Sunday, 20 January 2008

Remembering Sir Nits


Atty. Juanito Cambangay, retired chief of the Provincial Planning and Development Office of Bohol, can be considered one of the province’s inspiring development architects. Having served the province in different transition phases – from one governor to another, from centralized to decentralized governmental authority, from economic obscurity to growth and relative prosperity - “Nits”, as he is fondly called by friends and colleagues, was among those who can be credited for Bohol’s successful development efforts.

I do not claim to have known the man personally (He is “Sir Nits” to me, a sign both of respect and admiration). My close encounters with him were on a few occasions only. One time we worked together as member of the Philippine delegation tasked to evaluate a Japan International Cooperation Agency project, when I was still very young and inexperienced in a lot of things. On a car ride with him from Ubay to Tagbilaran, I had my first lessons in Development 101.

Years later, when Holy Name University’s Research Center was commissioned to do a research on the privatization of the provincial water utilities department, he was a very supportive respondent and critic of the work that Cynthia Reyes-Ayco (then Research Director) and I did. The interviews with him were like the classes in political economy that I took at the London School of Economics – insightful and visionary.

I should say I benefited much from these encounters and that his views on development work influenced me a lot. Personally, I think his early demise creates a significant void in Bohol’s development scene, and that his contributions will be remembered by people he shared his thoughts and opinions with.

When death comes at these unexpected moments, I am always reminded by Morrie Schwartz, who held a funeral service in anticipation of his death. If Sir Nits had one, I would surely invite myself to speak.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Pack Your Bags and Move On


I have difficulty packing things up for a trip, especially when going back is not an immediate option. Last January 2, leaving for Bangkok for the second half of my temporary UN assignment was a difficult thing to do, especially because I have to, again, borrow time from my son and wife with whom I have not spent much time for the last couple of years.

I tiredly dragged my luggage towards the airport gate and the more I moved the heavier it became. I thought to myself that this could possibly be the kind of experience public officials have on their last term of office. They are caught in a dilemma of whether to stay on or to move ahead. Staying does not necessarily mean standing up again for another re-election, since this is entirely unallowable under Philippine laws, but fielding in one’s wife, father, sister, brother, mother, cousin, aunt, or what have you, to run for the post one is presently occupying and running for another post, either lower or higher, depending upon one’s capacity and clout. Moving on is simply saying goodbye to the post, permanently or temporarily, and letting somebody else have the experience of handling local politics or giving a chance for the populace to experience another brand of leadership.

But I believe some politicians in Bohol do not experience a dilemma, because the figures show that oh, how they loved to stay. A mayor ran (note: “ran”, and not “served”, as what they usually say) for nine years, asked his wife to run the town for one term, in order to come back again for three terms more. A provincial legislative body member ran for barangay captain with the intention to win in the league of barangays elections so that she could automatically have her seat back in the provincial board. In one town, the husband was once the mayor, then her provincial board member wife took his place, then his Sangguniang Kabataan chairperson son replaced her after her last term while she moved back to becoming a provincial board member again.

The list can go on and long and research on this theme would probably reveal how the structures of power in the province are dominated by the same powerful surnames and clans. But what struck me most is how people, the voters, can go on endlessly joining this parade, how they can allow themselves to just become perpetual victims to this shameless insult to their political sagacity, and how they allowed themselves to become mere stamping pads of somebody else’s desire to run local governments on a dynastical fashion and earn whatever economic and social favours such an arrangement would bring.

I am worried by the fact that the province’s SK federated chairperson studies in Manila while supposedly organizing her office in Bohol and attending provincial legislative sessions in between. I do not underestimate capacities here, or devalue the power of technology – emails, video conferencing, and text messages – in running the world’s greatest businesses. But it is just plainly unthinkable how one can survive in this kind of arrangement, much more function well.

I sound this challenge to the current provincial SK chairperson, who succeeds her sister in the post, to effect a change in the pervasive apathy of the young in the province, without relying on executive secretaries, administrative assistants, OICs, her father congressman or whoever to do the job. I also sound the same challenge to the current league of barangay’s chair to animate the basic political units in the different municipalities in the drive towards good governance and poverty reduction, and establish a legacy that she might have been unable to do while she served the provincial board.

More importantly, I sound the same challenge to all families running the province’s local politics to forego personal gain and work for equity and social justice and for improved standards of living and moral health of the populace. If their stay in power had not steered their constituents to that direction, then I think its time for them to pack their bags and move on.