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Why local government matters

A country is like an airplane with two engines—the national government and the local government. In the case of the Philippines, the national government on occasion will be so corrupt, rudderless, or inept, and the country lurches from crisis to crisis. This is when the local government engine kicks in to keep the nation in the air and smoothen the ride.

In this sense, some communities are better off than others. Where the national government is sputtering, like today, local governments can take up the challenge and shine, and give that community a quality of life enviable to those whose local government layers its own ineptitude on that of the national government.

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Which local governments? This is not difficult to identify. It is happening by acclamation. In this time of dealing with the COVID-19 epidemic, the outstanding LGUs in Metro Manila are Marikina City of Mayor Marcy

Teodoro and Pasig City of Mayor Vico Sotto.

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When you put the local government system under the microscope, you realize it is an intricate system no different from a national system. It is a working balance of stakeholders that needs equilibrium like all systems. But at the local level, when the vulnerable people like senior citizens, persons with disability, children, and the poor are deprived of basic necessities, the local system can immediately be wobbly. This is where one can easily say, “ang sakit ng kalingkingan ay ramdam ng buong katawan (the pain of the pinky is felt by the whole body).” This does not happen as much in the nation, although it should. When Marawi experienced a severe, violent gouging, the national government did not feel threatened. In fact, it has lackadaisically went about rehabilitating the city, as its residents waited impatiently by the sidelines.

The national government does not have all the answers. In this time of crisis, President Duterte threatens sanctions against LGUs, but this is not the same as being authoritative. The Duterte style no longer commands the same shock and awe.

Authoritativeness comes from preparation and completed staff work. You know this is not happening when Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, chair of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on COVID-19 repeatedly answers “If in doubt, the answer is no” to serious media questions about exemptions. This is not good enough when dealing with a crisis and with lives at stake.

The stance of regime infallibility insisted on by Mr. Duterte is what will kill this nation. The voodoo bravado that the President has displayed from the time COVID-19 came upon the land is now appalling in retrospect. He pooh-poohed the dreadful disease, saying it will go away. Now the whole nation is suffering from his authoritative ignorance about the disease. The problem is, he has not been humbled at all, continuing to act as if he has all the answers, coming out in a press conference at one o’clock in the morning just to browbeat local governments that have shown some creativity in filling in the gaps in the implementation of national government pronouncements on the epidemic.

The dangers in the government not fully understanding and responding to the current situation is compounded by the government not understanding the future situation, in what is understood as potential problem-solving. What are these potential problems? Precisely those problems that have fallen between the cracks and not addressed by current actions and decisions. For instance, Mr. Duterte said the barangay chairpersons are accountable for feeding their people. This is easy to declare and threaten sanctions. But when one draws up a project plan for implementing this directive, one has to consider the operational problems, estimating cost as a function of time, scope, and performance. The problem with time is, we do not know just how long this lockdown needs to run. Some estimates put the peak in June under current lockdown conditions. Many barangay chairpersons say they cannot even feed their target food beneficiaries for a whole week.

You need a crisis to produce heroes, and heroes are what people sorely need. They need to believe in leaders and managers who can get the country out of the crisis. If Mr. Duterte and the IATF think the people do not notice their petty vendettas, they are mistaken. The people now heap excessive praise on Mayor Vico as a way of repudiating how Mr. Duterte and the IATF are conducting themselves. For this, the regime has put the young mayor alongside COVID-19 as the enemy, all because he vicariously delights the people with the way he serves his constituents well.

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