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A lost opportunity

Even as you read this, you will probably (or not) be preoccupied with tomorrow’s inaugurations—stress on the plural—of President Rodrigo Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo.

Each camp has drawn up its separate plan, the President’s swearing-in taking place in Malacañang, and the Veep’s in the structure previously known as the Quezon City Guest House but which will probably be identified for the next six years as the Vice President’s office and residence. But as far as most Filipinos are concerned, it will always be the “Boracay Mansion.”

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As I write this, I can’t help but feel a twinge of regret, especially at the lost opportunity to host an event that would have, if things had worked out differently, signaled a real new beginning in the life of the nation.

A few days earlier, I had the chance to thumb through a coffee-table book titled “The Inauguration” that documented the joint swearing-in of President Noynoy Aquino and Vice President Jojo Binay. There was even a walk-on role for former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who hosted an audience for P-Noy in Malacañang, and then shared the ride with him to the Quirino Grandstand.

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The photos of the event were replete with meaning and significance, a show of unity (even if it was just a show), a celebration of the peaceful, orderly transfer of power, and a testament to the importance of continuity in government.

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That’s the opportunity we lost—a reprise of the time-honored traditions that marked the seamless transition between one administration and the next, and the resolve to start anew with a team at the helm of the national leadership.

While expectedly still grand and meaningful, Duterte’s Malacañang ritual will, I think, lose much of its power, being held in what is essentially a private venue, closed to much of the public save for those who will share in it through television.

Even more lamentable is the separate ceremony for the Vice President, who herself has a national mandate, and who doesn’t deserve the snubs and barbs aimed at her simply because she is not Bongbong Marcos.

What about reconciliation? What about amity and national unity? Apparently, these are but petty concerns in this administration preoccupied with division and discord.

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During the launch of the book “Journeys (Paglalakbay),” which marks the 40th anniversary of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, someone—I think it was former MMDA chair and now Marikina Rep. Bayani Fernando—pointed out that the MMDA is actually an example of “federalism at work.”

Many officials, foremost of them the incoming President, are pushing for the replacement of the present presidential system of government with a federal system. Federalism is actually a form of government in which regions enjoy autonomy and equal status, having exclusive power over many matters of government, with a few functions and powers, such as foreign relations and defense, reserved for the national government.

A smaller version of this arrangement holds true in Metro Manila, which covers 16 cities and one municipality, the mayors composing a central council that makes all decisions and policies, while leaving implementation to an appointed authority. The MMDA was created precisely because the proximity of the component cities and town made for interdependent problems and solutions, which no single entity could adequately address without violating the autonomy of a neighboring local government.

Thus, while the MMDA works on such shared problems as traffic, solid waste management, housing and resettlement for informal settlers, and even disaster mitigation and relief, among others, each component city and town is free to pursue its own policies and procedures for other local concerns.

Perhaps we can take lessons on the success or failure of federalism on a national scale from the MMDA experience. And, judging from its 40-year history, make up our minds on whether the “scaling up” of the MMDA experiment would be worth all the trouble or complications.

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The history behind the creation of the MMDA, which stemmed from a vision of a “City of Man” as articulated by then First Lady Imelda Marcos, as well as the 40 years of daily problem-solving and managing of the chaotic urban environment, is told in “Journeys.”

In photos and words, the book, which comes in a handy portable size, tells the story of Manila and environs, from the settlement that grew on the banks of the Pasig River, evolved into the Spanish redoubt of Fort Santiago, spread over time beyond the formal city limits, and has now become the nucleus of the “National Capital Region.” As such, it is the heart, the center, the locus of much national commerce and governance, from which the nation is run and managed.

In his message, MMDA Chair Emerson Carlos emphasized that the agency of today “stands on your shoulders,” referring not just to the previous chairs and officials but, more importantly, to the employees who work, day in and day out, night and day even, to make sure that the metropolis “works.”

Introducing the book, MMDA General Manager Corazon Jimenez spoke of how seemingly endless are the challenges that face the workforce. The day after the “shake drill” that involved various government agencies coordinated by the MMDA to test people’s readiness for the “Big One,” she recalled, everyone was back at work facing, not a major disaster, even if make-believe, but thousands of daily potential disasters that MMDA’s people confront.

“Journeys,” the brainchild of Carlos and Jimenez, was edited by Jesselynn Garcia de la Cruz and Romy de la Cruz, photo-edited by Noli Yamsuan, designed by Pie David, with contributions from a book committee of MMDA old-timers.

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TAGS: federalism, inauguration, leni robredo, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, MMDA, Rodrigo Duterte
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