The High Costs of Bad Governance: Focus on Bacolod City

(First of three parts)

On the way to completing its second term, the Leonardia administration is already battered by dozens of accusations of graft and corruption and bad governance. Worse, Bacolodnons are still baffled by what the Leonardia administration is doing, what it is doing to the city’s coffers, and where it is leading the city.



The Philippines, called the “Pearl of the Orient Seas” by Dr. Jose Rizal, “Oro, Plata, Mata” by cultural icon Peque Gallaga, and “Asia’s golden haven” by Steven Spielberg, has practically lost its glitter and now stands among the cellar dwellers in Asia.

Ironically the only Christian-dominated country in Asia, the Philippines ranks among the most corrupt countries, not only in Asia but worldwide. A recent survey reports the Philippines as being more corrupt this year compared to last year. The World Bank estimates that about 40 percent of government resources are lost to corruption yearly.

This unfortunate and deplorable phenomenon of corruption and bad governance is just as pervasive in our city of Bacolod as it is at the national level.

On the way to completing its second term, the Leonardia administration is already battered by dozens of accusations of graft and corruption and bad governance. Worse, Bacolodnons are still baffled by what the Leonardia administration is doing, what it is doing to the city’s coffers, and where it is leading the city.

Some people keep on saying, “Let’s give the Mayor a chance.” Fine, we have always done that. But the more important thing to know is, what do we give the Mayor a chance for? The Leonardia administration should have clearly informed the Bacolodnons about its plans right from day one, so they would know what they voted for. Unfortunately, its actions keep bringing more questions than answers.

Bad governance and corruption are the primary reasons for the persistence of poverty and underdevelopment in many parts of the country, including Bacolod City. Among the products of corruption and bad governance are massive poverty, increasing rate of under-employment and unemployment, brain drain, inadequate and/or inappropriate production support systems, defective social and physical infrastructure, persistent malnutrition, surging criminality, and social unrest, to name just a few.

These problems emanate from absence of a comprehensive people-centered sustainable development agenda, lack of political will and sense of nationalism among public officials, predominance of vested interests and elitist policies, inefficient bureaucracy, and perverted value system.

Corruption and bad governance in public service have their roots in the semi-colonial and semi-feudal character of the economic and political structures of Philippine society, where the “bureaucracy is nothing but an instrument for facilitating the exploitation of the people by foreign and feudal interests.”

The Case of Bacolod City: Same Old Policy Direction

To better understand Bacolod, it is best to get an overview of the process of the evolution of its policy direction.

The local government of Bacolod has always been a traditional government bureaucracy and its basic policy has focused on traditional functions such as tax collections and revenue generation, repair of roads and buildings, delivery of some social services, giving donations, and promotion and protection of private enterprises in the city.

Its policies and programs have always been the extension of and patterned after those of the national government, i.e. maintaining the social order in the country. Thus, the city government has not contributed toward altering the long-standing local political, economic and social structures dominated and controlled by the few landed and business elites.

In many aspects the city government has been configured to suit the interests of local old-rich families and political dynasties.

Local and non-local private enterprises here are enjoying privileges from the city government without being obliged to render moral, economic and legal responsibility to uplift the conditions of the city’s poor. Meanwhile, the city’s poor majority wallow in poverty and fight on their own to survive, and are always at the mercy of the city government for some token of support services.

None of the existing management systems, programs and projects have been subjected to thorough review to see whether or not they have enabled the local people to take part in the planning and execution of the city’s development programs and projects.

The participatory approach to governance and managing development programs has not been given a serious discussion in the level of policy and decision-makers, nor given a chance in some specific programs and projects.

Instead the city’s programs and projects remain the exclusive turf of government officials and their staff, political appointees and special consultants who commonly see the people as mere recipients or beneficiaries of programs than as co-planners and implementers.

In short, the city’s policy direction remains the same as it has been for decades. It has never gone through a process of transformation to reflect local objective conditions and the aspirations of the people.

Its direction and programs have thus fit the interests of national and local powers that be, and never those of the property-less and powerless.

Problematic City Development Program

If one analyzes the questions raised by different sectors on the Leonardia administration, it appears that the core problem is the administration’s development program and strategy.

This is the main issue that keeps Bacolodnons guessing. This is the same issue that makes the Leonardia administration agonize, albeit in a concealed manner, in pushing for the “rebuilding” of Bacolod, if at all it is sincere in its commitment.

A development program is a blueprint for total human development, and entails not just the usual pump-priming activities like physical infrastructures, and other traditional services; collection of taxes and other revenues; and delivery of some social services, among others.

More importantly, it is where the objective conditions of the people, their needs, anxieties, fears and aspirations, and the ways and costs of realizing them, are clearly and substantially defined.

It also defines the people’s participation in planning and implementation of its programs.

It is true that the Leonardia administration has advanced its platform, loosely labeled as “Rebuilding Bacolod”.

Based on its planning and development documents, the State of the City Addresses (SoCAs), and flagship program, the “Rebuilding” of Bacolod means nothing more than turning it into a “Premier City in the Philippines.” It is no different from Leonardia’s 1995-98 thrust.

The “Premier City” project is a national government thrust of turning cities and other urban centers into havens of big business, expats, big landlords and technocrats. This means more infrastructures, conversion of public lands for commercial and industrial uses, industrial free zones, rising costs of living standards, intensification of labor problems – therefore constricting space for the city’s 260,000 urban poor and the thousands more of would-be urban poor migrating from the poor and war-torn countryside.

The platform however carries mostly motherhood statements, loaded with equivocal meaning and open-ended like “most livable city”, “premier city”, “modern urban center”, and “dynamic center for economic growth”. Some of its parts even look like a shop list, outlining in broad strokes what to do and what not.

Mayor Evelio Leonardia’s local political party in the last elections was called “Partido Progreso” and the party’s battle cry was “Rebuilding Bacolod” and “Fast Forward Bacolod”.

After four years, the Leonardia administration’s battle cry is a far cry from the realities on the ground, a lost voice in the forest.

Bacolod Councilor Celia Flor, head of the City’s Anti-Poverty Council, said, “The city’s development program is confusing, because how can it have a clear thrust and realistic goal when it has not even made a baseline data of the poverty conditions in the city?”

“How can the city chart a development program that will truly benefit the poor when it does not even have clear data on who are the real poor in the city?” Flor also said.

So what happens, Flor lamented, is that the city’s poverty alleviation services are not really given to the real poor; instead, they end up in the hands of the city leadership’s “voting base”.

This is a serious problem that poses pain in the administration’s head, and put its credibility on the line.

Truly “rebuilding” Bacolod requires first and foremost a comprehensive grasp of the objective conditions. A development program follows. A development plan is a critical starter, because it defines clearly the ideas of where to go and how to get there.

Charting a truly comprehensive development program requires not just board work among the city’s executive assistants, hired consultants, doctorates, and technocrats but real consultations with the people: the majority urban poor, drivers, vendors, youth, OFW (overseas Filipino worker) families, and the lower stratum of the middle class as the main forces of development.

If the Leonardia administration is truly committed to be a government that is for the people, then it must offer them not only a new set of dynamic and critical people, but a development program that is from, with and for the people.

The “Premier City” could be a dynamic center and engine of growth, but it can never be for the poor. In fact, Bacolod’s becoming a “Premier City” is going to be at the expense of the poor.

This problem is only going to fuel more contradictions between and among city officials, between the Mayor and some liberal-minded Sangguniang Panlungsod (City Council) members, and between them and the Bacolodnons who are increasingly becoming impatient over their unaddressed demands.

Any seasoned development manager knows that he cannot start something, much less chart strategy, without a good map of the terrain he is going to and without an idea of how to engage in it.(

3 Responses to “The High Costs of Bad Governance: Focus on Bacolod City”

  1. Dr. C. Key Says:

    I have read many of the post that you have here and and I seen for myself that they are all true. I have a suggestion that I think will help a lot of the problems that the city of Bacolod has in many areas and that is to hire a professional consultant that can help correct thease problems or elect some one from out side of Bacolod as Mayor that wants to make a change instead of seeing how he can line his pockets for himself.
    I would like the oppertuinity to help this city if I was called on to do so. I hold the same qualifications as the President Of the Ph does and I feel that I can do a much better job.
    Thank you
    Dr. Charles Key

  2. Andrea Si Says:

    You put everything together very well, barangayrp. Thank you. I’m running for Mayor of Bacolod and I see parts of your article are based on what Celia Flor, my partner in Women’s Advocacy, keeps saying.

  3. Nestor Says:

    Filipinos! You get the government you allow, therefore, you get the government you deserve! Rise up en mass, take back your governments starting at the barangay level, to the town level, to the city level, then the province and national. Only Filipinos that care about the future of their children and their grandchildren will do this. The rest of Filipino society will sit back and say ” I can’t do anything about it”, or “I like it the way it is. Corruption works for me”. You CAN take back your government…leave it to the elected government officials to decide how they want it done…you can TELL them to change their ways and their thinking and they can accept that they MUST change and do what is best for all Filipino or they can accept the violent overthrow of the government. Press for one but be ready for the other.

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