing surgery

A WEEK before the furor on Rizal's green house in Calamba hit the headlines, the three of us -- Lynn, Patricia Anne (our 5th we still call Nokie, but who now wants to be called by her real name) and myself -- found ourselves staying in our national hero's hometown.

Occasion was "Life Changing Smile" surgical mission arranged by the Calamba Medical Center (CMC), which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, in partnership with Operation Smile and the City Government of Calamba. The mission provided free cleft lip and palate operation at the 4th floor of the CMC Complex from June 15-17.

Nokie is turning six next month and the speech problem she had two years ago still persists, belying earlier assurances by local and Manila-based doctors that it is just a case of delayed speech which will correct itself when the right time comes.

Early this year, we brought her back to Manila and had her checked by an pediatrician specializing on speech problems; she referred us to an EENT who promptly diagnosed that Nokie's is a case of submucous cleft palate -- the outer lining of her palate is intact but the underlying muscle is not joined, which is most probably the reason why she has difficulty speaking clearly.

Last year, Naga (and several other Philippine cities) hosted an Operation Smile mission but its website showed there is none scheduled for the year. There are international missions scheduled in Southeast Asia, the nearest being Vietnam, but the ones for the Philippines have been concluded last February. Fortunately, when I inquired with its Philippine office, I found out there will be three local missions scheduled for Calamba in June, and Pasay and Makati in July. Renewed hope immediately replaced my quiet desperation.

The internets connected me with Dhey Nañola, CMC's bubbly marketing supervisor: first by Twitter, then by Facebook and finally by email, through which she sent the instructions and forms we need submit. It was already days past the extended June 1 deadline, and there are still data gaps and signatures by Pacol barangay officials we need to fill up.

Because I have to fly to Manila for a speaking engagement and the Camarines Sur Polytechnic Colleges (CSPC) board of trustees meeting to attend to on behalf of my principals, my eldest son Ezekiel had to take care of the rest; by midday, he emailed back to me the completed two-page form, which I immediately forwarded to Dhey after pasting Nokie's 3R picture I took the night before.

On June 10 and 11, Nokie had to take the blood test twice because her hemoglobin level (at 112) was quite low the first time around. After a good night sleep and iron supplements, it shot up to 119, only one notch lower than the 120 minimum but good enough that the attending pedia cleared her to undergo surgery.

On June 13, she and Lynn went ahead because I have important meetings to attend to in view of the approaching 61st Charter Anniversary of the city, which will be highlighted by the launch of the Naga City Governance Institute (NCGI) which the city planning office is handling.

In the late afternoon of June 15, I finally joined them at the CMC. Twenty four hours later, after calmly marching with a doctor and a nurse to the operating room, she went under the knife and emerged from the operating room about an hour later, terribly angry at the ordeal (and probably mad at the apparent betrayal of those she joined peacefully just an hour before?) with legs kicking and arms flailing at everyone.

Only when her mom cried unabashly and apologized did she regain the calm and steely resolve to overcome every hurdle just so she can speak clearly and finally join her younger sister Daddy (aka Ophelia Bianca, Jian Di or Bulilit Bulilit ang Liit-liit, depending on who's calling) at the latter's Peñafrancia Educare school.

The road ahead to Nokie's fully developed speech may still be long, or it can be short enough to be just ahead of the corner. I don't know: according to the doctors who briefed Lynn last June 15, the reconstructive surgery is no magic bullet for speech problems associated with children like Nokie. They have to unlearn how they now form words, and this can be difficult and will take time.

But with her palate now hopefully functioning well after the surgery, I am confident that we have addressed the physical constraint to Nokie's fully developed speech. Just moments ago, after a little prodding and coaching, she was able pronounce "Papa" correctly. Needless to say, I remain very hopeful.

As the world celebrates Father's Day, no gift can be greater, and for that I have to thank CMC (especially Dhey and Doctor Herbosa, who operated on Nokie), Operation Smile Philippines and the city of Jose Rizal for making it happen.


The Naga City Governance Institute: An introduction

Remarks during yesterday's launch of the Naga City Governance Institute (NCGI) and the Inaugural NCGI Local Governance Forum at Crown Hotel, Naga City.

MY TASK this morning is to introduce to you what the Naga City Governance Institute is, how it came into being, and what it proposes to do.

Let me start with how it came into being.

The State of MDGs in Bicol
In 2006, I was asked by NEDA Region V to write a midterm progress report on the Millennium Development Goals in the region, using data they collected and organized from various line agencies of the national government.

The report came out in 2007, covering the region’s six provinces and three major cities. I’m not sure if many of you read it, buy let me share some of its findings.

Fig. 1 graphically summarizes them.

While on the balance, Bicol region appears to be on track on four of the seven MDGs, provincial and city performance varies, especially as one goes down into the detailed indicators.

We have two provinces that have almost twice as many off-track indicators as the region.

Meanwhile, the urban-rural disparity is also evident: the three cities are noticeable faring better than the six provinces.

Two years later after the report came out, there has been very little change. Of course, the report was published and publicized in the RDC newsletter but that was pretty much the end of it.

The local and national government agencies in the frontline of delivering or coordinating services and interventions are back in their business-as-usual mode pretty much without regard to the 2015 deadline.

Local challenges facing the MDGs
What other observations stood out in the report? Allow to share more with you:

Information gap was noted as a major concern in the preparation of the regional progress report. The concern arose from data gaps (total or partial absence of required indicators), inconsistencies (conflicting datasets by government agencies), and quality issues (bad data that mask problematic situations on the ground).

• In addition, the report touched on “data implication,” pointing out that MDG indicators are substantially devalued when collected merely for the sake of monitoring without venturing deeper into their impact on policy. Essentially, it raised a concern on the inability of local authorities to link these indicators to policy and eventually to local action.

• Finally, the other face of the information gap concerns good local MDG practices. The report noted that while good local practices abound in the region, indicated by a DILG report that included less-known barangay programs from Bicol, there is a dearth in the number of documented, popularized initiatives that effectively address any or a combination of the eight MDGs. The particular gap has prevented more effective and widespread scaling up of local action addressing the MDGs.

It is in the context of the above that the city government, under Mayor Jesse Robredo, conceptualized the NCGI. Modesty aside, Naga did better than everyone else. Therefore, we must be doing something right, don’t we? And if there is that one thing we have been known for and proud to have been doing all along, it is our brand of participative governance.

The institute is built on the following propositions:

It proposes to embrace the MDG framework because it is minimalist, the targets are within reach if a community only puts its heart and mind to it; it is robust, built around measurable indicators; and it widely accepted, having been agreed upon by the international community of nations

It proposes that good local governance matters, because it brings a community together in mobilizing resources that promote economic growth and equitable social development that directly benefits its people

It proposes that the Philippines will be better served if the quality of governance improves at the local level, as it is the key in reducing disparities and inequities among groups and sectors of the local society,

Our challenge therefore is to scale up and widen its network of “islands of good governance,” which can serve as model for effective community resource mobilization in promoting social development.

For this reason, Mayor Robredo issued Executive Order No. 2009-004 on People Power Day last February 25 creating the NCGI to serve as the main agency of the city government that will respond to the challenge of growing, promoting and sustaining local governance innovations in Naga City and the Bicol Region.

Its mission is reflected by the NCGI logo showing the Naga City Hall as backdrop. The four hands around it represent its four core functions: research, training, networking and advocacy – and its readiness to work with entities who share the same goal of improving local governance in Bicol as well as the Philippines.

What it plans to do
In response to that challenge, the institute will dedicate its efforts to the following, which we hope to implement with the help of the international community, starting with a grant facility of the European Union that we have been prequalified to apply to.

They are built around the steps recommended by the midterm report recommended to address the information gap in regard to the MDGs and intensify their localization in the Bicol Region:

1. More localized MDG tracking down to the city/municipal level. This involves the conduct and institutionalization of MDG progress monitoring and assessment at three levels: (a) regional (for provinces and cities), (b) provincial (for municipalities), and (c) city/municipal (for the barangays).

2. More effective alignment between national and local agencies. The report pointed out that the MDG outcomes it documented reflects the status quo, where regional and sub-regional units of national agencies, local governments and civil society organizations pursued MDG-related activities independently. A better way, it argued, is for them to align these activities to achieve greater synergy and efficiency and improve outcomes.

3. Documentation of less-known good practices. These should focus on local initiatives that address any or a combination of the eight MDGs and more importantly yield concrete outcomes.

4. Dissemination of local MDG tracking results. This involves the regular communication of MDG tracking results to stakeholders using various available mechanisms – such as the annual mayor or governor’s state of the local government report – and the production and dissemination of analog and digital MDG promo collaterals to key stakeholders and constituents.

Parallel to that, we will pursue certain advocacies we believe will promote regional development. One of them is the Mother Tongue-based Multilingual Education (MLE), for which we already did a lecture-forum last March 31 in partnership with the UP-based MLE Consortium, We look forward to working with DepEd-Naga and the regional office to push this forward, in line with its own Lingua Franca initiative.

We will also conduct smaller roundtable events to promote a culture of local and regional research that will drive, define and inform our advocacies. For instance, in Naga City, we will be working closely with the Bercasio Business Solutions group in implementing their Community Research Initiative (CRI) that seeks to bridge supply and demand in applied and theoretical research, starting with the college level.

Truth of the matter is, much of our academic research in the city is grappling with the Mona Lisa conundrum: after being completed by students as a degree requirement, they would just lie there and die there, in a manner of speaking – in spite of their immense potential value to users.

For instance, students at the Naga City Science High School, if I’m not mistaken, came up with a way to produce katol our of water lilies – just imagine the impact it would have in revitalizing Naga River by suddenly giving value to the harvesting of these plants, thereby sparing us of a perennial headache during weekly cleanup drives.

Another research dealt the use of certain flowers as predictors of air quality – which we can potential use in cross-checking periodic readings made by our local environment office.

The NCGI will conduct events that will bring researchers (producers) to their logical community of users (consumers), thereby addressing what is called in literature as information asymmetry. At the same time, we will be working with our local academic institutions in crafting a research agenda that will respond to what the market really needs.

At the same time, we will explore new perspectives on certain advocacies that come naturally and we often take for granted. For instance, federalism is now being dangled back as a sweetener to push Con-Ass and ChaCha, and there is danger that some of us may fall into that trap, But if you come to think of it, all arguments we have heard thus far in support of federalism are political arguments. I think it’s about time we explore other compelling arguments: for instance, we should explore the economics of federalism in the context of Bicol’s development.

Research should be able to tell us what the optimal conditions are – particularly financing and institutional arrangements – what will make federalism feasible. Otherwise, I am afraid we are running the risk of blindly rushing and pushing for an advocacy because of passionate reasons that run deeply in our veins as Bikolanos, instead of approaching the matter dispassionately.

We look forward to working with each and every one of you in these endeavors.

Thank you very much.