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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

entry arrow12:50 PM | Getting Serious About Dumaguete's Future

The op-ed pages of the last issue of MetroPost has already listed down the so-called "mayorables" for Dumaguete City -- and among the usual suspects, we have a dance diva with provincial connections, a restaurant chain magnate with an eye on tourism, and an environmentalist hankering for family values. Only one or two of them seem perfectly suited for a city in a crossroad transition, but that's a debate that will have to be deliberated in the coming days. In a sense, however, the list has unofficially opened the local political season that will culminate in next year's elections.

That the article ends with a caveat for the "probability" of their running for office is particularly troubling, however, leaving me no choice but to diagnose Dumaguete politics as an arena for cowards. God help us all.

In the next few random posts, I will be taking a break from my usual cultural haunts to explore in a pseudo-haphazard manner a very important pre-election question: Where will Dumaguete be in the next few years with the mandate we will be giving the newly elected city officials in 2007?

The cynical might say, "Nowhere." For many, local politics, even with a change of administration, is just the same merry-go-round in the increasingly unlovely quagmire we call our city. A friend has already remarked, voice dripping with the disappointed tone of one who has lived here for many years (and is itching to go somewhere else): "Dumaguete naman thrives on maintaining the status quo, no matter how stupefying that status quo can be. Really. It is a city feeding on a fear for change. No, I take that back. It is a city bred on having no vision, and no originality whatsoever. What it calls progress are just mom-and-pop operations -- it used to be Internet cafes, now it is the cellphone shop and massage parlor and vehicle emission testing centers -- that are more trendy and gaya-gaya than anything else, only to fall away months later because wala'y proper foundation." One could only say, in return, "Ouch."

We need not look further to see a ready symbolism for the way Dumaguete has come to be in the last few years. Our own narrow streets, clogged with tricycle traffic, seem to be the perfect metaphor for us all: in Dumaguete, there is this embedded incapacity to cope with the times, creating a humming havoc that leaves us only with so much frustration and dismay.

Yet we go on with our lives, invariably thinking that who wins the city leadership does not really matter for most of us. What accounts for this growing lack of faith? City Hall has remained to this day shrouded with mysterious processes and bureaucratic mess, with local events often overtaking it to unmask its basic incompetence.

For many of us voters and concerned Dumaguetenos, 2007 beckons with a promise of change. In the political landscape now slowly unfurling before our eyes, we see those with political ambitions to grind realigning themselves to prepare for the political battles ahead. The undertows of political maneuvering have been set to motion, and there really is no getting away from this machinery. But what we ordinary citizens only have is our vote, and our fervent wishes for Dumaguete.

My wishes are simple: for our city to finally develop a sense of political maturity, because the truth of the matter is that the city's future is locked with the political. Who we vote into office in 2007 is a crucial question, one that can make or break us.

I wish we can learn from history and from current events. I wish we can learn to put to task our so-called public servants, and make them answerable for the issues at hand. I remember a headline story in a local newspaper many years ago, when the current mayor was just elected anew into his old post. In that story, he said he was "shocked" by what he found in Dumaguete's outlying communities when he went on his reelection campaign. The crushing poverty! he said with the drama of a political old hand. Which, of course, made me pause. Only now does he know that? But who was Dumaguete mayor for what seemed like forever? Today, I can still go to the same outlying communities, and still see the same damning indifference to poverty he so eloquently promised to change.

Two weeks after the elections of 2004, we predictably settled to a characteristic deadening placidity that disguises itself as Dumagueteno gentility -- an illusion that banishes the reality of inherent infrastructural instability (traffic! non-existent building codes!), unchecked population increase (the city's becoming a bit crowded, isn't it?), lack of economic vision, and now, unsolved crime.

Now, more than ever, we need to ask our questions of our city: Where is Dumaguete next taking us? What has it got to offer us now beyond the old temptations of a laid-back, gentle life, where everything seems to be stamped with convenience's name?

Dumaguete needs change. Now.

It is sad to note however that -- if we are to believe the same MetroPost columnist -- our current "mayorables" seem bent on staying out of the race, if the incumbent chooses not to seek for a higher office. For them, that may signify some kind of political loyalty -- all of them are friends after all, and are members of the same ruling elite in Dumaguete.

But for many of us, that wishy-washiness smacks of patronage politics and ultimate cowardice, and they will become no better than the trapos that is the death of Philippine governance. It begs this situation, after all: that in an intelligent population of a so-called University Town, no one is qualified at all, or brave enough, to take our city into the future.

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