09 February 2010

The humongous elephant in the room

WHAT DO you know? It seems my favorite Vox Bikol columnist and my favorite Bicol Mail editorial writer have decided to tag team me.

As of February 4, 2010, I just became editorial material of the Bicol Mail, "Bicolandia's only regional newspaper" which claims, among others, that it will "serve no master except the Truth" -- whatever that means.

This ongoing conversation has definitely become more exciting. And who am I to refuse? I therefore obliged them with the following reply:

Allow me to make the following points in response to last week’s rambling editorial entitled “Cat out of the bag”:

1. The article tries mightily to make a controversy out of statements I made at the Ateneo de Naga forum on Kaantabay sa Kauswagan, the city’s social housing program, where Atty. Jose Maria “Che” Carpio was resource person. Unfortunately for your editorial writer, there is no cat to speak of, much less one that springs out of the bag – enough for Bicol Mail to shout “Eureka!” as if a historic discovery has just been made.

2. The political dimension of public policy making is well documented by literature. My dissertation on Kaantabay -- submitted in 2004 to the Land Economy Department of Cambridge University, which explains my abiding interest on the topic -- in fact used political economy as a key theoretical frame, precisely because in the real world, policymaking does not exist in a vacuum.

Nicola Acocella, in his book The Foundations of Economic Policy, ascribes it to two realities:
Firstly, “the economic system is not composed of anonymous agents but rather of classes or groups of individuals with shared characteristics or needs. These individuals tend organize and act jointly to ensure that their preferences prevail over those of other groups;” and

Secondly, “policymakers are equally not anonymous representatives of the public interest but can in fact be divided into politicians and bureaucrats who are faced with agency problems.”
The Bicol Mail’s editorial writer would of course insist on a simplistic analysis because it would perfectly serve his purpose -- which is to find fault with everything and anything remotely related to City Hall in general, and its outgoing mayor, Jesse Robredo, in particular.

He is, of course, free to call my defense of City Hall “image building”. My parting words to Attorney Carpio are worth repeating here: “I will not take it against you: you are entitled to your beliefs, in the same manner that I am entitled to a vigorous defense of the city’s position against continuing distortions that mask reality.”

3. This much is clear from his claims -- which are among the issues raised by Attorney Carpio in his critique of the Kaantabay program -- in the second paragraph of the article. Urban Poor Affairs Office (UPAO) chief Rolando Campillos already explained these to the attendees; he joined me in that forum precisely to answer questions previously raised by Carpio in his Vox Bikol column pertaining to the SPUKOI housing project. In all probability, Carpio ignored Campillos’s explanation in his version of the event, which he emailed to Bicol Mail. That’s already strike two, after that Standard and Poor’s fiasco that Vox Bikol conveniently swept under the rug in its latest issue.

For your editorial writer’s sake, let me repeat what Rolly said at the Ateneo: In providing for a 10-year holding period (not payment period, as he erroneously stated, because the term for a Kaantabay homelot ranges between 7 to 15 years) prohibiting the sale or conveyance of a homelot acquired under the city’s social housing program, the city government’s ordinance -- which former councilor and 2nd District congressman Jaime Jacob authored -- is in fact more generous than Republic Act No. 7279, otherwise known as the Urban Development and Housing Act (UDHA) that former Sen. Jose Lina crafted. The latter perpetually limits the sale of any homelot acquired under its social housing programs.

Incidentally, this underscores two basic features of Kaantabay: (a) It is not a doleout, unlike what long-standing political opponents of the Robredo administration, and their wanna-be apprentices, dangle before Nagueño voters every election -- “Kun kami an iboboto nindo, an mga lote libre!” Penalties and surcharges may be condoned from time to time, but not the principal and its interest. To its credit, the sector in general saw through the crap and rejected what amounts to a snake oil salesman’s pitch time and again. (b) It has empowered the urban poor sector in Naga. Over the last two decades, the sector -- through its city-level federation of urban poor associations -- has emerged as a strong interest group. For them to negotiate and secure these favorable policy concessions from City Hall is a testament to their political empowerment.

4. As to the voting requirement, I will not second-guess the Sanggunian’s intent in incorporating that particular provision; as I explained to Elmer Abad when he interviewed me right after the forum, I am pretty sure its merits and demerits were deliberated fully by the local legislature. As with any major policy proposal, Jacob’s proposed ordinance went through the close scrutiny of the Sanggunian’s legal luminaries, among them the venerable retired Judge Esteban Abonal and Mila Raquid-Arroyo, now director of the Ateneo de Naga University Social Involvement Council (USIC).

Instead of seeing ghosts, why doesn’t your editorial writer do a research on the subject -- basic for any journalist worth his salt -- by consulting the records of the 5th Sangguniang Panlungsod, which is responsible for passing the Kaantabay sa Kauswagan Ordinance among other landmark legislations it crafted? This option should yield a more definitive answer to that particular question, and will serve Bicol Mail readers far better than the malicious insinuations and conspiracy theories he had been spinning with clockwork regularity.

5. Which leads me to my final point: in its consuming obsession with these non-existent cats, why is Bicol Mail deliberately ignoring the humongous elephant in the room?

To be more specific about it: why find fault with the inaccessibility of the staffing plan of the Naga City Government through the internet (although he himself acknowledged printouts can be had for a fee), when other local governments in the Bicol Region -- including its six provinces, six cities and 107 municipalities, which the newspaper purports to serve by “depicting the realities of our society” and “serving as a forum for intelligent discourse on issues and concerns affecting the region” -- have not made available their annual budgets online, not even a single page, and would rather keep them out of print and out of sight?

The guess of every discerning Bicol Mail reader is as good as mine.

Those interested in my dissertation can check the following:
The Kaantabay Case Study