A foundation of civic liquefaction
I live in a subdivision at the boundary of Marikina and Antipolo, where the foothills provide a view of the whole of Metro Manila. Life has been peaceful and idyllic as our village, as Filipinos are wont to describe it, is “overlooking.” At over 70 meters above sea level, we are treated to a reddish vista of the setting sun almost every day.
But last week, the homeowners’ association board of trustees and officers started implementing a “no-parking policy” on all streets in the subdivision, on the strength of a referendum where 107 voted for the policy while 65 voted against, out of a total 263 households in a subdivision with over 500 lots.
This was pretty draconian a policy, a very wise, anticipatory move, but still surprising that a majority of the residents voted for it. The last count of car stickers issued by the association this year already surpassed 500. It had become increasingly difficult to move around in the village, whether on foot, by bicycle, or by car, but it was still tolerable.
People in the subdivision know that in a few years, as an estimated 20 additional houses get constructed every year, there will be frequent conflicts over parking space, even if a one-way traffic scheme and one-side parking were adopted by the subdivision.
The problem is built-in into the design of the streets of the subdivision. There are no sidewalks in the subdivision. In the wider two-way streets, the streets are only half a meter from the residential property lines. In the narrower single-lane streets, houses start right at the edge of the street.
There is no argument that no-parking and one-way schemes are the only option for these streets. So, the policy tussle is with the two-way streets. Here, the problem is built into the inappropriate sense of entitlement by many residents. There should be no problem if the residents have garages to hold their cars. But it has not occurred to many that they cannot build a house with only one garage while knowing they cannot live without three or more cars. Many have two. All households have at least one. Worse, some residents have converted their garages into extensions of their living rooms, offices, stores, or gardens, having resolved in their minds to park their vehicles on the streets.
Because of the no-parking policy, residents have begun to park on empty lots, of which there remain many in the subdivision. This questionable solution has remarkably freed the streets of parked vehicles.
A vociferous minority has refused to accept the no-parking policy, continuing to park on the main avenue and two-way streets, and have resorted to a variety of tactics. First, they have questioned the process and results of the referendum on the no-parking policy. Second, they have criticized the parallel policy of the officers to open streets that residents have closed off with self-funded steel gates as a measure of their “peace of mind.”
All these sentiments, accusations, and complaints have recently choked the social media channels available to homeowners. From a distance, it looks as if the legitimacy and authority of the homeowners’ association officers were under attack. The heat generated has led to the resignation of three officers, and only six remain. Those who were supposed to take over as having the next highest number of votes refuse to do so.
At the center of this pushback is the president of the association, a retired police officer who I thought was elected for the political will that he could provide to a subdivision that was beginning to fray at the seams. The no-parking policy and opening long privatized subdivision gates and building parking spaces was his concrete delivery on the expectations of the residents. Unfortunately, as can be imagined from the ranks of the uniformed services, this president is not a man of few words, presenting himself only as a man of action. This inability or unwillingness to effectively communicate has been pounced upon, triggering a thousand cuts from unbridled sharp tongues arguing for untenable privileges.
This is a real story of a corroded microcosm of Philippine governance. Multiply it by hundreds of thousands of neighborhood and village associations across the land. What kind of national democracy can be expected to rise from this foundation of civic liquefaction?