COMMENTARY: Very Disturbing

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 24 Feb) — When I saw the video and heard from fellow advocates their firsthand account of yesterday’s council session (February 23) — and as I also recalled the previous session which I personally witnessed, I could not believe how some councilors were so off-point with their pronouncements during privilege hour.

Whether or not there were violations in rules of session proceedings, I believe there are also proper protocols set in place to settle such. Even with that, and even outside of council sessions, I believe everyone deserves to be treated with tact and respect, while discussing merits or the lack thereof of certain points being debated (or as most peace-loving persons would prefer, discussed in dialogue) with another.

As I was reflecting on what had transpired, I zeroed in on the following points:

First, the issue isn’t about whether Councilor Mabel Acosta did or did not invite Ateneo de Davao University President Fr. Joel Tabora, S.J. which some people interpreted as her fanning the flames for environmentalists to keep on pursuing the issue of the removal of 10% Green Space from the CLUP (Comprehensive Land Use Plan). She was merely helping the very persistent Davao residents (not limited to environmental groups, but people from different sectors–11,700+++ and counting if we base it on those who were able to sign the petition the past three weeks) who wanted to participate in the conversation because there was NO consultation before the councilors voted to scrap the 10% green space in CLUP. If there is a need to discuss even operational definitions and procedural policies just so we can be on the same page, then so be it. Civil society only asks to keep the conversation going.

It seems now that the Vice Mayor and some councilors who themselves interpreted the lobbies of civil society as “painting people black or white”  have turned on Councilor Acosta because they realized that civil society had valid points which they cannot rebut or invalidate–also proven by Mayor Duterte’s move upon advice of City Legal Office to VETO the amendment. Green Davao Coalition advocates never accused anyone of this, we were just trying to be heard, to reclaim our space for public participation in governance which is our right as citizens–and yes we also lobbied to the executive office. Instead, these same councilors kept arguing back repeatedly using weak points that totally are off mark.

Second, what do their belligerent reactions during the closed door meeting last week and the council session yesterday imply? It appears as if they felt insulted that civil society (led by environmental groups, youth groups, architects, scientists and the academe, and by no less than AdDU president Fr. Joel Tabora, S.J.) had the audacity to call them out for what they did and try to let them understand other perspectives.

Instead of appreciating their constituents for being actively engaged in PARTICIPATORY GOVERNANCE (the essence of Democracy), they (belligerent councilors) instead ganged up on Acosta, with one councilor calling her a “bully” DURING the council session and another calling her a “spoiled brat” in full view of the public. It added more insult to injury and clearly showed who the real bullies are–how much they feel it is solely their privilege to decide on city matters. They may say so otherwise, but their actions and the impression they’ve made speak differently.
It seems some of our current leaders need to be reminded of their mandate as REPRESENTATIVES of the people, not just representatives of people with vested economic interests. I also feel disturbed that the other councilors were too afraid to speak up and call out the very brash and insulting actions of their fellow councilors ON RECORD.

Committee on Ethics? Are you there?

Thirdly, and most disturbing of all for me is the glaring lack of understanding of these belligerent-acting leaders about the true context of why civil society is so fired up to keep the 10% green space provision in the CLUP–the CLUP that civil society actively helped develop since 2012. Maintaining URBAN Green Spaces is not just about beautification or aesthetics of surroundings.

It is about maintaining ecological balance.

It is about preventing disasters like that which happened last June 28, 2011 (affecting Ma-a, Matina Pangi, Matina Aplaya, Matina Crossing and Talomo Proper) from recurring. It is about maintaining physical, psychological, emotional, economic, social– in short, holistic well-being of Davao residents.

It is about respect and reverence for our creator and our responsibility to take care of this vast creation including all beings in it, humans, animals, plants, even unseen elements in the air, water, land–all clearly embodied in Pope Francis’ Encyclical “Laudato Si” and various frameworks such as Neo Humanism and more significantly the Seven Dimensions of Sustainability. The Seven Dimensions of Sustainability basically posits that in order for us Human Beings to thrive (not just survive) here on Earth, the following must always be taken into consideration in balance with the other: Spiritual Development, Human Development, Social Development, Cultural Development, Political Development, Economic Development and Ecological Development. This is fully embodied by the Philippine Agenda 21 through the Sustainable Integrated Area Development (SIAD) framework adopted by the Philippines in the early 1990s under the Ramos administration. This is supposedly already mainstreamed in civil society, business and government-led development programs. I will not even go to the various international laws and policies emphasizing parallel concepts to these above-mentioned frameworks.

It is about social justice and inclusion. The only currently “truly green” housing projects I know of around Davao are those posh and very expensive subdivisions. We haven’t even properly implemented the 10% green requirement yet in public, low cost housing (and as environmentalists have time and again mentioned, the current provision is even smaller than those allocated by even smaller cities than Davao around Asia), so I am just at a loss at why our councilors are so bent on scrapping it?

Times like this, I really miss our green champion, council Leo Avila. I guess this is the litmus test for EVERYONE, councilors and civil society alike to do our homework, keep on moving forward in dialogue with love and respect despite seeming differences in opinion or interest, and most importantly, to stay focused on our common goal of keeping our beloved Davao City livable and sustainable. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Ayyi Gardiola is a resident of Davao City, Davao co-founder of the Movement of Imaginals for Sustainable Societies through Initiatives, Organizing and Networking (MISSION) and Green Davao Coalition supporter)