ISULAN, Sultan Kudarat (MindaNews/26 October) – Along this capital town’s four-lane highway stands Sultan Kudarat’s new capitol, a white-painted, Middle Eastern-inspired structure highlighted by a tower-like section with an obelisk-shaped roofing. Two men in civvies armed with long firearms guarded the entrance to the compound. They appeared rather relaxed and accommodating as our vehicle asked for directions to the provincial office of the Commission on Elections.
The provincial Comelec office, the guards told us, is still housed in a building at the old capitol compound, about two kilometers away. So off we rode to the old capitol; on the way, we had to ask for directions five times before we finally located it.
What a waste, I muttered beneath my breath as I looked around and saw the sprawling lawn and the buildings at the old capitol site that have deteriorated after becoming idle and unattended. Two buses marked “provincial hospital” and “provincial pharmacy” were parked near the gate, the names of Gov. Pax Mangudadatu and former president Arroyo painted on the sides. In front of the mobile pharmacy a dozen men and women sat around a table, playing cards. Every now and then, flashy cars would go in and out of the compound.
To the east of where the mobile hospital was parked stood what was once the Hall of Justice. Only the signage remained intact. The windows were gone and so we were the doors. After a little while, three sheep ambled past where I stood to nibble grass in front of the building. With the complex almost completely abandoned, the sight of those animals somehow breathed life to the stale surroundings.
It’s a sight repeated in many towns across the neighboring province of Maguindanao where costly public structures have no practical use except to serve as monuments to the political leaders who built them – public markets where no trading takes place, idle terminals, and a new capitol which the incumbent governor, citing security reasons, has refused to use. Why, even makeshift shelters for internally displaced persons or “bakwits” have become useless too. It is said that those houses would only become “occupied” each time relief goods are on the way.
Given the wretched condition of the inhabitants of one of the country’s poorest provinces, spending on costly projects that provide no real benefits and even drain the treasury more is at least immoral. One may ask why the local government should not give more attention instead to improving agriculture and fishery on which many local people depend, or perhaps on providing wider access to education, potable water supply and health services.
A cursory look at the situation of people living in Maguindanao’s fringes would suggest that constructing more costly buildings which they may not be able to enter their whole life is the least of their concern. There’s no need to elaborate; government officials know the statistics well. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)