Monday, August 16, 2010

Two Tagaytay mayors and their cohorts

Two Tagaytay mayors and their cohorts
By Former President Fidel V. Ramos
Last of Two Parts
Manila Bulletin
August 14, 2010, 8:02pm

The more one delves into the present condition of Tagaytay – our God-given eco-tourism crown jewel – the more is unearthed about its continuing environmental degradation, abuse of peoples’ rights by City Hall, and overall decline – all under the continuous administration of brother-Mayors Francis Tolentino (1995-2004) and Abraham Tolentino (2004 to date).

The above-mentioned observations of eminent journalist Jullie Yap Daza cannot be ignored as these come from one who knows and is deeply concerned about our future. Probably not known, however, to accountable Cabinet members, much less President Benigno Simeon Aquino III himself, is that Tagaytay – the only world-class tourist destination within easy driving distance from Metro Manila and Calabarzon – has deteriorated into an ecological fiasco and center of unbridled dynastism.

The DENR, DILG, DoT, DPWH, DoST and DepEd secretaries, and Chief PNP, among other government agency heads, should now take a good look at Tagaytay – beyond the usual elite tourist spots, classy golf courses, and fine-dining restaurants – and do a quick visit of the public places that common people frequent.

To discover the reality, one should also check out the commercial-educational areas around the Ninoy Aquino rotonda, Picnic Grove, Mahogany Public Market, People’s Park in the Sky (PPIS), garbage dumpsites along the slopes down to Taal Lake, squatter colonies, etc.

Tagaytay 2004 Letter of Undertaking

In January, 2004, the top Tagaytay elected officials – Mayor Francis Tolentino, Vice Mayor Virgilio Ambion (City Council Presiding Officer), and First Councilor (now Mayor) Abraham Tolentino – committed to the people of Tagaytay to undertake and guarantee its sustainable development/enhancement in accordance with United Nations standards.

These undertakings are embodied in their Letter of Undertaking based on various international covenants, Philippine laws (specifically RA 7623 – July 1992, and RA 8425 – June 1998), Executive Orders (EO 84, s–93; EO 296, s–96; and EO 412, s–97), and Presidential Proclamations (PP 740, s-96 and PP 906, s–96). The LOU resulted from dialogues/consultations at that time with civil society leaders, environmentalists, and sectoral representatives.

Anchored on and within these parameters, said LOU committed the City of Tagaytay, being signatory to the “UN Earth Charter” and the “Local Government Declaration at the World Summit on Sustainable Development” in Johannesburg, to:

* Continuously sustain the environment... through sound policies, to pursue economic growth without sacrificing its ecological environment.

* Practice good governance... to reduce poverty in all forms. The “Tagaytay City Action Plan on Poverty Reduction through Good Governance” addresses the economic/social/environmental/political dimensions of poverty, based on the “Minimum Basic Needs Approach” of the “Social Reform Agenda” (RA 8425), and the guidance of the National Anti-Poverty Commission.

* Capitalize on its tourism potential... with private sector-led initiatives to ensure growth thru Eco-Tourism. Accordingly, its officials should make sure Tagaytay does not stumble into the pitfall of promoting tourism while, in the process, neglecting its ecological quality and imposing heavy tolls on the environment.

* Strictly adhere to Proclamation No. 740 (s–1996)... to preserve the ecological balance within the one-kilometer-radius area around the People’s Park in the Sky.

Philippine cities, as a whole, have been in the forefront of above refocusing of development strategies. For one, Tagaytay City has numerous partnerships with international organizations intended to spur growth/ progress within the bounds of sustainability. Principal among these are: World Bank’s “Up-Scaling Poverty-Focused City Development Strategies,” “UN Habitat and Cities Alliance,” and UNEP’s Management Systems.

Contrary actions to Promises/Covenants Galore

So far, in spite of such an array of covenants, LOUs, and promises undertaken by two Tolentino administrations, only contrary, self-serving actions have taken place in Tagaytay. All its “City Development” undertakings, which are both processes and products, are supposed to engage its officials and stakeholders in a long-term vision of sustainably clean and attractive habitats/workplaces/destinations.

These are all presumed to maximize the comparative advantages of Tagaytay's future livability, competitiveness, and bankability.

The “Good Urban Governance Campaign,” on the other hand, is designed to operate within the universally accepted norms of good urban governance, namely: Efficiency, Security, Equity, Transparency, Accountability, Civic Engagement, Citizenship, Decentralization, and Subsidiarity.

Under the “Clean Cities Center Project,” where Tagaytay officials promised to focus on hotels, restaurants, and other tourism destinations, key agencies/staff of Tagaytay City were to be trained to apply waste minimization and cleaner pollution prevention techniques – not only among its commercial and religious institutions but within City Hall itself.

Contrariwise, what has happened in the past 12 years was the creeping but steady forcing out of dedicated officials and law-abiding investors – to the political/economic advantage of the ruling family dynasty.

More unfulfilled undertakings

Other promises of the Tolentino administrations which have not been fulfilled are:

* Strengthen the City Development Council... as a vehicle for multi-partnership to strictly implement Land Use and Zoning Ordinances. The CDC helps ensure that poverty reduction programs, projects, and activities are integrated in local development/investment plans.

* Reactivate the Tagaytay City Advisory Council... as civil society multi-sectoral component to the CDC to actualize people’s participation/empowerment thru public service cooperation.

* Improve recycling, composting, and other waste minimization programs... in accordance with existing laws/regulations, to include mandates in UNEP programs and “Clean Cities Waste Minimization Strategies.”

* Recognize the existing water resource policies of the Tagaytay City Water District... to continue existing programs adopted by the TCWD Board, vis-a-vis the need for incumbent TCWD officials to be given sufficient time to implement necessary programs, thereby ensuring continuity/sustainability.

What the record of the unbroken years under two Tolentino brother-mayors reveals is the imposition of a culture of impunity – reminiscent of the PGMA era in the ARMM.

Again, we say: Take a hard look at the track records of these two dynastic families (Tolentino-Ampatuan) and see their similarities/ parallelisms.

Binges of self-aggrandizement; another Maguindanao?

Instead of implementing the glowing promises cited above, the Tagaytay government engaged in binges of self-aggrandizement, denudation of forests and hill slopes to give way to property acquisitions, depletion of water resources, and abusive local governance.

Is Tagaytay (and its environs) destined to become another Maguindanao? Are the Tolentinos the Cavite twins of the Ampatuans?

As a frequent visitor-regular taxpayer of Tagaytay, FVR has this to say:

(1) Paramount above all in the strategic development of the entire Tagaytay-Taal area was, and continues to be, the preservation/ enhancement of its unique environment/eco-system – an incomparable combination of land, sea, and sky that is easily within reach to all of us – Filipinos and foreigners, the youth and elderly, the rich and poor alike.

No similar natural God-given cluster of beautiful landscapes exists on earth – except perhaps Mt. Everest in the Himalayas – which according to our First Philippine Mt. Everest Expedition, we know to be inaccessible.

(2) At the very top of the whole breathtaking Tagaytay-Taal area is the ‘People’s Park in the Sky’ from where one can see four large bodies of water and the majestic presence of Mts. Makiling and Banahaw. For ordinary Filipinos who cannot afford an exclusive vantage point like the SM Highlands – particularly provincianos from Mindanao, the Visayas, Bicol region, and Northern Luzon – a visit to PPIS is a memorable once-in-a-lifetime treat.

It is, in one package, a place for enjoyment, reflection, thanksgiving, renewal, bonding, and inhaling fresh air.

(3) Only token adherence has taken place the Letter of Undertaking in the City Government’s public pronouncements, media releases, executive orders, and legislative ordinances/resolutions. Certain actions for public consumption are made for purposes of just paying lip service to these commitments. Such attitudes by Tagaytay’s officials are not acceptable because they amount to criminal negligence.

(4) Sustainable development and continuous good governance are the responsibility of government. But, since government cannot do these vital goals by itself, the leaders of the private business sector, the religious, academics, and the marginalized should be encouraged/included as stakeholders in actualizing above goals without fear of being branded as “enemies.” Whenever there are differences in opinion – if people’s interests are not met – ordinary Filipinos should speak out freely in the spirit of community-building without fear of reprisals.

Time again for a presidential commission

To save Tagaytay-Taal, it is time again for a Presidential Inter-Agency Task Force/Commission to:

(1) Facilitate investigation of the official complaints and prosecution of those who deserve to be prosecuted according to law.

(2) Restore and guarantee Tagaytay-Taal’s sustainable development.

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