SK and Barangay Elections 2018: eeny, meeny, miny, moe

Eenie, meenie, miney, moe,
Catch a tiger by the toe.
If he hollers, let him go.
My mother said to pick
The very best one
And you are not it.

When the Sangguniang Kabataan and Barangay Local Government Unit elections were postponed for what seemed like indefinitely public expectation in general was that a plan toward improvement of the two institutions, the SK and the Barangay LGU, was in the works. But, here we are today with the holding of local elections come Monday, 14 May, and except for the one or two push messages from Globe and National Telecommunications Commission reminding subscribers of the ban on campaigns done in specific ways and places, nothing. It’s the same saba all over again. To this, you could hear the people going what else is new?

Use your vote

Is there anything more that could be done about the situation?

The general belief and attitude among Filipino voters toward government is that the President has all the answers to their problems therefore has all the power to change the country’s ills. This cloths him or her in God-like omnipotence. Not only is this understanding absurd and dangerous in democracies like the Philippines, it also ignores and does away with local government, that level of government having the most impact on the lives of the people.

In 2018 and beyond, therefore

  1. We want SK and Barangay officials who have in their minds if not their hearts the best interest of the people in the villages.
  2. We want local authorities who are efficient and effective managers (meaning, they get things done on time according to plan or public expectations) or at least learning and striving to become efficient and effective managers of their villages. We want local authorities who are leaders that don’t cower in the presence of top brass when arguing that top-down policies and actions are not helping the people and communities.
  3. We want local authorities who source their passion from the people that put them there and not from the promise of money, fame, and power.

We do not care for local authorities who appear on our doorsteps camouflaged as sheep (when they really are goats), as tigers (when they really are hyenas), or as owls (when they really are bats), and when voted upon based on these mistaken identities conveniently forget vows and promises made (“er, that was the tiger talking”). We are so fucking sick of and done with their kind.

But what if it’s the same faces and names that we don’t care for? That’s the conundrum in Monday’s elections, see? Power is underhandedly taken from the people who are inevitably left with little or no choice. The other option is electoral boycott for, well, want of public preparation. But imagine the chaos that could ensue. Who now wants chaos? Then again are we not already living in a silent, waiting kind of chaos? Suppose federalism pushes through in the near future, we’ll be seeing again the same authorities elected on Monday.

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On the barangay elections

The barangay LGU has proved itself an unnecessary layer (hence costs!) to the government hierarchy. If it had been effective, barangays are by now vibrant places showcasing democratic ideals of bottom up governance. But no this has not happened.

Continued incapacity of this layer to lead and manage within the framework of decentralization and institutional change in general has it’s roots in the minimum requirements set by national government for candidate officials. Current requirements invite rather than filter out undesirable qualities.

Soon we’ll now have a new urban agenda, what level of leadership and management can we expect from elementary graduates?

Cities and human settlements that:

1. Fulfill their social function, including the social function of land, ensuring the full and progressive realization of the right to adequate housing as well as equal access for all to public goods and services, food security and nutrition, quality and accessible public spaces, livelihoods and decent work;
2. Are participatory and engender a sense of belonging and ownership among all their inhabitants, practice civic engagement and prioritize the collectively defined public interest, enhance social interactions and political participation, promote sociocultural expressions, embrace diversity, and foster social cohesion and safety, while meeting the needs of all inhabitants;
3. Empower all women and girls, especially through their full and equal participation in decisionmaking, equal employment opportunities and pay, and preventing and significantly reducing all forms of violence in private and public spaces;
4. Meet the challenges and opportunities for future growth, enhancing urban economies with high productivity and value added activities, harnessing productive local economies, including the formal and informal sectors, while promoting gender responsive planning and investment for safe and sustainable urban mobility systems that link people, places, services and economic opportunities;
5. Fulfill their territorial functions beyond the administrative boundaries, and act as hubs and drivers for balanced sustainable and integrated territorial development;
6. Promote disaster risk reduction and habitats that are resilient to natural and manmade hazards as well as protect, respect and value their ecosystems, natural habitats and biodiversity, and reduce their environmental impact.

And what to do when the only development activities proposed and approved in the barangay budget are construction of basketball courts and holding of basketball tournaments? Or, when the youth i.e. SK officials are utilized as errand boys and girls in barangay halls?

One would argue that those with the know how ought to teach those without or with less, sure, but then why have a government (accountable to the people) in the first place? Even if we say let’s be more tolerable of others’ “faults” considering that if circumstances were reversed i.e. they were me and I them I’d be spitting out the same nonsense, sure, we’ve been doing that, but tolerance cannot suppress time. Between now and tomorrow, things will happen and on current realities, badly.

I remember the movie Prayers for Bobby. A true story about the layers of victimization in the 70s: Bobby finally tells his family he’s gay. His mother believes it is the infliction of the devil. She prays over him every night. She tells Bobby to also do so. As we now know being gay is not the devil’s infliction nor can it be prayed away. When Bobby visits her at her office, she pretends she’s not his. Lonely and desperate, Bobby, 20 at the time, committed suicide. The mother was shocked but it was the pain from loss which led to her transformation. She realized she was as much a victim of the rigid beliefs and narrow teachings of her time as her son was of hers. She became an iconic activist for gay rights, enjoining parents to understand and accept their children’s homosexuality.

The lesson inferred there is why wait for people to die, habitats to disappear, mountains to collapse, nothing good left for our children and children’s children to inherit before we finally do something about governance? This is the 21st century when so much knowledge and technology are out there for our taking.

What therefore is that effective structural arrangement at this level? Lessons pointing to this should have manifested decades after decentralization was first implemenented, and Congress should’ve discussed these long before this year’s barangay and SK elections. It has not as it is. Some weeks ago, Comelec reared it’s head into the picture to recommend for postponement of barangay elections “because of election fatigue” to which members of Congress opined it would indeed be a “practical” move.

How is a citizen’s exercise of her right to elect the people who will ruin her life or not constitute election fatigue? For Comelec to say this, shame really! And how is extending the term of the current roster of barangay officials, the majority of whom have failed to deliver, practical? You’d think if BLGUs are hopeless Congress at least will put sanity back by having interim structures in place while it mulls over the fate of barangay governance, but nothing.

On young people’s lips these days is this gayspeak- pak ganern! (Rough translation: and…there it is!) The Filipino’s life is run on this easy and simple rhythm. Snap! and hallowed halls turn into bullfight rings! Snap! and the constitution’s gone! Snap! and regions are rearranged! Snap! and your property’s taken! Snap! Snap! Pak! Pak! Ganern! Ganern! Our language so’s our nation.

World fit for children

What world is that which is fit for children?  Is this world such a place?  What is ‘child centred development’?  Is the development taking place in localities everywhere child centred?  To what extent do children and young people have a say on the shaping of their localities?  What is the planning system that recognizes the voices of children and young people?  Does this system register votes of children and young people in development options?  What percentage of local budgets is allocated for children and young people?
Decades after it’s adoption, the CRC (Convention on the Rights of the Child) has spurred much improvement in the area of children’s rights, still, many of the Convention’s standards has yet to become reality in many parts of the world.
In the Philippines, many localities have declared child friendly even crafting a Code for Children each, but LGUs need to go beyond the trimmings into truly transforming their physical, social, economic, and legal environments to level up to CRC standards (give and take cultural differences).
‘A world fit for children’ is, in reality, a radical change in systems, institutions, and, first and foremost, attitudes and perceptions toward children and young people.        
When I approach a child, I have two feelings: affection for what he is today and respect for what he can become…
Children are not the people of tomorrow, but people today. They are entitled to be taken seriously, they have a right to be treated by adults with tenderness and respect, as equal. They should be allowed to grow into whoever they were meant to be– the unknown person inside each of them in the hope for the future.
Janusz Korczak

Emergency care nightmare

A colleague and I arrived at the training venue and found two of our colleagues based in the field occupying one of the outer huts.  They were resting and waiting for us.  Altogether we were to be the training team for an activity over the weekend.

The terrible heat during our travel from HQ had sapped our energies and we arrived looking and feeling totally fried.  So were our colleagues who had also just traveled from their respective field offices.  One of them, we were immediately informed, was having high blood pressure.  When she checked before their travel, her BP was 190/110.

It was decided that the two immediately go for a check up.

We were told that the owners of the place were driving to Lagawe so we decided to go with them.  On the way, we dropped off our two colleagues at the health center which was a a good 15 minute walk from the training venue.  My companion and I rode on to Lagawe where we quickly made last minute purchases for the training.  On our return, we found our two colleagues already there.  They told us that the midwife diagnosed high blood pressure for both of them, in fact, one had 210/110.

What? I exclaimed, don’t you feel sick or something?

I’m fine, she replied.  But, her face was ruddy and her eyes blood-shot and somewhat glazed.

I asked her again but she was insistent.

So we remained inside the hut where it was cooler and watched the sun set, ate a couple of papayas and bananas and drank pineapple juice while talking about how good health is indeed wealth.  Suddenly, the colleague with the 210 BP sat up – she was trying to sleep off her high BP or whatever she was feeling – and ran out, yelling to us that she was going to throw up.  Chaos was the word for the next hours afterward.

The owner of the training venue drove us (like mad) to the nearest hospital, really a district hospital 30 minutes away.  As our colleague was being admitted, the doctor, the only one in the hospital we learned, jokingly congratulated our colleague on having neglected to medicate for her hypertension.  The doctor told us she was close to having a stroke.

On arriving at the hospital emergency entrance, a wheelchair was immediately pushed to the front passenger side of the car and our colleague assisted into it by a male attendant.  The lobby/receiving area set up was that my first thought had been ‘this place is seriously under-staffed.’  A colleague who apparently had a similar train of thought said, ‘this is the effect of PDAFs wrongly spent.’

We found the lady doctor, as I said, the only one, in the middle of an argument with a man (we later learned that the argument was similar to what my colleagues and I nearly had with the doctor.  The man had accused her for not doing anything and threatened her as well).  We heard her telling him that she has already called the police.  True enough, a couple of policemen who looked incredulous with their heavy arms appeared at the doorway and spoke to the doctor.  The conversation was loud and everyone who’s at the lobby were privy to the exchange.  Half my brain was processing the scene as scary– what if there was a skirmish and the police had to shoot? we could get hit.  I was also pissed, at both the doctor and the policemen who should know better than to start what to me looked like an ego-tripping scene in front of patients.  I wanted to yell for them to stop but I controlled myself.  I also should know better than to add more fire and besides I loathe public confrontations.

Meanwhile one of my colleagues got the nurse who was the only one on duty there to attend to our colleague.  The nurse examined our colleague who was already slumped in the wheelchair, and afterward left her note on the doctor’s table.  The doctor who was not at her table was still blowing off steam.

I waited for the right moment to get the doctor’s attention.  When I did, I said, “Doctor, hi.  My colleague here is sick.  Here are the details”.  I picked up the nurse’ notes from her table and handed it to her, almost shoving it to her face.

Perhaps because I spoke Tagalog (which locals here have difficulty speaking) without trace of a regional accent, or that I smiled at her, or I was the tallest woman in there with my wedges, or I looked like a non-local but thankfully she focused on me and momentarily stopped her ranting.  Perhaps she realized she has momentarily forgotten the lessons from years of medical training e.g. creatively handling difficult people, because she took the note without a word and got up to attend to our colleague.  Eventually she gave us a list of medicines we were to get from the hospital pharmacy.

When we returned from the pharmacy, we found she had resumed her rant.  Seeing us, she told the nurse to place our colleague on dextrose and the works.  An attendant came in and wheeled our colleague inside.  Meantime I and another colleague waited for the nurse to get up from her paperwork and attend to our colleague as what the doctor instructed her.

We waited 5 minutes which dragged to 10 minutes.  After that, I refused to wait any longer.  I butted into the doctor’s conversation with another, a patient for all I care, and in the same tone and demeanor as before I said, “Doctor, our colleague is already inside, can you already attend to her?  Otherwise we’re soon going to have a nervous breakdown.”

She stared at me then recovering chided me but she was laughing when she did.  “I know, I know.  Just give me a sec here,” she said.

She completed the paper work on our colleague and commanded the nurse who was still at her paper work to go and see to our colleague at once.

After our colleague was finally put on dextrose and oxygen, it was only then that we calmed down.  She was put put on a trolley bed parked on the corridor leading to the lobby and delivery room as all of the six private wards were taken.  We sounded preposterous even to ourselves when we asked if we could be given an extra trolley bed and we’d pay for it.  “As much as I’d like,” the doctor said, “there’s no extra bed or empty ward.”  The extra bed was for our other colleague with the 190 BP who was nearly admitted, but thank goodness three hours after taking the prescribed meds her BP went down to acceptable levels.

After another colleague went to the nearby village to fetch a local youth volunteer who agreed to keep watch over our colleague that night and having checked that everything else was taken cared of, I took the opportunity to lie down.  It was almost midnight.  The only available place was at the foot of the trolley bed.  I curled myself into a ball to fit in and tried to nap.  But considering our location and my position on the bed, I couldn’t.

Instead I went over the night’s events realizing a few things:

  1. Being treated like a rat reduces you.  There’s loss of dignity hence not surprising if one goes off on a rampage like that man who threatened the doctor.
  2. In real life, even doctors supposedly under Hippocratic oath discriminate against physical appearances and characteristics.  Whether or not a patient will get quality care tend to be dictated by this– the more provincial you look and less confident your talk, the more you’re ignored or given last priority.  You either allow yourself the treatment or be street smart.
  3. Inadequacy of hospital resources put patients at great risk.  This is happening every minute every day everywhere in the country.  Public hospital staff are overstretched thus liable to bark at patients who are only just expecting quality service and care.  The nearest tertiary hospital in the area is in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya.  But Bayombong is 1.5 hours away and our colleague needed quick emergency care.  At least the hospital pharmacy was stocked otherwise our colleague may have had a stroke and we’d just look at her die.
  4. When our two colleagues went to the village health center, they were both given nitrogylcerin (placed under the tongue) apparently an SOP in village health centers and rural health units.  The colleague with the 190 BP reacted well after taking it.  The one who was hospitalized, with the 210 BP, reacted negatively.  Later, making a quick scan online why this is so, I found that there are depending on a patient’s medical preconditions adverse effects of nitrogylcerin.  This implies that the midwife at the health center was not skilled in making such a diagnosis.  It is an imperative therefore that the DOH and I/NGOs supporting these facilities train local practitioners.
  5. An air lift, if one is connected and could call up a chopper right away, is not the solution to emergencies.  It’s well-equipped, -stocked, and adequately-manned health centers and hospitals with skilled human resources.  Public hospitals should also explore subsidies for the poor.  Our colleague’s medicines cost PHP70 in all, an insignificant amount to us but beyond reach for the poor.

How can we Filipinos address this perennial problem?  Corruption of people’s monies is a sin against each and every one of us. It is why those who allocate taxes and interest from these for personal use e.g. for purchase of the latest LV bag (vs. one more life nursed to health) deserve the maximum penalty provided by law.  Imprisonment is not something others did to them.  They did it to themselves.  Sadly, even if they were penalized this cannot bring back the many who died as the result of corruption.  The DOH on the other hand need to further step up on it’s role in monitoring and accreditation of public health facilities.

How decentralization is institutionalized

The Philippines has a League of Cities, a League of Provinces, a League of Local Government Units, a League of Barangays. If you read their mission statements and objectives, you’d wonder how come decentralization is not working, what the factors are involved in the evolution of the new “Juan Tamad”, that is, people (including elected local leaders) waiting or lazing around for the “blessing” from the President (regardless of who) even on matters that can already be taken up independently and locally (and so by lazing around and waiting for the President to spoon-feed them (the State Of the Nation Address reflects local growth and development to the extent that localities have worked for it themselves) so much as localities lose so much in terms of their future), why poverty (in the economic, social, intellectual sense) continues to be a mark of localities, and why people are not alarmed by the changing local environment.

And then you learn that well yes these Leagues do have their regular meetings but who are in attendance, the process through which local issues are actually brought to the attention of these organizations, and what actually are put in the agenda in these meetings determine the extent to which objectives are successfully attained. But the Leagues as these are currently being run are largely political gathering and networking venues for Local Chief Executives. Otherwise, if discussions and decisions here were guided by what the Leagues wrote they will work toward for, significant outcomes concerning inter-local issues should have been palpable and enjoyed by the locals a long time ago. Then, decentralization should have been institutionalized.