Mario Antonio G. Lopez (Inquirer.net)
There have been numerous reports on the progress of nationwide consultations leading up to the AmBisyon Natin 2040. The 25-year long-term vision aims that “by 2040, the Philippines shall be a prosperous, predominantly middle-class society where no one is poor.”
I was looking for a narrative that ordinary citizens can relate to. The past provides many good lessons.
In 1976, I was a guest of then Governor Cornelio Villareal Jr., in Roxas City, Capiz. I was writing a management case on the provincial development programs and I fortunately came upon a scheduled meeting of some National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) senior researchers and local mayors on the requirements of the different municipalities.
Two senior fellows came up with a checklist for locals to fill up. The checklist identified “potential development projects,” such as infrastructure desired by the locals like roads, bridges, health centers, warehouses.
Fortuitously, one of them opened up the discussions by saying that NEDA was interested in knowing the hopes, dreams and visions of the people of Capiz. I suspected he wanted to segue into a discussion of specific inputs needed for economic projects and programs that could be tied toward the realization of the hopes, dreams and visions.
The two gentlemen got the surprise of their lives.
If I remember correctly, Mayor Leodegario, who was then president of the provincial mayors’ league, said, “Ay, we have that common vision already!” And he proceeded to lay it down.
I am writing from memory and I hope to capture the essence, if not the actual wordings, accurately.
He said, “We want to be able to provide our families three square meals each day. We want to be able to send our children to school and finish whatever course or degree they want so they will not be poor like we have been most of our lives. And we want our communities to sleep in peace every night.”
Disappointment was apparent in the faces of the two researchers, who said: “That sounds very good, but that seems more like a very general ideal. We want something concrete that we can understand and do something about.”
One amused mayor stood up and said, “What’s your problem with our vision?”
One of the researchers said, “How do you turn that into action? We wanted concrete requests. We will have difficulty converting these very general wishes into actionable programs.”
The same mayor said, “It is your job to understand your people and translate what they are telling you into your special language that your bureaucracy knows how to handle.”
Governor Dodoy Villareal sat quietly in a corner, just smiling. Mayor Leodegario then said, “We’ll give you time to think about our statement and then we can meet again later or tomorrow.”
Gov. Dodoy told me later, “Our people have been empowered and I am very happy over this development.”
With no ill-will toward the two “technocrats” (a label attached to me from 1971 to mid 1976), I thought to myself, “These two guys are what we were like during our first year (1971-72) in government service.”
I recall those years with great embarrassment. I joined the government as an associate director (for logistics) of the Commission on Population (Popcom) under the Office of the President. Ours was the newest agency with great funding and enjoying extraordinary privileges.
The new associate directors, all MBA/MBM graduates from top business schools, came in brimming with enthusiasm. The embarrassing realization of how badly prepared I was for government work came every time I stepped into meetings where my thoughts were requested, which I eagerly shared, only to be told these would work in the private sector where I came from but not in the government.
This was made even more evident when I jumped into the core of my work as chief logistician for the commission. It required visiting regional, provincial, municipal and sub-municipal health and related facilities around the country.
I did visit all of them in my five years with Popcom. Yet, a visit to over 50 in far-flung areas in Davao, Zamboanga, Misamis, Leyte, Sorsogon, Cotabato, Antique, Palawan on my first year was enough to cause me to rethink our whole approach.
Going back to the people of Capiz, thinking about what Mayor Leodegario had said that day, it became clear to me that he was referring to the termini they were attempting to reach via roads that had to be built from where they were to where they wanted to go. They asked, “If these are our goals, what can we do in collaboration with other elements of society to make these reality?”
Take their first goal: “We want to be able to provide our families three square meals each day.”
What actions must our government take, in collaboration with all concerned sectors, to provide steady and progressive livelihoods and employment that will provide decent income for its people, especially the poor?
This question points to programs that will educate and train our poor to enable them to take on better work rather than the unsteady, often seasonal and subsistence pay jobs they are forced to take on; programs that will provide the appropriate infrastructures to support the kind of robust economic system required; systems that will change the social system and political economy away from its feudal-like structures and values toward a more democratic and openly competitive ones.
Take their second goal: “We want to be able to send our children to school and finish whatever course or degree they want so they will not be poor like we have been most of our lives.”
This goal goes beyond providing good school buildings headed by superior school managers, good and ever improving teachers, updated teaching platforms, and an upward looking cluster of education and training-related agencies. This means a good support system for health and nutrition and other needed social services. This will also mean, as with the previous complex goal, good transport system, potable water, sewerage, communications and power infrastructure accessible (and affordable) to all.
Take their third goal: “And we want our communities to sleep in peace every night.”
What does it take for people to sleep in peace?
It just does not mean quiet surroundings! It means that before I go to sleep, I am already sure most of our needs have been reasonably attended to and that appropriate actions have been or will be taken tomorrow.
It means all needs arising the next day would be met with reasonable responses from concerned parties. It means that criminality is down and that people are secure. It means that I can wake up at night, facing a medical emergency, and know I can call a hospital for immediate help. It means firemen and fire trucks responding immediately to the alarm. It means policemen protecting and serving us, rather than filching from us. It means an armed force that does not cower to external and internal enemies.
I think this is the narrative my driver, our mechanic, our barber, our newspaperman, our neighborhood sari-sari store owner will understand and relate to, just as the mayors and farmers of Capiz would have in 1976.
It has been four decades since. Let us give our people the gift of a national vision worthy of them.