(QUEZON CITY (MindaNews / 11 May) –This is not the first time I am writing about this. But those of us who live in Manila we frequently forget that all our national elections, whether on presidential years or during the midterm like we will have on Monday, May 13, are synchonized with the local contests. As it is, the national elections are a highly emotional affair. We are seeing that now with so much at stake. But while outside the gaze of national media, the heat is more palpable and intense in the local elections where political rivalries are more direct and personal.
Thankfully I come home to Mindanao weekly and teach in many provincial law schools and have a ringside view of many local rivalries.
In local elections, partisans willingly put lives and limbs on the line to secure and protect votes of their candidates. This has certainly intensifed in the age of social media where every Juan and Juana gets to chime in and say their piece. Unfortunately a lot of what we read in Facebook and Twitter are fake news and ad hominem attacks.
Once in a while, as I observed in Batanes two weeks ago, politicians like former Budget Secretary Butch Abad, now running for the House of Representatives to replace his wife Dina, and Governor Marilou Cayco run a campaign that is positive and issue-based, engaging the people constructively for a better understanding of what is at stake. After all, elections is about the future.
People from the smallest municipalities to the largest provinces look up to their governor, mayor, vice mayor and councilors for relief in times of need and crisis. Unlike the President in Malacaňang who is usually seen as a distant and impersonal figure, the local politician is closer to the people she/he serves; she/he is the direct dispenser of government services and largesse. That is why Mayors are almost always universally popular. We seek assistance from them in life and death. They assure the security of people, comfort them in times of need.
To digress a little, President Duterte has been successful in maintaining the image of Mayor, of Tatay ng Bayan (father of the nation), through his speeches as vulgar as they have been, by prioritizing visits to military hospitals and funeral wakes, and essentially by running a big patronage shop in Malacanang Palace. This is why, in my opinion, he remains popular.
There is of course a legal underpinning of the importance of local elections.
Since its passage almost two decades ago, the Local Government Code of 1991 has resulted in “islands of good governance” all over the Philippines. effective, innovative, high impact, participatory and sustainable projects and programs. Indeed, devolving power to local governments has been good for the Philippines.
Successful cities include: Naga under then Mayor Jesse Robredo and outgoing Mayor John Bongat; Marikina, from the Fernandos to the current leadership; Davao City, under the Dutertes; San Fernando, when Mary Jane Ortega was its mayor; Makati, under the Binays; Valenzuela, under the Gatchalians; Iloilo City, under Jerry Treñas and my student Jed Mabilog; and Legaspi, under the Rosals;
It is not surprising that politicians who have worked at the national level decide at some point to also run in local elections and do well when they win. Representative Joey Salceda did three terms as Albay governor and did very well, leading his province to be a global paragon in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. Hopefully, Senator Chiz Escudero and former Cabinet Secretary Jun Evasco, running as governor respectively in Sorsogon and Bohol, will win and do the same in their provinces.
In 1953, the great Jesuit historian Horacio dela Costa S.J. concluded a commencement speech at the Ateneo de Davao with these words: “We need national leaders; the best we can get. But make no mistake: it is local and regional community leaders that our people need most of all. Not leaders who reside in some distant capital, out of touch with them, out of their reach, but leaders who are right here with them, who know them and whom they know; who understand their problems, their hopes, their dreams, and who can, because of the education they have received, give substance to these hopes and dreams.”
Sixty six years later, De La Costa’s words still ring true and that is why the other elections matter
With this in mind, I share my choices for the local elections that matter to me most: Cagayan de Oro, my home city, where my family originates and where I return regularly to teach law to a new generation of Cagayanons and Mindanawons, and Quezon City, where I currently reside and have resided for many years.
For Cagayan de Oro, I have no doubt that my brother Pompee La Viña, an accomplished musician and businessman, would make a good mayor of our city. I have known him all my life and I can vouch for his intelligence, his commitment to excellence, and his love for Cagayan de Oro. The latter comes naturally to him and to everyone in our family because of our mother, Inday, who was the first woman Kagawad of Cagayan de Oro and loves our city passionately
Pompee was the valedictorian during his elementary and high school years in Xavier University. In college, he majored in philosophy at Ateneo de Manila University where he graduated magna cum laude. More recently, he obtained a Master in Entrepreneurship (Superior Performance) from the Asian Institute of Management. His government stints include appointments by both Presidents Noynoy Aquino and Duterte, including as undersecretary of tourism and agriculture and Social Security System Commissioner.
Pompee promises a “Bag-ong Cagayan” (a new Cagayan) a livable, smart, eco-friendly city, free of graft and corruption, with the best jobs, education, and healthcare for its citizens. His new Cagayan uses technology to solve traffic, illegal drugs, criminality, flooding, garbage and other modern problems.
Pompee will work to establish a Cagayan de Oro that will be come an environmentally sustainable center of tourism in Mindanao, boosting businesses and delivering income and employment opportunities to our citizens. Agriculture will be a priority, developing the city as an agro-industrial base. Similarly, Preventive and primary healthcare and universal education would also be priorities.
As for my other home base, Quezon City, where I will be voting on Monday, there is really no other choice but to vote for Joy Belmonte as Mayor. I know Joy personally as we are both alumni of Ateneo de Manila and fellow Jesuit Volunteers.
Joy is a social scientist turned politician. I have seen her mature as a government official in the years she has been the Vice-Mayor of Herbert Bautista. She has proven herself adept at managing crisis while leading and building consensus in City Hall for a better city.
The wise columnist Ramon Farolan writes about Joy’s Jesuit Volunteer experience in Kadingilan, Bukidnon, a town I am familiar with: “The place had no electricity, no running water, no roads. Food was often in short supply and marketing was on a daily basis. During this difficult period, Joy never sought the assistance or support of parents or friends of parents to make life a bit more comfortable. Here, she learned about how life was for the poorest of our people, developing in her a sense of compassion for their plight.”
Joy Belmonte has many plans for Quezon City, but above are plans for informal settler that I find most attractive. She has committed to following the global best practice of on-site relocation. With eviction to far-away sites, the lives of the poor will be transformed and with them this city named after our first President.
Local governance successes are only a start in reforming the Philippines; they need to be scaled up and connected or else their impact will be limited and isolated. Reforms at the national level are therefore essential to overcome the limits of scattered and decentralized actions in sustaining reforms and expanding impact.
There are other Pompee La Viñas and Joy Belmontes out there. I hope they will win these elections for a new Philippines to be possible.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Tony La Viña of Cagayan de Oro City is former Dean of the Ateneo School of Government. He teaches Constitutional law in Law schools in Manila and Mindanao)