Four challenges from President Duterte’s SONA

President Duterte, in his first SONA, mentioned four things I’d like to further write about here.

First, land banking. He said it was his practice as Mayor of Davao City to buy land that would be developed as relocation sites for the City’s slum dwellers. He said he talks to private owners of the lots his team has eyed to bargain for a fair price. Now, that is the Mayor we want for all Philippine cities! Land banking or the purchase of land for future use is a must for cities and municipalities. Farsighted cities see the need to secure prime strategic locations ahead of private buyers. Cities do this because, acting in the public’s best interest, Mayors and their planners wouldn’t, for instance, build a PUV terminal a hundred kilometers away from the CBD. In Baguio City, the lack of such a terminal has caused much disorder in it’s core but still City Hall continues to sit on it. Apparently, City Hall lacked the foresight to buy land well before the need arose because right now no vacant lot lies close to the CBD for such an infrastructure unless City Hall can persuade GSIS to sell or lease it’s idle property near the Victory Liner terminal. So, land banking. Real estate developers maintain units to do this work. City Halls should too.

Second, human trafficking. The President said he regard human trafficking at the same level of importance as the campaign against drugs. Great that he reiterated that. In the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), heavily-tinted vans from outside the region carrying trafficked persons mostly young people though there are children (as young as grade schoolers) as well enter Baguio City and regional towns to deliver “goods” – one could call them harems for hire – to clients who ordered for them. Think the ease in which Zalora delivers ordered packages to buyers around the country because that is how easy it is now to transport trafficked persons. When they are in the areas that’s when the bugaws tell their “goods” to have medical check ups. Some are already sick with HIV or STDs. Their records are logged in local files and so show up as local data. This is the story behind why CAR health records on HIV-AIDS and STDs are questionably high. It’s a strategy, really, of traffickers to avoid detection. Try to visualize the intricate spatial networks or should I say trade routes of human flesh from within and across the country’s regions and from this country to the world. It is similar to a drug trafficking network map. In fact, exposure of drug trafficking nodes should also expose that of human trafficking. The two go together. Just as the business of illegal drugs ensnare and involve children and young people so does the human trafficking trade. Children and young people are placed in the front lines (like, child soldiers in warfare). With enough brainwashing and fear tactics to control them, they do just that. What do we have here? Stolen and broken childhoods. Massacre of innocents.

Civil society organizations – international and local – have excellent community-based anti-human trafficking programs as well as researches and evaluations on the subject which present partnership opportunities to government. There are already such partnerships forged although these are mainly at the local level and not as widespread as desired. For the greatest impact, this needs to be consolidated at the national level toward a national strategic action against human trafficking.

Third,  the power of technology. The President, speaking about cutting back transaction time (hence costs!) in government agencies, mentioned gamitin mo ang computer (make use of the computer) more than a few times. If I understood that correctly, he meant that government offices ought to harness the power of technology. In this my observation is, most offices whether public or private put it in their budgets to buy the latest top-of-the-line computers – PCs, laptops – which only end up being used like they were typewriters! It’s like you own a Ferrari but for some reason work it like it was a donkey. A total waste of investment. Let’s take the ATM as a computer program model. It’s programmed capabilities and direct user interface increasingly done on touch screen is a breakthrough innovation that has de-clogged the volume of transactions over bank counters at the same time exponentially increased financial transactions outside the banks and beyond banking hours This redounds to overall profit for the sector. But, in order for programmers to build such an infrastructure or software package they need to have a clear picture of users’ needs and wants spelled-out in SMART i.e. specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time bounded terms. To be able to give them that information though, agencies need to know and understand their clientele’s needs and wants in SMART terms. Technology can’t be one-sided. One of the thing that pisses people off is when the person behind the counter types at a speed of one word per hour. A five-minute transaction drags on to one hour. You want to tell the person, “hand me the goddamned keyboard why don’t you!” My point is, maybe these kind of users work faster with touch screens or voice-activated programs? Gamitin mo ang computer.

Lastly, disciplining the Filipino. The President said if he ever comes across complaints against public officials sleeping on their jobs, he’d personally go confront the official. Parents have learned that if they’re lax or inconsistent, their children would think and grow to believe that anything goes. One needs early on to instill understanding that if reasonable rules are willfully disregarded, there are consequences to face. Filipinos abroad have learned that early enough. They follow rules even without reminders. With Filipinos here, it is imperative to come onto them strongly in order to get the desired result. Why this difference? Our political and social milieu here has for quite some time shaped us to believe that we can do anything we like. We park wherever and however we like. We throw our garbage wherever we like. We spit wherever we like. We urinate wherever we like. Simple things that redound to our own personal welfare and yet. But then again nobody cared. Not community officials. Not law enforcers. Not property owners. So I’ll do what I goddamn like! My world’s a playpen! This time though the message is, the higher ups are watching you. Yes, you, Barangay Captains. You Mayors. You who are supposed to do your jobs. This time the State is saying it cares. It cares that our communities are safe, clean, and healthy places to live in. It cares that public officials do their work toward that. And if kicking ass now is the effective means to get people moving until following rules and caring about their communities become a habit, I support the President.

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