The title of my column article today was taken from the summation of one of the participant after he described the state of governance in Iloilo City under the Mabilog administration during a seminar on “Monitoring and Reporting Transparency and Accountability” organized by the Citizen’s Action Network for Accountability.
Among the activity was to list down the qualities of good governance and the governance issues being confronted by civil society and media persons in Iloilo.
Predominantly attended by city-based CSO and media persons from TV, radio and print, the activity provided an opportunity to present the various issues being encountered by the residents in the city and it offered a chance among participants to analyze the issues for consolidation and action planning.
The participants, especially media persons outside the ‘skirt’ of the Iloilo City Hall Press Corps, were mindful of the condescending character of Iloilo City’s chief executive during frequent episodes of public criticisms aired by radio program anchors or by the broader public in social media.
But on top of the attitude problem, the issues that were laid down on the table were prominent and real and gathered from personal observation and experience. It was also collected from the impression and experiences of many stakeholders in the city. The issues ranges from ‘Epal’, S.O.P., drainage system, governance issue and ghost employees to overpriced projects and patronage politics,
‘EPALicious’. Projects funded from public funds are either illustrated either with the names of images of politicians. One concrete example is the business plate where one is unwittingly tortured by the picture of the person occupying the highest office at the city hall whose signature legitimizes one’s business operation.
S.O.P. stands for “Standard Operating Procedure”. The procedure, however, is not about following the process alone but speeding up the process by offering city hall personnel some amount, not as a bribe or grease money (they dread the use of the term), but only for coffee and pan de sal as a gesture of appreciation of one’s brilliant effort of a speedy processing of documents.
Under-developed drainage system. The onset of the rainy season revealed that there are more problems in the city than there are solutions coming from the brilliant-mind that lords over the affairs of the metropolis. There is this under-developed drainage system which dates back to the ‘dark ages’. But according to the current administration, the problem of flooding is not only particular in Iloilo City, you go to Cagayan de Oro and there is flooding there. Someone suggested to treat the issue as a positive development. By doing so, flooded streets in the city can become a tourist attraction.
Overpriced projects. The City Hall, Esplanade, Iloilo Convention Center, and Diversion Road Widening are projects that were pointed out as monuments of over-pricing. But if you listen to the justification of government officials, these projects are not over-priced, but rather projects that only underwent “cost adjustment” because of fluctuating cost of materials. One of the participant quipped: “If you do not accept this answer just go ahead and file a case at the Ombudsman or in courts.”
Ghost employees. Ask this question to, say, the city administrator and what you will get is a question – what ghost employees? The city government is the biggest employment generator which provides contractual employment opportunity to the unemployed and incompetent individuals. They are entertained as job hires and scattered in the dizzying list of task forces formed by virtue of the executive power provided to the Mayor.
These individuals become useful agents by working as the local police under Task Force Boltahe, Task Force Beautification, Anti-Smoking, Anti-Jaywalking, Moral and Values Formation, and the list goes on. Hiring of job hires intensifies during election period.
Patronage politics. One participant explained patronage politics in the city as an exercise of leadership with vested interest. It pointed out the employment of another dizzying list of persons like former politicians as consultants or executive assistants. It also listed the relatives of barangay captains and influential kagawads in the barangay or a loyal campaigner during election period. Simply put, the “merrier the better” in spite of the fact that many of these individuals does not possess the ability to work in government.
Media cuddling. One of the participant from the local media whispered about some members of the City Hall Press Corps working for the Mayor and who are responsible of covering all his activities for “praise releases”.
The experience of many of the participants have showed that these issues will be renounced by the officials of the City Government and will also sustain outright denial from the Chief Executive and will be responded with arrogance to the highest level.