SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: Governance as disaster

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/20 December) – When floods hit many parts of Cagayan de Oro City early in 2009, local officials should have taken it as a wakeup call to address the presence of communities along riverbanks and other critical areas. They should also have made disaster preparedness and mitigation plans in coordination with government agencies and private groups that can provide useful inputs to such plans.

Apparently, judging on the haphazard response of the city government to the impact of Typhoon Sendong, this had not been the case. Or, if there were plans, these failed to anticipate the level of destruction that could possibly occur, which could only mean that the wrong presumptions must have been used. This can only be attributed to either complacency or evident neglect – or both. And since hundreds of lives were lost, I should say evident criminal neglect.

Consider: In an interview this morning over GMA, Cagayan de Oro Mayor Vicente Y. Emano admitted to having condoned the presence of human colonies along the riverbanks. He even said that the city government purchased at least five hectares of land near a riverbank to the tune of five million pesos for families who had lived there for decades. His strongest argument was that he found it hard to drive away those people simply because they had been there for so long a time, and that even if he drove them out they would keep coming back to that place.

I don’t think that Emano, a public official since the Marcos years, doesn’t have the vaguest idea of when government may exercise its police powers.

To some, Emano may sound humanitarian in his indecisiveness to clear the riverbanks of settlements to prevent another tragedy from occurring. I beg to disagree. His were the words of a politician who is simply afraid of losing votes. He doesn’t want to displease those settlers even if his opportunism would eventually mean endangering many lives.

Worse, the mayor hinted in the same interview that he could not prevent those people from returning to the area, again for the same reason that they were already accustomed to living there.

And if another major flood occurs and many lives are again lost, how will you explain it, Mayor? Will you say the same excuse you said today? Can you sleep soundly at night at the thought that your indecisiveness has meant the sufferings and deaths of hundreds of Cagayanons?

Some readers may accuse me of engaging in a blame game. Maybe they’re right. But if it’s one thing that will goad government officials into positive action, I willingly plead guilty.

No matter the opportunism that has infected many of our public officials, I still cling to the belief that governance requires making hard decisions during hard times. This is one thing Emano needs to learn – and learn fast. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at